When we got on the plane in London the 31 of december we were really surprised how packed it was. Never before did we fly into the new year and we always had the idea that flights are empty at that date. How wrong we were. The A380 which brought us to Johannesburg was full, full, full. Not being big fans of huge airplanes and far too many people on a little space we had no other chance than keep going with the situation. The flight was pleasant enough, but we could really not sleep with non stop noise and little space throughout the night. We were really happy when we finally landed in Johannesburg. And here the next surprise: it was pouring down like crazy! Never ever have we experienced such a rainfall in South Africa.
Customs was a quick and easy affair, our luggage arrived safely, we got some cash from the ATM (despite the warnings not to use the ATMs at the airport due to safety issues - but this one was before the arrival zone, so it was safe). For the first time we had reserved a car directly at the airport in Joburg. Also here, people were superfriendly, everything was smooth and quick and there we went - on the road again in Africa after more than 9 years! We were dogtired but we could not get this superhappy, stupid grin out of our faces. What a start into the new year! A roadtrip from Johannesburg to Clarens. And without sleeping a single minute at night.
I was a bit tough to read the roadsigns in Joburg because of the heavy rains and the storm. Anyway, we somehow managed to find our way and were on the freeway south-east-bound. After passing Heidelberg, the heavy rains got lighter and we could see the every changing landscape. There was only little traffic - it was still in the morning, so people were probably recovering from the new years celebrations. After 2 hours we reached our first destination: the roadsidestop of Thanda Tau. This is not just a gas station onalong the freeway where you can get some snacks and coffee. No. Of course there is a gas station, but there is also a coffee shop, a restaurant, an little supermarket, a brewery, a hotel, a craft shop and....... wild animals in a rescue camp! We treated us with a much needed coffee and some rooiboshtea before we walked out with a ranger to visit the animals. It was kind of a surreal feeling. 2 hours ago we just landed in Joburg and now we are in front of wild animals in Africa. First we met a pack of lions lazily hanging around. Then we came across emus, a turtoise, porcupines, an african wild cat, hyenas and panthers. The highlight was the kuddle with the rhino named Bundu and the visit to white lions - the first white lions we have ever seen. What a start into our trip in Africa and well worth the little detour on our way to Clarens in the Free State.
The weather had cleared up, but it was still windy and pretty chilly with only 16 degrees C. Hey, we thought this is summer in South Africa! But by driving further on towards the Drakensberg it got more and more sunny and the temperature rose little by little. In Bethlehem we looked for an open supermarket (and were lucky to find a pick'n'pay on that day) and stocked up for the next days. 40 minutes later we reached Clarens, a real littel gem in the Maluti Mountains close by the Golden Gate National Parc.
We got a really warm welcome at our home for the next few days, the Gnome Cottage which is a cute little 1-bedroom cottage with a huge garden, a fully equipped kitchen and nice seating area. Small, cosy and peaceful. The perfect place to wind down. It was too chilly on our first evening to enjoy the garden, so we stayed inside, cooked some nice food, had a tea and a very early sleep. What a start into our trip to South Africa and overall, what a start into the New Year 2019!