Kruger in April/May

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Oct 5th, 2013, 07:32 AM
  #21
 
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I can't speak from personal experience but comparing with friends who stayed in Yosemite for example, the accommodation in US national parks is (no offence to anyone intended) more primitive than what you'll find in Sanparks.

It might be worth pointing out that tripAdvisor has reviews and loads of travellers' photos (including some of mine ) of the KNP restcamps. Just look them up by name.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 02:20 PM
  #22
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Ah, thanks. For some reason, I'd not even thought to look at the accommodation part of TA for National park lodging! I use it all the time, but guess I've been thinking of it as a booking and review engine for private hotels and B&Bs.

In researching, I also found this website: http://www.krugerpark.co.za/ I can't tell if it's official or not or who owns it, but it seems to have pretty good accounts of the camps and even some videos. I'm sure people here know all about it, but if anyone hadn't...
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Oct 5th, 2013, 08:04 PM
  #23
 
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No, that's not an official site, it's a company trying to flog safari holidays with some "public information" on the side. Kellee has given the official SanParks website above.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 08:59 PM
  #24
 
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Be aware, at least to be, 3 years ago, that any KNP hut reservations using the internet, their web site, you pay for up front. And no changes nor cancellations permitted. However, making reservations via telephone did/do NOT have these restrictions. Use SANPark Kruger to investigate hut availability then call them. Easy to do, everyone speaks fluent English.
http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/

regards - tom
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Oct 5th, 2013, 09:08 PM
  #25
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Thanks Gordon. With the safari stuff on there, I thought it was private. But had learned a few things from the info provided.

cary - good to know, thanks. When we're ready, we'll call (well, Skype) and do it that way.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 09:27 PM
  #26
 
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As for the camps, if you are planning 6 or 7 days I would probably just pick 2, especially with a child. Most camps come with a restaurant, but not all, so you should also decide if that is a requirement for you. The first time we went to Kruger in 2011 we braaied (BBQ'd) sometimes and ate in the restaurants some. This year we only had a couple breakfasts and one or two lunches in the camp restaurants. It seems the food quality has gotten worse (others have complained about this as well) and most evenings the restaurants were almost empty.

You might consider staying only in the south of the park with 6-7 days. In 2011 we stayed 3 nights Berg-en-dal, 2 Skukuza and 1 Lower Sabie (all we could get). Most people claim the wildlife viewing is best in the south but I think it is more luck of the draw.

This May we did Punda Maria(2 nights), Mopani(2), Olifants(2), Satara(3), Tamboti(4), Lower Sabie(4). The 2 night stays were rushed, 3 or 4 was much more enjoyable.

As I have already mentioned, Lower Sabie is my favorite. This camp books up fast but there are also cancelations and you can always book what is available and change it if something better comes along. This years trip I started planning very late, beginning of March to arrive in the end of April. Not all the accomadation types I wanted were available at first but little by little I pieced together a near perfect itinerary.

So about the camps:

Punda Maria: this is a great little camp, the most northern. You probably don't have time for the north but I include it for others looking for info. We stayed 2 nights in their tents, highly recommended. Very well equiped with kitchen (outside) and bathroom/shower. There is a shop, restaurant, pool... Also an excellent bird hide overlooking a waterhole right in the camp. There is also a short nature walk inside the camp which we did but only saw one spider. Monkeys, baboons and honey badgers are a problem here so you must keep an eye on your food and make sure everything is locked up in the kitchen.

Mopani: also in the north, a bigger camp but it was not very busy while we were there. We had a 4 person bungalow as I don't believe there are 2 person ones there. Restaurant was a great deck overlooking the river to watch the sunset. Nice pool area. Oddly but happily no monkeys here.

Olifants: great smaller camp in the center with fantastic view. We were really lucky and I snagged 2 nights in the best river view bungalows (only 5 total) after a cancelation. There is a restaurant but no pool. Highly recommend this camp.

Sarara: a large camp, and if I have to pick it was my least favorite. The staff here ranged from disinterested to rude which was a bit shocking as it is the only time we have run into this in South Africa. We had a perimeter bungalow right on the fence which while it needed updating, it was an excellent location. Hyenas every night at the fence. We also saw an African Wild Cat during a stroll around the camp at night. Lots of monkey business.

Tamboti: my next favorite overall camp after Lower Sabie. It only has tents, some with bathroom (luxury tents) and some with shared. There is no reception, restaurant or pool here so you check in at Orpen 2 km away and cook for yourself. We had 4 nights in the luxury tents and I loved it. Views over the (now empty) river and lots of baboons, monkeys and honey badgers trying to steal your stuff. Very peaceful and close to nature.

Lower Sabie: we had 3 nights in a river view tent and the last we had to move to a non-view tent (only itinerary snag). The tents here are a bit more worn than the other camps where we stayed but they are still fantastic. Most of the view tents (try not to get 19 which we had, the view is mostly obstruct have a great view of the river and you could just sit all day on your terrace and watch life go by.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 09:36 PM
  #27
 
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Grrr, my computer is acting up and that posted before I was done. Starting again with Lower Sabie :

Lower Sabie: we had 3 nights in a river view tent and the last we had to move to a non-view tent (only itinerary snag). The tents here are a bit more worn than the other camps where we stayed but they are still fantastic. Most of the view tents (try not to get 19 which we had, the view is largely obstructed) have a great view of the river and you could just sit all day on your terrace and watch life go by. The restaurant also has a fantastic terrace. So much going on here. We also stayed the previous visit in the 3 person chalets which had just been updated and were really nice. But the tents are really my favorite.

As for the other camps we previously stayed at :

Berg en dal: if you are going to stay only in the south I would recommend this with Lower Sabie. The 3 person perimeter bungalows are great, we saw 3 rhino along the fence just after arriving. There is a nice Rhino trail walk all around the camp as well as a view over the dam. A smaller and quieter camp but with resturant, pool etc.

Skukuza: the largest camp, many different lodging types. I prefer the smaller camps but this is also in a fantastic game viewing area. It is really a mini village.

If you have specific questions about any of the camps just let me know, I'll be glad to try and help.
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Oct 5th, 2013, 09:50 PM
  #28
 
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I just saw Tom's post about making reservations. While you do pay upfront when you reserve online, you can still cancel up to 30 days prior for a full refund. And you can make changes no problem. I did a lot of canceling and changing and did it all online. It is also cheaper now to use the online system.

Also look into the Wild Card to pay your park fees, I think the breakeven point is about 5 days in the park to make it worth it (you may also be able to use it elsewhere depending on where you are going like Cape point or Boulders Beach).
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Oct 6th, 2013, 02:42 AM
  #29
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kelly - wow. That's fantastic! I am hoping that this thread comes up a bunch of future searches. That's exactly what I was hoping for... something a little more than lists really helps. A bit of comparative analysis.

I haven't done the right thing and talked it over yet here, but we're just a bit ahead of ourselves booking. But I'm usually the travel researcher... and I either make my case or I get shot down (haha). I'd been inclined to look at 3 camps just to make sure if we picked a slow area for the season, that it wouldn't be a big chunk of our time. But frankly, I really prefer your idea about sticking to 2 for the length of visit we're thinking. And I'm usually the one most prone to a faster schedule. So it ought to be a welcome idea to everyone to keep it simple.

Lower Sabie was the one that most had caught my eye early on. It just sounds good on paper anyway and now you say you like it so well... and it's just there as a point where it's easy to depart from the park for the next bit of trip too... so that makes sense. Will just have to figure out how much further north the other one ought to be for a real mix of scenery. Was liking the sound of the grassland areas in the middle section of the park. Maybe Oliphant or Letaba. Thinking not Satara.... too many people seem to say that one's their least favorite.

I think the Wild Card may make sense for us. Seems at the least it would simplify things, plus I'm sure we'll check out Table Mountain and maybe Addo in the south. Haven't thought out the middle of the trip yet but if just 5 days in the park are break-even, we'll definitely make that.

Thanks again. That was very generous of you to go through all that pulling up your notes and all that typing in order to share with us and it's much appreciated.
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Oct 7th, 2013, 11:33 AM
  #30
cwn
 
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You will love a self drive safari in Kruger. We did a Safari trip in Africa in 2009 with a week long private safari in Tanzania, a short stay at a safari camp in Sabi Sands and a few days of self driving in Kruger. While they were all great experiences we loved Kruger the best. Our sightings were wonderful, varied and close up. We were in Kruger the fist week in April.. the weather was great. We are now planning a return to Kruger for a longer self drive and then some time along Eastern South Africa coast in 2015.

The camp sites are really nice, well cared for. Do try to get lodgings on the fence lines as the sunset viewing is great. It is neat to sit on the deck, have a drink and dinner and watch the animal activity. The grounds are nice with places for kids to play and plenty of room to walk around. Walking the fence line in the evening can be rewarding!

Be sure to abuy the map/bookel when you enter the park. There will also be information on the best recent sightings at the entrance and at the lodgings.

Try to get a SUV type of car. We didn't have a 4-wheel drive and didn't really need it. The main viewing roads are either hard surface or well maintained gravel and easy to drive. Some had recommended the SUV for the height and better viewing angle. They were right plus there is more glass which was nice. We were gald we spent the little extra on that.

Plan on circular day drives that include stopping at the viewing areas and picnic areas. Don't worry about retracing your path as it is always different. It is nice to get out and walk around some too. We met many S Africans at the picnic spots...had a wonderful time visiting with them...they were all surprised to learn we were staying in the park, not many from the US do that apparently...you maybe a curiosity also.

It is a great safari! If you want to read about our trip and see some of the pictures of what we saw, check out our blog:
www.aroundtheworldin132days.blogspot.com scroll down the index on the right hand side to April then scroll down the right hand side again to March 30...that begins our trip into Kruger. Just click on newer post to get through our short time in Kruger.

Have fun planning!
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Oct 7th, 2013, 02:11 PM
  #31
 
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Yes yes, as CWN says a SUV type of car is best. The present styling of economy cars like a Carolla is to have small side windows, and very slanted front window with huge corner pillars/posts. All of that interfers with viewing and photography. Last time, (2009) we had a Honda Jazz and it was just barely ok. The best car we've had was a Sabaru Forester. But that was in 2007, not sure how their styling has changed now.

Avis at JNB airport is a huge operation with huge car selection.

A small child along. Kruger is a malarial area. Although not rampant. Check with child's Dr. about malaria.

regards - tom
ps - malaria has killed millions of children in Africa. Thanks to the hysteria against using DDT.
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Oct 7th, 2013, 02:36 PM
  #32
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tom and cwn - Sounds like a lot of people start their drive at JNB. Was weighing that vs whether or not we could get a reasonable connection onward to Phalaborwa or perhaps Hoedspuit. I've seen both of those listed on rental car sites as well as on SAA's destination list. We'd be closer, sooner if it worked out but I wonder if it wouldn't also limit our car choices quite a bit. Will have to research that.

I do appreciate the SUV comments revisit. I'd seen the suggestion in matnikstym's report re: clearance but I'd not thought about the view out. Very good point.

Also love the idea of having that camp's edge view for animal watching. I'd enjoy that.

Yes, good reminder too about malaria. Because it was a lower risk area (but still some risk) and the lowest risk time of year, supposedly was the only reason we're considering Kruger. It's why we've decided not to include a side trip to Victoria Falls (which I hate being that close and missing something so incredible, but safety first). We'd ruled out East Africa for that reason as well. But of course, we will definitely consult our GP about the risk, plus we have clinics dedicated to travel medicine in our area so will utilize their services too. Would be great if all kids had access to such meds.

off to have a read of cwn's blog. Already love the map. Well, jealous of it, but what a trip!
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Oct 7th, 2013, 08:50 PM
  #33
 
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Car rental - Avis has an office at Hoedspruit so you can rent at JNB and leave it at HDS. (Aslo I think at Phalaborwa). What we have done is start at JNB, drive Kruger, then to HDS. At HDS the car goes back to Avis and Avis agent drives us to our next safari camp, e.g. Kings Camp. Or you could simply turn in car at HDS, fly SAA back to JNB and go onward.

And in case you have not investigated it, car rental there is 2-3 times the cost as in USA.

regards - tom
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Oct 7th, 2013, 09:06 PM
  #34
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That doesn't surprise me - the US is pretty cheap on a lot of things. I'm used to it though. I moved to Australia a few years ago and our prices are maybe even a little worse in comparisons I've been doing. I was actually thinking about driving the car as far as the coast... tentatively thinking, anyway... and know there's a pretty big pricetag that goes with that one way charge. But it would give us a way to get to Lesotho and then points south. Wouldn't want to drive ALL the way to CT, but would love to have a peek at the Drakensbergs by road trip.
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Oct 8th, 2013, 03:31 AM
  #35
 
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How much time do you have in total in South Africa? I am wondering if you might fall victim to the tempation of trying to see everything...

Your 6/7 days in KNP makes a lot of sense (and could easily be combined with a flight to, say Cape Town for a second week). Driving from JNB to KNP and then onto the Drakensberg and back is a considerable distance. Sounds a lot like a previous (though not our first) visit we did to South Africa. After KNP, we headed south through Swaziland, stopping for a couple of nights, then across to see the historic Zulu battlefields near Dundee, then on to the Drakensberg, skirting Lesotho (though we did do an overnight at the fabulous Sani Top) up to Clarens. This alone took one week with several days more of less filled by long drives. I wouldn't do it again at that pace.

The roads in this part of the country were noticeably worse than between KNP and JNB, so much slower average speeds and high concertration levels required on the part of the driver (and the "hazard spotter" in the passenger seat). You also need to notify your rental car company and pay an additional admin fee if you will be taking the car into another country (i.e. Swaziland/Lesotho). Not trying to put you off, just be aware the distances are vast and the roads in rural areas not always good enough to allow a high average speed.
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Oct 8th, 2013, 04:23 AM
  #36
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Gordon - that's good to know, regarding the time spent driving. I do welcome a healthy dose of reality. In past driving holidays, we've also had to adjust expectations. But SA is even bigger than most other drives we've attempted. The "spotter" point is well taken. Some of the drives we've taken in the past were like that. (there's nothing that's not out in the middle of the pockmarked roads in Romania)

We're looking at 3 weeks in country, perhaps plus a couple of days. Really, the key base parts are: Kruger, Lesotho (not entering via the infamous pass but including some cultural time and perhaps ponies) and Cape Town. And the thought was that a road trip, perhaps more direct than originally anticipated, between Kruger and Lesotho would come out of the back end, in that we only plan the last few days there. I think we'll need to make more of a beeline, hoping for a good road between JNB and some point fairly near Maseru. The N1 through FreeState didn't *appear* too bad... at least on Google Street view. lol. Hard to judge by that. Seemed like we could reasonably make it with one overnight between Kruger and Lesotho that way and without overextending the drive times, but perhaps that's overly optimistic.

I'm pretty sure we'll have to skip KwaZulu-Natal this trip, seeing the mountains from the Lesotho side instead. Would love to do a trip like you described... but maybe another time.

But of course, another issue will be getting from western Lesotho back to where we can turn in the car and catch a plane to CT. That's where I thought we'd plan to head down to Port Elizabeth.. though Addo Elephant Park is then a temptation... but maybe stopping at Bloemfontaine will make more sense.
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