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Next week we’re starting out on our biggest vacation yet. We’re going WAY out of our regular trip on a 14 Day South Africa itinerary that will bring #parkchasing to a whole new level for us.

Our packing is done. The passports and malaria pills are ready to go. So today we’re taking a few minutes to share where we’ll be traveling in the next few weeks. We can’t wait to return with some photos and re-cap posts of the national parks we’ll be visiting there.

Why 14 days in South Africa?

When you’re chasing a visit to all 418 national parks in the United States, a trip to South Africa seems like a major detour. One of the questions we’ve been asked a lot since we announced our trip is: “Why did you pick South Africa?”

More than a year ago, some longtime friends asked us to travel with them on a once-in-a-lifetime trip they were planning. They tossed out some ideas, one of which was to South Africa. We’ve had some great trips with them in the past, and we were excited about the prospects of adding some international experience to our travel portfolio. The planning began in December 2017 and has continued steadily for the past year.

Here’s why South Africa continues to rank high among destinations on the African continent.

Relative safety

While there are always precautions to take abroad, (and parts of Africa are currently not safe for American travelers), South Africa has a good record of safely welcoming tourists from around the world.

Best Spot for Safari

A photographic safari was high on the list for all of us if we were heading to Africa. While there are other places to get up-close to wildlife in Africa, Kruger National Park in Western South Africa consistently ranks among the safest places to have a high-quality safari experience. We’ve had a terrific experience working with our safari operator.

World-Class Cities

We love city vacations. If you can’t be on a hiking trail, there’s not much better than wandering around museums, exploring a neighborhood, or just finding a spot to people-watch. We’re excited about getting to know Cape Town and Johannesburg during our stay.

Sites of Significance 

South Africa has 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (many of which are also national parks). Tied with Morroco and Ethiopia for the most UNESCO sites in Africa, it has a good mix of natural features and historical importance.

Growing Influence

Since 2010, South Africa continues to grow as the business and financial leader of the continent. In the past decades, the country has gone through some dramatic changes. When it joined BRICS, many considered it a sign of South Africa’s passage out of a “developing nation” status. We’re excited to get to know the country as it’s getting to know itself and its new role in the global economy.

So without further ado, here’s the outline of our 14 Day South Africa Itinerary:

Day 1-2 – Traveling to South Africa

Traveling to South Africa from our base camp in Minnesota brings its own set of challenges. With no direct options, we’ll be spending nearly 28 hours in the air and on the ground to reach our destination. Departing on Saturday, it will take us until late Sunday evening (and a stop in Europe) before we reach our final destination, Cape Town International Airport.

Day 3 – Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town

We don’t plan to be on the ground long in South Africa before visiting our first national park. The Cape Town metro area is literally draped around Table Mountain National Park. At more than 85 square miles, it forms an elevated plateau towering more than 3000 feet above the rest of the city.

Known as one of the new 7 natural wonders of the modern world, we’ll be spending our first day riding the aerial tram up Table Mountain and then hiking around the top of the plateau.

Day 4 – Franschhoek Wine Region

Franschhoek Valley, located about 45 miles northwest of Cape Town is one of the Western Cape’s most famous wine regions. Translated from Afrikaans as “French Corner”, Franschhoek is one of the oldest wine regions in the country (and in the world). Wineries here have been in operation since the 1680’s. We’ll spend our day enjoying the South African sunshine on a hop-on-hop-off winery tram tour.

Day 5 – Kayak Cape Town & More Table Mountain

When we first started researching South Africa, one of the first activities we found was visiting the Boulder’s Beach penguin colony at the Cape of Good Hope. A small colony of African Penguins continues to inhabit this part of Table Mountain National Park.

We booked a half-day sea kayaking tour to visit the penguins. We’re following that up by hiking around the lighthouses and coastline of Cape Peninsula.

In the evening, we’re planning a guided sunset hike up Lion’s Head, one of the most famous hiking spots in all of South Africa. If we get anything close to the photos we’ve seen online, we can’t wait to share them with everyone!

Day 6 – The Durban Golden Mile

The next morning we will hop a short domestic flight across to the other coast of South Africa. Landing in Durban, we’re heading straight for the Indian Ocean. Excited to be one step closer to that bucket list item “Dip toes in all the oceans!”

We’re planning an afternoon exploring the Durban Golden Mile, a stretch of beach with world-famous surfing, hotels, and casinos. After that we’re driving north towards another national park and UNESCO site, Drakensberg.

Day 7 – Royal Natal National Park

Up early again for more hiking on Day 7. This time we’re in Royal Natal National Park. Despite the name, it’s not a South African National Park managed by SANParks (the South African counterpart to our National Park Service). It’s actually a provincial park and part of the Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.  

Depending on the weather, today we’re hoping to hike to Tugela Falls. It’s the highest waterfall in Africa and the second highest in the world, ranking behind Angel Falls in Venezuela.

Day 8 – Johannesburg Bound

Today will be a gap day for us. We may squeeze in some more Royal Natal National Park hiking in the morning. Otherwise, our Day 8 goal is to drive the 4-5 hours north to Johannesburg where we’ll spend the night and prepare to meet our safari guides in the next morning.

Day 9-13 – Kruger National Park Safari

The rest of our South African vacation will be spent on a photographic safari in Kruger National Park. At 7,523 square miles, it’s one of the largest game reserves in all of Africa. It ranks as the 7th largest national park in the world, more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

Our guides will take us on morning and evening game drives with a focus on spotting the “Big 5” of Africa: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and the Cape buffalo. The area we’re traveling is also a popular spot to see hippopotamus and some zebra.

But our big goal is to see a giraffe in the wild. Since getting some close-up photos of a giraffe family at the San Diego zoo in 2018, seeing one of these animals in the wild has become a personal goal. We’re hopeful the weather and wildlife will cooperate for an unforgettable trip.

Giraffe family at the San Diego Zoo – taken by Amy in May 2018

Day 14 – The Top 10 Longest Flight in the World

On Day 14 we’ll have a half day to explore Johannesburg before making our way to the airport for the journey home. We’re not exactly calling it a “perk” but one more ‘bucket list’ item to check off on this trip will be to take one of the longest flights in the world back to the United States.

As of 2019, our 16 hour 50-minute flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta ranks as one of the Top 10 longest flights in the world. Tack on our flight home to Minneapolis and we have time to watch all 8 Harry Potter movies back-to-back.

Wish us luck (and stay tuned for some re-cap posts when we get home!)


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