Click here to watch our Johannesburg + Soweto travel video!
Welcome to Part One of our travel blog series! This past year my husband and I were fortunate enough to go on an adventure of a lifetime to South Africa. Our first few days were spent traveling and exploring Johannesburg + Soweto. The rest of our trip included: The Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, Sun City Resort, Kruger National Park Safari, and Cape Town. Join us on our day-by-day blog recap!
The first day of our 2019 South Africa adventure consisted of plane ride after plane ride. We got to the airport around 5AM and got checked in and almost through security when we heard Nathan’s name being called over the airport’s intercom, he had accidentally left our credit card at the check-in counter ( haha, whoops). We flew to Denver first (we had the very backseats of the plane without windows or leg room and this actually seemed like the longest flight even though it was the shortest). Atlanta was our next stop, where the weather was so rainy and stormy we didn’t know if we would be able to depart on time. Our last flight to Johannesburg was about 16 hours long. After watching a couple of movies, we took a Zzzquil and got some sleep. We booked the aisle and the window seats hoping no one would book the middle seat. Someone did end up booking the seat, but they never showed up for the flight! It was a tender mercy for sure, it was so nice to stretch out a little more on the whole row and sleep better. Even though the flight was so long it, surprisingly went by much quicker than we had anticipated.
We landed in South Africa at 4:30 PM and waited at the car rental kiosk for at least an hour trying to pick up our rental. We got our bakkie (truck) and Nathan quickly reacquainted himself with driving on the opposite side of the car and the road with a manual car. We made it safely to our hotel and got checked in. The minute I got outside I noticed that the country had a different smell to it, I still can’t describe it, all I know is that it was different. After checking in, we headed straight to the Campbell’s house for dinner. Nathan served a 2 year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints back in 2009 in South Africa, and the Campbell family was one of the families he taught while there. We went to their home for a braai (bbq) where I was able to experience a few different traditional South African dishes there. They served pap ( a traditional maize porridge that looks like mashed potatoes, but doesn’t taste like them), different grilled meats, potatoes, custard, and boerewors. It was so so delicious, I loved all of the food! The pap was different and wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t mind eating it.
We slept in! It was so much needed, and I’m so glad we planned for that in our schedule. We didn’t notice any jet lag, it was great! We started off the day going to a nearby mall. I got one of my first “This is Africa”(TIA) experiences in the mall when we were walking around a lady came up to me and just sprayed my shoe with a foam cleaner and then brought me over to her kiosk where she preceded to clean my shoe. She tried to sell me pretty hard on her versatile cleaner that cleans all sorts of things. She would’ve talked to us for an hour if we let her. After I had one shoe clean and my other dirty we kept walking and grabbed lunch at Wimpys in the Mall. Another new experience I had was learning about the parking attendants that hang out in all of the parking lots. They “watch” your car while you’re in the shops and ask for tips when you return. They were everywhere!
Once we got our groceries and a cooler at the mall, we headed to Soweto for our township bike tour. We couldn’t have asked for a better day! It was hot and overcast with just a little breeze. We loved the bike tour. We went through Lebo’s Soweto Bicycle Tours and it was a great experience. After eating some traditional food when we arrived we picked out our bikes. It was way eye opening to see the townships up close and to really see how a lot of the people in South Africa live. The kids loved running along side of us and giving us high fives. We got to see Nelson Mandela’s home, went to a backyard tavern and played a game of pool with our guide, and we visited several significant sites and learned a lot about South Africa’s distinct history.
After the bike tour, we drove around downtown Johannesburg and visited the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple. The grounds were actually closed, but one of the workers/guards let us in, so we got the whole temple to ourselves, it was pretty fun. It was landscaped so beautifully and we got to be there close to sunset, which made it even prettier. We then drove to Sandton, which is an extremely wealthy area of South Africa and went to the Sandton City Mall, which was also very eye opening. It was the biggest mall I’d ever been to, and was at least 5 stories tall. The higher up you went, the more extravagant the stores became. Moving from Kristpy Cream Donuts on the bottom floor to Gucci, Loui Vuitton, Prada, Armani, BVGARI, D’Ore, Jimmy Choo, and so so many more on the top. It was such a beautifully designed mall. There was also a hotel and really ritzy restaurants inside. It was pretty crazy to see such extreme poverty in Soweto, and within a few hours and a few miles away be in one of the wealthiest areas in the world. Sandton is the richest square mile of Africa.
We ate at Debonairs at the mall and I thought it was awful. The pizza I had was supposed to be a “creamy chicken”, but it didn’t taste like anything creamy to me. I thought someone accidentally spilled the bottle of vinegar on my pizza. It wasn’t my favorite… For round 2, we tried to order some room service once we got back to the hotel, but sadly the spaghetti also failed me, and I learned that the South Africans love vinegar + Worcestershire sauce on everything. I was expecting a tomato type marinara sauce, but it wasn’t even close. I felt so picky and annoyed with myself that I couldn’t eat the food. Luckily the 3rd time was a charm, and we found grilled cheese on the room service menu and I finally was able to eat.
Planning a trip?
Here are some helpful links!
Hotel near OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg
Johannesburg South Africa Temple
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