South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is surrounded by South Africa). It is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse population. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is one of the world’s largest producers of gold. South Africa has the strongest economy in Africa and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010, South Africa hosted the first Football World Cup to be held on the African continent.
Gauteng is one of the provinces in the north-east of South Africa. The word “Gauteng” is a Sesotho phrase meaning “Place of gold”, referencing to the thriving gold industry following the 1886 discovery of gold in Johannesburg. The province is the centre of South Africa’s industrial and commerce sectors.
Johannesburg has a population of 9.6 million people (South African 2011 census), half of which live in Soweto and adjacent suburbs. The majority of the population is formed by South Africa’s black residents who mostly live in Soweto, while white residents amount to 1,333,790 (although the number is likely to be higher). There are also around 300,000 residents of other descent. Unlike other South African cities, no language group dominates, although English is the established lingua franca.
The East Rand
Ekurhuleni (also known as the East Rand) is the eastern part of the Gauteng province.
We travel on the N12 highway passing the East Rand Towns of Boksburg, Benoni & Springs – Gold mining and Industrial area – Old mine dumps and headgears are visible from the road. Benoni has many lakes alongside the road, one used for water ski training and another for the Benoni Sailing Club
The road passes the large Townships of Daveyton and Etwatwa, RDP Housing can be seen and a shack settlement close to the road.
The Mpumalanga Province is located in the north-east of South Africa and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
The Eastern Highveld
Highveld – From Gauteng to the Escarpment. The Highveld is of great industrial importance to South Africa with coal mining, steel mills, power stations and the Sasol oil-from-coal plants.
The area to the south of, and around the town of Delmas is part of the “Maize Triangle”, large “mielie Fields” extend on both sides of the road, depending on the time of year, one can see huge four-wheel-drive tractors ploughing, harrowing, planting and cultivating. Massive combine harvesters gather up the crop towards the end of autumn.
Witbank & Middelburg
The area around Emalahleni (the place of coal) and Middleburg is a major coalfield – there are reputably some eighty mines, mostly opencast, in this area, enormous draglines can be seen in operation.
Due to the availability of coal, most of South Africa’s thermal power stations are located alongside the road – the partially complete Kusile power station can be seen from the road.
SWIFT will normally make the first comfort stop after travelling for two hours at a roadside service area called Alzu.
Alzu offers Fuel, clean restrooms, a well-stocked shop and fast food facilities (Spur; Nandos; Sausage Saloon & Mugg & Bean), what sets it aside from similar establishments is a “wildlife area” featuring amongst other animals, Rhinos.
This nondescript small town is one of the highest (2025 meters above sea-level) and coldest towns in RSA. The cold climate enables Belfast to be the start of a Trout fishing area.
A few Battles were fought near Belfast during the Anglo Boer War, notably the battles of Lelifontein and Bergendal, a Concentration camp was erected in Belfast to house Boer woman and children displaced as a result of Kitchener’s “scorched earth “policy.
The road from Belfast to Dullstroom passes through a series of rolling hills with mixed farming operations, this is a pleasant change from the somewhat featureless plains encountered thus far.
The Village of Dullstroom is the centre of the Fly-fishing area, very popular with weekend visitors from Johannesburg.
An eclectic mix of small shops can be seen, from the predictable fishing tackle shops and restaurants to art galleries (two!), a shop devoted to Christmas and a whisky Bar, which is reputed to house the largest collection of single malt whiskies in the Southern hemisphere!
This was a Boer town prior to the Anglo Boer war – during the “scorched earth” policy all the buildings (except for the church) were torched on November 23, 1900 on the orders of Maj Gen. Smith-Dorrien.
The road from Dullstroom to Mashishing (Lydenburg) passes through a hilly area with many trout dams to be seen along the route.
Mashishing (the place of long green grass) was formally known as Lydenburg, which derived from the Dutch Lijdenburg (Town of suffering) named thus, because it was settled by trekkers who had fled a malaria epidemic in Ohrigstad (the next town we pass through). Historic buildings include the Voortrekker School erected in 1851 and the Adjacent Dutch reform church erected in 1890. The Lydenburg museum has replicas of the “Lydenburg heads” some of the earliest examples of African sculpture – date 490 AD.
The road from Mashishing to Ohrigstad passes through increasingly hilly country as we enter the foothills of the northern Drakensburg at 29 Km we pass the turnoff to Pilgrims Rest – scene of the last gold rush of the 20th century.
Limpopo Province, South Africa: South Africa’s northernmost province, Limpopo, borders onto Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, making it the ideal entrance to Africa. Limpopo takes up 10.2% of South Africa’s total land area. Named after the great Limpopo River that flows along its northern border, this province is rich in wildlife, spectacular scenery and a wealth of historical and cultural treasures.
This Beautiful alluvial valley was settled by Voortrekkers in 1845, and abandoned in 1848, following a malaria epidemic, the valley (considered to be a “fever hell”) was only re-settled 1923 following the eradication of mosquitos.
Abel Erasmus Pass and Strijdom Tunnel
The Able Eramus Pass is a gateway to the Lowveld through the Limpopo Drakensburg which forms the escarpment at the edge of the Highveld Plateau, and descends a net 500m over 22 Km. The road follows the general route followed by the Voortrekkers in the 1840’s and includes the 133 M Strijdom Tunnel, which was opened in 1959.
A tufa waterfall can be seen from the tunnel, considered to be one of the tallest of its type in Africa ( a tufa water fall gathers calcium carbonate as it passes through limestone areas and precipitates this as it emerges from the rock face , effectively growing outward instead of eroding the lip).
The Able Eramus pass ends in the Olifants River Valley, we travel through fruit country with Oranges and Mangos predominating to the town of Hoedspruit, the centre of Wildlife tourism.
Hoedspruit lies in the Valley of the Olifants in Big 5 Country close to the Kruger National Park and surrounded by Big 5 Game Lodges and Private Nature Reserves like Timbavati, Balule, Thornybush, Kapama and Klaserie. It is quite possible to fly into Hoedspruit, and travel straight to the local private game reserves without venturing near to Hoedspruit town.
The name “Ba-Phalaborwa”, given to the area by the Sotho tribes who moved here from the south, means better than the south. The Sotho mined and smelted copper and iron ore here as far back as 400 AD. Masorini, near Phalaborwa gate, is a reconstructed Ba-Phalaborwa hill village, with huts, grain storage areas, and an iron smelting site.