Just Back from SA and Zimbabwe

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Aug 23rd, 2005, 02:09 PM
  #1
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Just Back from SA and Zimbabwe

This was our first trip to Africa, and we really enjoyed it. This was our itinerary:

Franschhoek - Le Quartier Francais - 2 nts.
Cape Town - Atlantic House - 4 nts.
Vic Falls - Matetsi Water Lodge - 3 nts.
Johannesburg - Westcliff - 1 nt.
Sabi Sands - Londolozi Bateleur - 4 nts.

Looking back I am pretty happy with where we stayed and for how long, but with the definite exception of the Westcliff. Since we were just overnighting in Joburg before flying out the next morning to Londolozi, what we should have done was just stay at an airport hotel. Instead we paid about 400 Rand (approx US$65) each way from the airport to the hotel. Further, the hotel itself was a disappointment, even at the discounted rate we paid.

Happy to answer any questions people have.
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Aug 23rd, 2005, 02:15 PM
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Hello,

Your itinerary looks a lot like my first trip! One thing I'd like to hear more about is Matetsi Water Lodge. I'm trying to decide where to stay in Vic Falls next year, and anything you can tell me about your experience would be helpful.

I'm particularly interested in learning about how easy it is to cross the border, as it seems like a lot of the activities are run from the Zambian side of the falls. Did you find that you spent a lot of time crossing back and forth, or was there plenty to do on the Zim side? Was dealing with money a hassle with the messed up exchange rate?

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 23rd, 2005, 11:15 PM
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To whom did you pay that R400? That's exactly double the normal fare for a taxi from the airport to Jo'burg.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 01:14 AM
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Not that it would make you feel better at all but they're just about to start building an express train line between Johannesburg, the airport and Pretoria. That R400 does sound a bit steep. Also I'm interested to know why you didn't like the Westcliff? Yikes, that means a layover cost you R2000-3000! Ouch!
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:25 AM
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Matetsi Water Lodge has its ups and downs, just like any other place. Although I've only been on safari there and at Londolozi, I have the feeling that if you have been on safari before or are looking for a wide variety or high density of animals, you may be disappointed by Matetsi. If we had gone to Londolozi before Matetsi, I know we would have been disappointed. The problem is that there are very few predators left on Matetsi's reserve. We saw one hyena, and no big cats. We saw a good number of elephants, giraffes, sable antelopes, kudu, impala, and warthogs, but not much else. I went there hoping to see hippos, but only saw them from far away, much further away than they were in the Sabi Sands. The other main problem with the lodge is its distance from the falls. They do provide a shuttle service to/from town, but every day the shuttle seemed to be delayed and the people who went to the falls missed either part or all of their afternoon game drives.

On the other hand, the accomodations at Matetsi were, I felt, superior to those at Londolozi, and the setup of the camp was much more intimate. We never had more than 4 people in our vehicle, and dinners were always small group affairs, with no more than 6 people at your table.

With respect to activities on the Zim side, there are plenty of options. We explored the falls only from the Zim side, and felt no need to venture over the border. I think I read that the views from the Zambian side are better when the water volume going over the falls is high, but since we went in August, there was very little mist obscuring the views from the Zim side.

With respect to currency, you really don't need to change any money into the worthless Zimbabwe dollars. Just make sure you bring enough USD, especially as Matetsi doesn't accept credit cards to cover tips or miscellaneous purchases. Just on a side note regarding tips, we spent two of our three days there with an Italian couple. I know they didn't mean it as an insult, but they tipped our game driver $1 at the end of their stay. Couldn't believe it. Just as they couldn't believe that I tipped the driver $60, which I thought was even a little light. Also, bring USD, not Euros or Pounds. In Zimbabwe 1 USD = 1 Euro = 1 Pound.

All in all, I was glad we stayed at Matetsi because it introduced us to safari customs and made us appreciate the Sabi Sands more than we might have otherwise. If I was going to stay less than three nights, though, I would have gone for one of the hotels right near the falls.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:35 AM
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Hello,

Thanks for your info on Matetsi. I've been to Londoz (multiple times) and I've yet to find another place which compares in terms of game viewing. If you want posher accommodation at Londoz, try Tree Camp or one of the Bateleur suites (No 1 is particularly nice).

I'll be going to Matetsi after 2 weeks on safari in Botswana, so I was viewing it more as a place to relax after my safari -- any game-viewing I do there will be a bonus. What you've described is fine, except for the shuttle delays -- I'll have to think about that part of it. Matetsi is certainly much more reasonably priced than many of the other options in the Vic Falls area, and seems to offer good value for money.

Thanks for your tips on the monetary situation -- I thought USD might be the currency of choice, but I wasn't sure if I could use pounds.

Did you do a 'flight of angels' or the elephant back safari while at the Falls? How were they?

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:36 AM
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With respect to the taxi rides from JNB, I was completely shocked. We took a metered taxi from the airport to the Westcliff, and it cost R325. We took the Westcliff's car from the hotel to the airport the next day, and that charge was R435. That at least told me that we weren't ripped off by the taxi.

I also expected the fare to be around R180-200, as that was what my guide book (Frommers) said. I have to say that my Frommers guide was almost useless on our trip, at least except for the maps. The restaurant lists it has for Cape Town and the Winelands are completely out of date, and the taxi ride was just one example of its prices being completely out of date as well. I recommend getting restaurant/price information directly from someone at your hotel if possible.

So yes, my overnight at the Westcliff probably cost about $500. And yes, I found the hotel a bit disappointing. Here are a few reasons:
-- There is a very limited room service menu, and the items listed are not always available. They sent us the wrong meal, the wrong dessert, and then the wrong dessert again! They then told us the dessert we wanted was no longer made, and didn't even take the dessert charge off our bill.
-- The air conditioner didn't work. Not really important in the winter, but would have been nice to have the option.
-- The heated towel rack in the bathroom didn't work. I know I sound like a primadonna, but for the money we paid, I want nice warm towels! =-)

I will admit, though, that our room had a nice view (saw elephants at the zoo one morning), was big enough and clean enough. Like I said, though, looking back we should have just stayed at an airport hotel.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:48 AM
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Jasher -- If that's what you're looking for, I think Matetsi will suit you fine. Given the accomodations and the attention you get from the staff, I agree that it is a good value.

No, we didn't do any activities other than just walking around the park and seeing the falls from the various Zim vantage points. The views were just so spectacular from the ground (you get so close to the edge!), that we felt no need to see them from the air.

That being said, we did hear from other guests who took a helicopter ride (is that the flight of the angels?) that they enjoyed it. They did say that their flight was a bit late, though, which in turn caused the shuttle bus to be even more delayed. We heard from one couple that the elephant safari was pretty lame, that you really go just to sit on an elephant for a few minutes, and not to actually see anything from the elephant.

Also, I don't want you to think that we didn't enjoy our accomodations at Londoz. It's just that the bungalows at Matetsi were bigger and more private (not semi-attached as the Londoz chalets). I believe even the suites at Bateleur are not free-standing. And good luck getting Suite No. 1 in August. There is a crazy (and I mean CRAZY!) British couple who stays there for the month every year. I swear the wife thinks she's Courtney Love, in terms of her outfits, her volume and the attention she demands from the staff, even though she's gotta be 65 years old! Unbelievable!
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Aug 24th, 2005, 05:50 AM
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Thanks for the info. On my first visit to Johannesburg, when I spent two days because I wanted to see Pretoria and Soweto, I stayed at The Westcliff and didn't have your problems, and thought its location was good.

But, for my trip next July, when I will have an overnight in Johannesburg to change planes, I have booked the Airport Holiday Inn, which is a third the price of the Intercontinental at the Airport, and I just need a place to sleep and shower.

Thanks
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Aug 24th, 2005, 08:34 AM
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Metered taxi to Grace at Rosebank was R325 , vehicle arranged by hotel was R400.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 08:35 AM
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Thats why I now stay at the airport. Pretty much all I do is watch TV, read, eat and sleep.
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Aug 24th, 2005, 08:45 AM
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Matt,

If you really want to save money, you can do what I did on my last trip (on the recommendation of a friend in Oxford). I booked into a single room at an upmarket hostel called the In-Africa Lodge for R130 a night (B&B and free airport transfers). It was very peaceful and a great place to rest. I'm not normally a hostelling sort (having been there and done that in my Eurailing days) but I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience there. There was a double room for couples as well as the single I booked.

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 24th, 2005, 08:49 AM
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If you do decide to stay in town in Joburg, do a transfer through Guardian Travel ([email protected]). My transfer with them from JNB to A Room With a View in Melville was R185 (R40 more for transfers before 6am or after 9pm). For each additional person it's R30. After seeing how much some people have been charged, I realised how much of a bargain this is!

Cheers,
Julian
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Aug 24th, 2005, 11:08 PM
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Metered taxis in Jo'burg are R6 a kilometre. The same taxi companies quote a flat rate of R200 for airport to Jo'burg, but the drivers are allowed to run the same trip on the meter if that is accepted or if they are asked to do so.

The airport to the Westcliff (using the shortest route!) is about 25km. (I've just checked that, using the "Plan Your Route" option at www.shellgeostar.co.za.) 25 x R6 = R150! Hmm. Taxi drivers of the World unite!
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