“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” From Durban (the end of Leg Two on the Baz Bus route), you have a choice of two roads to follow for Leg Three: you can continue up the coast to Swaziland, or head inland through the Drakensberg Mountains and straight to Johannesburg, the city of gold.
I chose the latter of the two, planning to continue on towards Swaziland after Joburg.
Here we go again, then – waking up at the crack of dawn to hop on the Baz Bus and head into the mountains.
- See Baz Bus route map | Book Baz Bus ticket
- Side Note: Leaving Durban, be sure to check your time for the Baz Bus pick-up! If you are heading north to Joburg, pick-up is 7h30 a.m., and if to Swaziland, it’s 6.30am. I know from experience what it is like to get the times mixed up, luckily for me it meant an extra hour on the beach, rather than a rush to get out of bed.
BREAKFAST STOP. Something that always made me cringe was our choice of eats on food stops. Unfortunately the need for petrol/gas coincides with food breaks. Luckily, you can usually get pretty good meat pies and sandwiches at the petrol stations, but then again there are only so many meat pies one person can eat.
BAZ STOP: PIETERMARITZBURG
Originally the Boer capital of Natal in 1838, ‘Maritzburg has some interesting historical memorials and buildings. The memories I have of this peaceful university town involve waking up before dawn and preparing the water stations for the Comrades Marathon – one of the world’s top ultra-distance marathons, which takes place in mid-June. Nothing quite like standing in the freezing cold on a misty morning handing drinks and juice to hundreds of runners as they zoom past.
I also remember Pietermaritzburg as being the gateway to the Drakensberg Mountains. That’s exactly where I was heading!
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- Where to Stay in Pietermaritzburg: Prince Albert Street Backpackers.If they’re full, try Umphiti Backpackers (no webpage). While I didn’t stay there, the people seemed really friendly when I ran in to use the bathroom and wait for my friend.
- Side Note: The Baz Bus used to travel to Underberg where the Sani Pass Lodge Backpackers would pick you up. But these days if you hope to get to the Southern Drakensberg and reach the mountain kingdom of Lesotho through the famous Sani Pass, you either have to know someone or make a plan to catch the Sani Pass Carriers (a delivery service between the two towns). The ride will cost you around R120, but in my opinion it is well worth it, since the Southern Drakensberg holds secrets and promises too many to name.
I am now going to go slightly off the Baz Bus route to give you a quick overview of the benefit of this part of the ‘berg. If you are into just staring at fabulous views, or want to try your hand on the five day Giants Cup trail (on my outing, a friend apparently slept next to a puffadder), or take guided walks to visit waterfalls and discover hidden bushmen paintings, then you’re in the right place.
On the other hand, if you seek true adventure, try an overnight into Lesotho. Here you experience the “South African Massage” during a hair-raising, butt bruising ride on the legendary Sani Pass to the roof of Southern Africa, reaching 2865 meters.
Tiny, landlocked Lesotho (pronounced “luh-SOO-too”) has the “highest low point” of any country in the world. wrap your mind around that one. It also has the Highest Pub in Southern Africa (it’s cheaper to drink here since the air is thinner!). The people are some of the poorest and yet happiest I have ever met. It is a definite stop for anyone interested in culture, and just a bit of adviCe… Don’t be afraid to get up and dance!
But I digress, back to the Baz Bus route. Leaving Pietermaritzburg we head towards the Central Drakensberg.
BAZ STOP: CENTRAL DRAKENSBERG
Some fantastic camping spots here and a definite chance of snow in winter; once we were almost snowed in during a Girl Guide camp. And beware of the thunderstorms – they have vicious potential in the berg and can catch you unawares. This time round I didn’t have time to stop here, but can recommend it as a place of great beauty.
- Where to stay in Central Drakensberg: Try Drakensberg International Backpackers.
BAZ STOP: NORTHERN DRAKENSBERG
The Northern Drakensberg is where you will find the famous Amphitheatre, a spectacular natural formation, perfect for a play where the actors are all giants. It is also home to the Royal Natal National Park and tons of hikes, perfect for explorers of all levels. While it doesn’t feel quite as rugged as the Southern Drakensberg, it is definitely a stunningly unique place.
- Where to stay in the Northern Drakensberg: Ampitheatre Backpackers, of course!
As we leave the Drakensberg Mountains and KwaZulu Natal behind us, we take a quick drive through a corner of the Free State (formerly the Orange Free State). Somewhere in here is a LUNCH STOP and then it’s on to the Province of Gauteng (formerly the Transvaal). Next stop: Egoli (“Place of gold” in African slang – Johannesburg) and Tshwane (Pretoria’s new name)!
BAZ STOP: TSHWANE (PRETORIA)
To reach the Administrative Capital of South Africa, let the Baz Bus drop you off at a hostel in Joburg, where a Baz shuttle will pick you up and take you through. It takes about 45 min. with no traffic, but since that’s like winning the lottery, rather bet on about 1-2 hours. Pretoria is also called the “Jacaranda City”, after the trees that line the streets. In spring they have amazing purple blossoms, which make it impossible not to stop and take in the fresh sweet air. Keep an eye open for the Jacaranda Festival during the third week of October.
Pretoria has a lot of monuments, like the Voortrekker Monument, which you can’t miss. There is also the National Botanical Garden, covering 77 hectares and 20,000 species grouped by regions – a sneak botanical preview of the entire country.
They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, so grab your men ladies and head for the Premier Diamond Mine, where the Cullinan Diamond was found in 1905. The largest uncut diamond ever found, it was cut into 105 smaller gems, the largest of which, The Star Of Africa (also the largest cut diamond in the world), is in the British Royal Sceptre.
But don’t think Pretoria is all history and administration, there are tons of fun things to do too, and you will just have to visit it to find out…
- Trekker’s Opinion: Personally, I have never liked Joburg, Pretoria is not really in my top 5 either. But I would rather stay in Pretoria and do day trips to Joburg. Pretoria is a lot more relaxed and there is tons to do.
- Where to stay in Pretoria: Try 1322 Backpackers International; or click here for more options.
BAZ STOP: JOHANNESBERG / EGOLI (“Place of Gold”)
While Pretoria has diamonds, Joburg has gold. People from all over South Africa flock here in the hope of finding fame and fortune. It has theatres and movies and massive rave parties. There is lots to do for young and old. One of the top things is a tour of Soweto, a suburb started during the apartheid years “for natives only”, which has since grown into South Africa’s largest township. Here you can visit families and have a drink in a local shebeen (bar). There’s so much to see and do in Joburg – here are a few items to get you started (ask your backpackers’ to help with arrangements):
- Soweto tour
- Take in a cricket, rugby or soccer match, or a motor race
- Try your luck at Monte Casino
- Visit a working gold mine at Gold Reef City
- Get an appreciation of SA’s recent history at the Apartheid Museum
- Hit a rave
- Markets, markets and more markets
- Explore the wildside at the Lion Park or Rhino Park
- And if all else fails take a wander up to Rosebank and visit some art galleries…
- Important Note: For most travelers, Johannesburg brings up visions of crime and muggings and DANGER!!! In truth, you can have a wonderful trip here without any problems. BUT it is also important to remember that you are in a big city that unfortunately does come with a high crime rate. So stick to groups, lighted streets and just think smart.
- Where to stay in Johannesburg: Try Brown Sugar Backpackers, or click here for more options.
Until next time, keep trekkin’!