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Durban / Hluhluwe / Ponta Mamoli (Mozambique) / Mkuze Falls Itinerary

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I am trying to finalize a 2 week itinerary that will include my wife and 14 month old daughter and would love any feedback that anyone may have on either the hotels / lodges I am staying or the destinations. I am open to alternate suggestions but, really, I am not interested in the whole battlefields thing and my focus will be to spend as much time in nature.

Although I have a clear picture on my itinerary, again, I am open to alternate suggestions if there are just some must see place that I am leaving out that will work into this itinerary, keeping in mind my 14 month old daughter and keeping in mind that I need to start with Durban. I would have a rental car for the entire trip as I will be driving from place to place, although parked once I'm arrived at each place.

The trip must start with Durban as I am running the Comrades Marathon (55 mile foot race) and for convenience sake, I am planning on the Durban Hilton as it is a block or two away from the finish line of the race and is a block or two away from the race expo where I must visit the day prior to the race. I was fortunate enough to run the Two Oceans (35 mile) Marathon in Cape Town in April 2010 while my wife ran the half marathon and now I must scratch what many consider to be the best foot race in the world, the Comrades Marathon, off my list.

After the race is complete, although I had originally thought of sticking around Durban for an extra day or two, or going to Uhmlangi Rocks and staying a night or two at the luxurious Oyster Box Hotel, sister property to my favorite hotel in South Africa, the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town, instead, I think I'd just like to move onward and start heading up towards Mozambique.

I found a reasonably priced safari lodge that has tremendous reviews in Hluhluwe called Leopard Mountain Game Lodge, situated within the Zululand Rhino Reserve, and its location looks breathtaking. Even so, having stayed at some of the best lodges and camps throughout Southern Africa, I am not expecting too much more than a very relaxing stay in a beautiful place with great food and then whatever game viewing there is will just be a bonus.

http://www.leopardmountain.co.za/

I am surprised that there are not safari lodges as I know them in the Hluhluwe Imflozi Game Reserve and that it mostly seems to be self drives through the park. Otherwise, I would entertain staying somewhere in there but the only options within the park don't look all that special and/or don't accommodate a 14 month old baby whereas Leopard Mountain Game Lodge does.

Staying at Leopard Mountain Game Lodge will get me to within 3 hours of the South Africa / Mozambique border so the plan would be to check out around 10:30am, get to the border by 1:45pm, park in a secure facility, and be picked up by the White Pearls Resorts for the 75 minute road transfer to the resort.

I looked at a couple different beach lodges in South Africa but they just don't seem like great value for money (Rocktail Bay and Thonga Beach Lodge, for example). Plus, I wouldn't mind a Mozambique stamp in my passport and I really like the looks of White Pearls Resorts.

http://www.whitepearlresorts.com/

In order to realize about a 30% savings (2nd guest gets 50% off for 5 night stay), I would commit to a 5 night stay at White Pearls Resort and it would be great as it would coincide with the fifth anniversary for my wife and I. It just looks like a really beautiful place and has great reviews.

Following our stay here, the plan would be to return to the border by about 10:30am and then drive 3.5 hours to our final destination, Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve at the Mkuze Falls Lodge as part of a 3 night Luxury Link package. This place has been on my radar forever but now would work perfectly as I find myself in this part of South Africa.

http://www.mkuzefalls.com/index.htm

After Mkuze Falls, the plan is just to make the 4+ hour drive to JNB for our evening flight home, stopping somewhere for a late lunch before what looks like it would be about a 7pm flight home. I just don't think it would make things easier to stay overnight in Joburg and then not be able to leave until 7pm the next day.

Although my first reflex on this trip was to run Comrades, combine it with Cape Town and either Madikwe Private Game Reserve or the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, really, I have no desire for the inclement weather that we'd likely face in each Cape Town and, especially with the cold in Madikwe and the Sabi Sands. Cold weather game drives are a miserable experience and while I'm sure it will still be on the cool side at the places I have planned, other than White Pearls Resort, I doubt it will be as chilly as Madikwe and Sabi Sands. Plus, under this itinerary, I'd have one internal flight only, the fight from JNB to Durban and then not have to see another airplane (or airfare!) until getting on the flight home to Los Angeles (connecting through LHR).

Thanks for any and all feedback as I really am unfamiliar with this part of South Africa.

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    I highly recommend Zululand Rhino Reserve. We stayed at the Rhino River Lodge and the reserve is gorgeous and has lots of rhinos! The reserve was partially funded by WWF, but it seems the owner of Leopard Mountain is a real gem and truly believes in the conservation cause. I would definitely consider Leopard Mountain next time!! If you are interested, you can arrange for a rhino dart, ear knotch, outing. We will be doing that sometime soon. Lions arrived soon after our visit. If you would like a full kitchen as well as full board, Rhino River Lodge has two very nice cabins that can accommodate families.

    Hluhluwe Imfolozi is a National Park (KZN run, not SanParks), not a game reserve. They have similar game drives that SanParks does, but not the private game reserves like those outside Kruger. Hilltop is nice, however. We loved the Imfolozi part of the park and did full day self drives. Might be too much with children.

    Consider Tembe Elephant Park. It was very pleasant and might be more like the private lodges inside Kruger that you might be referring to. And very affordable and has family tents.

    I haven't found a good alternative to Thonga or Rocktail, either. St Lucia looks like a lovely little town with lots of water and safari options, however. I don't need beachfront to enjoy the beach in other ways.

    It's always a bit warmer in Zululand than the Kruger region (Sabi Sands, etc). Just be aware that the malaria risk is higher as well.

    Good luck. Sounds like quite an adventure.

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    Christabir,

    Thanks for your response and for the additional information about Zululand Rhino Reserve and Leopard Mountain. It's looking like this may be the winning itinerary, or at least the leading itinerary. Part of me wants to roll the dice, wait a few months and then see what I can pick up at a discounted rtae but it wouldn't be worth the sleepless nights and uncertainty.

    Durban Hilton (3)
    Leopard Mountain Lodge (3)
    Thonga Beach Lodge (4)
    Amakhosi Game Reserve, Pongola (2)
    Mkuze Falls Safari Lodge, Pongola (3)

    Right about now I wish I had just one more night so I would have a 3rd night at Amakhosi but I don't want to shave a day off the beach as that will be 4 uninterrupted days with my 14 month old daughter that I will treasure (she won't be able to join us for the game drives at the safari lodges).

    Amakhosi looks like the real gem of the three safari lodges but with a 3 night special deal at Mkuze Falls on Luxury Link (and a credit I must use at Luxury Link), Mkuze Falls, which looks incredible in its own right, will get the nod for 3 nights of the two Pongola safari lodges. They do not share traversing areas but are conveniently located just about a 35 minute drive apart from each other.

    The other alternative would be to scratch Amakhosi to add a 4th night at each Leopard Mountain and Mkuze Falls but Amakhosi just looks so beautiful and does offer a Zulu cultural activity that I won't be able to experience at the other lodges I selected.

    I scratched White Pearls Resorts in Mozambique as I think 5 nights may be a bit overkill and it was taking a 5 night commitment to qualify for a certain rate. Thonga Beach Lodge, meanwhile, has a pay for 3 nights, get 4th night free special offer.

    Is it late May yet?! I can hardly wait for this trip as it will have been 49.5 months since my last visit to South Africa...nobody should ever have to go 49.5 months between visits to South Africa!!!

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    Stay a couple of extra weeks and do this:

    http://www.big-five-marathon.com/

    Looks amazing to me.

    I hear you!! I have not been to SA since 2011 - I can't wait to return!! There is a tiny possibility that we will be going next week - I'll find out tomorrow if my husband can get the time off. I can't believe I can get a flight for less than $1000 at this late date!! I have seen quite a few specials for Sept, and the exchange rate is very good right now.

    Be careful with "cultural activities". I have been to some that are so manufactured that I felt guilty about the whole experience.

    Have you looked into specials with Leopard Mountain combined with Tonga? I think I saw something (but maybe it was Rhino River Lodge). Maybe save a few pennies.

    Good luck with the run and have fun with your family.

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    Awwww...if only the Big Five Marathon was the prior weekend on June 14th I would positively do it!! I am leaving South Africa on the 14th but would've extended a day or two but cannot extend by a full week.

    I took advantage of the best priced flights to South Africa that I've seen in some time and from LAX - JNB paid just about $1200, only a couple hundred more than flying to London. I had been watching the air for a while and British Airways was floating a price for a few days of about $1250 but I held off...when Virgin Atlantic dropped their price from about $1400 to $1200 last week, I jumped all over it. Maybe I've been brainwashed by the slick marketing campaign but I far prefer Virgin Atlantic to British Airways...it just feels fresh while British Airways feels stuffy and obsolete.

    Good point about the cultural activities...this is the response I got from one of the lodges I'm considering when I asked the question and it suggests manufactured, as in, hey, we have Zulus working here...hey guys put down those dishes, go put on your Zulu clothes and come and sing and dance for the guests for a few minutes...

    "We always try to include some Cultural activity when guests visit us, with a 3-night stay this will definitely be possible. It will normally be before dinner one night, our Zulu staff has a small choir and they sometimes perform by singing a few songs, or we arrange Zulu dancers and have dinner in our Zulu kraal, just to offer our guests a taste of their culture."

    Even so, though, it is hard to resist.

    I did see that package between Leopard Mountain Lodge and Thonga but it is only 2 nights at each.

    I am really torn right now on what to do...I know the more relaxing trip would be Durban (3), Leopard Mountain (4) and either Mkuze Falls (4) or Amakhosi (4).

    Unfortunately, at Mkuze Falls, I wouldn't get the cultural experience while at Amakhosi I wouldn't get the "safari boat" or any water activity.
    http://www.mkuzefalls.com/boat.htm

    Also, I get the 4th night free at Thonga Beach Lodge so cutting that down to 3 nights would be a terrible waste...about now, I am wishing I had just one extra night but the flights are booked and, at the time, it seemed like 15 nights in Kwazulu Natal would be more than enough time but I am seeing that 19 nights would have been ideal and then finish with 3 nights in Limpopo for the Big Five Marathon!

    Good luck and I hope you are able to get to South Africa next week! If you do find out you are, in fact, going, where are you planning to go exactly? Maybe you already know the site but this site offers discounted last minute bookings. I've never had the nerves of steel to wait long enough to take advantage but for those that do, there seems to be limitless options. http://www.mtbeds.co.za/

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    I mean the more relaxing trip would be:

    Durban (3)
    Leopard Mountain (4)
    Thonga Beach Lodge (4)
    Mkuze Falls or Amakhosi (4)

    as opposed to

    Durban (3)
    Leopard Mountain (3)
    Amakhosi (2)
    Mkuze Falls (3) (although Amakhosi and Mkuze Falls are only a 35 minute drive apart)

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    If you really want culture, inquire at Leopard Mountain. The owner actually believes that he can't be successful without community involvement. They may be able to arrange something unforgetable. Tembe Elephant Park is owned by the community - reparation from apartheid - and just chatting with the staff was enlightening. I loved it.

    I was kidding about the big five marathon - after the Comrades you should need a lot of recovery. But it does look like fun!!

    If you ask, I bet they'd do the bush/beach package for any number of days you'd like.

    We are still on the fence - but have to decide quickly!! I was considering Addo and the Eastern Cape region (would be new to us), but I have a bug to try the Tuli Wilderness Camp (SE Bots), Marakele NP and the NW. But then the specials in ZZR in Sept are ridiculous. I also want to spend some time in isimangaliso. I don't know!! MTBeds specials are mainly for SA residents. I'll contact the camps I'm interested in and ask what they can do. I have some pretty drastic food issues, so being able to buy/bring/prepare some food may be the deciding factor - self catering lodges may be the only option. But I don't consider it vacation if I have to cook!! Tuli may be out - I don't know if they'd let us bring fresh foods across the border. Very little availability in Kruger NP.

    I'll let you know what we decide.

    My nephew wants me to give him a honeymoon itinerary. Must be inexpensive, comparable to Costa Rica, must include Thonga or Rocktail, so I'm thinking:

    Tembe
    ZZR (not decided on lodge)
    Thonga/Rocktail
    They could rent a car in Richards bay and easily self drive. It could be very affordable and very fun!

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    I shouldn't be thinking about Africa again so soon, but checking the links on all those places under discussion makes it hard not to. We've not been up that way. (Totally enjoyed Addo, christa, even though our first night in the (permanent) tent was during a major storm that tore up a stretch of highway outside of Port Elizabeth.) It looks like I now know where our next trip to Africa will be, though.

    Roccco, what kind of car are you planning on renting? If your planned roads are no worse than our Garden Route/Addo/ Prince Albert route last year, Kaapie here put me on to traveljigsaw.co.za. We ended up with a Mercedes C180 for not much more than a Toyota, with full insurance. It was a great car, even over the
    Swartberg pass in rain and fog.

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    Christabir,

    I had always thought Rocktail Bay would be very expensive because it is a Wilderness Safaris property. However, after getting a price a couple days ago, I was surprised to see it is slightly less expensive than Thonga Beach Lodge. However, after having a really good look at Thonga, I was equally surprised that it is not a 5* camp and not as nice looking as Thonga.

    I'm still a little torn on my itinerary. I really would like a meaningful cultural experience and for that reason I'm looking at Isibindi Zulu Lodge for a 2 night stay. IZL is under the same ownership as Thonga Beach Lodge. http://www.isibindiafrica.co.za/izl/index.htm

    The problem, however, is that IZL is far away from any other of my destinations and would make more sense if one of my safari destinations was in the Ladysmith area (Nambiti Big 5 Game Reserve) rather than in Pongola (Mkuze Falls Safari Lodge or Amakhosi Game Reserve) or rather than in Hluhluwe (Leopard Mountain). But, really, I'm not as crazy about the Ladysmith area...there are some beautiful lodges but the flora and fauna doesn't look as nice as the other areas mentioned above and it seems busier with more lodges.

    A couple very well reviewed lodges in the Ladysmith area include Elephant Rock Private Safari Lodge (4*) and Esiweni Lodge (5*). These places would be within an hour's drive of Isibindi Zulu Lodge.

    http://www.elephantrocklodge.co.za/index.html
    http://esiweni.co.za/

    What I don't want are the cooks and waiters to slap on their Zulu clothes and sing and dance for us for 15 minutes as I fear may be the case at some places.

    Besides the cultural experience at IZL, there are also other activities and it is in the 4,000 acre Isibindi Eco-Reserve and there are plenty of non-predator wildlife within the reserve and there are morning and evening game drives offered, a Zulu Boma Dinner, a Zulu Homestead visit and a Battlefields Tour. Almost enough to justify a 3 night stay and cut the beach down to 3 nights.

    I guess IZL could still work if saved for last:

    Durban (3) (3 hour drive to Leopard Mountain)
    Leopard Mountain (3) (2.5 hour drive to Thonga)
    Thonga Beach Lodge (4) (4 hour drive to Mkuze Falls)
    Mkuze Falls (3) (3 hour drive to IZL)
    IZL (2) (4.5 hour drive to Johannesburg)

    Uhoh_busted, in regards to what kind of car we're planning on renting, not sure, but it will be something comfortable and not too small. We won't be able to drive the entire way to Thonga Beach Lodge but they pick us up about 40 minutes away and provide a very reasonably priced transfer the remainder of the way. It is a 40 minute road transfer and I want to say about $15 per person. Compare that to the outrageous $80 per person for the hour road transfer from the Kosi border station to White Pearl Resorts in Mozambique.

    I will definitely have a look at traveljigsaw.co.za and thanks for the recommendation.

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    Roccco - I think you're over thinking it a bit. Nothing in Zululand is "far". An extra hour here or there should not be a big problem. For example, we left ZRR after brunch, went south to a souvenir shop (great - right on the highway!!), then to the Indian Ocean and made it to Tembe by the afternoon game drive. That's about as far apart as you can get in Zululand. I would cut back on the number of camps, not the distance between them, to avoid driving. I would not do IZL last - your last game drives with no chance of seeing a predator or eles??!! Sounds like a major let down after your otherwise lovely choices.

    The staff are mostly Zulu. Being an employee doesn't make them less authentic Zulu. Most are incredibly proud of their culture. Many camps we were met by singing staff - it can be beautiful. Others the staff sing and/or dance after dinner. Those were special, and didn't feel forced in any way. It was the odd fake Zulu village that I found offensive. Talk to the staff - their lives are so similar and so different from our own. You are trying to manufacture culture when you will be surrounded by it.

    Without speaking to staff, I would not know about the asst manager who lost her family to aids, I would not have had the most fascinating conversation about condom use with a man from Botswana, I would not have had the good fortune to have drinks with a chef at a Hluhluwe camp and his wife after dinner ended, I would not have received huge hugs from the woman to whom I gave my jacket and sweater or the man who I gave a 10 liter water can (he has to bring water home from work - none at home). I would not have known that the young man who was our driver had never pet a horse, so he took my husband's place at the Lipizzaner after show so he could feed the horses carrots with me. I would not know that kids in S Africa want cool cell phones, too. I wouldn't have traded a camera for a beaded necklace. I wouldn't know how that bartender felt about Mugabe.

    Pafuri was (sadly closed due to massive flooding) a similar lodge to Rocktail - an Adventure camp, I believe. It is right up my alley for comfort. Not too much, but not roughing it. I am not comfortable with 5 star at all - that does sound odd. WS premiere camps are way too 5 star for me - stayed at a couple in Botswana. Not for me. Rocktail sounds more my style than Thonga, but neither is so much different in price that I wouldn't go.

    We won't be going to S Africa this time. My husband can get time off, but not enough. I will have to make do with dreaming. It was a long shot, but all other vacations are ho-hum. Not sure we will be doing anything this year. Bummer.

    You can return the car in Richards Bay and fly to JNB to avoid that final driving leg. Or Durban. Sign up for email specials from Avis. We got an excellent coupon last time!! Saved us hundreds on a three week SUV rental. The $80 transfer doesn't sound so bad compared to transfers in the Kruger private reserves. They can be stupidly expensive!!

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    Sorry to hear you won't be going to South Africa but your time will come again soon, hopefully.

    Ok...figured it out, I think:

    Durban Hilton (3)(it is the most convenient for Comrades Marathon expo and finish, as well as where the 3:30AM buses to the start line in Pietermaritzburg 55 miles away for the 5:30AM start).

    Isibindi Zulu Lodge (2)

    Leopard Mountain Lodge (3)

    Thonga Beach Lodge (4)

    Mkuze Falls (3)

    Drive to JNB four hours for late lunch and international departure at 8pm.

    I'm probably looking at about a 3.5 hour drive between Isibindi Zulu Lodge and Leopard Mountain but I should still arrive in plenty of time to get settled in an for the evening game drive.

    Mkuze Falls gets the nod over Amakhosi because it appears to be the better value and they have a safari boat activity that looks like fun midday that won't interfere with the game drives.

    Really, I thought I was going to have a hard time filling a 15 night itinerary in Kwazulu Natal but now I see I could easily fill a 25 night itinerary if I had such opportunity!

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    Kimwhits, thanks for the recommendation...I will be asking for Sipho as my guide.

    And the final winning itinerary, completely booked, is as follows:

    Durban Hilton (3)
    Isibindi Zulu Lodge (2)
    Leopard Mountain Lodge (3)
    Thonga Beach Lodge (4)
    Mkuze Falls Game Reserve (3)

    There are three days with long drives (Isibindi Zulu Lodge to Leopard Mountain and Thonga Beach Lodge to Mkuze Falls and Mkuze Falls to JNB) but, all in all, I love this itinerary.

    Older and wiser, I am spending less on this 15 night itinerary than what 3 nights at a top Sabi Sands lodge would cost...probably about 2 nights of a top Sabi Sands lodge if you include the ghastly Fed Air transfers!

    Mkuze Falls was the greatest bargain as I booked it on Luxury Link. Never in my wildest imagination would I think that I would spend more per night at a beach destination (Thonga Beach Lodge) than I would at a safari lodge but priorities shift and Thonga Beach Lodge appears to be the very best place to stay in South Africa for an exclusive beach holiday and it is still about half the price for what I once paid in Zanzibar at The Palms.

    This is a very exciting trip for me as it will have been over 4 years since my last visit to South Africa, I'll be running the Comrades Marathon (56 miles) to start the trip, I'll be sharing the experience with my 14 month old daughter, be celebrating my 5th wedding anniversary with my DW and will be paying pennies on the dollar compared to the South Africa I once knew while, really, not compromising too much in terms of luxury.

    There is more to South Africa than Singita and the Cape Grace Hotel and I can hardly wait to spend 15 nights exploring some of the best on offer in KwaZulu Natal.

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    Sorry to see that you have dropped Amakhozi Lodge from your itinerary. I was there a few years ago land thought it was one of the finest lodges I every visited, and I've been to quite a few.

    I am looking to a return visit to Zambia in 2014. Any recommendations?

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    safarilover,

    Amakhosi would have been great but it didn't make sense to stay at each Amakhosi and Mkuze Falls as I got a killer deal on Luxury Link for Mkuze Falls making it probably less than half the price I would have paid at Amakhosi for the type of room I would have wanted (river suite, I think). The two lodges are only separated by about a 25 minute drive, although they have separate traversing areas.

    Leopard Mountain made sense logistically as it helped break up the long drive from Isibindi Zulu Lodge (which I wanted for cultural activities) to Thonga Beach Lodge.

    As far as Zambia goes, without question, the one place I would visit in Zambia, if not all of Africa, if not Planet Earth, if it was child friendly (and I mean 14 month old baby friendly) would be Chiawa Camp. 5 nights there would possibly be the 5 best nights you've ever spent on safari especially if you are visiting in September.

    For South Luangwa, my top vote would go to Kaingo and if you want a second camp, for its location, I love Puku Ridge. Also, I imagine Puku Ridge can only be even better than when I visited now that it is a Sanctuary Retreats camp. It was a bit mismanaged when I was there but it was still great. Sanctuary, however, is a top notch company and I loved my stay at two of their Botswana camps (Chiefs Camp and Baines Camp).

    South Luangwa is big enough to justify staying at two different camps but if your budget permits, there is no reason to stay anywhere but Chiawa in Lower Zambezi. I really liked Chongwe River Lodge and would rate it a 9 out of 10 but I really rank Chiawa like a 13 out of 10...just off the charts.

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    Roccco

    Thanks for your suggestions. I am still busy planning and there are budget constraints, but I agree that adding Lower Zambezi rather than a second camp in SL makes sense.

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