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FIRST South Africa's trip might be brought to us by You :)

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Hello there,

I'm in a bit of hectic process here trying to collect bits and pieces of info for a potential and FIRST South Africa trip.
Hectic because it becoming very rushed very quickly; i'm determining right now that we're not the people who plan years ahead unfortunately :), and as the 25 anniversary quickly approaches (MID OF JULY 2015), we are now looking at our FIRST potential trip to SA. (We are in our mid 40s).
I would really appreciate your suggestions with S i m p l e itinerary without crossing SA border.
Basically we will be happy to stay 3-4 nights for the wildlife sightseeing (very important for us) and some nights in Cape Town and some nights somewhere else where you send us to :).
I decided to post here after reading this post called "Well traveled...but not in Africa. Need help with itineraries!" and I copied and pasted a partial answer to it that on the very bottom here. That nice and simple, in my opinion, itinerary was suggested by the Expert Gardyloo.
Do you think with your help we can build something like that for us taking in consideration our timing etc..?
Unfortunately (again) we don't have the luxury of 25k OR many days, but just around 10-12 days(max). Can you please suggest what would be, in your opinion, the most productive and time efficient route for us "to go around", as not being familiar with pretty much ANything in SA, makes the rushed research exhausting fast :).
So, it would be easier ofcourse without visiting Cape Town, but it stuck with me that it is a must do thing. So round up these 3 things is what makes it difficult for me.
Cape Town - Safari - JNB - TRANSPORT. I accept idea of self driving, but the distances might be just too long .. are they for 12 days max? I also accept the idea of internal flights one way, like to drive there and fly back, but little things like one way car rentals and winning camps and so on, can anyone please suggest "where and how"?

Most probably we will be arriving to JNB in the late afternoon (9pm). So, a night at the hotel around airport and rent of a car from there.
Lets say that the morning of the day we got hold of the car is July 17th, assume our plane ticket back home is for July 27. Assume we are leaving home from JNB as well. So how you, dear experts, would route us:)?
The Special Day is on July 23, so that day/ evening preferably to be spent (possibly as a part of 2-3 or 3-4 nights) in a bit of more comfortable accommodation...
I was priced for Kirkman's 3 nights 4k canadian, that is too much for us, maybe half or close to half of that would suit us. I looked at Olifants camp site, nice, inexpensive, but is it nice enough for The Big Day? We need to cook yourselves? lol, from what? i'm sorry if i'm sounding idiotic lol.
As you can see I will really appreciate a hand here.

If by any chance anyone from Ontario, Canada will be reading this and have done the trip before, please kindly share how you survived the long flight?? I saw KLM's one from Toronto - Amsterdam - JNB with 22 hours connection in Amsterdam and thought it might be not bad to spend a night and some day at the hotel there to break the long flight in half, rest, and even possibly to see the red lights street :)...
I don't think we can take 15,5 hrs long flight on South African Airlines from New york - JNB... very long without a break.

Thank you very much and I'm sorry the post is so long.

Below is the itinerary that appealed to me, but without a basic knowledge of the country it is hard for me to apply it for now...
*****************************
Gardyloo:
"Fly into Joburg and spend two days de-jetlagging yourselves. Do a tour of Soweto on one of the days. Rent a car and drive to Graskop, around four hours mainly on freeways and near-freeways. Graskop is a nice little town located on the edge of the Panoramic Route, a stunning collection of viewpoints and canyons on the escarpment of the northern Drakensberg mountains (which rise to over 10,000 feet farther south.) http://gardyloo.us/africa10J%20027as.jpg Stay at the cute, artsy and surprisingly romantic Graskop Hotel. Eat pancakes (Dutch/Afrikaans style) next door at Harrie’s – OMG.
Spend the next day touring the Panoramic Route. See the Three Rondavels, visit God’s Window (where the coke bottle was thrown in The Gods Must be Crazy) and other beautiful sights around the Blyde river canyon.
The next day, drive a couple of hours east to one of the lodges in the Sabi Sand reserve. You can pick the one you want – we’ve stayed at several, and (in my view) they’re all “the same but different” if you get my meaning. Comfortable, even luxurious, good food, most with traversing rights over neighboring lodges’ territories, and – really – all pretty much seeing the same sorts of wildlife on the game drives/walks. All the lodges cooperate, so if one party sees a group of lions or leopards, they report it by radio to all the other groups, and then they take turns, so over a period of two or three days, you’ll probably see most of what there is to see. (Which is not to say you’ll be bored by it – no way.)
But I would spend maybe four days/nights in the Sabi Sand reserve and move on. There’s so much more to see. By now it’s around the first week of September. Spring.
I’d drive back to Joburg, drop the car, and fly down to Cape Town. I’d pick up a second car and drive to Stellenbosch, a lovely old historic university town, then through unspeakably beautiful country to Franschoek, in the heart of South Africa’s winelands"
**********************************

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    Congratulations. We just spent our 25th in SA last year - not the actual date, but in the year. We did a rhino conservation project that was a spectacular way to celebrate our years together.

    You are traveling at a great wildlife viewing time. We no longer travel to the expensive lodges like Kirkmans, but I would suggest a private reserve instead of a rest camp in the park. They have restaurants at Olifants, but it's nothing like staying at a lodge. There are much less expensive options - they are just much harder to find from the U.S. Try www.sabisand.co.za for all of the lodges in SS. All price ranges and all are very nice for your big day. You can also look into Shindzela, Africa on Foot, Gomo Gomo and nDzuti. They are affordable and nice, although not over the top luxurious like some, just outside Sabi Sand - in Timbavati which is also adjacent to Kruger with no fences. Your biggest issue is availability - just contact them and ask. I use email and most get back in 24 hours. I don't like to stay in any lodge for less than three nights.

    Oh, those flights! We've done it all - direct from Atlanta, an overnight in Europe, a long (very long) layover in Europe. It's one of the big reasons we haven't moved west! I prefer to just get to where we are going. No matter what, it is difficult, so do whatever works for you. The flight that lands in jnb in the evening is probably the easiest if you get a hotel near airport (I like the Sun) and can grab a quick bite and go to bed. We pick up the car right away so we can get going early. If you decide to go to a camp in Kruger, you will need to buy a cooler and food and drinks. They provide most utensils and dishes if you get the right accommodations. There is a Pick n Pay in Hoedspruit (just outside the Orpen Gate) that has everything you need. I love Kruger, but I would try to stay at a full service lodge. Such a great experience. You'll be back to enjoy Kruger and self drive next time, or add more time to your safari portion and do both (that's what I'd do).

    I would do Cape Town first. I like doing the best stuff last, and that's safari. I would not drive from CT to Kruger. Too far, too boring. No, day trips to Hazyview doesn't really work - takes too long and you will miss game drives that you are paying a premium for. It doesn't make sense to me to have a car that sits in the lot for the whole time I'm at a lodge. Just fly - the lodge can help with your logistics whether you drive, fly or get a driver.

    You could also safari in kwaZulu Natal and save a lot of money and have a great wildlife experience. We visited Zululand Rhino Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park. Both were surprisingly good, and I highly recommend them both. Tembe just upgraded their accommodations and ZRR just released wild dogs in the reserve!! I can't wait to go back! You are also near the Indian Ocean which is warm and beautiful year round. The town of St Lucia is tons of fun with kayaking with hippos and crocodiles, horseback safaris, beautiful beaches and some of the best scuba/snorkel in the world in Sodwana Bay. Just fly to Rchards Bay and rent a car or get a driver to both camps.

    Enjoy your planning. I only planned our first safari ahead. The rest have all been pretty last minute. You'll find a great itinerary. Don't sweat "The Day" too much. It will be special no matter where in SA you are. It's a very special place.

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    Of course I'm biased toward my own post ;-) but I think it's a workable scenario in your case.

    I'd do pretty much as I suggested.

    Day 1 - Arrive JNB and spend the night at an airport hotel.
    Day 2 - Pick up car and drive to Graskop.
    Day 3 - Tour around Panoramic route and catch up on rest.
    Day 4 - Drive to lodge in Sabi Sand game reserve, 3 night stay.
    Day 7 - Drive back to JNB airport, drop car, evening at hotel.
    Day 8 - Morning flight to Cape Town, pick up car, overnight in Stellenbosch.
    Day 9 - Tour winelands, back to Stellenbosch
    Day 10 - Drive to Cape Town, Days 10 - 11/12 in Cape Town.
    Day 12 - Fly home.

    If you can't take that many days, then cut out the "rest" day in Graskop and/or one of the winelands days. On one of the Cape Town days visit Robben Island and/or go see the penguins at Simon's Town.

    If the Kruger-area itinerary seems too lengthy or expensive, consider the Madikwe reserve near the SA border with Botswana. It's a shorter drive from JNB and an interesting place, with some excellent lodges generally a little cheaper than the Sabi Sand ones.

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    Howzit olia,
    Both Gardyloo and christabir have just about covered everything. To Gardyloo's above itinerary, may I just suggest that you consider dropping the hire car off at one of the Greater Kruger area airports (depending on the location of your Kruger lodge...Nelspruit-KMIA or Skukuza or Hoedspruit), then get your lodge to collect/drop off. On day 7, you could then fly to Cape Town, either direct (all three of the above airports offer direct flights to Cape Town) or via Johannesburg. This will save you a day. Just a thought.

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    I see you do not have much time, but think you are trying to do too much of the country in one trip. You can always go back, as I am doing in September.
    Emirates Airlines flies out of New York, and one can do a stopover in Dubai and then nine hours to Cape Town. Emirates has 24 hour hotels in that one can check in at 9 a.m. and out at 9 a.m. for example There is an 8 a.m. flight to Cape Town.
    If you would consider just doing the Garden Route in South Africa,then suggest two nights in a tent in Addo Elephant Park, with self driving. We are sleeping with elephants in Kynsna; walking with lions in Mossel Bay; patting cheetahs and caving in Oudtshorn and 'falling' off Table Mountain (weather permitting). Other than booking those, we 'wing' it, staying in self catering apartments.

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    I forgot to mention - kayaking with penguins is available in Boulders Beach, not far from Cape Town. You can see most of what my daughter and I will be doing in South Africa is animal related. Blokarting is fun on the beach in Hermanus. I am 81 and still have lots of get up and go.

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    twoaussies - please reconsider your plans. Those elephants are abused and the cats you interact with will be used in "canned hunting". If we (all tourists) stop doing these activities, the cruelty will stop.

    olia - I hope your planning is going well.

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    Thanks for adding that Christabir , I so wish people would do some research before participating in these type of activities. I replied to a similar post from twoaussies a couple weeks ago but they never came back to the thread, maybe they will see it here

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/a-month-in-africa-how-to-spend-the-time.cfm#last-comment

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    Hello Everione - Christabir, Gardyloo, DarrenHumphrys and Twoaussies!

    Thank you very much for finding time in your busy life for posting and helping. I'm around and reading your posts right away, trying to merge as much info as possible in my head lol and was planning to get back to you with something meaningful :).

    Christabir, thank you for being first to reply with such a warm and calming me down post :), i was happy. Congratulation with your anniversary as well. I remember reading your post about Rhino reserve prior to my initial posting here!

    Gardyloo, thank you for being so flexing and generous in modifying the biased Itinerary for me :)

    DarrenHumphrys, Howzit - thank you. Yes, we can save a day that way. Do you know any particulars how easy the rental companies about one way rent? I'm sorry for asking generalities , I'm just not there yet...

    Twoaussies, thank you for your input and more power to you!

    *****************
    Let me tell you, I'm reading a lot these days; I now got to the point when I'm ready for looking into the Kruger's map :)

    I'm not settled with the reserve or lodge yet.. I think that is the biggest step. I got a couple of quotes, it takes 24 hr to get them. Kings Camp 2 people /2 nights and Kirkman's 26-28k ZAR and Ngala tents 33k ZAR. I'm also in communicating with the company called Bearded Huron Safari, who picks up from jnb (also provides overnight accommodations if the plane lands late) and takes you to safari for desirable amount of days. Their safari Do take place WITHIN the immediate Kruger. But they book camps ONLY (not the lodges) for overnights (they cook for you too). They can book lodges as any other operator, but then the games will be done by the lodges and not by the Bearded Heron. I don't have a quote from them yet, I liked the idea, but now when I'm understanding the accommodations better, I'm getting sad that I might have to refuse them because they only book camps.
    I found this site:
    http://bushscapes.co.za/greater-kruger-park/kruger-concessions/the-outpost/
    where the operator RATES lodges breaking rating down by important 'parameters'. If you look at the OUTpost lodge - this is what IDEALLY would be a 100% of my husband's satisfaction :). He would say - WOW, but hey, he is not the one who 'works' hard here on this trip, so the outpost will probably not make it:). On a serious note - it is far into the park and worth if the stay is longer, I guess, + the rates shown are for SA residents, so for us they will higher and to know exactly I need to inquire. But the feeling is, they will be very high. Maybe I need to combine, first days - some less expensive park's ran overnights and for the special day 2 nights of something luxury.. Can someone please tell me how late the afternoon game drive is usually finished? I'm thinking maybe on the special day we need to skip the afternoon one.. can it be removed from that day rate you think?
    Just for fun I looked at expedia yesterday and it sells known accommodations in The Kruger park, did anyone purchase this kind of 'hotels' from them? I guess it is strictly accommodations, but the games are not included... or food.
    Christabir, in one of your posts you mentioned that you wouldn't be voting for Imbali.. I looked at it and thought this might be ok... Were you not fan of it just because that poster you were helping to had a healthy budget of 25k or for some other reason?
    On that website they also show if a camp is fenced or not meaning for safety of the campers. Like for example, the Ngala tents, aren't you people scared a bit at night..? Is anyone on the property guides you at night? (remember movie with Val Kilmer.. :) )
    So, as you can see, I didn't move much, but I'm learning.

    Please _Do_ feel free to share :)
    Thank you Kindly!

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    Do you have specific dates in mind? Many of us could help in suggesting places. As you well know, it's very late in the game to be trying to book something in the popular game reserves.

    A note about staying IN Kruger at one of the rest camps - the game drives (and self-touring in private cars) aren't allowed to leave the park roads, whereas in the private reserves you can and do, making - in general - for much more rewarding game drives. You see a leopard crossing the track, and you can follow him/her into the "thicket" whereas inside the park they're invisible in seconds.

    Even if you limited yourselves to two nights in a private reserve like Sabi Sand, if you're positioned near the reserve the morning you're scheduled to arrive, you can get to the lodge in time for the evening drive, which in July mostly depart around 4 to 4:30. Check-in usually starts around noon or 1 PM, and check-out is after breakfast (which follows the morning game drive) so staying somewhere that allows you to get to the lodge as early as possible will allow you to get the maximum number of game drives during your stay. That's why we've stayed in Graskop - it's an hour or 90 min. from the Sabi Sand gates, making it easy to get to the lodge in time.

    Booking online with most game lodges isn't possible - they all want to exchange emails with you. However as a hunch I just looked on Booking.com for accommodations in the Sabi Sand reserve for three arbitrary nights in July, and it came back with 3 or 4 lodges with availability. I then checked for the same nights in the Balule reserve up near Hoedspruit and it came back with 2, including the wonderful Pondoro lodge at US$1394 for three nights (2 persons) which is VERY reasonable given the quality of the lodge. http://www.pondoro.co.za/

    Might be worth some exploring on your own.

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    kellyee - All we can do is inform people. We can't change anyone's behavior but our own. But I think it's important to inform people of the fate of the animals we are so enamored with. Thanks for trying, too.

    olia - good luck with your planning. Have a wonderful celebration.

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    Hello there,

    Thank you once again. Yes $1394 is very reasonable. I'm just not familiar with the places and unsure where to look. I never heard of Balule reserve..

    What would be your opinion on Simbavati Hilltop lodge??
    3 nights - US$2335?

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    I never heard of Balule reserve..

    What would be your opinion on Simbavati Hilltop lodge??
    3 nights - US$2335?


    I've never stayed there so can't compare personally. Balule is a little to the west of Timbavati; it's another of the private reserves connected without fences to Kruger NP.

    Others might disagree, but after staying in a fair number of these places, I find the similarities outweigh the differences in many cases. All the accommodations are comfortable verging on luxurious, the food uniformly excellent tending to spectacular, and the game drives quite comparable. All the game drive vehicles are in constant radio communication with each other, so if one group sees something interesting, they radio to all the others who then take turns so that their vehicles' occupants will also get to see the beasties.

    There are of course subtle differences - one ranger or tracker may be better than others, one wine cellar better stocked than others, but for a first-timer my suspicion is that you won't know the difference. You'll be so knocked out by the experience that these subtleties will go swoosh over your heads.

    So for me, at least, it kind of comes down to price and convenience. I would say in general the game viewing is slightly better in the Sabi Sand reserve, especially for leopards, owing to their specific habitat needs, but I've been on trips to the SSGR when we didn't see leopards, and on safaris in Balule where we did. Luck has something to do with it.

    So do your best at reading reviews, look at locations on a map, hold your breath and pick one. As long as you're in the greater Kruger complex and the places are rated at 4 or 5 stars (SA has a VERY efficient ranking system - the operators are terrified of the reviewers) you'll be fine, and, as I said, probably gobsmacked at the experience.

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    These are both available for the days I settled for: July 22-25. And both are Great and at the same price.
    They are almost 3 hrs a part - so the safari location wise, would anyone have a preference of one over the other?

    Simbavati Hilltop lodge total R28.3 - Timbavati reserve
    Pondoro Game Lodge total R28.3 - Balule reserve

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    The reason I suggested Pondoro was that the owner, Robbie, is a real enthusiast and will do his best to make your game viewing as good as possible, and his wife, Lize, runs the best kitchen we've experienced in any lodge we've stayed at. Look at the reviews on TA and you'll see what I'm talking about.

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g471855-d471871-r195204032-Pondoro_Game_Lodge-Balule_Private_Game_Reserve_Kruger_National_Park.html

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    Thank you. I'm pre-booking with them. When it came to booking, it appeared that they have two suites for 22-24 and another one for 24-25. So we would have to move... I decided to PRE book anyways just to hold the rooms for a couple of days until I'm absolutely sure. Cancellation before 30 days is possible. I looked at the reviews before, just one page was more than enough to understand, that's why I only asked about the location... it is also a bit more far for jhb. Somehow I'm leaning towards to driving, that will give more taste of the country and park by entering that way. Then at the end fly from the park to Cape town..

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    Or else fly to Hoedspruit (HDS) from Joburg and rent a car there. Given that you have no use for the car while you're at the lodge, the airfare might work out cheaper or comparable, and your time is worth something. Remember too that in July the days are pretty short (midwinter) so the drive back to JNB from the north can end right around sundown, and driving after dark in SA makes some people nervous (not me.)

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    Hello All,

    Well, I can now stop chaotically "zigzagging" KNP, looking at the reviews, comparing prices and Locations without any knowledge of them :), for better or worse I booked Elephant Plains on booking.com yesterday and for that part I'm out of my misery lol.

    Maybe if it wasn't the last minute booking (for mid of July), I would end up with something different, but being happy that there is availability at all and with the price that also appealed -$1700 USD, and in Sabi Sand, I booked it.. so we'll see.

    I do understand that it has a gym and TV in the lobby.. and those are not the African essentials to me, and lower its intimacy, but it is what is - First Time For Everything.
    I'll be now working on the rest of the trip around these days.
    I can not promise that you wouldn't hear from me for long :).

    I actually already have a question.. :). The alcoholic drinks are not included in the price in that lodge, should we take care of this in JNB and buy some? Or it is not worth it to bring it and the prices at the lodge, lets say for a bottle of red wine (lets say house wine) are not much higher?

    Thank You!

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    I've found the wine prices at the lodges to be pretty reasonable, not worth bringing your own. I'd imagine they'd look askance at it, and probably charge a corkage fee. South Africans are VERY big on their domestic wines, and for good reason. Let the people at EP help you choose, you won't regret it.

    It's apparently regarded as a bit blue-collar, but I'm very fond of the Savanna hard cider available in SA - terrific for the "sundowners" out in the bush during the evening drives.

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    Hi Gardyloo, sorry i didn't make my self clear. I didn't mean to bring it to a dinner with us :), but just to have a bottle in the room and enjoy it on the deck or somethin...
    If there is the first time for everything - we will try Savanna hard cider :). Thank you!

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    Kellyee - Sorry I did not reply to your post, did not see it. I totally agree with you, and will reconsider plans.
    After being in SA and Kenya I said I never wanted to set foot in a zoo. However, I spent ten years volunteering to build our local zoo, and realized that there are many, many children who would not have an opportunity to see animals except at a zoo. I changed my mind. twoaussies

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    Hi there,
    Just wondering if you heard about horrible incident in the Lion Park near Johannesburg on June 1st..; a 22 years old American woman was killed by a lion..
    I read substantial posts and articles Calling to keep the car windows up when in the KNP - and I'm going to follow that alright...

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    Hi Olia_ok,

    I don't know where you were reading about posts and articles saying to keep your windows closed in KNP but please know there is no comparision between the Lion Park and KNP. The lions in Lion Park have been hand raised by humans (unfortunately so tourists can pay to have photos taken with them) and have no fear of humans. This is totally unnatural and not the case with lions in KNP. While many lions may be relaxed around vehicules in KNP, they see a vehicule as one big object and as long as you don't break that outline by sticking your head, arms or other body parts out of the vehicule you should be fine (never say never, they are wild animals of course). I have had lions in KNP walk right past the car when our windows were down, we just remained silent and motionless as we could tell they were on a mission and that did not involve our car. If the lions would be showing any interest in the vehicules we would of course put the windows up. I once had to squeeze between a lioness in the middle of the road and a car parked off on the other side and I only had centimeters to spare, and while passing her we of course put the window up on her side.

    It is totally allowed (and encouraged if you really want to get a feel of the bush) to drive in KNP with the windows down. Be very careful however around vervets and baboons and if they approach you will certainly want to put the windows up quickly as they can do a lot of damage really fast.

    Have a great trip, I hope you will love South Africa as much as I do.

    @twoaussies: thanks for reading and replying, glad to hear you are reconsidering (while I am not crazy about zoos, I really don't compare the places I was talking about to zoos, I consider them much worse than most zoos).

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    Hello there,

    I have a question here about Cape Town hotels if you don't mind.

    I looked at the A&V hotel and area and it is nice, but we're more into the ocean views and beaches (yes, it will be winter there). Can someone please tell me about Camps Bay - that area is great as I'm understanding to stay in, correct? I realize it is a touristy area, but can you please give your opinion? Has anyone stayed somewhere there with the ocean views/front and/or has favorites?

    Thank you!

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    Hello Everyone,

    Can you please share how you book a rental car for SA?
    It seems that car rental web sites, like Avis, allows to book a car originated for example from HDS, on their
    .com,
    .ca
    and .co.za web sites... As much as the easiest for us would be to book it on .ca, I'm just wondering how you have done it before and if there is something to be aware of...

    Thank you.

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    Hello there,

    I'm still planning our return from Elephants Plains to Johannesburg. I found this suggestion below for our possible routing, can you please share your thoughts on this?
    So, after we exit Gowrie gate returning from EP (25th), do you think it is a good idea to enter the KNP again and drive around and maybe exit by another gate closer to the Panorama route?

    If we will enter the park again, then we can exit it via Orpen Gate.
    (or some other gate makes more sense if we're aiming for the Panorama route??).
    Then we can get to the northern part of the Panorama Route, driving via Hoedspruit and the Strijdom Tunnel and then turning left onto the R532. Stopping at The Three Rondavels (Blyde River Canyon view point), Bourke's Luck Potholes, Berlin Falls, and a few other view points, and make it to Graskop by sunset... (?)
    Then the suggestion continues with heading back the following morning to do the short R534 loop north of Graskop to view the Pinnacle and God's Window, and perhaps came back south to stop at Lisbon Falls, before making our way to Johannesburg.

    If we do this and stay overnight in Graskop. We will have one more night and day before flying home(7pm).
    Where would you suggest to spend them? (incl Johannesburg)

    Will it work for example, if after a night at Graskop, in the morning of 26th, we will drive to Soweto, tour there, and stay for a night somewhere there..?

    OR should I reconsider and stay another night in the park (from 25 to 26) and from 26 to 27 in Graskop and drive to jnb on 27 for 7pm flight home?...

    IMPORTANT to hear from you, Do You think that the northern part of the Panorama Route can be pretty demanding for first time Left side drivers??

    Thank you!

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    we just returned from 18 nights in southern africa... we did a 2 day stop in london on the way out, and a 1 day stop on our return. we have become fans of the stopover... we used to think it a waste of time, but now we love the break and change of pace.

    as for the woman in who was attacked in the park, our Kruger safari guide wrote this really good (short) article on the subject just after it happened. here's a link.

    http://africageographic.com/blog/safety-with-lions-on-safari/

    have a wonderful trip!

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    Hello there,

    I was trying my best to get here as quick here as i could :). I'm living it through as i report.

    ANYWAYS, here is my FIRST Part. And with some more time I Will post the rest.

    ************************************************
    At the end of this July we returned from our very first trip to South Africa.

    This trip was arranged with substantial help of this forum.

    Thank you very much to: Christabir, Cardyloo, Kawh, Kellyee and many more.

    ****************************************************

    Well, where do I start?

    The trip was amazing by all means and everything went smoothly. Some things didn't happen because of the weather and some did*, but lets just attribute both to the beauty of the Mother Nature.

    PEOPLE: We got deeply touched by the genuine friendliness and welcoming by the people of South Africa. There was no time that we felt that whatever was said was not meant. There was no time that we were left unattended if we asked for attention.

    FOOD: We were very pleased with the food Quality and Presentation throughout the entire trip and were shocked how inexpensive (for comers) it is. Bottles of wine are a bargain even at restaurants.

    SERVICE: We were fully satisfied with the services everywhere throughout the entire trip including hotels, restaurants, stores, taxis, renting two different cars and flying with SA airlines.

    SAFETY: Fears about safety can be dismissed if you are sensible. We never observe or experienced any wrongdoing and felt save and comfortable at all times.

    We were surprised to find touch screen directories at the malls (not that I can think of one in Toronto malls) and a high class decor and finishings at the hotels.

    We were taken by surprise to see the sun shining on us from the North and the "lying down" moon that looks like a smile. And that the eggs don't get stored in the fridge in the supermarkets. Also that room service is performed two times a day. In the morning they tuck the bed in and in the evening they untuck it for you :) That's what I call Service.

    And of course the Safari! It still blows our mind that we were allowed to step into the natural habitat of those beautiful animals. We enjoyed that and absorbed that enjoyment fully.

    We traveled in order:

    6 nights in Cape Town - 2 in Victoria & Alfred Hotel, 4 in Azamare Guest house.

    1 night in Kruger park, Satara Camp

    3 nights in Sabi sand, Elephant Plains game lodge

    1 night in Graskop, Graskop hotel

    1 night in Johannesburg, Holiday Inn Rosebank

    While getting there from Toronto we spent a night and almost a day in Amsterdam. Took a walking tour including red lights district, witnessed the girls in the windows -check mark; had a lunch in the city and took a boat tour. We stayed in CitizenM at the airport - nice modern facilities.

    While getting home from Africa, we had 8 hours in Paris, so we made it to the Eiffel tower and of course had some yummy crepes. Although, not as good as Harries pancakes in Graskop. We checked online for the tickets to the top of the tower 3 days prior, but it was already too late, they were sold out, so maybe next time. We just wandered around it.

    Our 11 hour flight from Amsterdam - Cape Town was with KLM and was very good. No bumps at all, excellent service and as it seemed to me that there was nonstop food which was not bad at all for being served 10km up in the air.

    Day 1 - We landed in Cape Town on time at 9.15pm lightly doubting if this is not a dream, but really The Africa.

    We were out very fast and easy, maybe 40 min max.

    To avoid the lengthy procedure of picking up rented car right after the landing, we had ours booked from the next morning and just wanted to get to the hotel already. I had a taxi arranged with the company called City Shuttles - this was our first encounter with a local person and service. A lady driver was waiting for us and was very welcoming and professional. She was the first person we met in South Africa and we couldn't be more happy with our arrival.

    Check-in to the Victoria and Alfred hotel was fast and pleasant.

    We were given notice that water will be shut off for a few hours period, but with note given ahead, it didn't affect us. We wandered outside by the hotel and there was a band playing in joined with a bar tent. When they were done we moved inside and there was a fire place going and maybe first time in a long while we again experienced it as not just a decor accessory, but actually useful necessity. Sense of the fire wood and its crackling, and mingling in a good spirit people, and the wine - can it be more perfect.. - .. we were in Africa.

    My husband from all the excitement mixed up red notes and gave the
    bartender CAN$50 (appr ZAR 500) instead of ZAR50 and the bartender
    ran after him and gave it back... how nice.
    Our room in V&A faced huge palm trees and the street; a big window can be easily opened and one could sit on the wide windowsill and watch the street, it was so nice!

    Day 2 - Our first breakfast at the hotel (was incl) made our eyes pop out. I wish I counted how many items were there at the buffet!
    Including olives and sweet pickles which you won't see here for
    breakfast :). But wait! Of course you're also ordering hot dishes which are made on order for you and Not that there's only a CHOICE of, but ALL of these - eggs, fried beef sausage, pork sausage, liver, back bacon, scalloped potatoes, roasted tomato, onions and mushrooms! And ofcourse plenty of other hot breakfast dishes. Very good start with a very nice view of Cape Town's waterfront - Africa...

    We picked up our car and first decided to do the cable car to the top of the Table Mountain while it was working. Traveling to Cape town first time, I decided not to plan more than two activities a day because it's getting dark earlier and by that time I was always planning to be 'home'. Robben Island tickets were already purchased on line and whale watching was booked, so the rest of activities were supposed to be happening around those two. Also there were 2 dinners and 1 lunch booked in highly regarded restaurants, see what'll happen to those...

    While trying to park along the road going to the mountain, we
    experienced the car minders for the first time. They were nice and
    'coordinated' us parking on the shoulder :). Wow, the view of Cape
    Town from that point was already soo impressive and just unbelievably beautiful! Well, the top of the mountain had "a blanket" over it. We enjoyed the ride and the view, but at the very top there was only the fog. Only when we returned from Africa, we watched a Youtube video with the cable car ride on a clear day and saw what we missed, oh well, maybe next time :). We drove on to the Signal hill and again the views of the ocean and Cape Town are just amazing. Got pictures inside the yellow frame. There are these Huge yellow "frames" installed
    through the city. They are raised from the ground and by standing on them you get yourself into the yellow frame with back drop of South African scenery and with the name of the place and its coordinates on the frame.

    We then went off to the Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens and oops, we missed the last Tram(3pm) by 15min. There were a few drops of rain coming down and we didn't go inside on foot.
    We drove plenty around and did some grocery shopping at Woolworth and stopped at a liquor store on some busy local street, looked like everyone was returning home from work.

    We had a dinner at Meloncino at the waterfront; once again a gourmet, thin crust pizza, and very nicely done mojitos with excellent service for something ridiculously inexpensive, AND that was after we missed the early bird winter special which would make the price less by HALF!

    Day 3 - Remember those few drops of the rain? Well, the morning of day three was extremely windy with rain on and off. This day was for moving to Azamare Guest House in Camps bay and for a trip to Point peninsula. Another great breakfast and talk about how we underestimated the V&A hotel from afar. There are a few consistent reviews for it about things being stolen from the locked safes..., I chose it anyways for the price and this was the only place during the trip when I was carrying a fanny pack with
    passports and the rest with me. But everything went great about this place.

    We were warmly greeted at Azamare as we were dropping off our luggage and offered to see out suite, but it was a surprize for my husband and I said with will see it when we're back :). The rain by that time became stronger, but we couldn't just give up a day because of that (ya, right). There is a lot of construction going on in Camps Bay (and everywhere), there were closures and we lost some time repeatedly going up and down the streets until we stopped and asked for the directions one of the construction workers. To our surprise, he pulled out a printed page of google map and explained it. The original plan was to get there by the east side of the Cape peninsula along the False Bay and return by the west side along the ocean and meet the sunset at the Chapman's Peak drive. Of course no sunset was happening on that day, and not only that. Being inside the park, we stopped at one of the rangers stations and were told by another couple that the Chapman's peak drive is closed and we would need to return by the same road.

    We made it to the funicular and went up to the Lighthouse - WOW - here is where the Two Oceans meet. Rain luckily stopped for a short time, but wind was extreme. Incredible views. After all this _driving on the left during the storm in Africa_ adventure we decided to treat ourselves in the Two Oceans restaurant which is there. Very nice dishes, we both chose fish, ($16CAN), crisp tablecloths and warm dynamic, too bad the ocean was almost invisible despite the glass wall because of the rain and wind combined lol.

    Heading back, but NOT before we get to the iconic sign with the coordinates of the Most South-Western Point of African continent at the Point of Good Hope.

    In preparation for this trip, every time I saw a picture with that sign I was forgetting to breathe, was trying to imagine Us Being there too and here is the day - it was almost impossible to keep your eyes open from the rain and wind, but trust me, WE Tried ! LOL There was a couple of more cars there and despite the weather people were willing to take each other's pictures.
    Well, we were already back inside the car and the other cars were
    leaving, and I thought, No that is not enough and I said, please a
    couple more pictures and opened the car door... the wind hit it soo hard that I thought it ripped it off, it didn't, but the door wouldn't close easily... Uh-oh, at first we thought it wouldn't close at all (can you imagine?!), but then we were able to close it and headed out of the park thanking Trip Adviser for the Worldwide insurance that we had! Anyways, while one thing lead to another, we knew we wouldn't be at Azamare before dark. Oh ya, _first time on the left side during the storm in the dark in Africa_ adventure continued! After all, we got home safely and without getting lost. And wow, our Nautilus Suite at Azamare was nothing but Spectacular place, we had 'our own' elevator, our own outside pool (yes, I knew it would be winter time there), rooms
    were decorated with the candles and rose petals. There was a bottle of champagne, a modern fire place was going, basically the fire was lit along a strip of stones against the wall, the suite is large and has two connecting balconies out on living room and bathroom, right on the ocean and just out of this world and after all it was our anniversary in a couple of days!

    We're noticing, our luggage is all delivered and neatly arranged in the suite and our groceries which were in the plastic bags all sorted and put in the fridge. (very nice)
    Breakfast and canapes and wine in the evening were included in the
    stay as well! We went to the lounge and had to tell all our adventures to the host Anai, who generously fed us with artisan sandwiches paired with wines. Can it be more perfect --- Africa... My husband said yes, it could, if it wouldn't be raining :)

    ... and at some point later he said "sweetheart, did I* pay
    for this?" LOL, I kept it secret and by North American standards this unit would be easily over a thousand $ per night, but over there it was more than a half More affordable.

    Day 4 - A visit to The Old Biscuit Mill was scheduled for the morning before the Robben Island tour, but we pooped out.
    After all the flights and drives and moves we just slept in.
    We adored the ocean views and the suite in the morning light and after a great breakfast with the view of Lion head mountain from Azamare's launch we headed out for the Robben Island tour.
    Ironically that day was Nelson Mandela's Birth Day and is declared Nelson Mandela National day. There was a nice, cheerful spirit on on the streets. Halfway to the pier I'm glancing at the tickets and realizing that the boat leaves 30 min earlier than I had it in my head and we are almost late! Rushing, asking for the directions to the parking garage, running to the pier, being grabbed by very understanding pier personnel and routed as needed - YES - we made it lol.

    Nice boat ride, seeing Cape Town and the Table mountain from the water. The weather was perfect, sunny and almost hot, No blanket over the Table Mountain, but we were sailing away from it. Local families are on the boat as well - day in Memory of Nelson Mandela. We actually liked the bus tour of the Island better, than the jail tour. Nice ride around, in and out of the bus walks through some houses of famous political prisoners, good history lesson, touchy moments with the guide's genuine thank you to everyone for coming and giving 67 min of our lives to this place when Nelson Mandela gave it 18 years. The guides for the bus and Jail were different ones and the jail guide was an older gentleman
    speaking very quiet and very slowly, after we got to see and listen about Mandela's cell, we ended the tour. But the boat back was already full and we stuck waiting for the next one close to an hour. Remember that rush to the boat? Upon returning to the Waterfront's garage we realize we can't remember where we left the car.., well, the walls were green lol and we have the ticket. Showing the ticket to garage security and asking for help, he transmits the problem on their radio and another guy on the bike appears. Asking us what kind of car is it, color and where approximately we left it. After us explaining, he goes, ohhh, it's you guys, you made my job much more difficult - you LEFT your car windows fully opened.. oops. What ever we had in the car - it was all there :)

    We are making another attempt to the cable car because it's clear, but well, not only us. Shoulder parking by the mountain is filled-in up to very far. We walk a long walk up to the tickets and see a huge line and the time till closing is very tight..., oh well maybe next time :)

    While driving driving around and adoring the streets, we surely realizing how hungry and tired we are. I have 7 course dinner with wine pairing booked for 7.15 at Myoga and it is more than 2.5 hours ahead and we need to arrange a taxi there and back..

    I call them just in case they can take us now as we are very hungry lol, but no they can't. I later realized why, the time earlier is the SunSet time and of course it is booked up. We felt like canceling it and so we did. Instead we headed to the
    Promenade, which is conveniently on the way 'home'. So we had a great dinner on the front patio one of the restaurants with the view of the ocean and a sun set. Can it be more perfect --- Africa...

    Day 5 - A whale watching in Hermanus with Southern Right Charters for 12.00 and a visit to Stony Point penguins colony are scheduled for today. 9am, about to pull out of the driveway, phone call is coming in - the sea is rough and the 12pm trip is cancelled..., I'm rescheduling it for the next day (last day in Cape town) at 9am - we would have wake up veeery early...

    Well, the day is young, we have all the time in the world, it is sunny and almost hot, BUT there is a blanket over the Table mountain..! So we went to the Waterfront to do some shopping. We did good then.

    I want to point out a store called African Trading Port. It beats every other craft/souvenir store we've been to on this trip, it beats them all by the choice and the price. It is a three story building and it has everything you can possibly think of. From Humongous statues, masks and beds to glassware to some tiny pins and bracelets. It looks like the store has only this one location. We went to the stores in Graskop, craft market in Johannesburg and saw vendors along the panorama route and everywhere there were more or less the same items, the African Trading Port was the best. We also came across this food market with vendors selling all kind of mouth watering foods and snacks, advanced healthy shakes, coffee etc. We just had to have those crepes at one of the counters - imagine the aroma, fresh grounded coffee, crepes.... Everything about this place was so modern and authentic at the same time. It was Sunday early afternoon and the dynamic was so relaxing, people were chatting and sipping their cappuccinos.

    For souvenir clothing we really liked a a store called Out of Africa (on the Waterfront as well). Very well and tastefully made t-shirts, scarves etc. Not the usual tacky touristy stuff.

    After dropping off all the goodies and resting a bit we decided to
    drive Chapmans Peak with the beautiful weather outside.

    And so it was beautiful, scenic drive. We drove there and back as the sun was getting lower. Many stops and a lot, a lot of pictures with breathtaking views of the mountains, ocean, and the spots formed by villages by the foot of the mountains across the water.

    I had a dinner booked at La mouette; 6 courses with wine pairing and this would be the only booking we made to attend :). The food was very good, but what were we thinking?! I guess we didn't think that the portions of the pairing wines can be that generous lol.
    So 6 glasses of wine... WILL take some time to IN-take and the place was becoming warmer and warmer from the fireplace going and doing a very good job! So the hit and the wine and dark burgundy walls and dimmed lights got down on us and the wine tasting became a wine torturing lol, that's what we ended up calling it. As you can imagine, we took the desserts to go.

    Taxi to go there and back was safe and proper.

    Day 6 - It's after 6am, pulling out of the driveway for a possible 9am whale watching in Hermanus.

    Oh boy, they really walk. Driving on the highway and passing pedestrians often, we even see some crossing the hwy! Driving for about an hour, phone call is coming in - the sea is rough and the 9am trip is cancelled and it looks like no later trips can be possible also. Oh well, maybe next time :(.

    We were about to pass some town, I see it is Somerset. We're exiting and pulling into a gas station. Oh boy, 'Life in the Village starts very early'. All of them walk. Very active and busy time as I observe from the car. I'm realizing I'm waiting for my husband for a while already as went inside to pay. Worried I'm going in, and he is apparently waiting for the fresh pastries to be out of oven which are sweet and not savory lol, ok.

    As we have OUR Sweet pastries and coffees leaving the gas station and very soon we realize that, yes, they are sweet, but there is ham inside LOL, ham and some jam kind of filling, Ok!

    As we drive on some street we start noticing that there are auto shops one after another, and decide to stop and ask if our car door from the windy day can be possibly fixed...

    My husband explains what happened to one of the workers, the worker goes in and comes out with obviously the owner. He looks at it, gives some instructions in Afrikaans and a couple of guys running to us and tweaking the door with some simple tools up and down left and right and voila - its fixed and closes properly. We cant be more happier and asking the owner how much we owe them for the work, guess what - he says nothing it's fine. what? Really?

    We tip the workers and being very thankful, we head to Boulders beach to see the penguins.
    Watching them is highly enjoyable activity, they are so cute and funny running in and out of the ocean.
    Adoring and buying some souvenirs from the vendors and my husband
    decides to make another trip to the Point peninsula, with the SUNNY weather this time!

    We decided to go there and back by the west side so through
    the Chapmans peak. I had lunch booked at La Colombe restaurant at
    Silvermist, but how the things were going I could already see we wont make it. We decided not to switch the current plans because of the lunch...

    I cancelled it and as we arrived to the park, again we ate at the Two Oceans restaurant, but of course when it is sunny, you can't get the table by the window, they were all booked. This time there was a lot of good and sunny pictures by the most South-Western Point of African Continent sign! Going back through Chapmans peak as sun is getting lower. Again, many stops and a lot, a lot of pictures. We watched the sunset from our balcony, it is hard to find the words, it was just amazing ---- Africa..

    We had our dinner at Azamare again with Anai, endlessly chatting about Canada and South Africa.

    Thank you Azamare for a great stay!

    Tomorrow early we're flying to Kruger!

    And as you can already guess, there Will be No blanket over the Table mountain!

  • Report Abuse

    Hello there Cwn,

    Thank you for reading. And Happy Anniversary to you as well. I'm more than sure it was unforgettable.
    For solid two weeks after we got back I was dreaming of Africa and elephants etc. :)
    I hope that some of the members who helped me with arranging the trip, will resurface and read.
    Do you know by any chance if there is a way to message a member? I couldn't find anything like that in the help section.

    Thank you once again. I'm in the process.

  • Report Abuse

    Wonderful report, thank you. I was fortunate to spend 2.5 mos. in SA, before I was married, and meet relatives who have been there for generations.
    I hope to return with my husband, and show him the beauty of Africa. For me, it was life changing. :)

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