Planning for our first safari

Old Oct 2nd, 2015, 11:55 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 72
Planning for our first safari

We are planning for our first trip to (mostly) South Africa next year. It will be out first time in Sub-Saharan Africa, and our first safari. The initial itinerary is roughly as follows:

- Fly into Cape Town
- Spend 5 nights (4 full days) in Cape Town, possibly with a day trip to the wine lands.
- Fly to Mashatu via JNB, and spend 3 nights in Mashatu Tented.
- Fly to Sabi Sand (with overnight in JNB), and spend 3 nights in Lion Sand River.
- Fly to Phinda, and spend 3 nights in Phinda Forest
- Spend 1 final night in Jo’burg

The TA came back with the suggestion to switch the order to visit Phinda before Sabi Sand, so that we can end the trip with the highlight. As she put it, Phinda could be a letdown after Sabi Sand, with lower wildlife density. The cost and logistics are equal. I actually like the original ordering. This is our first safari, and we are a little concerned that game drives get repetitive on the 8th or 9th day. The opportunity for activities like rhino tracking may be a welcome change. Can you share your thought on:

- Could it really be a “letdown”, considering it is our first trip.
- Is my “repetitive” concern unfounded? It’s not a zoo and every game drive should be different.

foggy27 is offline  
Old Oct 2nd, 2015, 02:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 17,706
Of course every game drive is different, but I wonder if Phinda is the best use of your time. I've stayed at Phinda Forest, and while it's a lovely spot, I didn't find the game viewing to be an order of magnitude better than the Sabi Sand experience; on the contrary I'd say it was something of a wash. Certainly it's luxurious, and it's fun to have the animals walking up to your windows, but it's also very expensive.

Would you be open to renting a car and doing some self-directed tourism? For example, while you're in the SSGR/Kruger area you could easily visit the Blyde River Canyon and Panorama Route - visually stunning and just an hour or two from, say, the Hoedspruit airport.

Or you could get a car in Cape Town and travel up the Atlantic coast to West Coast National Park and the wonderful coastline around Paternoster. If your trip was in late August to early September, you'd be in time for the drop-dead amazing wildflowers visible in that area.

I guess I'm saying that while the wildlife viewing is spectacular in all those places, there are other spectacular experiences to be had elsewhere in the country.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Oct 2nd, 2015, 05:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I would not put a camp that the TA thinks might be a disappointment as the last stop. I haven't been there so can't offer an opinion. Actually, if the TA thinks it might be a let down I wouldn't even go there.

My last trip to Mashatu Tent Camp we stayed 6 nights and left there to go to MalaMala in the Sabi Sands area for 4 nights. I can't begin to tell you what an amazing trip it was. We could have easily stayed longer in both camps.

I do like Gardyloo's idea of the Blyde River Canyon and the Panorama Route. We (4 women) drove from MalaMala to Johannesburg and found the drive so very worth the time it took.
sundowner is online now  
Old Oct 2nd, 2015, 08:03 PM
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 700
Haven't been to Phinda but spent 4 nights in Mashatu Tented & 3 nights at MalaMala in Sabi Sands and the wildlife viewing in both places was outstanding and the most prolific of any of my 3 safaris.

In Mashatu we were seeing elephants in herds numbering 90. In MalaMala there were rhino and leopard everywhere and because these are private reserves we were able to go off road and get really close to the animals.

That Mashatu/MalaMala combo was perfect for me after a week in Cape Town and a few days in Joburg. Mashatu is my all time favourite camp to date!

Soooo if your TA thinks Phinda might be a disappointment why are you going there.

South Africa has plenty to offer so you may want to tweak your itinerary a bit.

Stellenbosch & Franshoek are doable in a day from Cape Town and well worth it even if you do not drink like me as the scenery is really beautiful.

A day trip from CT around the Cape Of Good Hope starting in Simons Town for penguins and then coming back up the coast hitting Chapmans Peak at sunset is amazing!!!
KathBC is offline  
Old Oct 2nd, 2015, 08:59 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,286
You have a very nice, but travel intensive, itinerary. I would choose either Mashatu or Phinda, not both. I know, you want to do it all on this first and last trip to Africa. Ask everyone who has posted - we all thought our first would be our only. Well, Africa gets a hold of us and won't let go. You'll be back.

That said, I would combine Phinda with another &Beyond lodge in Sabi Sand or Timbavati. They have great specials and extended stay savings. Both Kirkmans and Ngala Tented, and others, get great reviews. Kirkmans is in SS and would be my choice. &Beyond also quotes in Rand and the Rand has basically collapsed vs the USD, saving close to half of what it would have cost just a couple of years ago, and almost 30% from just January. Mashatu, which is excellent, quotes in USD and is not a great value, although I loved the experience. I'd save it for next time.

I'm a little surprised that Phinda isn't getting raves on this thread - it usually does. I've not been, but LOVE the area it's in. We have been to many of the reserves nearby and have had great game viewing. We go to Zululand Rhino Reserve - it's basically across the highway from Phinda - and will be returning soon. We did a rhino dart outing that was the best experience ever in ZRR. I wish it wasn't necessary, but the rhinos really are in trouble. The lodge we use, Rhino River Lodge, is so relaxed and friendly, and much more affordable for us. We can do three nights plus the rhino conservation for less than one night at Phinda, Lion Sands or Mashatu. Incredible value, but not for everyone. They also recently released wild dogs! I can't wait to see them.

In KwaZulu Natal, where Phinda is, there is just so much to do nearby - if you want a break from all of those game drives. St Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Phinda makes up part of this huge park) is the most fun town I've ever been. Horseback rides on the beach, kayak with hippos, croc tours, night drives through the wetlands, snorkel/scuba - too much to list. You could get a road transfer into town, rent a condo, hotel or bnb near McKensie St (walkable to food and all the fun) and enjoy the fun activities you can arrange through your host. No car required - they'll pick up! Then get a transfer to the airport for your next adventure. Phinda offers all of these activities through them, but staying in St Lucia is much less expensive and a nice break from the safari lodge routine.

I would not do four distinct areas in one trip. Too much travel. Along with Cape Town, you could do a lodge near Kruger - one of the &Beyond lodges, then Phinda and St Lucia. Or Cape Town, two lodges near Kruger - one in Sabi Sand, one in Timbavati - and Mashatu, or extend each stay by a night (even better). I have never gotten bored with game drives, and our trips are mostly safari for two weeks or more, but for some I guess it could get tedious. I'm always surprised when guests skip game drives, but to each his own. I love every game drive, even the ones that aren't productive. I'm crazy, though.

This is what I'd do, saving the nicest accomodations for last, but reversing the safari part works well, too, three nights each after CT:

Cape Town
St Lucia
Sabi Sand - Kirkmans

Or (add nights to each stay):
Cape Town
Lion Sands (or other)

Have fun planning. No matter what you decide, it will be fantastic. You'll be back.

"They tell us elephants never forget. What they don't tell us is we never forget our first elephant" - Bill Murray
christabir is offline  
Old Oct 3rd, 2015, 06:31 AM
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 35
Phinda is a great lodge especially forest but I would probably agree that you should go first. I also agree that you should try stay with &beyond lodges to save, they also have a stay 4 nights at Phinda & fly for free from JHB which could save. Lion Sands also has a stay 3 nights and have 2 nights free in CT which I am sure you are utilising.
A different experience where you get to see the more unusual animals , like meerkat, pangolin , aardvark etc. is Tswalu in the Kalahari. They also offer free flights direct to the lodge if you book for 4 nights, you could then fly from CT & back to JNB, might be limiting on luggage.
As others have said, you will have a great time & will probably return.
Sandy - Love Africa Travel
loveafricatravel is offline  
Old Oct 3rd, 2015, 11:23 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 730
Hi Foggy27,

Here are a few logistical tips to take back to your agent and maybe improve your experience.

Mashatu has stay4pay3 from Jan 15-June 30 next year. If you are going during that time the fourth night is absolutely free. I LOVE Mashatu and have had the most productive game viewing experiences there on all my visits. There is an air shuttle from Johannesburg to Mashatu 2 times per week called Angel Gabriel a.k.a. Limpopo Valley Air Shuttle. It leaves Johannesburg/JNB at 11am on Sunday and Thursday so you can take a 7am flight from Cape Town and make it to JNB on time. The air shuttle is a lot more convenient than flying from JNB-Polokwane and road transferring from there (3 hours). There is no need to overnight in Jo’burg in-between Mashatu and the Kruger area. If you wanted to use Lion Sands and Masahtu, you could simply put Cape Town in the middle of the trip and avoid an overnight. Or go to MalaMala and transfer non-stop from Mashatu to MalaMala (more on this below).

There is an air shuttle from Mashatu to the Sabi Sands twice per week on Sunday and Wednesday called the Malatu Express. You can only use this plane if you are a guest at MalaMala and Mashatu as this flight connects them. So, I suggest you go to MalaMala after Masahtu. They are both owned by the same company so your experience will be similar service-wise. I have said 100+ times on Fodors and Trip Advisor that MalaMala offers the best chance on any given day of seeing the big five in Southern Africa. I have been there many times and took my kids there as the first stop when they were old enough to go on safari in 2008. You will love the wildlife there!

If you like the feel of Lion Sands you can’t go wrong with that option instead of MalaMala. If you do this, there may be some value to you in visiting their sister properties in the Madikwe Game Reserve instead of Mashatu. If you did this during the winter you could get four free nights at their sister hotels in Cape Town. Keep mind the free night offer also mentioned above is not a year-round offer.

I have been to Phinda as well and I enjoyed it. It does indeed pair well with the Sabi Sands but perhaps then consider Exeter or Ngala Tented instead of Lion Sands or MalaMala since the first two are both owned by &Beyond like Phinda is. There is an air shuttle between Phinda and the Kruger but, be warned, it is a bit expensive.

I hope this helps!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
Safari_Craig is offline  
Old Oct 3rd, 2015, 11:43 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 3,648
We started our safari at Phinda Forest, before going to a lodge in Sabi Sand, and then to Ngala Tented. I would go back to any, but I have a soft spot for Phinda. Our guide and tracker insured we had wonderful game drives. We saw more variety of animals there than anywhere else. I also like the philosophy behind the founding of Phinda.

It is a fenced reserve so you don't see huge herds of Cape buffalo and elephants, but you see some, and we saw more rhinos there (both white and black) than anywhere else, and also cheetah. The staff is lovely, we did a early morning trip to the beach with a beautiful flight over the dunes on the way back to the lodge. One morning we were surprised by a hot breakfast in the bush and another night we had a lovely dinner in the bush. We also took a bush walk with our guide. Another evening we had a game drive to a river cruise, and a dark game drive back. We were always the last vehicle to return to the lodge. Every day was different.

In Sabi Sands, you see an animal around every corner, or at least we did. It is amazing, but lacked the sense of adventure you had at Ngala, where you had to really search more for your sightings. That added to the fun. But by then we had seen many animals, not wild dogs though. I think it was wise to go to Phinda before Sabi Sands. I would change the order of your camps if you decide to include Phinda.

Do you want to overnight in Johannesburg before leaving? We flew from Ngala and our flight was later that day.
cw is offline  
Old Oct 4th, 2015, 06:23 PM
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Posts: 72
Thanks for the thoughtful feedback from everyone. This is a great forum.

Yes we plan to have a rental car in Cape Town, maybe not the first day while we recover from jet lag. Self-drive is not out of question, if it serves practical purpose. That said, driving is no longer fun for either of us. Commuting in Southern California over the years has taken its toll .

I have to agree that the itinerary is still travel intensive, although it is already scaled down from the original version that includes Vistoria Falls and Chobe. The exchange rate is favorable for spending more time in South Africa. We are keeping Mashatu across the border, as it has received overwhelmingly good reviews, is a relatively good value, and gives us a taste of tented camp. The TA did suggest MalaMala because of the shuttle, but MalaMala is USD based. There are so many other excellent alternatives in Sabi Sand. Besides, the shuttle flight is quite pricey, if you do the math based on rack rate.

Currently the plan is to travel in late August 2016, as such we cannot take advantage of the stay-4-pay-3 in Mashatu. However it is wildflowers and whale season bin the cape, as some of you brought up. I am going to give some serious thought on the option of dropping Phinda, and add 1 day each to Cape Town, Mashatu and Sabi Sand.

Phinda is attractive to us because of different habitats, different animals (cheetah and black rhino), and free flight deal currently on offer. But the free flight practically requires backtrack to JNB, unless we pay for the expensive shuttle. If we do keep Phinda, we will ask for &Beyond properties in Sabi Sand.

It is a neat trick to sandwich Cape Town between 2 wildlife destinations. It is workable, but we would then need to recover from long flight in more intense Jo’burg as opposed to Cape Town. I will run it with my TA, though.
foggy27 is offline  
Old Oct 4th, 2015, 10:07 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 5,286
Since you already dropped VF and Chobe, why don't you just save Mashatu for your next trip combined with those? Add a lodge in Kruger so you can see rhinos and buffalo and your next trip is already planned. (Or Kruger and Phinda/St Lucia next time). Your scaled down itinerary is still very busy.

Don't be too quick to drop Phinda. It really is in a great area and the game viewing, like you said, is excellent. They also have suni antelope - the smallest on the continent, but they are very elusive. We drive from the Kruger area through Swaziland (fantastic passport stamp!), stay and play golf at the Royal Swazi in Mbabane, the capital. Then leave after golf and arrive in plenty of time for the afternoon game drive near Phinda (basically across the street). No traffic, pretty and interesting drive. You can do it the other way and fly into Richards Bay, rent a car, very easy drive to Phinda, drive through Swaziland and drive to Skukuza to drop off car, get a transfer to Phinda, fly JNB.

We did a nice trip that included a lodge in Sabi Sand, The Outpost in northern Kruger and Mashatu tented. It was three very different ecosystems, three excellent lodges and we got private drivers for the transfers between camps and flew directly to/from the first and last. It was the perfect ten night safari, but you could do three, two, three nights to cut that down to eight nights and not feel rushed. We really liked it because The Outpost works with the local community providing jobs and infrastructure aid. We try to use those kinds of businesses. I agree, Mashatu is excellent. That was a fantastic trip - and easy transfers. It's also nice to drive through instead of just flying over the area. It might fit right into your time frame without Phinda.

Just FYI - all reserves are fenced. You can't have lions and elephants free to interact with humans. In order to sell raised beef to Europe, they also require fences to prevent diseases like hoof and mouth spreading between livestock and wild hooved animals. It's the same all over Africa, it's just some reserves are bigger than others. Even Kruger is fenced - it's just really (really) big. But every time one visits Kruger or the private reserves, you have to cross the fence. Some of us fly over the fence so we never see it, but there's a big, huge fence.

Just wanted to make it harder for you! More choices! Sorry.
christabir is offline  
Old Oct 4th, 2015, 11:01 PM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 268
" It's the same all over Africa, it's just some reserves are bigger than others".
No, it's not the same all over Africa. Outside South Africa, most game reserves are not fenced, and yes the eleohants and lions do stray outside the parks and they do interact with humans. The Masai Mara, Samburu, Serengeti, Tarangire, Ruaha, Selous, South Luangwa, Kafue, Lower Zambezi, Hwange....... none of these reserves are fenced. The only ones I can think of with fences are some small private conservancies that have rhino- I think Ol Pejeta and Lewa might be fenced. But the vast majority of game reserves are not.
stokeygirl is offline  
Old Oct 5th, 2015, 10:55 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 215
Hi foggy27!

If you'd like to save Mashatu/MalaMala combo for a return visit (we all know you will be back! ), then give some thought to combining the AndBeyond properties of Phinda Forest, Kirkmans Kamp and Ngala Tented.

You will have the opportunity to experience the 7 distinct eco-habits of Phinda while staying in the one of the last sand floor forests in the world, the classic and historic charm of Harry Kirkman's homestead at Kirkman's Kamp, followed by the luxury tented accommodations of Ngala Tented Camp which is a nice switch from suite style lodging. You'll also get the long stay discount! And capitalize on the Rand conversion!

Love all these places very much! A real favorite with our clients!

Truthfully, there are so many wonderful places to choose from!

Africa Direct USA
diannelovestravel is offline  
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