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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Saturday, January 06, 2018


The Great Man Overlooking Nelson Mandela Square

Travel Dates 12th-14th May, 24th May,  27th-28th May 2017
Click on any picture to see a larger version.   

I spent several months planning my first venture to Africa south of the Sahara. As well as all the usual research into airfares, trains, accommodation, sights, culture etc I wanted to fully understand the security situation. As a senior man travelling alone security is becoming more important these days. I never felt unsafe during my visit. Whether that means I was over cautious or whether it was because I used common sense, did not display bling, tried not to look wealthy (fairly easy for me 😊), did not wander dark streets at night, did not hail taxis on the street and avoided known rough areas I cannot say.

Getting there can sometimes be fun but occasionally I must admit I envy Europeans and North Americans who are so close to so many foreign lands. Other than New Caledonia, Fiji and New Zealand there are no short direct trips to international destinations from my home. I try to plan my journeys for minimum discomfort, but there isn’t always a lot of choice. This was one of those times. I’m not complaining as the long journey is the price I must pay for the reward of seeing the world; this is a fairly typical example of an overseas trip for me.

Brisbane International Airport is 150km (~95 miles) from my small town. When I fly in and out of Brisbane my journey begins with a walk to the local bus stop for the hour-long bus trip to Tweed Heads, wait to connect to the half-hour bus to Varsity Lakes train station then an hour and a half train ride to the airport. Not difficult, but tedious. Including connection time the trip usually takes four to five hours. Coming back was longer this time as I chose a weekend, unaware that a bus replaced part of the train journey because of scheduled track maintenance.

For the flights I eventually chose South African Airways on a multi-city ticket.
  • Brisbane to Perth (codeshare using Virgin Australia) (5:45 hours) 
  • Perth to Johannesburg (11:10 hours) 
  • Port Elizabeth to Cape Town (1:40 hours) 
  • Johannesburg to Victoria Falls (1:40 hours) 
  • Victoria Falls to Johannesburg (1:35 hours) 
  • Johannesburg to Perth (9:10 hours) 
  • Perth to Brisbane (Virgin Australia) (4:25 hours)

The differences in duration of the flights to and from are a consequence of the southern jet-stream; coming home we were flying with the wind instead of against it.

I stepped out of my front door at 9:45 am on Wednesday 10th May and arrived just over 32 hours later at my hotel in Johannesburg in the morning on Friday 12th May; there is a nine-hour time-shift. Thank goodness they allowed an early check-in to let me collapse onto the bed.

As I am not wealthy and watch my budget on my trips I have always flown economy but I find comfort and sleep almost impossible on long flights. I made the decision coming home on the Jo’burg to Brisbane leg of this trip that these 70 year old bones will never again fly more than five hours in cattle class. I am now researching the world’s cheapest business class fares across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. I have booked some quite surprising business class fares for my next trip, which will be to the Balkans in June 2018.

As a consequence I planned no activities for my first couple of days in Johannesburg, knowing I would need to acclimatise and manage jetlag. I returned to the city later on my trip, one night en-route to Pilanesberg National Park and two nights before departure to Zimbabwe. I used the Gautrain from the airport to Sandton, where I stayed in the Radisson Blu, and used it and occasional taxis to wander around the region on the first visit.

I spent the first couple of days relaxing, wandering Sandton and eating lunch and dinner at the local restaurants. The Sandton Radisson Blu had an excellent breakfast buffet with a wide range including my standard bacon and eggs.

Sandton is a modern, bustling and clearly wealthy commercial centre similar to the central business district of any modern western city. Multi-storey construction is happening all over the suburb.

The bloke standing outside the safety rope with his back to the world seems unconcerned. I hope he had more than just a slack rope in his hand to keep him safe. Here is a different view of his situation.

I very quickly realised my security concerns about South Africa were misplaced for this part of town. I wandered the region without ever feeling nervous day or night.

Nelson Mandela Square is the centre of Sandton, dominated by his statue. It is surrounded by up-market stores and restaurants and next to a major shopping mall.

On my final visit to Johannesburg I used the Hop-on Hop-off buses after good experiences on their Cape Town equivalents. The commentary and choices of stops provided an interesting history of the city. The city's birth as a mining town and development from that base became very obvious as we passed various landmarks, old mining areas and other reminders of the past.
After the Great Trek of the 1830s-1840s the region was divided into several modest farms of about 3000 acres. Apart from problems with the dispossessed local inhabitants the area was quiet until the town which became Johannesburg was created from dramatic expansion following discovery of gold in 1886. The wealth of the mines and the associated population led to this city becoming the economic centre of the region and eventually of the nation which became South Africa.

The ho-ho bus interchange point was beside an old prison. Unfortunately it wasn't open for inspection at the time

Downtown traffic on a Sunday was nonexistent. The covered area is a local transit bus station.

The suburbs away from Sandton and the central business district were also quiet on a Sunday. 

Gandhi is honoured in several locations. Before he became the central figure behind India's fight for independence from the British he arrived in South Africa as a young lawyer and spent 21 years there, finally departing in 1914. His experiences in South Africa moulded the man who freed India. This article provides an account of those years: Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa  

I spent a long time in the Apartheid Museum. Unfortunately photos were not allowed. If you visit Johannesburg you must go. A sad, sobering and educational experience. Nelson Mandela's story is inextricably part of that history but so are many others from both sides of the divide. I felt there was too much emphasis on one man at the expense of some of the others involved. He was a great man but has almost been deified in the South African freedom story.

I think Mandela would have been very sad to see what was happening to the country he loved while I was there with Zuma in charge. There have been vast improvements for those who were oppressed in the past but great wealth is still matched by abject poverty; there are regular reports of white farmers being massacred with minimal reaction and zero protection by law enforcement; and endemic corruption by those in power. As I write this Zuma is being ousted but has not quite departed. I doubt the person who replaces him will be another Mandela. Such a pity.

I had lunch in the opulent Gold Reef City Casino mainly because it was a short walk from the Apartheid Museum and the next stop on the Hop-on Hop-off bus route. Like all casinos  it had lots of glitz, glamour, cheap (but good) restaurants and too many sad people losing money. I enjoyed the benefits for lunch and an interesting wander around but I did not join the losers. I gamble annually on the Melbourne Cup but I consider casino gambling, particularly poker machines, to be a tax on stupidity. The statuary was impressive.

My next stop on the bus route was a tour of the South African Brewing museum. As a lover of good beers I enjoyed it; I was reminded of a tour of Melbourne's Carlton United Brewery the RAAF sent me on for training when I became an unwilling mess bar officer in my 20s. Unfortunately none of my pictures were properly focused while there (no, I didn't drink too much!) but their web-site has a good collection. The opposition spirits appear to be competing with background advertising in this picture.

As we headed back into town we passed the station. I took the trains twice in South Africa: Tourist train from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth; and Premier Classe Cape Town back to Johannesburg. 

My next post will be about those train trips.

Cheers, Alan

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