There comes a point in life in Germany where you start dreaming of someplace well…warmer. Sunnier. Cheerier. I like to joke that a sun-smoked vacation in the middle of winter is my condition for continuing to live in these cold Northern climes, but honestly? It’s no joke. To get our doctor-prescribed vitamin D, we scheduled this year’s trip to straddle 2017 and 2018 as far south as we could go and still remain in the same time zone: a three-week adventure through South Africa and Namibia. We learned a lot about both countries, cultures, foods, animals, landscapes and government’s commitments to maintaining the roads. And Tim learned about my secret ability to quote lengthy passages of Disney’s The Lion King unprompted and with an accuracy that greatly disturbed him.
We designed the self-drive trip so that Tim could share some of his favorite South Africa stops with me, and added in just shy of a week’s time in Namibia, to explore some new ground for both of us. Anyone who’s been to Namibia will tell you that’s an aggressive timeline (and now, in hindsight, I’m one of them), but for the most part, it worked out well.
Departing Flight: December 24: We got an amazing deal on round-trip flights (600USD/550EUR), but it requires flying on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. We spent the bulk of Christmas Eve on the road, leaving Berlin at 7:00 am to get to Hamburg in time for our flight. (Long story short, we live in Berlin now, but booked the flights before the life swerve).
Return Flight: January 13: We left the evening of Saturday, January 13 and arrived back in Berlin on Sunday afternoon, perfectly positioning us to (unfortunately) return to work on Monday.
We divided our trip into three different legs over the course of the three weeks.
Leg 1: Johannesburg to Cape Town (and stay in Cape Town)
The cheapest flights were in and out of Johannesburg. We rented a Volkswagen Polo, nicknamed the Off-Road Polo for all the things we put it through, in Jo-Berg and mapped a route from O.R. Tambo to Cape Town over the course of three days. We stayed Christmas night at a private game reserve and lodge near Vredefort and then cut through the interior of the country to Cape Town over the next days, with a day-long stop at Karoo National Park. Then we spent a week exploring Cape Town.
- Christmas at Tava Lingwe
- Discovering the Great Karoo
- A Cape Town Date Night
- Things to Eat, Drink, and Do in Cape Town
- Riding the Waves for Change
- Things I Learned at My First Surf Lesson
Leg 2: Namibia
Our original idea was to drive the whole route, but it soon became clear that we’d need more time than we had to attempt that. We opted instead to fly to Walvis Bay, Namibia (on the coast near Swakopmund) from Cape Town. There, we rented a Toyota Fortuner (4×4 strongly advised) and did a big loop of the southern part of Namibia, including the famous Sossusvlei Dunes, the Namib desert, Lüderitz, and the ghost town Kolmanskop, before flying out of Walvis Bay back to Johannesburg.
- Is Namibia for me?
- Tips for Driving in Namibia
- Exploring the Dunes at Sossusvlei
- How to Drive in the Sand at Sossusvlei
Leg 3: Johannesburg Area
We actually didn’t spend any real time in the city itself. Once we landed, we rented another Volkswagen Polo, nicknamed Off-Road Polo Remix (since it was a flashy red), and did a small loop of the surrounding area. We spent two nights around Pilanesberg National Park and two nights in Parys with Tim’s family friends before heading back home.
- Discovering Pilanesberg National Park
- Three Alternatives to Kruger Park in South Africa
- Self-Drive vs. Guided Tour Safari
- Tips for Doing a Self-Drive Safari
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