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Please help! Sabi Sands or Hluhluwe-imfolozi

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We are planning our first trip to Africa (Adults/teens). I have flights booked arriving on a Saturday morning and departing 9 days later. I have booked Thonga in the St. Lucia area for our last 3 nights. I was originally planning on spending the first 3 nights in a lodge in the Sabi Sands area, then heading to St. Lucia for 3 nights to do horse beach/safari, wetlands tours, and finishing with 3 nights at Thonga, but now that I look at the various options for getting from JNB to Sabi Sands, then Sabi Sands to St. Lucia, I am wondering if all this travel is worth it in only 9 days. I see some nice options in the Hluhluwe game reserve, and am now wondering whether it makes sense to just head there and concentrate all of our time in this area. This is our first safari, and our only "must sees" are elephants, giraffes, and lions. Of course we want to see more, but the kids are very excited about this and we won't exactly be checking game sighted off of a list!

So my question is: Is Sabi Sands THAT much better than Hluhluwe that it makes the extra travel worth it? I don't want to travel all this way and not get a great experience, but also don't want to waste a lot of time traveling (my kids HATE that). If you think we should stick to only the Hluhluwe area, which lodges should I be looking at? We have a decent budget - would prefer not to spend more than we have to, but don't need to go totally on the cheap. Don't want to do self drive. Was looking at Rhino River Lodge, anyone have any experience with that? Any suggestions for this itinerary would be very much appreciated.

Also, I was planning to book this whole trip myself, as I love travel planning and never use an agent, but do you think it makes sense to use an agent for this trip? If so, any recommendations?

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