Best time to go to South Africa?

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Dec 21st, 2013, 03:47 PM
  #1
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Best time to go to South Africa?

Looking for ideas and suggestions for a first trip to South Africa in 2015. We will be there for about 18 days, and we will probably split it: 10-11 days safari (maybe a Sabi Sand or Timbavati / Phinda / St.Lucia combination), and 7-8 days Cape Town and the Western Cape area.
The main focus is animals – not a specific list, but variety is key. Plus, would love to see penguins, whales, sharks, dolphins, etc when in CT area. I love birds, but DH does not care about them, so I will need to get my birding fix between the game drives and while visiting other destinations (botanical garden in CT, etc.), you get the idea. Looking for additional suggestions in this area, too.
Now, with these parameters, when do you think it’s the best time to go (from both a weather and wild animals opportunities point of view)? We are totally flexible. Thanks
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Dec 21st, 2013, 08:17 PM
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Don't know about animals (assume you mean Johannesburg area), but I was in CT and Western Cape in mid-October a few years ago. That's early spring, and the flowers were beautiful. Weather was nice, if a bit cool at times. It rained a little, but not very much.

We saw whales at several places along the coast between Cape Agulhas and Hermanus (always from land). We saw penguins at Betty's Bay and the Cape of Good Hope. Didn't see sharks or dolphins, but then we didn't go out on the water. Saw ostriches and various kinds of antelope/deer both driving around Western Cape and at Cape of Good Hope, and dassies (rock hyraxes) in Hermanus. Saw different kinds of birds everywhere we went.
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 03:27 AM
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I agree that spring is beautiful. I've also been there in late November and for Christmas, equally beautiful and warm summer weather, ample game and fantastic sights. If you can go when it's warm in SA, I think it will be a bit more enjoyable for all but not a game changer.
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 06:27 AM
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Most of our trips to SA have included stays in the Kruger Area (Sabi Sand, Balule reserves) and the Western Cape. Our preference is around the first of September. It's still winter in the north, meaning there's somewhat better wildlife viewing owing to (a) the absence of foliage on some of the trees/bushes, which improves visibility, and (b) the animals come to water as it's the dry season, again increasing diversity and making viewing easier. Typically it's chilly in the early morning and evening, but delightfully sunny and warm mid-day, and best of all, no mosquitoes.

We start in the north and then move to Cape Town, where the wet weather may be improving by the second week or so in September. Kirstenbosch Gardens are stunning, and if you can spend a couple of days, a short (under 2 hour) drive up the Atlantic coast will put you in bird- and wildflower heaven at West Coast National Park, something of a hidden gem (no big predators but wonderful birding and fabulous views.) The wildflowers around WCNP (Langebaan Bay, up to wonderful Paternoster) are incredible - a terrific outing from Cape Town.

http://gardyloo.us/aug24b%20044s.JPG
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 07:21 AM
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We went this past August. It was a little chilly but not uncomfortable if you are prepared for it. We spend 10 days in CT and drove all the way down to Cape Agulhas. We also spent 3 nights in Sabi Sands. I have posted a narrative and photos on my shutterfly page if you are interested. I can also attempt to answer specific questions. Have a wonderful time!

www.garyandsusan.shutterfly.com
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 01:04 PM
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Thank you all. We were originally thinking of a spring (Aug-Sept) trip, but then I had second thoughts, thinking that a warmer time might be a better one. Glad to hear that while colder, this time of the year is not that bad, that cold as to make the trip uncomfortable. The truth is, cold is ok, but would like to avoid the rain. I know, nobody can predict the weather.

Cranacin, good to know that flowers were still in bloom in Oct, so later it might be a good option, too.

Gardyloo, the WCNP sounds wonderful, we’ll definitely spend a few days there. We are not interested too much in CT the town itself, but mostly in the area around it. The wildflower field pic is great, I really want to see that.

Sd, I looked at your pictures – wonderful, and they convinced me that spring is a great time to go. Was this your first time to South Africa? Did you think 3 nights in Sabi Sands was enough, or did you wish you had spent more time there?
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 04:19 PM
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I've been to SA, Greater Kruger area, 6 times. Five were in Sept, one was in May. May was fine weather wise, perhaps just a little cooler in morning because winter is coming. May was fine, the grass was not as tall as I expected - and - green. In Sept the grass will be brown and the trees mostly barren. (Unless near a river or water hole). Love to self drive in Kruger Nat Park and then going to a safari camp in Sabi Sand reserve (MalaMala) and/or in the Timbavati reserve (Kings Camp). Both reserves share the western border with Kruger and no fence between them and Kruger.

Here's a photo from Sept 2007 in Kruger. Shows the"dead' grass and leaves.
http://tinyurl.com/ms5n3v4
Here's shot in May of 2007 with green life.
http://tinyurl.com/lawrmw4

regards - tom
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Dec 22nd, 2013, 05:01 PM
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xyz99, Yes, this was my first time in SA, but not my first safari. I had been to Kenya and Tanzania in 1988, ages ago. SA was part of a 6 week trip that took us to SA, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya. We did a series of 3 nights stays in various camps and lodges. I do think 3 days per location is optimal. Things started all being the same by the third day. If that was the only place we were going to be doing a safari, I would have stayed longer because seeing the animals on their terms is extremely special. Perhaps you should try several different camps/lodges just to change it up a bit. Whether or not you use them, Africa Travel Resource has a great website with descriptions and photos of most accommodations worth considering all over Africa. You can get a really good sense of what you will find there.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 06:24 AM
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I really liked the weather for my late November 2007 visit to South Africa. Weather was great in Cape Town and nice and warm on safari with occasional (warm and short) showers while on safari. It was warm enough midday to really enjoy the private plunge pools in the room (if you plan to splurge for a place that has your own private plunge pool). I also liked early March for South Africa.

In addition to the safari areas you listed, give Madikwe Private Game Reserve a chance, as well. Personally, I have found the game viewing to be every bit as favorable there (and more diverse) as in the Sabi Sand. The leopard viewing in the Sabi Sand is superior but the diversity and landscapes of Madikwe is superior to the Sabi Sand.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 06:27 AM
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August

Check flights because Aug can be peak flight cost. Sometimes a little later into August brings the cost down and prices are different within a few days of each other.

Let me add that your rough outline of an itinerary looks marvelous.

For Great White Sharks, do consider a couple of days on the ocean because weather can alter plans. You can cage dive. You can also get fantastic shark views from atop the boat. I always remained on board and was thrilled with what I saw. Aug is a good time for the sharks (mid June - Sept), especially the breaching sharks in False Bay. I used Chris Fallows out of False Bay in Simons Town. They'll transport you to/from Cape Town. Great Whites remain a highlight of Africa for me and for many people.

http://www.eurometeo.com/english/cli...south%20africa

Additional suggestion, which you requested: Robben Island where Mandela was held prisoner. Visited by ferry from Cape Town.

Another additional suggestion if you choose Phinda. There are lots of activities offered at Phinda besides traditional game viewing. Some of my fav around the Aug time frame are kayaking on the Mzinene River. There's also a motor boat if the water level is high enough. You can do cultural visits. A really cool activity is rhino tracking on foot. You need to stay at Forest Lodge or Vlei to do rhino tracking.

Here are some weather charts.
For Phinda, weather in Richard's Bay
http://www.worldweatheronline.com/Ri...-Natal/ZA.aspx

For Timbavati or Sabi Sands, here is Mala Mala's info. More recent updates are sketchy. Past years are more complete.
http://www.holidaycheck.com/climate-...d-id_7355.html

Here's Cape Town. On the side of this webpage you can choose avg temps, high temps, rain, etc.
http://www.eurometeo.com/english/cli...south%20africa

Cape Town rainy months are somewhat opposite the rest of the country.

Re: 3 nights per location, which sdtravels mentions. I think the more intense you are in your wildlife/bird viewing, the longer you want to make your stays. To increase odds of elusive/unique species in the area, to followup on animal activity such as kills or denning, to allow adequate time to wait for optimal photographic conditions, you may want a longer stay. For me usually 3 is the minimum in Southern Africa and I have never felt antsy after 3 nights and wished I had not booked more time. To cover more locations and to get an overview of the various places, then 3 nts per stop makes sense.

Have a terrific trip.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 10:32 AM
  #11
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Nice, it seems that even different times are good to go, Aug-Sept come up as favorites. Plus, for me personally, seeing the wildflowers in the Western Cape area is a plus.

@cary999 – love the May green, but you went 5 times in Sept, so that’s good for me. I trust your opinion

@Roccco – thanks for the Madikwe recommendation; it is not mentioned so much as other reserves, but everything I read about it lately was very good. Will definitely consider it.

@atravelynn – we will try award flights, but what I see now for Sept 2014 does not look encouraging at all… What do you mean by “For Great White Sharks, do consider a couple of days on the ocean”, do you suggest a couple days on a boat? Or just staying in the area (on land) for a couple of days and taking boat trips every day? We are definitely not interested in cage diving, but would love to see breaching sharks. Thanks for Chris Fallows’s recommendation, and for all the other info.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 12:27 PM
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Not sure what your budget is, but my favorite lodge in South Africa, even more so than Singita (which has won #1 in the world awards many times) is Mateya Safari Lodge where I have three prior visits and where I'm sure to return in the future.
http://www.mateyasafari.com/
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 07:11 PM
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Roccco,
I don't know (yet) about Mateya's rates, but I can tell you...Singita is out of our budget. I'll check out Mateya though, probably just for fun
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 07:12 PM
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@Roccco – thanks for the Madikwe recommendation; it is not mentioned so much as other reserves, but everything I read about it lately was very good. Will definitely consider it.

We have visited Madikwe twice, both times in conjunction with earlier/later stays in Sabi Sand. They're quite different - Madikwe has been converted to a game reserve from former farm use, and it's considerably drier than Sabi Sand. For us, game viewing at SSGR has been generally superior (diversity, proximity) however our favorite lodge in SA is Buffalo Ridge in Madikwe, with a real benefit from being community-owned.
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Dec 23rd, 2013, 07:12 PM
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Sorry - meant to include the link - http://www.buffaloridgesafari.com/
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Dec 24th, 2013, 05:15 AM
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Lots of new ideas and places to consider, thank you so much!!!

As a first trip, game viewing at a price that we can afford is our first priority. I just checked Mateya's rates - way over our budget; but it is very refreshing to find out that there are a lot more game reserves out there than the few very luxurious (and expensive) ones that get most reviews. It seems that really there is something for everybody's budget, and that is great.

Back to more reading. Gardyloo, Buffallo Ridge looks great, and now Madikwe is a very strong option.
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Dec 24th, 2013, 08:02 AM
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A couple of days on the ocean means staying on land and heading out 2x in a boat to look at Great Whites. You can see them swimming, hunting, breaching around Seal Island. You can also see--and smell--the seals when the boat approaches the island for a closer look and photos. Often the African Penguins are on the island too.
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Dec 24th, 2013, 08:55 AM
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One of the benefits of Madikwe over the Kruger-area parks is that it's a lot closer to Joburg. You can drive to Buffalo Ridge in around 4 - 4 1/2 hours from JNB, whereas it's a much longer drive to, say, the Sabi Sand gates. That's good news and bad news - if you're going to the Kruger area it's easy to include a day or two visiting the Blyde Canyon/Panoramic Route along the way - gorgeous landscape, interesting towns. We like to stay in Graskop, visit the Three Rondavels and God's Window (and have pancakes at Harrie's) before dashing to the SSGR in time to check in for an evening game drive. Getting from JNB to Sabi Sands in time for the evening drive your first night is virtually impossible unless you fly.

A couple of photos from Madikwe in the August/September time frame -

http://gardyloo.us/africa2J%20056.JPG
http://gardyloo.us/africa3J%20009.JPG
http://gardyloo.us/africa2M%20063.JPG (view from our room)
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Dec 24th, 2013, 10:31 AM
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atravelyyn, thanks for the explanation. We’ll probably stay for 2-3 nights in Simon’s Town, and do the boat trip one day and dive the peninsula the other, play it by ear based on weather. Sharks, seals, penguins…sounds great.

Gardyloo, I will have to start looking into logistics. I guess the focus of this trip will have change from “game viewing at a price we can afford” to “game viewing at a price we can afford with minimum time lost in transfers”. Need to make justice to both the game safari and the Western Cape area (sharks viewing, coastal driving, wildflowers and birds).

But this is good, it helps me focus on things that are important to us, helps me decide what to keep and what to put on the “would be nice” list. Thanks a lot.
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Dec 24th, 2013, 10:34 AM
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One thing I love about Madikwe, also, is the very strong likelihood that you'll see wild dogs. I've been fortunate enough to see wild dogs on each of my three Madikwe visits, including a very intense hunt sequence that ended with hyenas making off with parts of the recent kill. Wild dogs are exciting to watch and track as they are very active while with lions and leopards, more often than not lounging around.

Another good thing about Madikwe is you don't have to stay at the most expensive places to experience the same gameviewing as the most expensive places. Unlike the Sabi Sand, Madikwe game lodges do not have their own private traversing areas and are free to explore the whole of the huge reserve.

But, really, you cannot go wrong with either Madikwe or the Sabi Sand (and there are more reasonable priced places in the Sabi Sand like Elephant Plains Game Lodge or Nkhorho Bush Lodge). Best of luck with your trip and 18 days in South Africa will prove heavenly.
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