My experiences of travelling in South Africa 1995/96

In no way is this information an accurate and up to date guide. Please buy a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, for example, travel book for South Africa.

If you find this guide useful, please take time to sign my guestbook Guestbook


(Train from Cape Town to Pretoria)

I left Cape Town on 27th January 1996, I was heading for Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. I had decided to travel North to Johannesburg by train and then on to Bulawayo by coach.

When I used it in January/February 1996 the Trans-Karoo train service was running between Cape Town in the South West of South Africa and Pretoria in the North East, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday twice a day in both directions. The route does not change seasonally but the train's frequency is likely to. The full journey which I completed on my return to Cape Town at the end of February took just under twenty six hours.

On the first occasion I used the train I only travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg which is one hour and twenty minutes short of the full service to Pretoria. The plan was to spend nine or ten hours kicking my heels in the Johannesburg Coach Rotunda and then catch the coach to Bulawayo at 20:30.

I left Cape Town railway station at 09:20 on board the Trans-Karoo, it was a Friday morning. The first hour was taken up with getting out of the built up areas North of Cape Town. As we got further North each area became less and less built up until we reached the magnificent Paarl Mountains.

You reach these mountains as the Sun is still rising in the morning sky, about one and a half hours into the journey. The mountains are visible for approximately twenty or thirty minutes of the journey and with the Sun not quite at it's peak, the shapes and shadows combine to treat the observer to a marvellous spectacle. Definitely not to be missed!

After the Paarl Mountains the landscape gets gradually more barren, with not much of note to see. The Trans-Karoo is a journey through the desolate heart of South Africa. In the afternoon you start to get into the Karoo proper, due to the unusually wet weather the country was experiencing at this time there was an abundance of green shrubs. I was told that this is not how the Karoo is 'supposed' to look.

The Karoo proper is nothing more than mile upon mile of dusty nothingness, only when I travelled through, it was slightly green! To give you an idea of it's size our train was well into the area by the fall of darkness and still travelling through it at first light. I would say the stretch of railway track through the Karoo itself must be close to nine hundred kilometres, if you know better please let me know via my 'Guestbook'.

The train was due to arrive in Jo'burg at 10:15, it spent what seemed to be two hours negotiating the out lying towns and suburbs of Jo'burg before we finally arrived in Jo'burg at 10:10. I had been mugged just outside the Train Station by 10:20! I only lost things of material value, nothing vital to my survival, although saying that I did lose some blood when I was stabbed in the hand.

Moral of the story? Stay out of the centre of Jo'burg, the suburbs are great, honestly. Apparently, Jo'burg is officially the most dangerous city in the World, i.e. Murder Capital of the World. This fact gives the negative impression to first time visitors that Jo'burg should be avoided, not true.

If you have to go into the center don't walk around carrying any bags, don't walk on your own and watch your back. I believe I was mugged basically because I didn't adhere to these three simple rules, I was a naive tourist. All of the decent hostels, none of which are in the centre for obvious reasons, will pick you up free from the Airport, also from the Train, Bus and Coach stations.

I caught the coach from Jo'burg to Bulawayo in the evening of this eventful day.

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Last Updated on 10th May 1996 at 12:31:48

All images ©1995, 1996 Ian Simmins
© 1996 Ian Simmins