Johannesburg

Frenetic, electrifying Johannesburg has had a reputation for striving, greed and violence ever since its first plot auction in December 1886. Despite its status as the largest and wealthiest city in the country, it has never been the seat of government or national political power, allowing it to concentrate fully on what it has always done best: make money and get ahead.

Radical politicians, inspired entrepreneurs, groundbreaking writers and hard-living entertainers have always been drawn to "Jozi", as it's affectionately known, from across South Africa and beyong.

During the apartheid are, Johannesburg was the city in which black resistance and urban culture was most strident: Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu formed the country's first black law firm here in 1952, before helping to sow the seeds of liberation.

There are still astonishing extremes of wealth and poverty here and the inequity of the old South Africa remains apparent, but it is not as starkly racial as it once was: about one million black Jo'burgers have become middle class or rich since liberation, and there are many poor whites. That does not make the contrasts any less surreal: mansions in verdant suburbs are protected by high walls and electrified fences, only a kilometer or two from sprawling shanty towns. More township dwellers are moving to the suburbs than ever before - but jobseekers from the provinces are always arriving in even greater numbers.

The bewildering size of Jo'burg can be daunting for all but the most determined traveller. Some visitors fall into the trap of being too intimidated by the city's reputation to explore, venturing out only to the safe covered shopping malls and restaurants of the northern suburbs while making hasty plans to move on. However, once you've found a convenient way of getting around, either by car or in the company of a tour guide, the history, diversity and crackling energy of the city can quickly become compelling. Johannesburg offers fascinating museums, most notably the Apartheid Museum in Gold Reef City and the Museum Africa in Newtown, as well as excellent art galleries. Several suburbs have a thriving cafe culture, which by the evening transforms into a lively restaurant scene.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is arguably the emblem of South African tourism, the place that delivers best what most visitors to Africa want to see - scores of elephants, lions and a cast of thousands of other game roaming the savanna. A narrow strip of land hugging the Mozambique border, Kruger stretches across Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga, an astonishing 414-kilometer drive from Pafuri Gate in the north to Malelane Gate in the south, all of it along tar, with many well-kept gravel roads looping off to provide routes for game drives.

Kruger comes pretty close to fulfilling Out of Africa fantasies...

Lesotho

Entirely surrounded by South Africa and sometimes mistaken for one of apartheid's ill-conceived semi-states, the aptly named "mountain kingdom" of Lesotho (pronounced "Lee-su-tu") is in fact proudly independent and very different in character from its dominant neighbor. Whereas the Rainbow Nation next door is, in many respects, distinctly European, laid-back Lesotho prides itself on its staunchly African heritage. Few people in the highlands of this fabulously beautiful and rugged land speak English or Afrikaans, though language isn't a barrier when the country's inhabitants - the Basotho - count among the most hospitable people in southern Africa. Another refreshing physical (and psychological) contrast is the almost total absence of fences, which means you can hike into the upland regions at will.

Travelling almost anywhere in Lesotho is an adventure: there are no motorways or slick city liner buses here (or indeed, too many timetables), though the tarred road network is good, covered by rickety minibuses held together in some cases by little more than prayers. For the Basotho, ponies are the preferred method of transport, particularly in the highlands. You can do the same from pony-trekking lodges all over the country.

Lesotho is one of only a few countries to lie entirely above an altitude of 1000m (3000ft), earning its nickname of "The Kingdom in the Sky".

Government Links

South African Embassy - in Washington, DC

South African Consulate - in Los Angeles

Transportation Links

Intercape - main bus company in South Africa

Underberg Express - shuttles from Pietermaritzburg & Durban to Underberg

Baz Bus - backpacker hop-on/hop-off bus

Accommodation Links

Brown Sugar Backpackers - looked good but the owner basically ignores questions

Jacaranda Lodge - the owner is VERY helpful and quick to respond to all requests

Purple Palms - looks great but had plenty of bad reviews

Sani Lodge Backpackers

Site-seeing Links

Apartheid Museum

Soweto

DeWitt Cheetah Sanctuary & Research Center in Pretoria

Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve

Sani Pass

Kruger National Park

Movies & Books

Leg 4 « RTW 2009 » Leg 6

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