Overview – On The Go Tours – 12 Days – Vic Falls to Joburg

Overall of On The Go Tours

I booked the 12 days Victoria falls to Joburg with 3 of my friends when we spotted the 2-for-1 tour special deal come up back in November. On the Go Tours happens to have a 2-for-1 tour sale a few times a year for a week or two (Mid- January, end of March/beginning of April & end of October/ beginning of November).

We booked through Flight Centre but found it difficult to communicate with our travel agent in regards to more information about our tour that our tour guide could answer. In order for us to fully book our trip, we had to go back and forth in terms of emailing to find out information such as the end destination in which we would finish in Johannesburg to book accommodations and timing of arrival to plan further travels.

Airport transfer from VGA to the first accommodation is provided with the tour cost. We stayed at Shearwater Explorer Village. It is here that you can get your bearings and meet your tour group before starting the tour. On the Go Tours is represented by ATC (African Tour Company) who locally run the tours. The Trip notes come in very handy. Our guide Will went over the excursions list and updated us with prices and what was and wasn’t included in the tour price. This timeframe in Vic Falls seemed to also be the only time you can freely explore markets for souvenirs that we found on our trip during the tour.

This is a budget tour where there are shared duties that rotate such as helping prep meals, washing dishes and sweeping the bus. There are also ice-purchasing responsibilities that rotate. Accommodations during the tour are tents (shared by 2 people) that are the responsibility of said pair and designated for the entire duration of the tour. It is a decent paced tour where you stay at each destination for at most 2 nights thus the tents must be put up and taken down almost everyday and packed back into the truck. All the accommodations are on camping sites with majority of them having wifi (not in Delta), swimming pools, shower and toilet facilities. A few even have volleyball courts (3 of them!) There is also a chance to upgrade into lodges (for a small price) if you want a break from setting up and sleeping in a tent.

The truck is large and can hold up to 30 people. The main seating area requires climbing a few steps (with help of a step ladder) to get on and off the truck. There is an 8 person seating area in the front sitting sideways with a table to play games. There is also a second area with a table (4 seater) and the rest are 2 seaters. The truck also has a communal cooler that people are able to keep their drinks cold. The truck does not have A/C but many windows and no wifi or toilets. The truck features 2 locked safety boxes and large luggage storage below amongst other compartments. During the evenings at each campsite, a charging station is created in the truck to recharge phones and cameras.

On this tour, we had Frans as our driver, Clive as our cook and Will da Beast as our guide. All the staff was very friendly and treated everyone with respect and courtesy never being impatient with any of the guests. They all had a fun humour about them too. Frans drove us safely to all our destinations on time and avoided as many potholes to make our ride smooth. Clive provided us with meals (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner) however, some meals could have more thought put into them for the price we paid. Breakfast was always yogurt, cereal and burnt toast (majority of the time), options for fruit were scarce and lunch/packed lunches could have been better (rice, spam with peas and cheese and DIY sandwiches are lacklustre). Will was a fountain of knowledge answering all questions thrown his way and made the whole experience that much better.

I wish we had more days where our stops weren’t in malls but I completely understand that those stops were also time for the staff to go grocery shopping for us and for our safety sake. There were a few days (long drive days and early arrivals) where I wish we had options to leave the campsite to explore the local areas.

I found the only time we had to do souvenir shopping at markets was only at the beginning in Vic falls. I wish we had more opportunities to interact with locals or stop at locations that give back to the community for our pitstops. I would definitely recommend this tour to my friends. I hopefully will return to Africa one day.

Hazyview – Johannesburg, South Africa, Africa 2017 – Day 14-16

12/13-15/17

12/13/17

6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)

Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.

Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.

TIPPING – On the Go Tours

Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.

 

It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.

We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.

We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.

We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).

Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.

We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.

Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.

Uber discounted ride code: rosannau34ue

https://www.uber.com/invite/t0pz2w

12/14/17

We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.

The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.

Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.

We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.

 

Blyde River Canyon – Kruger National Park, South Africa, Africa 2017 – Day 12-13

1211-1217

12/11/17

Blyde River Canyon Info

-Blyde River Canyon is the largest green canyon in the world.

-The Blyde river was used to find a passage from Johannesburg to Malawi to the ocean to transport gold.

-Blyde in dutch means happy. They name the river Blyde as Hendrik Potgieter and crew returned safely from their expedition from Delagoa Bay in 1844 as they had left behind women and children who had considered Potgieter and crew dead after not returning for such a long period of time.  It turned out, they took a wrong turn and followed the wrong river to get home.

-The Treur river means “mourning” in Dutch. This river nearby their encampment was named Treur to mourn what they had thought they had lost.

-Pine trees are grown and used to produce paper

-Eucalyptus trees aka gum trees are grown to be used as power poles and they are good for building foundations as they suck up a lot of waters

 

Different from the travel days previous, this day had multiple stops along the way with multiple view points and locations within Blyde River Canyon.

The Three Rondavels was the first viewpoint of the day. Rondavels are homes or shelters that made circular because snakes try to hide in corners thus – snakes would stay away.  The Three Rondavels are similar to Australia’s Three Sisters in Blue Mountain, Sydney. There is a market there but Will told us that at Bourkes Luck Pothole has a market and the same stuff and we should wait to keep on time with our driving times.

Bourkes Luck Potholes was our stop for lunch. As Clive the cook set up lunch, we ventured the Bourkes Potholes by climbing and jumping on rocks then crossed the bridge where the water was flowing and dipped our feet into the water. We had about 20-30 minutes free time to explore and shop before we had to go back to the picnic table area for lunch. Lunch was a little lacklustre with the appearance of that rice with polagna (spam substance) with peas and cheese yet again (lacking flavour) but at least we had oranges. Alberto did speak up on behalf of our group to talk to the cook about the quality of meals and just to have our voices heard.

Back on the truck we went and next stop – God’s window. Will mentioned that we only had 20 minutes so if we were to walk, we would have to either choose the very top of God’s Window with the tropical rainforest ecosystem or goto all the viewpoints. Luckily for this day in particular they told us to wear sneakers. We started running and rushed to the viewpoints. One viewpoint had a great view as the clouds started to set in but there was a rather large group or family of 20 that also wanted to take over the viewpoint and very rambunctious. We scurried along quickly and at the next viewpoint, we saw nothing. We started to run up towards God’s Window in hopes of fantastic views. Looking back on the steps we took up, the vastness of the landscape around us, it looked beautiful. Once you enter the rainforest, you can feel the difference with the drop in temperature and the change on ecosystem once you get in. We made it to the rock landing to find our view as a blanket of white with the clouds overthrowing and concealing the views this vantage point would have given us. Once we caught our breathe and took what we could in from that area, we bolted back down to continue with our day.

We had one more scheduled stop along the way before we made it to Hazyview – Kruger National Park area and that little area was a pitstop that had a restaurant Will our guide kept telling us about called Harrie’s Pancake House. We unfortunately didn’t have time to even order takeaway but we did have the chance to use the ATM at the bank to withdraw ZAR as we needed actual cash for tipping. We had thought about taking about roughly $300CAD worth of ZAR before we left Canada but didn’t think we would use that much but we obviously never realized the real value of ZAR to CAD. You need to calculate cash for tipping and other expenses.

Kruger National Park & Animal Info

-Kruger National Park was created in 1900 by Paul Kruger to prevent hunting. It is famous for inhabiting the big five – Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards, Lions & Buffaloes.

-It is 19000SQ KM. 600KM from North to South.

-Kruger is in a shape of a boot

-Elephants are the only animals that will die of starvation over age when their 6 sets of molars wear down. A group is called a herd.

-Giraffes have no structure in their family structure. A group is called a journey

-Spotted Hyena have female alpha matriarch. It regurgitates for their young. More successful hunters than lions and can run consistent speed for a few km and toys out their prey. A group is called a clan

-Bilatong – dried meat

Our final campsite for the tour was Nkambeni Safari Camp (Numbi Gate, Kruger National Park, 1350, South Africa) situated by Numbi Gate (West side) just outside Kruger National Park.  You can upgrade to a lodge for $80USD. Nkambeni has an electric fence outside the perimeter as the campsite is built around the wilderness of Kruger National Park.The showers and toilet are open toward the electric fence so you can view nature while showering. We were rushed to the camp to set up our tents before rushing off into another truck (smaller to drive on the non-paved roads) for our night game drive through Kruger.

Rick was our guide for the day. It was already hot so I decided not to bring long sleeve and pants (I was in a tank top and shorts) and boy was that a mistake. The driver sits lower and the rest of the cabin is higher up where we the guests could get a vantage point. Driving and sitting in the front without the sun gets chilly quickly. Gordon luckily packed a windbreaker and lent it to me so I could survive but holy it was still cold.

We took 2 trucks out and drove through but unfortunately during our 2-3 hour drive, we were only able to spot kudu, impala, waterbucks, water Buffaloes (1 of the big 5) and hippopotamuses. During our game drive, we took one break where we were able to step out of the jeep on a road by a pond. They brought some light snacks and gave us some Amarula. Amarula is a fruit tree which elephants absolutely love to eat. The guides are quite skilled at multi-tasking. They are driving, trying to spot animals in the bush, trying to answer our questions and at night, they add on a high powered flashlight to try to spot more animals.

We got back to probably the best meal of the trip – grilled pork, boar sausage, veggies, potatoes, beans and for dessert apple and banana slices with a custard sauce.

We took a quick shower (good water pressure but the hooks are too high). The stalls are illuminated by lights above but not evenly split above all showers. The facilities are unisex toilet and showers. The main reception building and bar is all the way at the back of the site. They offer 20 minutes free wifi at reception (not the best).

12/12/17

Our final full day with the tour had us back in the trucks for our final day game drive. We made packed sandwiches for this game drive. After our first stop, it was already 10AM and the temperature got warmer with the sun beating down, none of the animals were out except for the impalas. The drive was quiet and that warm heat combination with wind made it the perfect napping scenario but of course we didn’t want to since we were on the drive.

We had stopped earlier at one of the main areas to grab a snack and souvenirs if you like (overpriced) but I did purchase bilatong and some sweets. Luckily we made a second stop for lunch at Skukuza golf club but we had already eaten our sandwiches on the jeep. We wanted to order milkshakes but sadly they told us there were no milkshakes yet 15 minutes later milkshakes we saw mileshakes being brought out for others. I left my purchase of Bilatong and candy in the truck (open concept jeeps) but the jerk monkeys got to the candy and destroyed it but left the bilatong alone. There was also an open bag of Nik Naks in the truck but I guess it was too spicy for them but what a mess they made.

Our last round of the drive we spotted in the distance a leopard sitting in the shade which someone had seen movement of an hour before in that area. We unfortunately were not able to see lions or rhino’s. The drive was truly exhausting and very hard to even keep our eyes open. I have such respect for the guide who has to drive in the heat in the same conditions where we constantly kept falling in and out of sleep during the drive. Little lacklustre to end the last game drive.

After a long day in the heat, we took a dip in the pool. The pool bar was empty so Alberto made it his nest to do work and journaling. The pool was really relaxing. I stayed on the bar to tan and relax. We stayed at the pool for a few hours and met a wonderful family originally from Zimbabwe. Kudzai (kood-zay) 33, a mother and a psychologist and within the first 5 minutes of meeting Will, she figured out his character/personality down to the T. She was on vacation with her family (2 daughters) and husband who is a software engineer. Her sister 24, had a scholarship to attend Yale and now teaches intelligent rich kids in a private school. We relaxed by the poolside until the sun started to set before heading back to our camping area to shower and change for our group farewell dinner.

We all had decided earlier in this trip that we would all opt for the buffet dinner the night so we sat down to buffet at 7PM for $20USD. A really nice day to end a trip with thank you’s going around. 12 days past way too quickly. We hung out on the couches in the main building until the winds picked up and we knew a storm was brewing as the sky was lit up with lighting for a few hours and what one was a crisp clear sky where all the stars were present disappeared.