Northern Drakensberg – A place of incomparable magnificence

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Even the drive to the Northern Drakensberg already looks promising! Crossing over hilly landscapes, spread in the nicest shades of autumn-like yellow and light brown  grass one can imagine. I have a slight foreshadowing of how beautiful it will be to hike here. And upon arriving at the hostel, even the view from our terrace at Amphitheatre Backpacker is super stunning.

The two most popular day tours this hostel offers are Lesotho and the Tugela Falls hike, usually taking place alternately.  Since we planned to spend three nights in the Northern Drakensberg, it is possible for us to do both day tours – which is one of the main reasons why I would highly recommend staying at least three nights for everyone planning to come here. However for those on a time schedule who won’t be able to attend both day tours, the area has plenty shorter activities to offer. The lodge is located on a bewildering piece of land , so even exploring the surroundings of your accommodation can turn into an experience on its own. You can hike around the wide fields of wild flowers and make your way to one of the dams around to take a refreshing swim. Or if you prefer, take a splash in the pool or the Jacuzzi!

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LESOTHO – THE HIGHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

First morning waking up in Northern Drakensberg – off to Lesotho! After about an hour of driving, we enter Lesotho over the Monantsa Pass, which is super rocky and may be a challenge even for experienced drivers. Prepare for a bumpy, but funny ride! In exchange for that, the mountain scenery around us is just beautiful!

This wonderful landscape results by the fact that Lesotho is surrounded by a mountain formation which is seen as the natural border to South Africa –  in fact is the only existing border since Lesotho is completely landlocked by ZA. What makes Lesotho unique is the altitude it’s located. The lowest point of 1400 metres above sea level makes it the highest country in the world. This is just one of the many interesting facts the headmaster reveals as we meet up with him at the primary school of the small town we visit. Want to impress him when you do the tour yourself? Keep in mind that people in Lesotho are called “Basotho” and the language spoken here is called “Sesotho”.

The tour continues with a scenic hike taking us through a unique landscape of wide fields, dappled with traditional rondavels and framed with impressing rock formations.

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As we reach a grassy embedding halfway up one of the mountains, it is time for a lunchtime picnic – which is absolutely enjoyable with a view like that. But apparently, the view is not the only thing we came here for. As our tour guide Sia asks us to turn around and take a look at the sandstone wall behind us, nobody really gets his intention at first. Just when you look very closely, you notice the outlines of some ancient rock art drawings from the Khoisan People, also known as a tribe of Bushmen living in the area of Southern Africa. An advice for you: When you do the tour yourself and Sia asks you what the paintings might show – please don’t make the same mistake as me and say it looks like a hippo! That is going to destroy him! One does look a bit like a hippo though…

Making our way down again, the view gets even nicer – and if you are not afraid of stepping into goat poop, you might as well check out the super interesting caves along the way. Coming down you pass private houses of Basotho people who actually cultivate grass during winter, so that their cattle have something to feed on during the dry summer months – completely unusual, but absolutely necessary in a climate area like this. As we reach our starting point and jump back into our minibus, I can say that it was a nice, short and absolutely enjoyable hike that gave us a wonderful insight in Lesotho’s scenic beauty.

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We continue our trip with what Sia declares as one of the highlights of the Lesotho Day Tour: tasting a traditional Southern African beer!

This experience is… well, let’s call it special! The taste is quite unique and definitely not for everyone. I don’t really taste any alcohol, but a lot of sour. Sia took three German guys on this tour a few days ago who loved this beer so much that they got themselves three bottles of it and even emptied it on the drive back to the hostel! That must be real beer love! All in all, it depends on your personal taste if you like this drink or not – you may hate it or love it, so definitely try it once you’re here!

Next stop on our day tour – and my personal highlight – was visiting a traditional healer in her private house. Sia’s amazing translation skills make it possible for us to ask her on her daily life as a healer and her dramatic way of getting there. This woman is unbelievably heartily,  amiable and open to answer every question with such a pleasure that you immediately fell super welcome at her home. Not forgetting the story she has to tell is absolutely breath taking! Despite this, she is going to tell you everything you want to know about the myths, superstition and esoteric culture of the Basotho. Very interesting!

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Final stop of our tour is at another local lady’s house to try the traditional food of Basotho people, which is a maize porridge, called “pap” and some vegetable mash. A must do is eating it with your bare hands, just like local people do. Sia is gladly going to explain you how to eat it properly. And it actually tastes super yummy in combination with the vegetables and is a delicious hearty meal. Even though, I could not imagine eating this (and nothing but this) every day, three times a day for the rest of my life – which is basically what people in Lesotho do due to their economic and agricultural situation. Another precious insight into a state that is considered one of the poorest on the African continent – but so full of unforgettable scenic beauty! At the end of the day, when going back to Amphitheatre backpackers, you cannot help but leave a little piece of your heart in Lesotho with the people living there.

TUGELA FALLS HIKE – A WALK IN BETWEEN THE CLOUDS

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Next morning, next adventure, Sia on our side again! As we jump into the bus that is going to take us to the beginning of the Tugela Falls hiking track (which is already at an altitude of 2500 meters), we ask him to rate the level of difficulty of this hike on a scale from one to ten. Seven is his answer – that will be funny!

The hike starts quite relaxed with a zig zag pathway taking us along a beautiful misty hilly landscape. The incline at this part is easily manageable, but noticeable enough to warm-up your muscles. And with this scenery around me, I kind of feel like I’m part of a Lord-of-the-Rings like fantasy movie.

After continuously following the zig zag, we get to a tiny, tiny path that takes us around the massive mountains, up a short ladder and to our first battle combat: A massive stone gully we need to climb to reach the top of Amphitheatre Mountain.

Getting up here seems so much more difficult from down below than it actually is once you’ve started. Just be careful, watch your steps, be aware of rolling stones and you will be perfectly fine! This part literally is “climbing” instead of hiking since you often have to pull yourself up and take very high steps – but it is so much fun! I never did something similar before in my whole life and I enjoyed it so much that I might even have discovered a new hobby.

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Once you reach the top of the gully, you literally find yourself standing in between the clouds. The highest point of the summit is at about 3254 metres above sea level – and that’s why you feel like standing on top of the world while doing this hike. As we move further on top of the Amphitheatre, the height gives you the creeps in a good way. And walking in between a field of white candy cotton clouds is so unique.

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As much as I enjoy crossing the top of the mountain through this scenery, everything has it pros and cons. And our cons reveal when we get to the point where the second highest waterfall in the world is supposed to be – because through this cloud cover, it is nowhere to be seen. The fog gets so strong that there is no chance to spot the waterfall, but at least we can hear it. The extraordinary landscape and weather changes so fast on top of the Amphitheatre and that makes this beautiful hike so exciting.

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But not to forget, walking along this many-sided scenery equals another thing: Getting closer to the legendary chain ladders, our second battle combat during this hike! Before going to the Drakensberg, a lot of people told me stories about these ladders and how scary they are. And to be honest, it really looks so scary when you finally reach them! In case you feel absolutely insecure, your tour guide provides some safety ropes to secure you while you make your way down. I decide not to take any, since it is not my first time climbing ladders and I’m asking myself: “Why should it be that much different, just because I got a rock wall in front of me?” It actually turns out to be very safe and stable.

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Coming all the way down, you have to climb two ladders: First one about twenty meters, the second one about forty meters. Each section gives you the opportunity to choose between two different ladders: An older one, which is still in good nick but might be a bit loose, and a newer one, which is properly mounted to the face of the rock and gives you a bit more stability. I decided to take the more stable option, since I was so nervous at first. But after the first few steps down, it turns into an enjoyable thrill! So amazing! Looking down actually helped me during my descent, but you may find that it is easier for you not looking down. Just always keep in mind – nothing bad will happen to you as long as you stay calm and focused. So far, everyone always made it down in one piece and so will you!

The rest of the hike takes us around the mountains, past the bottom of the stone gully, along the zig zag and safely back to the car park where we started the tour. Coming down the chain ladders, I thought I had already seen the best of the Amphitheatre – never have I been so wrong. The view during the way back is the most amazing so far and absolutely mind blowing.

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Reaching the car park and looking back at the day, you do feel like you conquered something amazing today. The hike is about 12 kilometres long and has some difficult parts, but every single step is worth the magnificent scenery you can enjoy during the tour. Not for a single second was I sad for not having seen the Tugela Waterfall properly – I rather consider it as a reason to do this hike again someday. Right know it just feels incredible having overcome the fear of the ladders and having mastered the stone gully – the two things that in the end make this hike so special and fun. So whenever you go to the Northern Drakensberg, the Tugela Falls Day Tour is an absolute must, but keep two things in mind. First: When the day is not so cloudy, bring your bathing suits! You can actually take a short and refreshing swim on top of the Amphitheatre when it is sunny and hot enough. And second: Ask Sia to take a picture of you with your phone and check it once you’re back in the shuttle. A good laugh is definitely guaranteed!

The Northern Drakensberg is a place not to be missed while traveling South Africa – so different from how you would imagine this continent to look like, but so full of beauty and so unique. If you’re searching for a landscape that makes your jar drop every five seconds, this is the place to visit.

Written by Angela Kolbe.

Kruger National Park: A MUST DO!

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DAY 1 : “Every good trip starts early.”

That’s what I keep telling myself, while waking up at 5 am in the morning, getting ready for the shuttle that is going to take us to Kruger National Park. Day one of our 4 Day Wildlife Safari has begun – and it starts quite impressive – even before we reached the gate of Kruger. It takes approximately six hours to get from Johannesburg to the National Park, driving along the Abel Erasmus Pass – a scenic mountain road that leads from Mpumalanga to Limpopo. Stopping at the entry of the 133m long Strijdom Tunnel to enjoy the amazing landscape, enjoy photo opportunities or browse through the tiny shops at the parking lot , is an absolute must while driving that route!

After this stop, we continue straight to our camping site close to the borders of Kruger National Park. A cosy and peaceful place that offers a pool, a campfire, a nice little dam right on the property!

After a small break at the camp for unpacking and checking out the area, we go on to Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre, home for many of South Africa’s abandoned, injured or poisoned wildlife. Moholoholo is known for their high contribution to wildlife education in South Africa and as we join a guided tour around the park, it is easy to see that they are absolutely passionate about what they do. There is plenty of things you can explore in Moholoholo – educate yourself on the history of the lions, leopards, servals, wild dogs, eagles and many more animals currently living there. They also offer the chance to interact with some animals inhabiting the centre. Petting a cheetah and feeding a vulture was an absolute highlight during our visit.

Another thing not to be missed while visiting Moholoholo is getting to know Stoffel, the probably sneakiest honey badger in the world! Due to his countless clever attempts to escape the fences of the Rehabilitation Centre, it was featured on BBC and he is now famous on YouTube – what an honour to meet such a superstar! And after watching him for a while, his outstanding comedian talent seems undoubtable. Listening to the owner revealing Stoffels funniest getaway missions is unbelievably hilarious. Check out this video to get a first glimpse on his golden moments and prepare for some tears of laughter !

Visiting the Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Centre was informative, super interesting and peppered with a lot of nice surprises – all in all, an amazing start to this 4 Day Wildlife Safari!

Ending the first day by sitting around the campfire with a glass of free wine and getting to know the rest of the group is super relaxed. And as Goodman, our lovely tour guide, asks us about our expectations on this safari, we all start to share our biggest wishes for the following three days. For me, it’s definitely seeing at least one lion. At this moment, none of us knew how spoiled on amazing sightings we all soon would be!

DAY 2 : 4 of the BIG 5 in a day !

The drive begins at 5:30 am – another early start in the day! But for those who worry that they might not be fully awake after the one hour ride to the gates of Kruger National Park – trust me, you will be! It is freezing in the morning and the wind is blowing like hell, which is absolute fun as long as you make sure not to forget your blanket before jumping into the safari car. Even though it might be a bit cold, watching this beautiful red sunrise inside of the Kruger does absolutely make up for it!

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As if this sunrise isn’t already stunning enough, the first 20 minutes inside Kruger just turned out to be magic! As we slowly cruise along the road, our tour guide suddenly stops the truck, sniffing the air, saying: “I smell elephant!” And his elephant detecting skills show up to be quite reliable, as a bull elephant sneaks out of the bush and cosily crosses the road right in front of us just a few seconds later. So amazing!

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This hilarious and unique moment is soon followed by a huge number of unbelievably precious sightings – so precious that you even quickly get used to the herds of impalas, zebras, giraffes and wild beast surrounding you almost all the time. One of the most memorable animals we got to see was definitely the two rhinos passing by. Due to the high number of rhinos getting killed because of their valuable horns in the past, the amount of rhinos still living inside of Kruger National Park is kept as a secret and not even revealed to the tour guides crossing the reserve every day. Apparently, this sighting has become one of the rarest during the last couple of years, which might have been a reason for the whole group – including Goodman – to absolutely freak out when spotting them. It even almost over trumps the group of three lions peacefully taking a morning nap in the bushes shortly after… but just almost!

Lunchtime has come and we decided to stop at one of the picnic sites in the National Park to prepare our own tasty meal and take a break. But stopping the drive does not prevent you from experiencing amazing things around Kruger! As we finish our meal and head up to a viewing point at the braai place to have a coffee, we get to see the funniest thing ever: A hippo couple making love in the river right underneath us! Now I definitely know what it feels like to be at the right place at the right time!

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Yummy food, a nice view and good entertainment – what else could we still wish for? The only thing missing now was some thrill… which already awaited us around the corner. As we continue our game drive around the National Park, everybody starts smelling something, but this time, it wasn’t an elephant! It was worse! As the smell starts getting unbearable, we noticed the corpse of a hippo lying next to the road, surrounded by a bunch of vultures. Seems like this poor creature wasn’t as happy as the two previous that we just saw! Watching some vultures fighting for the best parts of the corpse, while others were picking the hippos eyes out to eat them appreciatively, was absolutely gross yet absolutely amazing at the same time! If you haven’t been stunned by the sometimes cruel but nevertheless breathe taking diversity of wildlife in nature, this is the moment for it to happen.

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After a certain amount of amazingness in just one day, we weren’t expecting to be astounded yet again. But on our drive home, as it starts to get darker and we were slowly getting closer to the exit of Kruger, the magic continued. One of the biggest wish people do when entering the Kruger National Park is spotting the Big 5: Lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard. On the final meters before leaving the park, we actually almost bump into a huge group of buffalo’s enjoying their dinner right in front of the fences. Four out of five of the Big 5 on the first day was absolutely amazing! The question we asked ourselves then was: Are we going to find the leopard tomorrow?

DAY 3 : Following the leopard tracks 

Hitting the road of Kruger National Park again this morning, we all have the same thought: Leopard, we are coming for you! This turns into an interesting lesson on how to track animals, as our tour guide took his time to explain the different footprints and traces of the animals living inside the park. Constantly staying on the leopards track, we blunder into another amazing precious sighting: African wild dogs! There are only an estimated number of 450 to 500 wild dogs left in Kruger, so they are one of the rarest sightings in the National Park. And after watching them cuddle and play with each other just in front of the car, I can without doubt say: They are most definitely one of the loveliest too! No wonder why they are Goodman’s favorites!

Regarding the weather, this day turns out to be even nicer than the previous – nothing but blue sky and sunshine, with tiny, tiny cotton candy clouds. That absolutely underlines the grandness of Kruger National Parks outstanding scenic beauty. As someone living in Europe, this place is so completely different from home. And that’s what makes it so special just being here.

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The animal’s performance today doesn’t fail to impress, too. Have you ever seen a giraffe drink? It is absolutely hilarious! Apart from that, this day seems to be family day in Kruger National Park. Just after finishing lunch, an elephant catch our eyes, slowly making is way out of the bushes nearby the parking lot. Seeing him already gets us excited, but that was before we realize he was the leader of a whole caravan of elephants heading to a water hole. As they start sneaking out of the bush, one by one, some even holding on to each other trunk to tail, this turns out to be so extraordinary that it left us all speechless! In complete, we counted 32 elephants in a row! This moment, followed by the unbelievably cute giraffe family watching us as we pass by shortly after, perfectly reflects the innocent artlessness of animals and untouched nature.

This peacefulness quickly gets interrupted by an information another visitor gives us as our ways cross: There’s a leopard only 7 kilometers up the road! Oh yes, we were back on our mission! Reaching the place where the leopard was supposed to be, we didn’t spot the cat itself, but parts of the poor impala that became its last victim. Apparently, the leopard felt like saving a little snack for later and left a haunch hanging in the tree – not nice to look at, but that’s what nature is about: Killing and getting killed.

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And the feeling of experiencing this so close was super adventurous! As we scan the area, searching for the leopard in person, we cannot help but think that this sneaky cat was hiding somewhere around, perfectly camouflaged in the dry brown bushes, probably watching us. Time passed, but he was nowhere to be seen or heard. We then had to admit that the leopard won this round and make our way back to the gates, but the chase wasn’t over yet: We still had the nocturnal drive waiting for us!

The night drive started an hour before sunset and took place in a private reserve very close to the campsite. The landscape differs a lot from Kruger National Park, since it does not domicile any elephants, which tend to topple trees to make the leaves – their favorite food – easier to reach. It is a beautiful place with a lot of green and tiny little lakes and rivers, which are super fun to cross with the safari truck. An adventurous and super funny bumpy ride! The reserve is home for a huge number of zebras, buffalos and – as an absolute highlight so close to the end – a couple of rhinos and their babies. Watching a mommy rhino and her little bundle of joy munch on their dinner is absolutely adorable!

As the sun sets and it’s slowly started to get dark, it was time to take a break and have a drink together with the group. The truck was packed with free wine and snacks and the sunset turns our surrounding into a stunningly beautiful red and orange wonderland. In combination with an amazing group vibe, this moment was just perfect! How could you not be happy now?

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Knowing that this was our last evening together, we all still got kind of emotional. Goodman knew how to describe this feeling in a lovely humorous way: “I’m going to start cutting the onions now.” Yes Goodman, we know exactly how you feel: I think all of us could have stayed in Kruger for much, much, much longer. Well, all good things have to come to an end sooner or later… but not yet! Getting back to the camp, we still had our last dinner together – an amazing typical South African braai! Damn, our chef Martin definitely knew how to do his job !

Later, while sitting around the campfire after dinner, Goodman asks us our feelings about the safari. What was the most precious moment for us? Have our expectations been fulfilled? To be honest, mine haven’t been fulfilled… they have been exceeded! Am I sad that I haven’t seen a leopard? Not at all! I see it as another reason to come back someday, apart from the overwhelming beauty of this lovely spot. I cannot really decide on my favorite moment, because somehow I see the whole safari as a huge golden moment of my time in South Africa – and that was before I even knew, what kind of highlight would be awaiting us on the last day.

DAY 4 : A view you’ll never forgot !

Early in the morning it is time to leave the camp and start our way back to Johannesburg. Even though we have already seen the Abel Erasmus Pass on our way here, the amazing weather makes the landscape blaze totally different and full of colour. I did not expect to be surprised again by a road we have already seen the first day, but South Africa made it possible! As we drove past a stunning mountain formation that looks quite impressive from down below, we all knew: Blyde River Canyon was close! Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon on Earth and the largest GREEN canyon in the world – which absolutely explains the mind blowing uniqueness of this outstanding inherent natural beauty. Overwhelming!

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After this last wonderful stop, it was time for farewell. I have to admit, I would have never thought it would be that hard. But after spending the last couple of days together and sharing so many unforgettable moments with this group, it felt like saying goodbye to my family. A lot of people say that travel is not only about the places you go to, but also about the people you meet. And after rocking these four days with this bunch of people, I can absolutely agree on that.

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To conclude, this 4 Day Wildlife Safari has made me richer in a lot of ways: richer in experience, richer in memories and richer in friends. It was an unforgettable journey and I would like to thank Baz Bus and every single person that was part of it. If you are traveling South Africa and there’s somehow a bit of time left to do a Wildlife Safari in Kruger – don’t hesitate, just do it, no matter how! After experiencing it myself, I can definitely say that it is an absolute must do point on your bucket list. You will quickly understand why as soon as you pass the gates – it’s going to be an incomparable experience!

If my journey didn’t convince you enough, you can also have a look at the video an other group did here (spoiler : they were lucky enough to see a leopard!).

More info about the 4 Day Kruger Safari and Wildlife Tour here. Baz Bus is even selling a package including the 4 Day Kruger National Park Tour and a Hop-on Hop-off ticket from Johannesburg to Cape Town or Cape Town to Johannesburg, check it out here!

Written By Angela Kolbe.

A day trip to remember

Three days agMap Cape Peninsulao  I arrived in South Africa, I jumped out of the plane, excited and so damn ready to see as much of this wonderful and diverse country as possible. By joining the Baz Bus Cape Peninsula Day Tour, I knew I would see the best the Cape Peninsula had to offer.  Checking out the schedule, this day tour seemed to be very well planned and organized: First stop in Hout Bay, home of the Duiker Island Seal Colony,  next a light morning snack within the route of Chapman’s Peak Drive. Next stop Simon’s Town, visiting the Boulders Beach Penguin Colony. Then moving further South to the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve to have a scenic cycle and a tasty lunch. And last but not least, checking out the Cape Point Lighthouse and the worldwide-famous Cape of Good Hope.

 

Being taught how to enjoy life

Arriving at our first stop, we could either choose between staying onshore and exploring Hout Bay harbour or joining an optional boat cruise to the seal colony at Duiker Island. Personally I wouldn’t want to miss out on seeing the seals (they’re so adorable!), so I stepped on board as quickly as possible.  Fortunately for us the sea was calm on the day, the cruise was relaxing and the boat gently swayed with the light waves. The bay is bordered by pretty little beaches, sweepingly high mountains and hills covered with lush fynbos. This smiling landscape is eye-catching and was a wonderful and quiet start into the day.

The boat cruise was incredibly enjoyable and I was fascinated by the hundreds of roaring seals that inhabited Duiker Island.

If there’s one thing these fluffy furry little fellas mastered perfectly, it is: Simply to enjoy life! As I watched the seals sunbathing in the sun, cosily rolling themselves from one side to another, others happily splashing around in the deep blue water, I was thinking to myself: Damn, I should do that more often! Without a doubt, these cuddly animals are an incomparable example on how to have a perfect lazy day in the sunshine – and by doing that; they ‘“sealed”’ my weekend plans.

As it is your own decision whether to join this optional boat cruise or not, I would definitely recommend spending R80 on this pretty impressive experience. Hout Bay Harbour itself is undeniably beautiful and offers plenty of other things to do for people with motion sickness.

When nature leaves you speechless

We bordered the bus and continued our trip to Chapman’s Peak Drive, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful scenic drives around the world. I visited Melbourne last year and I knew that it would be quite hard to impress me after already seeing the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

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My jaw dropped!

Even though I am no freshman when it comes to incredible landscapes, Chapman’s Peak Drive left me speechless. It is not an exaggeration to say that this drive crosses an area of indescribable inherent natural beauty.

To my pleasure, Baz Bus stopped in this wonderful setting, to have a light snack.  As I sat there, a blueberry muffin in my right hand, a glass of orange juice in my left hand and a breathtakingly pretty view in front of me, I started wondering: Can this day get any better? I didn’t know how close I was to finding out that it most definitely can!

Getting real close

Once we arrived at Boulders Beach, home of hundreds of Jackass penguins, I already had a slight sense that this would definitely be an absolute highlight of my trip to South Africa. I can’t help but adore these cute black and white suited birds. As penguins usually prefer to settle down on places more sealed off from the access of human beings, it is quite special for this colony to call Boulders Beach their home. These little guys actually seem to enjoy the attention of their numerous excited visitors and I absolutely enjoyed watching them as well – so entertaining!

Depending on how much time you have on that day, you could also leave the fences of Boulders Beach Sanctuary for a couple of minutes and explore a quieter beach next ­door. Just ask your tour guide to point you in the direction of this “secret” spot! By doing this, I was rewarded with the chance to get closer to a few penguins. Luckily, they welcomed me immediately and let me join their private sunbathing session.

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The penguins at Simon’s Town are so used to their human visitors that usually they don’t mind having people around them. However, if they give you any sign of refusal, better bow out and let them have their space. In the end, this is the penguin’s habitat and we are the ones visiting, so it is our responsibility to respect their need of peace. You can always ask your Baz Bus tour guide any questions about the behaviour and habits of this species. In my case, they acted something between curious, excited and ‘“Ugh, whatever!’” when coming closer.

Battling mother nature

As we moved further through Table Mountain Nature Reserve, I knew it was about time for a classic part of the Baz Bus Day Tour – the 6 kilometre downhill cycle. As we hopped off the bus and waited for the bikes to be offloaded, there were two different things that kept me entertained: The unique beauty of the place where we stopped – wide endless fields of bush, sprinkled with uncountable different shades of green, surrounded by mountains and hills – and the unbelievable strong wind blowing and turning your hair into a total disaster. The wind also turned a usually easy cycle into a mini battle against Mother Nature. It was fun and trust me, when you’ve beaten that wind, damn you will be starving!

Even though the cycle is supposed to be quickly done within 30 minutes, it took me much longer. Reason for that: Crossing the Nature Reserve, I couldn’t resist but had to stop for a few pictures to appreciate the amazing landscape.

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One thing you have to keep in mind when jumping on your bike: shortly after the cycle begins, the tour guide and the driver are sneakily going to catch up on you to take a shot of you riding your bike. So don’t forget to keep that one million dollar smile on your face – I totally failed on that task and this picture is going to haunt me on Facebook for the rest of my life!

So far away from home

After some salad, some fruit and a few rolls (Don’t worry, there is no chance you will leave Baz Bus hungry!) the journey continued to the Cape Point Lighthouse. You will have to take a few stairs to get up there; I enjoyed the hike very much. Not just because it is easy to handle physically, but also because of the amazing view from up above that gets better with every step you take. This pushes you forward, no matter how much you may hate stairs.

When I finally reached the lighthouse, the wind was blowing even harder and the force of nature became impressive. I definitely wouldn’t recommend wearing a hat, a cap or anything easily losable while climbing the last few steps upstairs (Yes, lady with that obvious wig, I’m looking at you!). For sure, not every day is a windy day. But during the Cape Peninsula Tour, I really got to know the typical Western Cape winds and I can tell you – don’t underestimate them! If you don’t want to be freezing like me, better bring a light jacket, just in case. However, being up there was breath-taking.

Due to the post reminding you of how far away from home you are, it is a unique experience especially for people travelling from another continent – for example 9623 kilometres to London is quite a statement for visitors from Europe. Somehow, this awareness didn’t frighten me at all. There is some kind of peacefulness coming from your surroundings that envelopes you while up there.

A gate to another world

Unfortunately, every wonderful day has to come to an end. And in my opinion, the end of the Baz Bus Cape Peninsula Tour is quite epic. As we reached the Cape of Good Hope, the most South Western point of the African continent, the awareness of where you are becomes overwhelming. Walking along the beach and the mountains, looking across the ocean and knowing that beyond the horizon, there is nothing else left except for the Antarctica… made me contemplative. For me personally, visiting the Cape of Good Hope didn’t just mean taking a picture at the famous signboard, which of course I also did (Pics or it didn’t happen!). But essentially, it was an occasion to backpedal and appreciate the beauty of this place, the uniqueness of the moment and the absolute breath-taking diversity of this wonderful country. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with South Africa, it would have happened now!

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My experiences with Baz Bus

Looking back at the amazing day I’ve spent all over the Cape Peninsula, I can gladly give Baz Bus five stars for that tour. I have been blessed with a lovely tour guide and a hilarious driver. Do you know why the Beatles won’t ever climb a mountain? If you get Freddy as your driver, he is going to give you the answer enthusiastically.

Click here for more information or to book online:

http://www.bazbus.com/tickettype.html?rid=17

 

South Africa is on sale for half price! It would be rude not to visit!

Extracted from businesstech.co.za by Gareth Vorster February 5 2016

England’s Barmy Army recently traveled to South Africa to follow their national cricket team. So impressed were they with the exchange rate, they sang a song about it.

Watch video – Barmy Army #23tothepound

The Spectator, a weekly British conservative magazine, says that there may not be a better time to visit South Africa.

“South Africa has always been good value for British visitors, even five years ago when there were 11 rand to the pound. Now that figure is closer to 23 rand. For visitors, an entire country is half price.

“This freak situation may not last; so there might never be a better time to visit.”

South Africa is open for business – and has a half price sale tag on it.

Link to full article here

SA on Sale for half price

BAZ BUS JOINS THE FAIR TRADE TOURISM FAMILY

South Africa’s Baz Bus, which links more than 180 backpacker hostels in 40 different destinations across the country, has become  Fair Trade Tourism approved.

Established in November 1995 by “retired” South African backpacker Barry Zeidel, Baz Bus came into being as a result of Barry travelling across Europe on a “hop-on, hop-off” bus service which he knew could be replicated in his homeland.

“I was amazed at how easy it was, and that I was not restricted to a set itinerary and could get on and off for as long as I wanted, making friends and having adventures along the way,” says Barry, who immediately set about researching backpacking in South Africa on his return.

A qualified accountant and entrepreneur, Barry is passionate about backpacking, and the Baz Bus network has helped to stimulate and unify South Africa’s backpacker community as well as making it easy, and fun, for backpackers from all over the world to explore and enjoy the Rainbow Nation.

Today, Baz Bus carries more than 10,000 independent travellers along its door-to-door route between Johannesburg and Cape Town every year, connecting like-minded backpackers as they relax en-route, safe in the knowledge that when they get off the bus, it will be at the door of their hostel or connecting with a pre-arranged shuttle to their destination.

The company is also making a huge difference to the lives of people in communities around Cape Town through various projects, supporting soccer teams in Hout Bay, a children’s shelter in Woodstock and the Wola Nani community centre for women and children living with HIV/Aids in Khayelitsha. It is currently building new toilet facilities and classrooms at Babes Creche and the Elundini Children’s home in Du Noon.

“It made perfect sense for us to join the Fair Trade Tourism family,” says Baz Bus marketing manager Lisa McLaughlin. “We’ve always been committed to protecting the assets on which tourism in South Africa depends, especially where communities and the environment are concerned. Travelling on the Baz Bus reduces a traveller’s carbon footprint and our clients can rest assured that their holiday spend is directly benefitting the people in the communities along our route and in the projects we support,” she adds.

Lisa says that being part of Fair Trade Tourism is of huge value to Baz Bus. “It ensures the interests in the communities in which we work are being met and increases awareness of the issues and challenges facing tourism in South Africa,” she explains. “Now we get to network with like-minded businesses and share in their experiences as we work together towards making South Africa a more desirable destination.”

Fair Trade Tourism is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism in southern Africa and has certified businesses in South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar, as well as mutually recognised programmes in the Seychelles and Tanzania. Its tourism certification programme was developed in 2004 and in December 2011 became the first in Africa to be recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

“Fair Trade Tourism also grows awareness about responsible tourism to travellers and assists tourism businesses to operate more sustainably through intensive, hands-on training and certification readiness programmes,” explains the organisation’s managing director Nivashnee Naidoo.

“We are particularly excited to welcome Baz Bus on board,” she says. “We have a considerable number of certified businesses working in the backpacker and youth travel market, so having Baz Bus become part of our growing family allows us to offer the complete package to backpackers wanting to explore South Africa in a sustainable, responsible way.”

Audrey Bergner- Road tripping across South Africa with Baz Bus

So it’s your first time travelling to South Africa, you want to see a bit of the country, but you aren’t quite sure how to get around… What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

That was my predicament as I planned a 3 week backpacking trip across the country.

Travelling by coach seemed like a bit of a hassle (I’d be dropped off at a bus terminal and then still have to take a taxi to get to my hostel), renting a car sounded like a manageable option so long as I remembered to drive on the left, and then there was Baz Bus which calls itself “South Africa’s Convenient Hop-On Hop-Off Door-to-Door Backpacker Bus Service”. Quite the mouthful, but it fit the bill!

Visiting Wilderness, South Africa

Since it was my first time travelling in the country I decided to save the car rental for my next visit and I opted for Baz Bus instead. Over the course of my 3 weeks in the country I used them to travel the full length from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

There were a lot of things I liked about their service, so this post will look at some of the benefits of travelling with Baz Bus as well as a few things to consider:

Door to door pick-up and drop-off. 

This is one of things that won me over. Had I been travelling by train or coach bus I would have arrived at a bus terminal or train station in the middle of the city, and I then would’ve had to find my own way over to the hostel. However, Baz Bus offers pick-ups and drop-offs at a number of hostels and lodges across the country, which makes it safer and more convenient for travellers to get around. And if you happen to be staying at a hostel that isn’t affiliated with Baz Bus (I stayed in 2 hostels that weren’t), the owners are usually more than willing to arrange transportation for you.

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No limit on how many times you can hop on or off.

With the Hop-On Hop-Off ticket, you buy one ticket to your final destination and you can then hop on and off as often as you like along the route. This is great if you’re travelling in one direction. Alternatively, you can get a travel pass, which allows you to travel in any direction you want and as often as you like within the time period (7 day / 14 day / 21 days).

The flexibility to spontaneously change your travel plans.

Technically, you are supposed to reserve your seat at least 72 hours in advance to ensure there are enough seats, but also so that the driver knows where to pick you up and drop you off. However, this didn’t stop travellers from getting off the bus earlier if they thought a destination looked interesting; I also saw this work in reverse where travellers chose to skip over a destination because they thought it looked a little too remote for their taste once they arrived.

Lubanzi, Wild Coast, South Africa

Fun and personable drivers.

Whether it was Sammy trying to teach us his real name which involves clicking one’s tongue (I couldn’t manage to pronounce it right), or Johnny cracking jokes and imparting his wisdom on things to do in Durban, we had really fun drivers who were chatty and happy to share their insights on South Africa.

You get to see quite a bit of the country.

In a way, Baz Bus is a really great way to scout your next trip to South Africa. Since travellers get off at stops all over the route, you get to see quite a few towns and cities that you many not have previously considered. Over the course of my 3 weeks travelling with Baz Bus, I got off at a total of 7 stops and I also spotted a few places I’d like to go back and visit – Swellendam, I’m looking at you!

Landscapes of Drakensberg

There are lots of breaks along the way.

The Baz Bus drivers made a point to stop off every 1.5-2 hours so that we could stretch our legs, pick up some snacks, and have a bathroom break. Sure, there were days when we covered long distances, but we certainly weren’t cooped up in the car for 10 hours straight.

You get to meet other travellers.

Baz Bus allows you to connect with a community of backpackers who are slowly working their way across the country, and even though you may not all be getting off at the same stops along the way, you still get to know each other and swap stories and travel tips. For example, while on safari in Kruger I ended up meeting a group of German girls and a Brit – I never thought I’d see them again but then I ended up running into them twice on the Baz Bus down to Cape Town. I also noticed that some travellers who were backpacking South Africa solo ended up joining other travellers from Baz Bus for a stretch of the journey, so it’s a great way to meet other backpackers.

Wild Coast

Things to keep in mind:

This is a budget friendly way to travel across South Africa.

What I mean by this is that you shouldn’t come expecting plush headrests, reclining seats, and movies playing with surround sound. The bus is comfortable enough and it’ll get you where you need to go, but that’s it.

Baz Bus doesn’t run every day.

At the moment, the Cape Town to Port Elizabeth route runs 5 days a week. The other two routes run 4 days a week. This means that you need to put some thought into planning your itinerary and booking your hostels. If you don’t plan this carefully you could end up stuck in a destination for an additional night…which isn’t always a bad thing considering how beautiful South Africa is!

Reflections in Northern Drakensberg
The route doesn’t cover the interior of the country.

Baz Bus has 3 major routes: Johannesburg to Durban, Durban to Port Elizabeth, and Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. (These same routes are also done in reverse.) These routes will allow you to travel through Gauteng, Kwazulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, mainly focusing on destinations along the coast. It won’t get you to Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State, North-West Province or Northern Cape. Nor will it get you to Lesotho or Swaziland. I’m kind of hoping they expand in the future!

Lastly, on a note completely unrelated to Baz Bus – the Eastern Cape has some stretches of seriously curvy roads so if you get motion sick easily I suggest you stock up on Gravol. I opted for window seat and popped a pill to zonk me out for the journey.

For more info on travel in South Africa visit http://www.bazbus.com.

Have you travelled around South Africa?
What do you think is the best way to get around?

Ebola in Perspective

With media often presenting skewed facts and stats around the Ebola outbreak, public perceptions of the real risks a disease actually presents are fast distorting and in many cases inaccurate.

Today, I am not going to write a medical journal with technical facts about the virus. There is enough material on this to go to the moon and back. No, today I am going to put a few things in perspective and hopefully make potential travellers to South Africa (and its neighbours) realise that it is not a life risk to visit our beautiful country.

Fact 1: How did Ebola get into other continents and countries other than West Africa?

Most people are overlooking the fact that non-African individuals, who get infected, are those who have voluntarily exposed themselves to the Ebola virus, by treating patients who suffer from Ebola. These individuals are mostly doctors or nurses. This virus did not spread to other individuals travelling to and from these countries.

Fact 2: What causes Ebola to spread?

Ebola spreads mainly due to poor hygiene and lack of proper procedures when dealing with the individuals who are infected. This includes wearing gloves, a cover over the mouth, nose and protective eyewear. Ebola is NOT airborne, is spreads in a liquid form only, e.g. sneezing, blood, urine etc. Most Africans are also not educated that handling the bodies of the deceased can still spread the virus. The chance of an epidemic in first-world countries, or even just areas with proper medical care, is very slim since the correct sanitary and quarantine procedures are implemented immediately.

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Fact 3: Ebola is only present in a very small section of Africa, very far removed from Southern Africa.

I am not going to say much about this, see the illustration below for comprehensive insight.

Ebola-Africa

Fact 4: South Africa is a very, very low risk country for Ebola

Apart from the fact that South Africa is more than 5000km away from the Ebola hotspot, it also has strict procedure at all ports of entry into the country. Should any individual come from the countries seen as an Ebola risk, they must submit to comprehensive medical testing before being allowed to continue. South Africa also has a very advanced medical infrastructure to quickly and effectively deal with any possible medical threat.

Ebola-South-Africa1

 

Fact 5: Contrary to media reports, South Africa does not have an Ebola cases in 2014

Many infographics show that South Africa has cases of Ebola – this was true in 1996, NOT 2014. Yes, South Africa had two cases of Ebola in its entire recorded medical history, the last case being 18 years ago.

Fact 6: Why is everyone (suddenly) so scared of Ebola?

“Rumours and panic are spreading faster than the virus,” said Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation. Yes, an outbreak of Ebola certainly is scary, but the risk of such an event occurring is much lower than alarming headlines would lead us to believe. The media is riding the wave of sensationalism, often painting a much, much darker picture than reality. Remember, the “spread” of Ebola to other continents is due to individuals voluntarily visiting, treating and coming into contact with Ebola-infected patients.

Fact 7: Panic and worry is due to lack of proper information

Given the facts above, it is clear that most of the worry is completely excessive. Yes, of course the world is concerned about this outbreak in West Africa, but it is well-contained and not spreading. In fact, a few countries have been cleared as an Ebola-infected country, like Nigeria.

Conclusion:

If you want to travel to South Africa, there is nothing to fear about Ebola. South Africa is a low-risk country (same as the rest of the world without reported Ebola cases). It is currently safer to be in South Africa than in the USA and Europe! See below – so what is stopping you from booking your journey and coming right away? Summer season is here and South Africa cannot wait to host you for your journey!

ebola-out-of-africa

(information is accurate at the time of writing – 05 Nov 2014) – Written by Leon Steyn, General and Marketing Manager, Baz Bus

Top Safety Tips: Planning ahead when visiting South Africa

Planning an overseas trip (of course it will be to South Africa – the most beautiful destination in the world) is an awesome opportunity and an exciting task; this allows you to experience new and exciting things in a different part of the world. Yet, dealing with an emergency abroad is the last thing on one’s mind when preparing for the adventure – an unforeseen crisis can be a harsh reality.

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When travelling abroad, you could be faced with challenges like losing important documents, getting sick, being involved in an accident or becoming a victim of a crime. These challenges are all unplanned, and even though we would hope it never happens to us, the odd chance is always there that something might go wrong.

The most  important is to stay calm and handle these situations to the best of your ability, especially while in another country. Before starting your journey, it is important that you prepare yourself as best as you can for anything that could happen while you are away from home. Copies of important documents and medical insurance are just a few things to be prepared with before your trip.

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An emergency travel pack is a vital component when planning a trip. The most important things of this pack are medical and personal documentation.

A few other items you should have are:

  • Copies of your passport/Visa
  • A copy of your insurance information
  • A copy of area maps of your destination/ places you may visit
  • Copies of your air ticket
  • Medical needs treatment
  • Copy of your home country’s drivers licence
  • Cellphone with local Sim card – international roaming costs are still very high
  • Credit Card
  • List of emergency numbers provided by your travel agent

 Tips for handling an emergency situation

Dealing with lost/stolen goods: If any of your possessions are lost/stolen, the first thing to do is report the lost items/theft immediately at the closest police station. A police report is needed for any insurance claims, so report a crime to the local police station.

Handling a medical emergency: Medical insurance will benefit you. In an event of an injury, you should get help from the nearest location and call an emergency number immediately. You should also get to a clinic/hospital as soon as possible to stabilise your condition.

Listen to Locals: Being in a place that is not familiar to you could expose you to risks and unsafe areas. It is important to listen to advice from people that are used to the area/country.

Always ask for inside info or handy tips. For the backpacking industry, this should be easy as the staff at the hostel are always willing to give the best information and recommendations of the area.

Plan your transport arrangements before you leave. If you decide to do Tours, go in a group and always let someone know which route you intend taking. Stay in well lit and well marked areas at night.

Travelling with everything prepared ensures maximum enjoyment and a worry-free journey.

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If you have any questions, or would like to add more items and advice to the above, please comment below.

(blog article composed by Insaaf Kamaldien, consultant at Baz Bus)

My Unforgettable trip to the Mystical Fairytale Land!!!

If long walks in the forest, waterfalls and fairies are some of your favorite things to do and see, then Hogsback is the place for you. Using my hop-on hop-off Baz Bus ticket, I chose Hogsback as one of my stops and spent two days at the amazing backpacker hostel called Away with the fairies and fell in love with all the beauty it has to offer.

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The backpacker hostel is perfectly located with a magical view of the Hogsback mountains, which is an ideal place to just relax and unwind. On my first day I did a 5 hour walk through the forest, which started in the back garden of the backpacker hostel

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I was amazed with all the life inside the forest. I got to see spider webs, fairies, butterflies, birds, as well as the famous big tree. Our first stop along the way was at the natural rock pools. There is no better feeling than having fresh mountain water play against your skin.

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Our last stop was at the Madonna and Child waterfall. The sight was breathtaking, we all just stood there totally blown away by the view. We then decided to just spend the rest of our time right there relaxing and listening to the waterfall with good conversation and a picnic lunch. This was by far, the best day of my life.

 

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There is no better feeling than experiencing it for yourself!!!

4 day Kruger National Park tour – part of my Baz Bus Wildlife Safari & Adventure package!!!

Our adventure began on the 18 January 2014, we left Johannesburg on the exciting journey to Kruger National Park.

Our first stop was Moholoholo Wildlife Animal Rehabilitation Centre, where we learnt about abandoned, injured and poisoned animals.  We then had an opportunity to interact with a variety of animal species and I got to touch a vulture and a leopard, all of this was assisted by guides.  Wow!!!!!! It was phenomenal getting up close with such a big cat.

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We then arrived at the camp site and had the option to upgrade to bedded accommodation, which was an additional R1000 on tour and we took it. After settling in, we immediately explored the grounds in search of a swimming pool. We were spoilt for choice and found both, a swimming pool and beautiful lake.

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We woke up at the crack of dawn to the sound of singing birds. We had breakfast and journeyed off to start the adventure of spotting the infamous Big 5.

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We spent the whole morning amazed and in awe of the beautiful life, in the park, such as birds, Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Wildebeest, flying vultures and plenty of other animals. Our Ranger Brett was excellent. He made sure he chatted to other rangers for information about the big cats as well as other animals.

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We then got back to camp in the afternoon just in time for a refreshing swim, afterwhich we then headed off to a nearby reserve for a night safari drive. Wow!!!!!!! I’ve always heard about the beautiful African sunset but witnessing it, is in no comparison with a picture… Breathtaking comes to mind. The night drive was so different compared to during the day, because the heat ensures the animals hide whereas at night they come alive and roam all over. Dinner was really delicious, look out for the chef Martin, he really knows his way around the kitchen!

 

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Day 3 we spent a full day in Kruger, going as far as the Mozambique border. What an extraordinary day as we were lucky enough to see 4 out of the Big 5 and stopped off for a picnic lunch, in the heart of Kruger, overlooking hectares of the national park.

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On the last evening we were all very sad that this overwhelming experience was coming to an end and decided to party, in celebration, which only ended at 3 in the morning.

On the last day we departed at about 06h30 and head to a view point of the 3 Rondavels as well, as the amazing Blyde River Canyan. This was the highlight of my tour!!! Our last stop was the Caves where the guide explained the fascinating history of the Caves.

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I would highly recommend this tour to everybody!!!!

I’m looking forward to traveling with Baz Bus en route to Cape Town…. Watch out for my next blog!!!