As soon as we arrived in South Africa for the first time to enjoy the second half of our honeymoon, André and I thought of no better idea than to throw ourselves in a car and drive to Kruger Park. It was only our second time on the African continent (but the first in sub-Saharan Africa) and we were interested in getting to know the differences of this continent first-hand.
When we landed in OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, we could only think about what we were about to do: our first time in South Africa and our first driving experience in the “real” Africa.
Our final destination was Geiger’s Camp (on a private reserve in Kruger Park) some 6 hours and 499km away from there. We were ready to start our adventure.
After renting a car, we were surprised with an excellent highway, which is no different than any other European highway except for the fact that you drive on the left side. This was actually something André adjusted pretty easily to – it seemed like he had never learned to drive any other way!
While we were planning our trip, we heard stories of how we could be stopped by corrupt police officers but we soon understood that this would be unlikely. There was a lot of police but they were mostly preoccupied with controlling speed limits and dangerous maneuvers that some drivers would always risk doing. We always believe in common sense first and this wouldn’t be a problem for us.
As we started on our way, we saw the sun setting on the horizon. The colors of the sunset in Africa are so different from anything we had ever seen until then. We thought that, due to the fact that winter was coming at that time, it would make the evening colors even more unique. However, after a good number of kilometers, when we reached the N4 in Emalahleni (the road where drivers from Johannesburg and Pretoria merge), it started to pour and thunder. Of course, the bad weather made our drive a little more challenging (and we did pass by a few accidents), but we were always careful. The colors of the sky went from unique to unimaginable and it hit us that our adventure was only just beginning.
Our great adventure truly began from the moment we turned onto the R540 which we know so well today. It was dark when we got to it and the road here was very different. We didn’t have any lighting besides what came out of our own car lights, we were in the midst of high cornfields with no protection (which only made it that much easier for animals to jump onto the road) – but, worst of all, were the famous potholes on the road.
Yes, these were our greatest obstacles. I don’t know if we should call them holes or actual craters in the road. There were huge. And they were so frequent that even while we were still celebrating having just avoided one we were seconds away from blow our tires in another one that was coming. We saw some cars whizz by us having to stop due to this very problem! For us, this was a huge surprise. We noticed it was normal though, since luxury cars passed us on the road so we realized this must be common on South Africa’s regional roads.
Of course, this little (but actually huge) obstacle slowed us down a bit and delayed our arrival at Blyde River Canyon Lodge where we had planned to spend the first night. We had designed this itinerary in the hopes of seeing Fish River Canyon, the second biggest African canyon, but when we got to it, it was pitch black which kept us from enjoying the view.
Still, this was an incredible adventure and we didn’t regret our decision in the least!
We like to fully immerse ourselves in the newest place we’re discovering and there was no better way to do that than to drive here. When we finally got to Blyde River Canyon and were parking our SUV, our welcome party were two zebras and two wildebeests that were peacefully eating near us. We were a bit apprehensive. We didn’t know if we should leave our car but the lodge receptionists immediately came out to greet us, having kindly waited until 11pm for us and prepared a typical South African dinner for us.
The night sounds in Africa were different. We were already in the midst of the savanna but we had no idea what surrounded us. It was nighttime and we would have to wait for the morning to be surprised.
The next day, after an excellent breakfast, we were back on the road. We wanted to get to our final destination so badly. And we were so close! We called Geiger’s Camp and they told us we wouldn’t take more than two hours. We were happy because that meant we would still be able to make it in time for the afternoon game drive.
André drove, guided by our rented GPS system, and we passed by many different towns which gave us the opportunity to witness South African daily life: 6- and 7-year-olds walking to school in their uniforms, women selling fruit and juices on the side of the road. And we finally got to see the breathtaking view of Fish River Canyon in the distance.
We were so excited, but we just wanted to arrive! And that’s when we realized we were going in the direction of Hazyview and not Hoedspruit (our gateway to the safari). Our GPS had wanted to show us more of Africa and we had gone with the flow. What ended up saving us was a map (and we learned that, in Africa, you always have to have a map!).
Now, we would need to turn around quickly and drive back all the way we had gone to get to our safari in time. And we did it! We arrived at our lodge just in time to start our adventure which, contrary to what we were thinking at the time, had really already begun long before that.
On our way back, we were able to see the canyon up close. It’s definitely worth it to drive in South Africa just for this view – it’s absolutely exhilarating. We also saw the potholes more easily (which made it so much easier to avoid blowing our tires!). And we saw what was beyond the cornfields: shanty towns. We were in Africa and we quickly realized that, here, you can be in the best hotel room or the best highway one moment and be on a road filled with potholes and surrounded by shanty towns the next.
Driving in a country is one of the best ways to get to know it, feel it and get into its rhythm. These 500km from Johannesburg and Kruger Park showed us a unique side of South Africa – from its breathtaking landscapes to the daily lives of its locals – and we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world!
Are you planning a safari? We have tips and stories about our honeymoon in South Africa to help you!