First Time South Africa: Western/Eastern Cape

Old Sep 1st, 2011, 04:01 PM
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First Time South Africa: Western/Eastern Cape

I’ve started planning an October 2012 trip to South Africa (Western and Eastern Cape provinces) -- to be bookended with stopovers in London -- and wanted to ask a few questions of the experts here, as well as solicit feedback on my current itinerary. I chose October because it’s far enough out that I have plenty of time to save some extra nickels and dimes toward the trip, and it won’t conflict/overlap with the vacations of co-workers.

Here is the current itinerary (based on reading a variety of guidebooks and reading posts here in the forums):

Day 01: Depart LAX
Day 02: Arrive LHR
• Overnight with ex-pat friends in London
Day 03: Depart LHR
Day 04: Arrive CPT
• Hotel check-in
• Hop-on/Hop-off bus orientation
Day 05: Cape Town
• Simon’s Town/penguin colony
Day 06: Day trip to the Winelands
Day 07: CPT - Shamwari or Addo Elephant National Park
Day 08: Shamwari/Addo
Day 09: Shamwari/Addo
Day 10: Shamwari/Addo - CPT
Day 11: Cape Town
• Robben Island
Day 12: Depart CPT
Day 13: Arrive LHR
• Overnights with ex-pat friends in London
Day 14: London
Day 15: LHR - LAX

The stopovers in London arise from my intense dislike of the discomforts involved in taking two coach flights at either end of what would probably be a long stopover. I am aware that it seems a little silly to spend only one night in London on the way over, but I simply cannot fly for ten hours, spend X number of hours at Heathrow and then fly for another twelve hours. It would be all I could do not to lose my mind.

I will be traveling solo, so I’m looking for a hotel in the City Bowl that would be a short, safe walk from the Cape Town Tourism office (from where I’ll set out on the Explorer bus and investigate some walking tours). I’d also want a hotel with a good safe in each room, as I’m an amateur photographer, and I’ll want to be storing my 70-200mm lens (which I’ll use only during the visits to the national park(s) and to photograph the penguins).

Is there a particular tour that you’d recommend for heading out to the Simon’s Town and out to the Winelands?

How far out would you recommend booking a trip to Robben Island at that time of year?

I’ve noticed a number of high praise for Southern Destinations as a tour operator. I will peruse their website more thoroughly this weekend, but I’ll ask right here if the trips they arrange are of the dreaded (by me) double occupancy type, or is it possible to arrange a per/person charge? I’d want to have airport transfers between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and the national parks. Money is something of an object, so perhaps Addo over Shamwari? I’m not a person who’s dreamt of safaris, I’m really just after some time to photograph the landscape and elephants. Additional wildlife would be icing on the cake, of course.

And with that, I’ll look forward to hearing your recommendations/comments.
Doubletee is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2011, 06:27 PM
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Have a look at the Cape Sun Southern Sun in Strand street, it's just around the corner from Green Market Square which is of Long Street where I think the CT tourism office is in.

Regarding the hop on hop off buses, there are two routes, red route does the city tour/table mountain not sure if it also does Signal Hill opposite TM & the blue route takes you to the vineyards in Constantia, a suburb of CT.

A peninsular tour is not to be missed, it will stop at Boulders for the penguins, also between Simons Town & Fish Hoek is a place called Glencairn, if the tide is in ask to stop here & see the whales as they come in very close. Kalk Bay is a very small quaint town, excellent fish at Kalkies, the Brass Bell pub, sit out the back & look for sharks & whales & there is also an excellent view point above this town called Boyes Drive with views of the cape flats & false bay.

In the winelands Stellenbosch & Franschhoek are the most popular places, I have visited a few but it's not my thing, Spier is considered commercial but I enjoyed it as I got to stroke a cheetah.

Whilst October is not high season, Robben Island tours are always booked up quickly & also weather dependant, it's been recommended that you book on-line as soon as you have your dates but you could chance it & wait till you get there.

I would advise the best time to visit CT is during the week, on Friday's mid-day most of the offices in the CBD close & on Saturday's it's like a ghost town as most of it is closed, at weekends the peninsular tour is very busy. Also a lot of vineyards in the winelands close Saturday afternoon & all day Sunday.

If you want to see plenty of elephants then Addo is the place to go, when I was at Shamwari the elephants where to far away in the distance yet within a few minutes of entering Addo a large herd walked right in front of the car. I do not recommend the evening game drive at Addo, you don't see anything & there was at least 20 people on our drive.

There's a lot of stunning landscape between CT & PE that you are going to miss if you fly between these destinations! Is self-drive not an option?

Make sure your flight from LHR is direct to CT as a lot of flights do stop at Jo'Burg.
braaiseason is offline  
Old Sep 2nd, 2011, 06:00 PM
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You also have the option of extending your stay in CT and doing all those things you want to do and then fly to JoBurg, fly to the Kruger private game reserves or Hoedspruit and fly back to London via JNB. There are a lot more (less expensive) options there than Shamwari. Plus it's a shorter flight back to LHR. There are also private camps in Addo instead of Shamwari.

You could stay in the tourist area at the waterfront and take the bus or hop-on/hop-off bus to town. Cape Town is a lovely city. Table Mt was spectacular. Try not to miss it.
christabir is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2011, 11:07 PM
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Thanks for your responses!

braaiseason, a self-drive option is unlikely, as driving even in familiar territory (and on the right) here in Los Angeles causes me a great deal of stress and anxiety. I think the constant fear of being involved in a bad accident or being car-jacked at any time would take all the relaxation out of the journey.

christabir, I'm even more anxious over the idea of returning home with malaria than I am of being mugged in Cape Town, so I'm avoiding Kruger for that reason. The writer Tim Cahill wrote a very vivid account of what one of his periodic attacks of malaria is like, and it turned me off the idea of visiting any area of the world where it's a threat. He was that good in conveying the discomfort.

I think I'll definitely select the nicest option available at Addo.
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Old Sep 4th, 2011, 06:05 AM
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Well there is an answer to that, get an auto, a dog as a passenger & keep your car doors locked whilst driving along !

Or find a tour to Hermanus, Cape Agulhas, the Overberg region.
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Old Sep 13th, 2011, 11:45 AM
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I've done some additional research on an Eastern Cape safari. I believe the two-night package at Schotia will fit my budget. About how many months out would I want to book an October 2012 stay? I'm interested in staying at Orlando Lodge. I'm traveling solo, so I'm anticipating the unfortunate single supplement -- but I'm hoping that will be less of a sting than the apoplexy-inducing rate I'd get at a place like Shamwari.
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Old Sep 14th, 2011, 06:39 AM
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We did two nights at Shamwari in October 2009 and it was the best thing that we have ever done! We saw all the big 5 close up, including elephants and the game drives, both morning and evening, were exceptional. There are many other animals there, including wart hogs, lots of bird species and wild dogs.

You go out in 6 seater Toyotas, adapted for the task and can see everything--no windows. From talking to guests who went out with other guides, they were all pretty good.

The food and rooms were excellent too. I'm not sure if Dave Olsen the guide is still there, but I can thoroughly recommend him if you get a choice.
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