17 Awe-Inspiring Moments in South Africa

It's hard to believe that a little over a month ago, I was bungee jumping for my life in South Africa. It's one the craziest things I've ever done and I'm thrilled that I did it in one of the most beautiful countries I've ever been to. I was invited by South African Tourism to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I didn't know what to expect but boy was I in for a treat. South Africa is the 25th largest country in the world and it has nine provinces, so it's pretty big. In two weeks, we dabbled in five of them. We covered so much, I don't even know where to begin. The whole journey revolved around following Nelson Mandela's footsteps to freedom. It's ones of the best ways to experience and appreciate South Africa because you get to understand its rich history and its struggle of becoming a new democratic society. We used the Madiba's Journey App to guide us and to give us more insight into each historical place. I divided my top 17 inspiring moments into the five provinces we visited. Enjoy!


1. Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation • Waterberg

Our South African trip was off to a splendid start the second we rolled into the Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation. We were greeted by this beautiful pool overlooking a waterhole with hippos. The house was built in 2001 on the Shambala Private Game Reserve which is nestled in the Waterberg mountains that's about a two hour drive north from Johannesburg. It was built for Mandela as a special retreat where he could work in peace and solitude. Mandela also invited family, friends and other diplomats over. Our queen, Oprah stayed here once. I'm pretty sure we slept in the same room and probably drooled on the same pillow! Ha. There are only six rooms, one being a presidential suite, so it's very intimate. This peaceful estate finally opened to the public this year and it was an incredible honor to be one of the first basic guests to experience this luxury. Seriously, I can't believe I stayed here. 

2. Shambala Private Game Reserve • Waterberg

It wouldn't be a South African trip without hitting up a safari. On our second day in SA, we hopped on a morning game drive and witnessed a cheetah chasing after an impala for breakfast. The speedy impala outran the spotted cat and this is the look of defeat. It was some Planet Earth realness! David Attenborough would approve. That's the beauty of Shambala Private Game Reserve. Its vast landscape covers almost 25,000 acres in the Limpopo province. It's home to some of the most beautiful wildlife which includes the Big Five (rhino, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and lion). The only one we didn't get to see was the lion. I guess I'll have to go back. On the flip side, we were greeted by a dazzle of zebras, silly warthogs, sprightly impalas and power napping giraffes. We also went on an elephant back safari which was a fantastic way to see the stunning surroundings and roam freely with the gentlest giants. 


3. Liliesleaf Farm • Johannesburg

This unassuming museum in the suburbs of Johannesburg was a hideout for anti-apartheid activists in the 1960s where Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress members planned to overthrow the apartheid government. But on July 11, 1963, the police raided Liliesleaf Farm and arrested many of the ANC members. The arrests resulted in the Rivonia Trial and subsequently sentenced Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid members life in prison. It's a fascinating place with so much history. This is definitely a must-see. You learn how severe and terrible things were and how significant this period was during South Africa's liberation struggle. And you leave with a deeper understanding of the meaning of struggle.

4. Vilakazi Street • Johannesburg

This vibrant part of Soweto is the breeding ground of two Nobel Peace Prize recipients — Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. That's quite a feat! We visited the Mandela House and wandered the bustling street afterwards. It's lined with restaurants and shops selling colorful trinkets. Definitely try do some of your souvenir shopping here. And one of my favorite photos I snapped during this trip was this boy racing down the street with his pup. 

5. Orland Towers • Johannesburg

A week before embarking on this trip, the agency emailed me to see if I was interested in bungee jumping off the Orlando Towers. I was like, HELL TO THE NO. But once we got there, it didn't look so terrifying. I don't know what came over us. Maybe it was a combination of leftover adrenaline from the safari and a newfound inspiration from Madiba. Harnesses were strapped to our bodies and there was no turning back. Christine went first. I went after her, followed by Blake, Caitlin and Gio. I was scared shitless up there but I took a leap of faith and it was both an exhilarating and liberating experience. Here's a close up of me for further proof that I really did jump with arms wide opened. Eek!

6. Saxon Hotel • Johannesburg

After nearly plunging to death, we retreated to the most beautiful hotel I've ever stayed at. The Saxon Hotel is impeccably designed. Take a look at that glorious wall of Tonga baskets! I died! Stephen Falck is a brilliant designer. Here, Christine and I shared our love for sauvignon blanc (Iona is delicious, btw) and discussed some our favorite things to do when traveling. We both cited Bill Bryson's tip on reading local newspapers to learn more about the place you're visiting. This gorgeous pool of water behind me is actually a waterhole for humans. No hippos here! And they have world's biggest bougainvillea bush!


7. Nelson Mandela Capture Site • Howick

Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 on this road between Durban and Johannesburg which led to his incarceration for 27 years. A powerful sculpture using 50 laser cut poles was erected near the Capture Site to mark the 50th anniversary of a pivotal moment in Mandela's long road to freedom.

8. Zulu Dance • Durban

At pheZulu Safari Park, we watched an entertaining Zulu dance while taking in the beautiful views of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It was fascinating to learn about courtship in Zulu culture. There is a lot of planning and wooing and negotiating which can take forever. A dowry of minimum 10 cows is to be made to the family of the bride so it gets expensive, too. A single swipe isn't gonna cut it in the Zulu tradition! 

9. Durban Beaches • Durban

I've never been to the Beverly Hills hotel in Los Angeles, but I can say that I've been to the one in South Africa! This one trumps the LA location because it boasts a pool and a beach. Boom! During this whole trip, I was up by 5:30am. I wanted to soak in every second I was there. I would mosey down to the beach to splash my toes in the Indian Ocean and watch the sunrise. It was so relaxing. It's no wonder why it's number seven on the New York Times' places to visit. The Oyster Box next door is also really beautiful and they have an Indian curry buffet. Durban has the largest Indian community outside of India so the curry is legit. Try a bunny chow when you're here. It's the quintessential Indian-South African dish. And zero bunnies are harmed in making it!

Eastern Cape

10. Qunu

Qunu is a small village in Eastern Cape where Nelson Mandela grew up. He returned to Qunu after his release in prison and was laid to rest here. Our tour guide in the photo above was leading us to the grassy hills where Mandela used to play as a child. What a breathtaking playground! Afterwards, we were invited by the chief of Qunu for an intimate meal in his house. It was inspiring to hear his passionate plans for the village. Below are photos of the lovely ladies who prepared us a sweet meal and their minty Xhosa huts.

11. Prana Lodge • East London

Prana Lodge is located on a 17 acre private beach estate within an indigenous dune forest with direct access to the beach. If this is what heaven looks like then sign me up. I had the beach all to myself. It was great to have a moment alone to reflect on this whole experience. I might have teared up. It was absolutely breathtaking. I'm thinking how I can get back here for hmm...a wedding maybe?!

Western Cape

12. Bo-Kaap • Cape Town

Dubbed as Smarties town, Bo-Kaap is a vibrantly colored Muslim community on Signal Hill. After being in cloudy East London, Bo-Kaap invigorated us with their kaleidoscopic colors.

13. InstaMeetSouthAfrica • Cape Town

An instameet wasn't initially planned on our itinerary but we got a few interests from the locals during the trip so we decided to meet up with them. I'm glad we did because it was so inspiring to get a local's perspective on life after apartheid. Did you know that South Africa was the fifth country, the first and only in Africa to legalize same-sex marriage? It's amazing how much this country has accomplished in such a short time, but there's still so more work to be done. 

14. Skinny laMinx • Cape Town

I've been admiring Heather Moore's work for over five years now. I think she's adding so much to the creative community in Cape Town. It was so wonderful to finally meet her and to see all her beautiful designs in person at her Skinny laMinx shop. I'll be sharing a video footage of our interaction soon. I can't wait to see it!

15. Table Mountain • Cape Town

Table mountain is spectacular! It's one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature so I was thrilled to check it off my bucket list. Take the cable car up to the top to enjoy a panoramic view of the oldest city in South Africa, aka Mother City. I brought along my new favorite flower, the king protea (South Africa's national flower) and I was delighted by how many people commented on it and strangely wanted a picture of me with it, too. It was a total crowd pleaser. Oh, don't forget to book your tickets in advance!

16. Stellenbosch • Stellenbosch

As if South Africa couldn't be any more diverse in all the awesome things to do. They also have a fine wine country that rivals Napa! We had wine tasting at Stellakaya, which is run by Africa's first black female winemaker.

17. Robben Island • Cape Town

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his prison sentence, along with many anti-apartheid activists. It was a privilege to be there and learn how Mandela and other prisoners were able to find strength to forge a peaceful path for South Africa. But the most touching part of Robben Island was through our tour guide, Tom Moses who was a former political prisoner there. It was an incredibly moving experience to hear his personal account of the tortured history behind those walls. I found this one review and it said, "It was the story told in the living experience of Tom Moses, a story told without bitterness, full of forgiveness and more so, a willingness to show that the human spirit might travail in the worst possible circumstances and yet triumph in ways that will humble the most haughty of men." I couldn't have said it any better. 

Cape Town was the last leg of our South African trip and I fell in love with this city. Everyone were all so warm and friendly. It's such a beautiful country. This was an inspiring way to end the year. This trip not only inspired me creatively but it also inspired me to get more involved and passionate about politics. With all the fuckery going on in this world and with the elections coming up, we need to continue creating positive change. Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." So, we can do it! Sweethanks to South African Tourism for taking me on this unforgettable journey.

Whew! You made it to the end! I want to thank everyone for supporting Old Brand New through all these years. I'm sending postcard sets to anyone who leaves a comment below. They're photos I took in South Africa.  {Update: I'm out of postcards now but check back for more giveaways in the future}. Happy holidays, my creative creatures!