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

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May 25th, 2015, 09:37 AM
  #1
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FIRST South Africa's trip might be brought to us by You :)

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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May 25th, 2015, 09:10 PM
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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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May 26th, 2015, 10:16 AM
  #3
 
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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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May 26th, 2015, 11:40 PM
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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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May 27th, 2015, 06:27 AM
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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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May 27th, 2015, 06:31 AM
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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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May 27th, 2015, 08:31 AM
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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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May 27th, 2015, 09:00 AM
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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/afri...m#last-comment
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May 27th, 2015, 10:18 AM
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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-krug...s/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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May 27th, 2015, 03:13 PM
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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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May 27th, 2015, 05:57 PM
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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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May 28th, 2015, 05:20 AM
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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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May 28th, 2015, 05:56 AM
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I can see PONDORO on Booking.com at US$2333, 2 people 3 nights July 22-25. There nothing like $1394, maybe that was for 1 person...
Thank you for looking it up for me.
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May 28th, 2015, 06:17 AM
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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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May 28th, 2015, 07:10 AM
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Gobsmacked - for SURE! Thank You!
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May 28th, 2015, 07:29 AM
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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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May 28th, 2015, 09:03 AM
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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/ShowUserR...onal_Park.html
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May 28th, 2015, 09:15 AM
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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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May 28th, 2015, 09:59 AM
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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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May 30th, 2015, 07:41 AM
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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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