First Impressions is an interview series featuring travel bloggers from around the world who share their thoughts and feelings about their very first visit to South Africa.
Niina Lehikoinen is a Finnish travel blogger who, along with her partner, writes over on Bizarre Globe Hopper These two adventurers from Finland have recently lost their hearts to Africa….
“For 10 years, we spent all our holidays on crazily scheduled 2-4-week explorations, totaling more than 50 countries. In 2018, we finally decided to leave our day jobs and the cold Finnish winters behind. Our goal is to explore Africa at our own pace. We’re passionate about wildlife conservation and safaris.”
When did you first visit South Africa?
This is our first visit: we landed in Jo’burg almost two months ago.
What had you heard about the country before you boarded your flight?
South Africa’s reputation as an epic safari destination drew us here, but of course we had seen pictures of the dreamlike coastline, penguins, and Table Mountain. And some of our favorite wines come from South Africa!
What were your feelings about visiting South Africa before leaving home?
We were browsing photos of wild dogs, pangolins, honey badgers, aardvarks, and other creatures, until we couldn’t handle it anymore! Ecstatic might be the best word.
What motivated your first visit to SA?
We were looking for an African country where we could stay for a prolonged period in a nice city, enjoying great food and other urban treats. As we wanted to combine bush, beach, and city holiday, there weren’t that many options.
How did you feel coming in to land on South African soil?
When we first landed on African soil I heard drums in my head. It’s actually been the same ever since: touchdown is like an inner celebration, where I reconnect with the sounds and colors of Africa.
Where did you explore first?
We spent an afternoon in Maboneng (Johannesburg).
What were your first impressions – the smell, sound, sights that struck you?
The bright murals and street artists finishing their latest masterpieces; friendly street vendors selling miniature safari animals bent from iron wire beside slick boutiques; thick smoke from braai stands blending in heavy perfumes of local hipsters posing under the Maboneng signs.
What was an experience you had on your first day
We enjoyed watching a fashion photoshoot in front of Arts on Main while sipping espressos at Origin Coffee Roasters – an excellent specialty coffee shop, which became our fave spot in Jo’burg. After leisurely stroll around Maboneng, we had a dinner at Pata Pata, where we ended up returning several times. I love their rich Durban curry, live jazz sessions, and mingling with locals at long wooden tables.
What was your trip to South Africa like?
First, we spent 1,5 months in Maboneng living like locals. On Saturdays, we ate our way through Braamfontein’s Neigborgoods Market; Sundays were spent in Maboneng’s Market on Main.
Currently, we’re in the middle of 16-day safari in the Greater Kruger National Park. We’ve had game drives in Kruger National Park together with Moditlo and Tshukudu Private Game Reserves. We’ve already seen the Big Five and enjoyed the company of so many other amazing creatures, like honey badgers.
Next we’re exploring Klaserie – and hoping to see some wild dogs! After the safari, we’ll tour Cape Town area for a couple of weeks.
What was your highlight?
Definitely the game drives! The most memorable moments have been photographing lions and leopards. We’ll never forget the thrill of seeing two honey badgers and an aardvark on sunset game drive in Moditlo: we had been longing to spot both species in the wild for years!
What were your first impressions of the people of the south?
We’ve been warmly welcomed: people have been extremely helpful and kind. We’ve had long, deep conversations with people selling arts and crafts in Maboneng, and many random encounters have turned out to be meaningful and special.
What were you feelings about South Africa after your visit?
Astonishingly beautiful country: a dream come true for wildlife and nature enthusiasts like us. We still cannot believe that we won the bush lottery and managed to see an aardvark when even some of the rangers haven’t seen them in 12 years!
Have you returned to visit South Africa – or do you plan to in the future?
We’re planning to return as soon as we can get new tourist visas, which would mean fall 2019. We’re already drafting a long road trip itinerary, as we’d love to explore South Africa from north to south, mountains to the Winelands, and visit the game reserves that we couldn’t squeeze in this time.
What would you return for?
We want to rent a car and explore all the national parks and hidden treasures on an epic 2-month road trip.
Would you recommend South Africa to your friends and followers?
Definitely! South African safaris live up to their fame.
Photos: Piritta Paija (the other half of Bizarre Globehopper)