South Africa had never really been on my radar until I started work as cabin crew, it’s not that I didn’t want to go, it just never really was a place that crossed my mind. Years ago when I first started flying my first ever roster included a flight to Johannesburg.
I didn’t really know what to expect from South Africa but I was really excited to go and do some exploring. After my first trip to South Africa I was hooked I fell in love with this incredible country and it’s warm and friendly people.
Since my first ever trip to Johannesburg years ago I have returned many times with work, and also been to Cape Town lots and lots of times with work. Every time I visit South Africa I try and see and do something different even if it’s just trying out a new restaurant.
Johannesburg isn’t the safest of places in the world so unfortunately every time I have been I always book on to a tour through the hotel, as wandering the streets of Johannesburg isn’t really an option.
Sights & Activities
The Bird Gardens in Sandton are located in the Montecasino complex which is on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It is a small and beautiful wildlife park with walk through aviaries and gardens. This little wildlife park is great for all ages and families, and has a variety of bird species as well as some other wildlife such as mammals, reptiles and other small critters.
I visited the Bird Gardens one afternoon, and spent about 2 hours there and watched one of the bird shows. You don’t need a full day here as it’s only a small park. I mainly visited because being crew we are offered free entrance into the park, normally it’s only ZAR75 which is about £5 per adult. I came to the park not expecting too much and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of species there was and how well kept the gardens were, the Bird Gardens make a lovely afternoon out and are really relaxing to wander around.
Glen Afric is a wildlife lodge and is home to the Wild at Heart tv series set. The lodge is set overlooking the Magliesberg Mountains, and is actually closer to Pretoria but still only about 40 minutes drive from Johannesburg.
There is lots to see and do at Glen Afric and you can also choose to stay overnight here too. At Glen Afric there is a number of activities to choose such as game drives, bush walks, horse riding, animal interactions and there is also a Wild at Heart set tour.
When we visited we started our trip at Glen Afric with a beautiful lunch set out on the deck overlooking the mountains and bushlands. I had a light and fresh salad with a side of halloumi, I really enjoyed the lunch at Glen Afric it was so relaxing and the views were gorgeous.
After lunch our tour package began and we opted for the Safari Experience which was ZAR650 approximately £35 per person. We started with an elephant interaction with the lodges 3 beautiful rescued elephants, these gorgeous giants are watched over 24 hours a day to ensure no harm from poachers are made to them, and they have amazing bonds with their carers.
Getting up close to elephants was a real highlight and just made me realise how small we actually are in comparison to these huge animals. It was amazing to see them having so much open space to roam around, and the people that look after them genuinely cared for their wellbeing.
After getting up close to the elephants we drove around some of the predator enclosures unfortunately the lions and other predators are caged, but many of them have been rescued from private owners and the various lion parks around South Africa.
I’m still not sure how I feel about them being in cages when Glen Afric covers a huge area, but sometimes when travelling to other countries the animal rights and conditions vary which doesn’t make it right but sometimes you have to accept that every country has their own views and laws with regards to animal welfare.
In Johannesburg there are so many Horseback Safari’s on offer from all the various lodges and game reserves around the area. On one work trip I thought I would give a Horseback Safari a go, I have to admit I’m not very confident at horse riding and always feel a little bit nervous around horses, but I always try and push myself to try new things.
I went with a few of my colleagues and we asked the hotel to book us the tour. As soon as we arrived we got saddled up and ready to go on the Safari, the Safari tour lasted about 90 minutes. We got to go out in the bush on the horses and got to witness some stunning views and saw a few animals such as giraffes and zebras.
There are many horseback safaris available with ones as short as the one we did up to other tours that are full days or various packages that last several days.
I have to admit this wasn’t my favourite thing to do in Johannesburg as I felt a little nervous on the horse the whole time, and my horse typically kept playing up, which scared me and I also found out I have a slight allergy to horses and my eyes went a bit itchy and swollen. I preferred the Safari I did at Leopard Song as we got to see many more animals including lions, obviously for safety reasons on the horseback safaris there are no predators in the reserves.
I would suggest a horseback Safari if your a horse enthusiast and really enjoy horse riding, however I’m glad I’ve done it the once but probably wouldn’t do it again, and if I did I have heard about people doing horse riding tours along the beach in Cape Town which is meant to be amazing.
Leopard Song Game Reserve
Leopard Song is located in the Pride of Africa game reserve, and honestly hand on heart one of the best things I’ve ever done while on a work trip. Leopard Song felt like a mini holiday, even though I was on a layover. It is also fantastic value for money too.
After doing several Johannesburg trips I kept hearing other crew say how amazing Leopard Song was, so wanted to try it for myself. So when I got a Johannesburg on my roster I emailed all the crew ahead of our trip to see if they wanted to join and also posted on one of our crew Facebook pages to see if any of the crew from the earlier flight wanted to join.
We managed to get 5 of us together and emailed Leopard Song to arrange and book. When we arrived at our hotel we had a few hours to relax before Leopard Song came and collected us. It took about an hours drive from Johannesburg to reach the reserve. When we arrived we were greeted by the most friendly staff who really couldn’t of done anymore for us.
They made us a lovely lunch and we got checked into our own individual luxury lodges complete with en-suites. The lodges were all immaculately clean and really lovely inside. There was lots of deers and impalas walking around the lodges which just added to the feel of the place. It was so peaceful and relaxing and there was also a small pool, and a campfire to sit around in the evening.
After our lunch we went for a game drive in the late afternoon, and we saw so many animals such as zebra, enyala, daika, warthogs, impalas, giraffes, ostriches, rhinos, lions and a variety of birds. The scenery on the drive was stunning as well, and we stopped off at a watering hole for sunset which was absolutely gorgeous.
During the evening it does get quite chilly and while driving through the reserve it got quite cold on the jeep, but Leopard Song were well prepared and have lots of cosy blankets on the jeep to keep warm while driving around on Safari.
After having a magical afternoon driving around the bush seeing lots of animals living freely, we headed back to the lodge and the chef had prepared a delicious 3 course dinner for us which was homestyle comfort food with a big lasagne for the main course and some garlic bread, all of it was so tasty and just what we needed after a tiring night flight and the Safari.
Once dinner was demolished by all of us we sat around the campfire for a bit and enjoyed a few glasses of wine. It really is a special place we could see so many stars and the only noises we could hear were that of animals in the bush.
We decided to have an early night as we all wanted to get up early to do the sunrise Safari and to see some more animals. We started the morning Safari at 6.30am and got to see lots more animals again and enjoy the sights and sounds of being out in the bush. After a little while of driving around the ranger driving us round pulled over at a watering hole, and laid out some tea, coffee and biscuits and we all sat having a cuppa overlooking the watering hole, and could even see hippos in the distance poking their heads out from the water.
When we finished the morning Safari we arrived back to the lodge to be greeted with a hot full English breakfast which was the perfect end to our Safari night stop.
Leopard Song provide a discounted rate to workers from the airline I fly for. We got such a good deal I think from memory it cost me approximately £90 which included pick up and drop off, overnight accommodation, all meals and drinks and 2 game drives. I couldn’t believe what great value for money it was. Even without any discount Leopard Song is extremely affordable without any compromises.
I made the best memories at Leopard Song and really want to go back and would love to take my husband. If your looking to escape the daily grind and break free from having WiFi, then Leopard Song is the ultimate getaway to switching off from the rest of the world and just relaxing in the most peaceful atmosphere. I really fell in love with Leopard Song, and I don’t think my words or pictures will do it justice, so if you are planning a safari trip visit Leopard Song to see for yourself and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Soweto is one of the largest townships in Johannesburg and was originally built up from the 1930s when apartheid started to slowly creep in and the white government began to start separating the blacks from the whites.
Nelson Mandela also lived in Soweto, and the township itself is steeped in history. On a trip to Johannesburg I decided to book onto an apartheid tour to learn more about what actually happened and how apartheid came into place, as it’s always something I never really understood nor can I understand what kind of people could think apartheid was a good idea!
The tour itself was really interesting and first took us to a shop selling traditional South African arts and crafts, but it still had its original non whites sign up which was from the 1950s obviously this is not the applicable today, but it was interesting to see.
We also went to see Nelson Mandelas house and visited the apartheid museum which was heartbreaking reading all the memorabilia and stories, it is crazy to think apartheid actually ever happened! The museum is only small but full of information. Once we had finished in the museum we went next door to small cafe to get a drink and ice cream and sat down and got chatting with the new owners who were so warm and friendly.
Driving around Soweto we saw lots of poverty and even though apartheid is gone there still seems to be a huge wealth gap between whites and blacks.
We also got to go to the Orlando Towers in Soweto which are 2 decommissioned coal fire power stations which have now become famous landmarks in Soweto. You can also bungee jump or abseil down from the towers if your an adrenaline junkie, we just made a quick stop off to see them before heading back to the hotel.
The Soweto tour I would highly recommend if you want to learn about South Africa’s history which actually wasn’t even that long ago, and learn about what the country is like today.
Rhino & Lion Park
With regards to Rhino and Lion Park I did contemplate if I should even include this in the blog, the park itself is lovely and the game drive was great, and we saw what seemed like lots of healthy and happy animals living out in a huge game reserve. What I wasn’t too keen on was what came after the safari drive.
After the Safari drive there was an area with lots of cages with wild non native animals in such as tigers and panthers, which aren’t even from South Africa. I know in South Africa however that a lot of private owners can get their hands on various wildlife and some of the Safari lodges take them in and rescue them and they normally can’t be released back into the wild.
I just found the cages to be very small and bare in comparison to the actual reserve, and I wasn’t expecting to see any animals in cages. There was also an opportunity to pet some baby lion cubs and a tame cheetah, which we were told had been rescued from someone’s house, and that she was too tame to be released. She was just like a big soppy purring cat who wanted lots of stroking and fuss.
Since visiting the Rhino and Lion Park several years ago I have heard so many conflicting stories with regards to animal rights and welfare in South Africa it’s hard to know what is true.
I would recommend if you want to go on a safari then opt for Leopard Song, I went on the Rhino and Lion Park Safari on my first ever trip to Johannesburg and wasn’t really whizzed up on what there was to do in Johannesburg and there literally is no comparison and Leopard Song the animals are all wild.
Food & Beverage
The Codfather restaurant is in Sandton which is in the suburbs of Johannesburg. It is an upmarket restaurant which specialises in fresh seafood. There is also a fish counter in the restaurant showcasing various seafood available for dishes made to order.
As well as serving up a huge selection of fish and shellfish, it also has some excellent meat dishes, tapas, dimsum and a good selection of sides. The Codfather has literally something for everyone and to suit all tastes. Last time I visited to the Codfather was before I turned vegetarian, and I had the most delicious muscles to start and a fillet steak for my main. I really want to go back now I’m vegetarian as have seen they have a good choice of vegetarian options available.
There is also an extensive wine menu to choose from which serves many local South African wines. The Codfather serves up delicious and fresh food and the staff are always so warm and welcoming.
When visiting South Africa make sure to add Johannesburg to your itinerary as a lot of people tend to give it a miss and opt for Cape Town. A few nights in Johannesburg would be a good amount of time to see some of the main sites. Johannesburg is a great city with lots to offer, it maybe a little rough around the edges in some places but go with your head screwed on and keep safe by booking onto tours, and not wandering around on your own and leave all unnecessary valuables at home or in your accommodation.