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Backpacking around South Africa

When people think about backpacking they often think of remote and exotic destinations, and very seldom their own country. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at what South Africa has to offer local and international backpackers.

According to industry insiders, those looking for the backpacking experience in South Africa are generally foreigners, while locals are looking for more affordable accommodation.

Backpacking is more popular during the summer months (November to March) according to Gareth Davy, MD at never@home backpackers. However, he adds that the group market, which includes school sports tours and study tours, make use of backpacker travel during the low season (June to August).

The South African Youth Travel Confederation (SAYTC) is a backpacking and youth association that promotes South Africa as a preferred backpacking and youth travel destination explains Tara Gellé, manager at SAYTC. SAYTC has a number of members who operate within the tourism industry, offering accommodation and transportation.

The accommodation

Davy notes that the hostel market in South Africa is changing. “In the past majority of the hostels have been small (less than 65 beds) owner operated renovated houses. Now a number of larger properties (150 beds plus) are entering the market. These new hostels are generally converted hotels or apartment blocks and operated in a very similar manner to hotels.”

There are a number of website that you can visit when looking for backpacker accommodation. Gellé notes that Travel Now Now, a consumer branch of SAYTC, provides backpackers with an array of information to help them plan their trip.

The website lists accommodation and tourism services, as well as different modes of transportation, and even a section for language studies where non-English speaking backpackers can take English classes.

In addition, there are other websites, such as the AA, which also provides information on accommodation and car hire.

never@home is the largest hostel in South Africa, according to Davy, with 208 beds. However, they are not only focused on the backpacker market, but rather at providing the service and quality of a mid-range hotel product.

“[A] majority of our rooms are ensuite (40 of our 48 rooms have ensuite bathrooms), [and we also] offer female only dormitories. [There is the] Randy Warthog Bar & Grill which offers a full service bar and restaurant. [A] dedicated 20 megabyte fibre optic line ensures high quality Wi-Fi,” reveals Davy.

The cost of accommodation will vary according to season, as well as the number of beds per room. Davy points out that dormitory rates for the 2015/2016 high season range from R160 to R420 per bed per night, while a private twin ensuite room for the season would range from R300 to R550 per person per night.

At never@home, the average cost of dormitory accommodation is R150 for the low season and R180 for the high season. The average cost of a private twin ensuite room is R499 for the low season and R875 for the high season.

Davy suggests: “When choosing a hostel, book for one night only and if you like, extend your stay at the hostel (don’t get stuck at a place you don’t like). Make sure you research the location well before choosing a hostel. Sites such as Booking.com, Hostelworld and TripAdvisor are generally good indicators to the quality of the location.”

Transportation

Davy notes that backpackers usually make use of public transport when seeing the country. There is also a bus (Baz Bus) that caters to the needs of backpackers that travels around the major cities in South Africa. Baz Bus is a hop-on, hop-off service that travels between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth and Durban, and Durban and Johannesburg/Pretoria.

Using the likes of Baz Bus can take the stress away from foreigners as they don’t have to navigate unfamiliar roads.

The cost of tickets for the Baz Bus are as follows:

Destinations One way Return
Between Cape Town and Johannesburg/Pretoria R4 500 R6 750
Between Cape Town and Durban R3 750 R5 625
Between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth R1 940 R2 600

Source: Baz Bus

In addition to these set ticket prices, the website also has the facility to select where you would like to start from along the route and where you would like to end, and will determine the price according to the locations that you enter. For example, if you want to start in Cape St. Francis and end in Stellenbosch, it will cost you R1 425 one way, or R2 137.5 return.

Bear mind that these companies may charge additional fees. Baz Bus, for example, highlights that an “R80 fuel levy will be added to all ticket prices over R700.”

In addition to these modes of transport, there are also the airlines and interstate buses that can be used to travel to different parts of the country.

First-hand experience

Nadia Louw is a local who has gone on several backpacking adventures around South Africa.   She says: “The great thing about backpacking is that you do not need to plan far ahead. You can literally get in your car, drive and see where you end up.”

Below are some tips from Louw for backpackers:

  • Pack a warm jacket for cold nights, lots of comfortable clothes, good sturdy shoes for walks and a swimming costume.
  • If you want to travel in peak season, it is best to book in advance.
  • Have breakfast and dinner at the backpackers, but don’t forget to write your name down to book.
  • Go on trips and take part in the activities available at the backpackers.
  • Socialise and make new friends, you’ll be surprised what you learn from others.
  • Be free and have fun.

Gellé adds: “I would say that it is good to be as flexible as possible, not because things are going to go wrong, but because if you are open to new experiences, you never know what’s going to happen or who you are going to meet. I think that really embodies the spirit of backpacking, because it is not just about going to a place that is within your price range because you don’t have enough to afford a hotel or a BnB, I think it is about the philosophy of travelling and being open to meeting people from all walks of life and different countries and cultures.”



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