Hiking the Drakensberg Mountains

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We landed at King Shaka airport in Durban on December 28th and rented a car to drive to our next destination, the Drakensberg Mountains.
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The Nest


It took us about three hours to arrive at our hotel “the Nest”. Our drive was very scenic as we passed farms and towns. When we arrived at the Nest and presented our reservations to the Front Desk they told us that they didn’t have us in the system and that they were sold out as it was summer holiday time in South Africa. We booked through booking.com. They told us to sit and have a drink while they figured it out. After an hour they came back and told us they have a room for us as long as we don’t mind switching rooms half way through our stay. We agreed as we knew most places were full. I had tried to book a much nicer hotel for our stay called the Champagne Castle hotel that was at the base of where we wanted to hike but they weren’t open during our stay.
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Our first stop…Johannesberg, South Africa

We hopped off our plane in Johannesburg on the morning of December 26th, the day after Christmas.

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The entrance to the Apartheid Museum

In the months leading up to our trip people would always warn us to be careful and safe, more so than other trips we have gone on. People are usually afraid of the unknown or locations they don’t usually travel to. But yes, when we travel, safety is always a top priority. When we arrived, we decided to take an Uber to our hotel. The drive would take about 30 minutes from the airport and this was our first experience in South Africa. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment in South Africa, just something to be aware of as a tourist. Halfway to our hotel there was a boy that looked like he could have been 12, sitting on the side of the road. His clothes were worn. Our driver stopped the car and said he was going to get out and help the boy, we said sure. Now at this point Charlene looked over at me a little concerned with all the warnings we had heard. The driver went into his car trunk and pulled a bag of food out and handed it to the boy that was sitting along the side of the road. He came back into the car and said the boy was there when he drove by before and looked hungry. I will remember this for quite a long time, it was a quick lesson on the issues that some black South Africans confront every day.

We arrived at our hotel, African Pride Melrose Arch. The hotel wasn’t downtown and was almost like a gated community with little shops and restaurants. You will find that there are gates/wire gates on most hotels and properties in Johannesburg. The hotel was really nice/clean and we ended up staying there for a couple of nights while we toured the area. 

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Soweto

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A shanty town

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Our tour bus

The next day we had a day tour, to see some of the important tourist/historical sites in Johannesburg. The name of the company was Felleng Tours, they picked us up from our hotel for a full day tour. We visited Soweto which was the region that the apartheid/white government set aside specifically for black residents. Soweto is the largest black population of its kind in the country.  There were many people selling unique arts and crafts. We stopped at Regina Mundi church which was significant because black people were able to organize their movement inside as meetings in public places were banned. We also visited the Soweto shanty towns, this is the region in which there is a lot of poverty. You never get a grasp for the wealth inequality that exists in the world until you visit. I would say that for me visiting this area was eye opening. I’ve obviously heard that these regions exist but to visit them and see it with my own eyes and socialize with the people was something very different.

We visited the colourful Orlando towers, I didn’t dare go bungee jumping though. That is also where we had a bbq lunch, which we really enjoyed.

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The Soweto Towers

Later in the day we stopped at Mandela House/ Mandela national museum which was extremely busy with tourists but well worth the wait. There were important photos, documents inside which is one of the things you obviously need to experience if you are there. We finished our tour day by visiting the Apartheid museum. The museum was very well done. It showed the true history of the country and the struggles of blacks during the apartheid era in South Africa. To enter the museum they give you a card, to enter as a black person or a white person to illustrate what it was life in the apartheid era.  As me and my wife are an interracial couple, we entered our assigned door. I sent a picture to my mother with me and Charlene entering the museum and she said wow, this is still happening down there and I had to tell her that we were actually at the apartheid museum but decided to take a picture :). That picture is at the top of the page.

 

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The line up to get into Mandela House

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Nelson Mandela’s office

After three days in Johannesberg we drove to the Airport to get to our next destination…the Drakensberg mountains. 

Our Journey to South Africa…

 

On December 24th we went to the airport to begin our honeymoon/ trip of our lifetime. We decided that we would miss Christmas with our family in Canada to experience somewhere we have never been before, South Africa.

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Mfolozi River on our way to St Lucia

We left for the Airport just after a family Christmas eve dinner for a 10pm flight to New York. I was surprised at how busy the airport was on that day. For some reason I thought late night Christmas eve would be quiet, it wasn’t. Our flight to New York was overbooked and Air Canada placed us on standby. We usually use Westjet for our flights in North America cause there is no nonsense and we get to our destination without hassle. I was quite nervous about missing this flight, but realized that we would be going to New York that night because we had a connecting flight the next morning to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

We made it to our hotel in New York that night near JFK airport and were able to get about 6 hours of sleep before waking up before sunset and heading off to the Airport. It was Christmas morning but it didn’t really feel like it. There were no gifts to open, Christmas trees or large family dinners. Our minds were set on getting to our destination. The airport was extremely quiet. Christmas day is a great day to travel if you are fine with missing holiday festivities. We booked our flight with South African Airways. They are a great airline with fantastic service. It was a long 15 hour flight which is the longest flight I have ever been on. We spent that time sleeping, watching movies and discussing our itinerary for next few weeks.

I remember that people would always ask us why did we choose South Africa as our honeymoon destination?!? We wanted to experience something different. A place that I’ve dreamed about visiting for a while. We love animals, hiking and wild landscapes so those were a big attraction. There are few countries where you can experience the ocean, safaris, hiking in the mountains like in South Africa.

How did we plan this trip? We didn’t use a travel agent. I researched our destinations and already had an idea of the types of places we would like to stay. Then I booked out the hotels, flights, cars and activities. It was  lot of work to make the itinerary work, but well worth it. 

We stopped in Johannesburg, the Drakensberg mountains, Durban, Uhmlanga, St Lucia, Tembe Elephant Park, Hout Bay and Capetown. In the next few posts I look forward to sharing some of our adventures.

 

Car Camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto in Bruce Peninsula National Park

About 3.5 hours northwest of Toronto is Bruce Peninsula National Park. We had the opportunity to do some car camping there last summer. Charlene and I have never been car camping before so it was a unique experience from the get go. We also had the opportunity to share in this adventure with her sister’s family. Once again, another first for us. We have never traveled with anyone else in this capacity. Continue reading

5 Tips to Save Money on Your Next Travel Adventure

Clayoquot Sound – Tofino, B.C.

Travelling isn’t cheap and in order to do more of what we love we had to come up with some creative ways to save money while on our trips. We are providing you with some travel tips that we hope will save you some money on your next trip.

1. Don’t travel during peak times 
The peak season of travel is June through August, the majority of people take time off of work and use this time to travel. This means that during this period prices are the highest. I’ve also found that weekends are a busy time to visit countryside locations (Parks like Grand Canyon and Algonquin Park, small towns) making it the most expensive time of the week to visit. For us, shoulder season has been the best time to visit our destinations, that’s the period between off season and peak season. Hotels know that summer and weekends are busy times and increase prices for both of these periods. We have saved lots of money by visiting countryside towns during the week and cities on the weekend. It has been my experience that the hotels in the city lower their prices on the weekend since the business travelers are gone. Not everyone has the ability to travel during shoulder season but if you do you can save lots of money by taking advantage and putting that money towards something useful on your vacation. Some of the advantages of shoulder season are less crowds, moderate weather and better prices.

Neist Point

Neist Point

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The Glasgow Necropolis

The Glasgow Necropolis

The Glasgow Necropolis

Just outside the heart of Glasgow is an old Victorian cemetery. I’d say it took us about 30 minutes or so to walk there from downtown. I’m always looking for free or lost cost activities to do while on vacation because costs really add up after a while. The Glasgow Necropolis reminded me of one of those graveyards you would see in an old horror movie but obviously since we visited during the daytime we were able to fully appreciate the craftsmanship of the headstones and enjoy a nice walk. Continue reading

Horseback Riding in the English Countryside

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Every trip that I go on I always try to make sure that we get to do something adventurous and something that we haven’t really done or seen before. When we visited the Lake District in England I researched horseback riding… because what could be more English than riding in the countryside. If you are visiting the UK you should definitely look into horseback riding as one of your activities.

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5 things to do in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is an old city with lots to see. We stayed for about 5 days and drove in from the Isle of Skye on the west side of Scotland. Tourism thrives here and the people of the city are extremely friendly.  Here are 5 things to do on your next visit to Edinburgh.

1. Calton Hill 

For those days that you would just like to go for a walk and relax while on vacation I highly suggest visiting Calton Hill. While it takes a bit of energy to get to the top of the hill, the views are magnificent. The hill overlooks the city and seems to be a common place for locals and tourists to enjoy themselves. We spent part an afternoon here and enjoyed some sunshine.

The  view from Calton Hill

The view from Calton Hill

Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

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Three Picturesque Villages in Cornwall, England

Polperro, Cornwall

Polperro, Cornwall

Cornwall was our first destination on our trip to the UK. When planning this I had researched pictures of scenic oceanfront hiking, old fishing villages and beaches and knew this was somewhere that I wanted to visit. It took about 4 hours of driving to get to our hotel in St Austell from Gatwick airport in London and we were pretty exhausted upon arriving. Continue reading

The Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour: Our Perspective

” It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” Albus Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore's Office

Albus Dumbledore’s Office

While in London we had the chance to visit the Warner Brothers Studio for Harry Potter. What an experience! If you are a fan of the Harry Potter movies this is a must. The studio was very detailed and had just about every prop that you can think of from all of the movies while also showing how they did some of the magic from the movies. Continue reading