Please help - I don't know where to begin!

Aug 31st, 2004, 11:17 AM
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Please help - I don't know where to begin!

In February, my daughter and her new husband will start a 3-year assignment in Johannesburg. Of course, my husband and I are making plans to visit. We were able to get frequent flyer tickets from DC to J'burg for April, so that will be our first (of what I hope will be many) trips over the next few years. Now, I need to figure out what we should do in April. Obviously, we'll visit for some time in Johannesburg, but we want to be tourists, too. I've been reading this forum and I am just overwhelmed! I think that for this trip we would like to do 4 - 6 days of safari, but there are so many options. How would you suggest I narrow down my choices? Also, do you have suggestions for an 8-9 day itinerary that would include the safari days? Any help would be very welcome.
cokie is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 11:29 AM
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Easy to solve, believe it or not.

IF you wsih to see game: look at a map. You have tow areas to choose from - Kruger to the east, ZuluNatal to the southeast.

You drive to Kruger, fly to Natal ... the easiest travel logistics.

Buy a guidebook - Fodors on southern africa is useful.

The Kruger offers many private lodges - select the one that is the best price. MalaMala is decent, but there are more luxurious.

In the Natal area, you have several - Phinda is a good one, perhaps the most expensive there.

Seeing game on your own, without a ranger is not effective. Thus, look at lodges and the guide services being offered.

OK, you've got game options. Next a city ... certainly Cape Town and the Cape area, plus wine country and mountains.

Sites to access for data - CCAfrica, Wilderness Safaris are good places to start.

Get a framework in mind BEFORE you delve into the very detailsed stuff you'll eventually be ready for at this website. You can do this, so do not be overwhlemed.
Aug 31st, 2004, 11:43 AM
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Thanks. I appreciate the vote of confidence! Questions: if we are going to fly to see wildlife, does it make sense to consider Botswana? Also, as it would seem that Cape Town is also a fly-to destination, is there a way to do this a triange as we have to fly to/from Johannesburg?
cokie is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 12:04 PM
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Regarding triage, if I understand: assuming you'll fly SAA, their planes go the CT and J'Burg, so perhaps they could work out something of a three-legged RT.

If you decide to go to Botswana to see game, the depature is from JNB to Maun via air Botswana. Contact an agent handling Wilderness Safaris to request a brochure on their excellent lodges. That's the best way to do Botswana.

In SA, Kruger is the major game area, with numerous private lodges at all price ranges. Driving or flying from JNB, depending on your time available.

If you drive to Kruger, then drive to Natal, via Swaziland. If from JNB, suggest flying, but you can drive it in 6 plus hours. Natal is smaller, with four or so game reserves.

As suggested: a souther Africa travel book giving lodges in all countries is the place to start.
Aug 31st, 2004, 12:18 PM
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Hello Cokie,

With only 9 days available for the "tourist" portion of your trip, I recommend keeping KwaZulu Natal out of the picture this time around. Try to allocate 3 full days to Cape Town, and devote the rest to a safari either in Botswana OR in the Kruger / Sabi Sand area of Mpumalanga Province in South Africa.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 12:32 PM
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An option, for a really madcap time, maximizing nine days, budget no object:

3 days/2 nights - 10 a.m. AB JNB to Maun to Mombo or Duba Plains.

Day 3, to Maun, 3:30 p.m. JNB and overnight there.

Day 4, a/m flight to Londolizi, for two nights.

Day 7, p.m. fly straight to Phinda Forest for two nights.

Day 9 after lunch flight back to JNB and overnight.

This works, gets you into te Okavango Delta, to Kruger and to ZuluNatal. one fine itinerary, very ambitious. Rewarding.
Aug 31st, 2004, 12:37 PM
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If flying from the States, your ticket should cover the leg to CPT or JNB. In other words, if you fly into JNB you can visit with daughter, then do Kruger, then fly to CPT spend time there and depart for home from CPT.

Or you can arrive in CPT, spend few days there, then onto JNB, or direct to Kruger for a few days, then visit with daughter at the end and return home from JNB.

Do double check, as I'm not sure whether you can have a break (as I outlined above) or you have to continue onto to CPT, if arriving JNB or vice a versa if arriving CPT, then onto JNB.

But with only 8-9 days in-country, you really don't have the time to do Botswana. No problem, you'll be back in that area a few times over the next 3-years - you'll arrange Botswana for one of those.
Aug 31st, 2004, 01:44 PM
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Wow! There are so many options. One thing to consider - we are using FF tickets on Luftansa (unfortunately SAA is not yet part of the Star Alliance) and we have to fly into and return from Johannesburg. Therefore, I don't want to have to spend too much time taking flights back and forth from J'burg. So, if we go to Cape Town, I think we'll have to do our touristing focus there. Or, if we go to Natal, perhaps we should focus on that area - both wildlife and other tourist attractions. I really don't want to have a wild, rushed trip - we are much more the "get to know an area" type of people. Also, cost is an object - we'd like to be able to make at least twice a year visits. Does this change your suggestions?
Thanks so much.
cokie is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 03:11 PM
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Hello Cokie,

Yes, the additional information makes a difference.

It sounds as if it would suit you to do a safari OR Cape Town in April 2005, but not both.

Which one you should do in April depends on when your NEXT trip to South Africa might be.

Winter (July - August) is the best time to see the game reserves in the sense that the winter weather in that part of the country is mild and dry. That area gets summer rainfall, and is hot and humid in summer.

Winter is the worst time to visit Cape Town in the sense that it has a mediterranean climate, so does have some rather cool, drizzly and sometimes windy spells. That said, the winter is not like a Canadian winter, of course.

Cape Town has pleasant summers. They are dry and warm to hot.

Times that represent good compromises for seeing any part of the country are fall (April) and spring (October).

Fall weather, on average, is somewhat more stable than spring weather. So the chances of having good weather in Cape Town in April are better than in October. (But please keep in mind that this is all relative. Again, we're not talking Siberia.)

The one advantage of going to Cape Town in early spring (September) is that you're there in time to catch the Southern Right Whales, which are a delight.

So you could, as you suggest, do a safari on one trip, and then do Cape Town on the next trip, or vice versa. Which one you should do first and which one you should do second is a bit of a coin toss.

If you go to the game reserves in KwaZulu Natal, you could combine that with a bit of time in the Drakensberg range in the western part of KZN. It's very pretty, and wonderful for hiking. The port city of Durban also is worth a look. It has an interesting mix of Zulu (black African), British and East Indian culture.

If you go to KZN, you quite easily could drive from Johannesburg. This would be very feasible if you were devoting all 9 days to KZN, and not rushing around the whole country.

For your Cape Town trip, whenever that happens, you could consider following Selwyn's itinerary in this discussion thread:

Selwyn's itinerary actually covers Cape Town and what is known as the Garden Route (Mossel Bay, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Storms River Bridge, Tsitsikama Forest up to Port Elizabeth). It has the advantage of including Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth. So, if that was to be your first South African trip and you were missing out on the game reserves in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal, you would still get a taste of South Africa's wildlife at Addo.

This CT / Garden Route itinerary would mean flying to CT, driving the Garden Route, and flying from Port Elizabeth (PE) to Johannesburg (JNB), if you need to use JNB as your gateway into and out of South Africa.

Actually, the CT/GR itinerary is better done in the reverse direction, starting in PE and ending in CT. In providing that itinerary, Selwyn was responding to a person whose flights already were booked in the Ct - PE direction.

An equal contender for your safari attentions would be the Kruger / Sabi Sand area of Mpumalanga, east of JNB. It's a 5 hour drive from JNB, so quite accessible by car.

Don't be intimidated by the high cost of the luxurious game lodges. There are some game lodges at the more moderate end of the price spectrum, with more modest but still comfortable accommodations, where you can still get an excellent game viewing experience.

Also, as you get more experienced in game viewing, you can go for a mix of private game lodges, where you have guides taking you on off-road game drives in open 4x4 vehicles, and the more budget priced national parks that you can drive through on your own.

I think I have viewed African wildlife from just about every possible vantage point, from a small plane, in an off-road 4 x 4, in the national parks, on foot and from a boat. Oh yes, the one game viewing experience I have not had is hot air ballooning. Well, be that as it may, I can tell you that I have seen HEAPS of animals in the national parks during self-drive trips.

Near the Kruger / Sabi Sand area is a scenic area (Blyde River Canyon, etc.). A day or two in that scenic area can be tacked on to a safari trip, either before or after the safari. Quite a nice circuit, starting in JNB, is to do the Blyde River Canyon area, a safari, a jaunt of a couple of days through Swaziland, and then back to JNB again.

So, Cokie, at this rate, it sounds as if you have potential itineraries for THREE trips to South Africa.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 03:35 PM
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Oops, I've just realised my remarks about driving through South Africa's national parks may be misinterpreted by someone planning a trip to another African country.

These remarks are valid for South Africa, but are NOT applicable to many other African countries.

Driving oneself is a non-starter in the game reserves (and even outside of the game reserves) in much of the rest of Africa.

Each African destination requires its own research.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 04:10 PM
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Judy - Thank you so much for your advice. I am intrigued by the idea of going to KZN for the tourist portion of this trip and saving Cape Town for next October/November, when I expect to return. I like the idea of limiting the rushing around. Do you think that April would be a good time for KZN? We are avid hikers (of the day-hiker variety) - do you have suggestions for great hiking locales in KZN? Where do you suggest for moderately priced wildlife viewing? I really am feeling a LOT less overwhelmed when I think about concentrating on one area at a time!
cokie is offline  
Aug 31st, 2004, 07:27 PM
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Check out the Drakensburg Mountain range area. Depending on how "rugged" you like or don't like your accomodations - the Giant's Castle area looks interesting. Self-catering rooms there - nothing fancy - but gorgeous hiking there.
sdaniels is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 07:04 AM
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Hello Cokie,

If you have 9 days for touring, you could consider a round trip from Johannesburg that looks something like this:

Day 1 - Drive through Heidelberg and Harrismith to the Drakensberg. Coming from Johannesburg, you probably will find it most convenient to head for the northern Drakensberg, around Mount-aux-Sources, but you also could consider driving further, to the central Drakensberg, around Cathedral Peak.

Check out for activities and accommodation varying from self-catering through guesthouses and B&B establishment to a few hotels.

Day 2 - Hiking in Drakensberg and viewing Bushman rock art.

Day 3 - Drive through Pietermartizburg and Valley of a Thousand Hills to Durban.

Day 4 - In Durban area

Day 5 - Drive to Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Accommodation in the area varies from rather expensive game lodges through inexpensive self-catering camps. Something that seems to be in the middle range, 3 star, is Hluhluwe Guest House in the town of Hluhluwe, outside of the game reserve. I don't know it from personal experience. Found it on the Internet at

Day 6 - Explore Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve on self-drive basis (armed with a book on African animals, to help you identify the species).

Day 7 - Drive to a private game lodge, such as Phinda or Ithala.

Phinda is not exactly cheap. It think you'd be looking at between US$400 and US$700 per person per night, depending on which of the 4 lodges you stay in. Phinda is supposed to be fantastic, though.

Ithala is a more reasonably priced private game reserve. It also gives you several options, from self catering all the way through a luxury lodge with 3 meals a day included. If I understand the website correctly, the guest can choose to have the accommodations with or without game drives. A 2 person, self-catering chalet with no game drives is US$50 per person per night. The luxury lodge, with 3 meals a day and morning and afternoon game drives is US$270 per person per night. Ithala doesn't have lion, though, if "The Big Five" are important to you.

Many posters here have stayed at Phinda, and they always rave about it. Kavey stayed at Ithala in May 2004, and would be able to comment on it.

Although I'm the first to say it's possible to see animals when one drives oneself through the national parks, I do think it would enhance your game viewing experience if you could accompany a guide on some off-road game drives. If you were able to spring for a private game lodge for a couple of nights, it would really add something to your trip. It's probably best to stay at a private game lodge, at the end, otherwise your subsequent accommodations and experiences will feel disappointing by comparison.

Day 8 - At private game lodge

Day 9 - Drive back to Johannesburg.

It would be possible to do a variation of this that would have you flying between Johannesburg and Durban.

Also, depending on your interests, you could change the time mix. For example, if you are not interested in seeing a city, you could skip Durban and spend more time in the Drakensberg or the game reserves.

Here's quite a good map for finding accommodation in South Africa:

If you click on a section, it'll zoom in on that section, and give you more detailed information.

I'm leaving for Hungary this evening, and will be otherwise occupied for the better part of September. I almost hesitate to admit on this board that I'm going anywhere other than Africa. However, this is a type of pilgrimage to the country in which my mother was born and grew up, so it's quite an emotional thing for me.

I trust that, between your own research and the advice you'll receive from Fodorites, you'll carve out a great trip for yourself.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 07:40 AM
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May I offer a difference of opinion, beased on actually doing what a few have suggested.

If you do a self-drive at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, the odds are slim that you will see anything interesting.You are required to stay on the paved road, you cannot venture into the bush where the game reside.

You are better of to stay at a lodge, such as Phinda, where the rangers will take you on game drives twice a day, with a trackers, and you are absolutely guaranteed to see everything!!!

I cannot emphasize enough that finding game and knowing what you are seeing are pursuits of professionals, and if you are spending all that money, you might as well give yourself every advantage.

Lodges cost money, they are pricey. Might as well accept that and build that awareness into your plans before you make any final decisions. Africa is not cheap! But if you see game close up, then your investment will be judged by you to be worthwhile. Good luck in whatever you decide.
Sep 1st, 2004, 07:52 AM
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Much thanks Judy and Ty -
I am going to work with your suggestions and will be back to ask for more advice once I have done my research.
Judy - I hope you have a wonderful time in Hungary. Thank you again for your help.
cokie is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 07:57 AM
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Cokie, I'm a big fan of the national and provincial parks of South Africa. You can drive yourself, but you can also book drives with the rangers in the parks. We always do that when we go, and have found the rangers to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The accommodations in the government-owned parks are not 5-star luxury places, but they're certainly comfortable and often charming as well. And by staying there rather than in private lodges, you'll have enough money to come back more frequently! I don't mean to disparage the private lodges, but they ARE pricey.

I agree that Umfolozi-Hluhluwe and Kruger would be good for this first trip of yours, with Cape Town and the winelands in October/November. You could drive or fly from Jo'burg to Kruger, spend a few days there, then drive south through Swaziland, (if you decide to do this, I can recommend a wonderful place to stay in Mbabane) enjoying the scenery and the people, and continue to Umfolozi where you can see many rhino as well as the rest of the Big Five. You might consider stopping then in St. Lucia to see the hippos and crocs, then driving on down to Durban. I would suggest then dropping off the car and flying back to Johannesburg, because of the length of the trip.

I know you'll love the country, and three years probably won't be a long enough associtation with it for you.
Celia is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 08:30 AM
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I have to disagree with the two posters who have suggested that self-driving means that you won't see much wildlife.

We did a top-end safari in Botswana in 2001 staying at some top camps. So we had a good idea what wildlife viewing is like when staying at a private camp and being taken out on drives by a guide. This year we decided to combine some time in similar camps with some time self-driving around parks such as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Ithala and Kruger. We were amazed at how much we saw including elephants, leopard, rhino, lions and lots and lots of the more common animals such as giraffe, wildebeest, warthog, zebra, impala, kudu etc. Whilst we may not have spent as much time with some of the rarer animals as we did at the luxury camps we also paid, quite literally, a fraction of the price too. We also found it a real pleasure to spot something ourselves, identify it ourselves (slowly, using our books) and not share the sighting with a single other person. We really did see an amazing volume of wildlife just from the roads through the parks.

Some of the roads are tarmac (especially in Kruger) but many are dirt roads (especially in KZN parks) and they are easy to drive.

When we were there in June we found visitor numbers low and in Ithala and Imfolozi we went the entire day more than once without seeing more than 2-5 other cars.

I know I'm not the only one on this forum who has done self-drive AND luxury camps and can offer a fair comparison. I also know that at least two of the others who have done this feel equally positively about the benefits of self-drive.

Private camps are undoubtedly a classier experience, you have the benefit of guides who can teach you a lot and you will certainly increase chances of good sightings of the rarer animals such as the big cats.

But don't dismiss the self-drive if budget is an issue.

And you can always combine the two options very easily.
Kavey is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 08:32 AM
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It took me so long to write my post (I got distracted when I went off to make a cup of tea in the middle) that Celia posted in the meantime.

I want to second her point about being able to supplement self-drive with guided activities - we particularly enjoyed a river walk which took us close to the hippos when we were at Oliftants in Kruger.

The accommodation was also much better than we expected and we felt it quite a bargain.
Kavey is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 09:34 AM
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Again my thanks for your suggestions. I think that to keep this affordable (and to make sure that we will be able to visit at least twice a year for the next 3 years!), I do need to look for "reasonably" priced accomodation. I will plan on taking advantage of park rangers and suplementing self-drive with guided activities.

I think that I will be able to persuade my daughter to join us for a couple of days in Kruger. Thus, our schedule works out to: spend a couple of days in J'burg, drive to Kruger for a few days, return to J'burg and then my husband and I will take off to KZN for about a week and finally return for a couple more days in J'burg with my daughter.

With this as a general paradigm, do you have recommendations for an itinerary and where to stay? Do you think we should plan to go to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Ithala? Drakenberg looks terrific too. Any recommendations there?

My thanks to all of you for your help.
cokie is offline  
Sep 1st, 2004, 09:50 AM
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I don't know your per night max. budget, but looking at the map, you appear to be interested in the Natal area.

If so, the best bet for game viewing is Phinda ... with a fast visit to nearby Mkuze to view black rhino, which Phinda will arrange for you.

Again, if you are going to Natal, then Phinda should be at the very top of your list ... they offer four different lodges, at varying prices. Since your relatives will be living in SA, could they possibly obtain a SA discount for you? Possible, not likely, but worth asking.

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