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OK, honestly, is the Garden Route setup to handle luxury travel???

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Mar 24th, 2003, 07:34 PM
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OK, honestly, is the Garden Route setup to handle luxury travel???

I am looking at the Garden Route (for next year) and while I am still very ignorant about the Garden Route, after briefly looking at it I am wondering if is, defined by Foodors Southern Africa Guide (1st edition, 2000) as the 130 mile stretch between Mossel Bay to Storms River.

Besides The Plettenberg Hotel and The Marine Hermanus, where are some other exclusive destinations to stay along the Garden Route?

Is it worthwhile to go past Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route?

Is the Garden Route still beautiful in winter? I would likely combine a 3 night stay at the Cape Grace with 2 nights at The Marine Hermanus, with 2 nights at The Plettenberg Hotel and then follow it up with a safari package in Botswana that would likely take me to Little Mombo and Kings Pool for three nights each before ending with a couple nights at The Westcliff Hotel in Joburg.

All this talk about Little Mombo has, admittedly, left me feeling like the last kid to get picked on the team! Now that I will be getting free business class airfare to Africa, knock on wood, I don't mind splurging a little more for next year.

(Now that I have decided on my trip for 2003, it is either doing the research for a fantasy baseball team that I will come to regret or researching Southern Africa further for next year!).

So...am I missing anything that the luxury traveler should do while on the Garden Route or in Botswana??? My trips need to be kept to about a maximum of 15 nights.

Thanks.
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Mar 24th, 2003, 07:46 PM
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First Paragraph Should Read:

I am looking at the Garden Route (for next year) and while I am still very ignorant about the Garden Route, after briefly looking at it I am wondering if it is set up for luxury travel. The Garden Route, as defined by Foodors Southern Africa Guide (1st edition, 2000) is the 130 mile stretch between Mossel Bay to Storms River.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 02:27 AM
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Roccco

I took the Blue Train from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Tremendous experience but would not do it again as the train tends to travel during the night and you do miss a lot of the scenic attractions.

There are some very nice places along the garden route, some relatively new. I would not bother with The Marine Hermanus unless it was the 'whale' season which doesn't start until July/August. Instead I would spend a couple of days in the winelands or if that doesn't appeal to you then head for George ( Fancourt Country hotel)or Kysna ( Phantom Forest Lodge - http://phantomforest.com/) or Plettenberg Park - www.plettenbergpark.co.za(not the Plettenberg Hotel as it has considerably less charm than the the Park) or the Lodge on the Bay (http://www.thelodge.co.za/). I really liked Plettenberg Park location, on a cliff with a secluded beach a few steep steps down to the sea. It would be difficult to swim in the sea at Plettenberg Park due to surrounding rocks.

If you want something more rustic then try Hog Hollow which has OK accommodation but excellent hosts. Hog Hollow is a half an hour from the Plettenberg area. You can also try Hunter's Lodge which is apparently much more luxurious.

Good Luck with Mombo. Instead of King's Pool, I suggest Duba Plains because of its large buffalo, elephant, hippo and lion population which are all easy to spot due to the flat terrain with sparse vegetation. King's Pool area on the other hand has dense vegetation which makes it difficult to spot predators. You also need to find out if you can do canoeing (mekoros) at Mombo or King's Pool. The camps may not be offering the actvitity at all and therefore for one of your stays you would be better off at a water-based camp such as Xigera or at Duba Plains if the flood waters are high.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 02:35 AM
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Rocco
If you're thinking about going during winter (ie around June) then I'd definitely include a water camp to contrast with Mombo.
Perhaps Xigera or Jacana or Little Vumbura - all offer water activities at this time of year.

On our 2001 trip we found that the water camp, with the mekoro trips was a fabulous contrast to Mombo game drives. We learned to appreciate the scenery, the birds and the tranquility.

Little Vumbura was absolutely delightful - the staff were great too. We're only omitting it from our 2004 itinerary because we wanted to try some new camps alongside familiar ones. We've opted for Jacana though it was a toss up between Jacana and Xigera - both looked similarly attractive.

Sorry can't help with SA.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 03:17 AM
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I agree with Kavey that Little Vumbura is delightful but I was dissapointed with the game there. I personally think you would be better off at Xigera or Duba Plains if it is your first time. I loved Jacana so Kavey you have done well. It has probably the best bar in Botswana - you will see when you get there. Also I like the fact that the only way in or out of there is by boat. This would be such an adventure! The tents are a wee bit smaller than Xigera's, etc. but that does not matter as you will be spending most of your time outdoors or on the balcony of your room which has great views of the flood plains. Also do not forget to check-out the loo with the view!

Despite my wonderful experiences at Wilderness camps (except at JAO), my best wildlife experience in Botswana has been at Kwando camps. The local Botswanian guides here are outstanding, very professional and utterly charming, with a great sense of humour combined with sensitivity. They will get up at 4.00 in the morning for a game drive or stay up as late as you want them to, but you will still see a smile on their faces. Kwando tents are equivalent to Xigera's, probably slightly more rustic, and have a balcony, and oudoor hot/cold showers. Coffee is served in Cafetieres (must have proper coffee to start my day), food is Wilderness-style and all drinks are included (including premium drinks).It is always nice to sit by the camp fire with a glass of proper brandy or port to end the day or to arrive from a game drive and be served a cold glass of champagne or white wine!
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Mar 25th, 2003, 03:34 AM
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Sounds great King. I did look into some of the Kwando camps but decided I was so happy with WS that I was going to stick with them.

We are also going to Jack's Camp which is not WS as well as Wolwedans in Namibia.

And thanks for the reassurance about Jacana.

One of the reasons I chose it was because I wanted to introduce one extra camp into the itinerary - not a camp that was "the best" for general game viewing or "the best" for lions or leopards or wild dogs or "the best" for mekoro trips but just a regular camp to see what we would see.

On researching I discovered that (instead of a flight or road transer) one could opt for an all day mokoro transfer between Tubu Tree and Jacana Camps. That swung it for me! And then I found that this wonderful option was cheaper than the usual flight transfer and was even more delighted! (We'll still enjoy enough flight transfers between other camps, as I do love those too).

So Jacana is my water camp and Tubu Tree is the extra camp - to give us time to slow down and sit on the verandah, to enjoy the camp itself a little more, to perhaps go on some low-key walks where the emphasis is on learning about the insects, birds and fauna more than on game viewing...

Rocco
Sorry to divert your thread... it was all with best intentions, promise!!!
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Mar 25th, 2003, 03:39 AM
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PS King

I had heard that Jao was not the best for game viewing - what was your experience there?

I felt that Jao is all about the accommodation whereas Mombo, though designed pretty much exactly the same way, is all about the game.

You said "my best wildlife experience in Botswana has been at Kwando camps" - can I ask whether you have been to Mombo?

I agree about sitting around the fire after dinner and enjoying a drink. That was one of the things we really enjoyed in every camp we were in.

I also loved that staff at the WS camps would give you either cold or hot wet flannels (depending on temperature) when you arrived at camp which was a wonderful refresher as you stepped out of the landrover.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 04:16 AM
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The full day Mekoro transfer or 3 day Mekoro trail - that's on my list of things to do so would be glad to hear what happens.

I haven't been to Mombo yet but I understand it is designed along the same style as Jao. I have been told that the game there is prolific, especially the predator population.

Jao had overbearing staff. Every minute there was someone asking me how the game drive was or my room or my sleep. Imagine that happening 4 to 5 times a day x 30 staff. I know they were trying to please me but it was not necessary. It all appeared like a well-rehearsed drill and there was no element of spontaneity.

Also the staff to guest ratio at the time was 4 to 1 (they were probably training a few of the staff). A lot of people may think that's good but I prefer a smaller ratio. After 3 days there I was still not sure who was who. I prefer a smaller camp where it is easier to talk to the camp hosts and staff.

Secondly, we sat at a very long table which was quite wide so the only person I could have a conversation with was the person sitting next to me. After 2 hours at the table I was struggling to have a decent conversation with the same person. It was quite a task in fact and I ended up with a sore neck. I was glad when the dinner ended.

Also I didn't like the fact that they did not offer any bush meals. On one day we were all hoping for a surprise bush dinner and the guide kept on hinting at that. We were so dissapointed when we were eventually herded into a Boma for the dinner.

The game was sparse and we only spotted 2 lions, a leopard on a night game drive, one wildebeeste and very few buffalos and elephant in 2 days.

Overall, Jao was so dissapointing and not worth the price. Nice rooms, shame about the rest.

Yes the cold and hot towels were a nice touch. I can't remember if we got them at Kwando - probably.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 05:12 AM
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See...I really am the last kid to get picked on the team...I try to talk about the Garden Route and all I get is more mention of Little Mombo!
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Mar 25th, 2003, 05:47 AM
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Apologies for our digressions. Garden route has spectacular mountain and sea scenery. It is a bit like taking the Pacific Highway in California, but you will find the region more mountainous. I personally think the garden route is overrated and the villages and towns along the way are anything but quaint. Visits to the Cango Caves, Ostrich Farm in Oudtshoorn (do not try and sit on the ostrich as they can be vicious), Kysna Heads and Tsitsikama Forest are frequently featured in brochures but Tsitsikama Forest is probably the only one that is worth doing. In Kysna, I tried to play golf to kill time and I was rejected by the golf club on the grounds that my socks did not reach the knees and my shorts were too short! I could not find anything else to occupy my time so headed for the beach. I gather there are several mountain trails if you like that sort of activity. The spring season (July to September) could be more interesting with whales and new blossom appearing everywhere.

Despite my reservations of the Garden Route, I still enjoyed Plettenberg Park. You can do all the excursions from there, including Tsitsikama, Kysna, Oudtshoorn (long drive) but and have the advantage of being based near the sea for secluded sunbathing, whale watching, etc.

Are you hiring a car?
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Mar 25th, 2003, 06:04 AM
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Sorry Rocco!

King, thanks for your feedback on your Jao experience.

Will certainly report back here on my trip but it's not for another year and 3 months yet so...

It's HARD waiting...
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Mar 25th, 2003, 07:56 AM
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Hello! I did hear good things about Grootbos nature reserve along the garden route. You might want to look into it.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 08:56 AM
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For Grootbos and other luxury places, see
http://www.i-escape.com/destination_...y=South+Africa
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Mar 25th, 2003, 01:21 PM
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Part one.

Hi Roccco,

OK I have to get involved in this debate because imho there is a lot of ignorance floating around when it comes to ideas and please understand that what you about travelling on the garden Route. Please bear in mind that what you are hearing from me is the professional opinion of a tourguide/operator who has been tour guiding upmarket luxury tours on the Garden Route for the past 5 years.

Firstly Grootbos is a great venue however it is NOT on the Garden Route. It is 40 km from Hermanus and about 300 km from Mossel Bay where the Garden Route starts. I agree with King about leaving the Marine Hotel out of your tour equation and when it comes to whale watching I would rather settle for the Grootbos experience (http://www.grootbos.com/) that is if you are going to be in the area from July – October.

In terms of King’s boredom on the Garden Route all I can say is that something just has to be wrong with his style of touring as I cannot tour the Garden Route in under 7 days and then I can add another 7 days to the event and still make a spectacular tour out of the journey.

I disagree with King about making Plettenberg Bay your hub to tour the Garden Route. Knysna is much better placed position wise especially when it comes to travelling to Oudtshoorn.

In terms of luxury accommodation in Knysna you would do no better than to look at Tsala Treetops lodge http://www.tsala.com/ This is not an experience ; it is an amazing experience. If you feel that the venue is too expensive then settle on Falcon View Manor www.falconsview.com

In terms of what to do I would suggest that you spend at least a day travelling down to the Stormsriver Bridge and enjoying all around you in the Tsitsikamma area. Amongst others this should definitely include the Treetop Adventure at Tsitsikamma village

I would contemplate a second day in the area so as to explore Natures Valley, Plettenberg Bay , Robberg Nature Reserve

I would suggest at least 2 days to tour Knysna fully and this would include the normal places to go to such as The Heads, Oyster factory, Coney Glen etc as well as unusual visits to places like Jubilee Creek, Brenton on Sea, Buffalo Bay and the Reenendal Forrest. I would also suggest that you include a visist to Sedgefield so as to see places like the Scarab factory, Groenvlei and Swartwater where the scenery is to die for.

I would include a full day to visit the Wilderness area and visit places like the map of Africa, the view of the Serpentine, The big tree area near to Hoekwil, the wonderful beach, the walk along the lake boardwalk as well as just drive around and view the wonderful houses in the Wilderness.

I would not travel to Oudtshoorn from Knysna in that I would stay in the town itself and explore it from a local base. I suggest that you should stay at Shades of Africa which is a truly whacky accommodation experience. http://www.shades.co.za

Contd part 2
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Mar 25th, 2003, 01:27 PM
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Part 2 contd.

In Oudtshoorn I would NOT place a priority on the touristy things like the Cango Caves or an ostrich farm. I would rather take a day ride over the Swartberg Mountains and visit Price Albert as well as see Meiringspoort. These are drives that you will never forget in your life.

All in all I could go on and on and I have to tell you that whoever tells you not to visit the Garden Route simply does not know what they are talking about.

Btw I am travelling down to Port Elizabeth on Saturday so as to collect my visitors from the USA who will be travelling the Garden Route over an 8 day period and this will be the 6th Garden Route trip that I will have done this year. Furthermore not one of these trips are identical as I have so much to choose from while travelling on the Garden Route.

With that all said Roccco may I suggest that you plan for the Garden Route and when you get closer to the time of travelling contact me and I will help you with an itinerary that you should be able to travel on your own without a personal guide which will result in an experience that you will more than likely never ever forget.

Hope this helps.

Selwyn Davidowitz
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Mar 25th, 2003, 03:44 PM
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Selwyn

I am glad I made my comments as it has at least inspired someone to let us know more about the garden route. However, you have to bear in mind that Roccco has only a few days available for the garden route and he would probably like to see the best of it while staying in the most stylish yet convenient place. I stll rate Plettenberg Park very highly and it also provides a convenient place from which to do many of the excursions, especially the Knysna, Tsitsikama, Robberg Nature Reserve and Storms River ones. In addition it has a beach, beautiful coastal scenery and is ideally positioned for whale watching. I haven't stayed at Tsala so cannot comment but a quick look at the location of Tsala suggests it is nearly 10kms inland and therefore you miss the coastal scenery for which the Garden route is renowned for. Do you know what one can do at Tsala that you cannot do at Plettenberg Park?

Yes I remember passing through Sedgefield, Swartwater, Outeniqua mts., etc. and the scenery was spectacular.

I would be interested in hearing about your 8-day itinerary and the total cost.
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Mar 25th, 2003, 05:45 PM
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Thanks for all the responses...seems like there hasn't been a Garden Route thread for awhile if the number of responses can be used as a gauge.

Wow...live and learn...how I wish I knew about Tsala Treetop Lodge last year. I would have spent my final three nights at Tsala Treetop Lodge instead of the Mount Nelson. I enjoyed the Mount Nelson, but how can one compare the scenery of the City Bowl to that of Tsala Treetop Lodge??????????? It would have been about the same price.

Anyway, I would probably want to spend a maximum of six nights on the Garden Route, and would like to spend two nights each at possibly three different places. I would expect these places to be spectacular as this would be combined with a Little Mombo and other very nice Botswanan lodge.

I am looking to put together another trip, like my trip last year, that if I died on the way home, I would be completely at peace with the world!

Last years only hiccup to my Singita, Table Bay Hotel, Matetsi, Victoria Falls Hotel, Mount Nelson Hotel package was my stay at Matetsi where I thought the service was not very good but the lodging, location and rangers were incredible.

I think this would work out well:

3 nights at the Cape Grace, Cape Town
3 nights at Tsala Treetop Lodge
2 nights at ??? (next best place after Tsala, offering a unique experience, if possible)
3 nights at the very best land based camp in Botswana. Cast your votes, please.
3 nights at Little Mombo, Botswana
2 nights at Westcliff Hotel, Joburg (1 night would be rushing it, 2 nights will allow shopping and a little relaxation before the long journey home).

More than likely, to maximize my stay at Little Mombo, this trip would take place in July, 2004. This would probably also maximize whale sightings along the Garden Route.

Something like this, I imagine would cost as follows:

3 nights at Cape Grace - $1,250 USD
3 nights at Tsala Treetop - $1,250 USD
2 nights at ?, Garden Route - $600 USD
3 nights at Little Mombo - $5,000 USD
3 nights at ? (land camp) - $3,450 USD
2 nights at Westcliff - $650 USD
CPT-Maun-JNB - $1,000 USD
Little Mombo - land camp - $300 USD
Business Class Airfare - FREE!!!!!!
Grand Total = $13,500 USD if all prices stay consistent with this year.

It is a lot of money, but if I start putting my pennies in my piggybank without taking a stupid trip like the one I took to Guadalajara, Mexico, last May and to Chile last December, then it should not be a struggle ($11,000 worth of stupid trips between the time that I went to South Africa/Victoria Falls in March 2002 and South Africa/South Luangwa in June 2003).

Thanks for all the responses...I am really starting to envision an amazing trip for 2004.

I was considering taking my sister-in law and her soon to be husband next year but my sister-in-law is already complaining about having to take a very short honeymoon in order to allow them to come to Africa. Well, hope she enjoys Cancun or Hawaii as much as I enjoy my trip!!!
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Mar 26th, 2003, 12:35 AM
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Rocco
Definitely not tempted by adding a water camp to contrast with Mombo rather than another land camp?
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Mar 26th, 2003, 12:37 AM
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Selwyn
Tsala looks gorgeous.
I can't wait till the time when we come to SA and I can pick your brains too! (After reading through all the fantastic info you've shared here in the past).
I just want to thank you for spending time here and sharing so much with us. Your posts are on of the top reasons I come here.
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Mar 26th, 2003, 05:44 AM
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Kavey...I am so in the dark on Botswana that I thought Little Mombo was a water camp! OK, everybody, please tell me the very best water camp out there.
Thanks.
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