Sept. 2012 Southern Africa trip-need itinerary help


Dec 12th, 2011, 03:41 PM
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Sept. 2012 Southern Africa trip-need itinerary help

I have managed to book frequent flyer tickets to South Africa for next September. We arrive in JNB on Sept. 14 and will have 18 nights. The main purpose of this trip is to see Cape Town and the surrounding region. We have been on safari in Tanzania (got much great advice from the Fodors posters), so seeing the big five is not a high priority, but we do want some safari time. Seeking help in trying to come up with an itinerary that mixes various types of flora, fauna, landscape and experiences.

My thought is 1 night JNB on arrival (hope that is enough to recover from 26 hours travel time), 2 nights Victoria Falls, 2 nights Chobe National Park (Chobe River), overnight JNB, 4 nights Sabi Sands, 5 nights Cape Town and 3 nights Bushmans Kloof.

I chose northern Chobe NP because it seems a good place to see elephants (a particular interest), and you can get there by road from Vic Falls. Not considering more time in Botswana, mostly to avoid flying in tiny planes, but also cost. I’m wondering if it will just be too crowded and that I would be better off going elsewhere, especially given the limited accommodation choices. If we keep Chobe, could I reduce Victoria Falls to one night? We would not be interested in “extreme” sports, so it really would be mostly to see the falls. Have been to Iguazu and enjoyed that—interested in hearing from anyone who has been to both.

Also, saw a recommendation here of Grootbos and must admit that is appealing too, so now I’m trying to figure out if we can do both that and Bushmans Kloof. Not much is written on this forum about the latter, but the activities look like a nice mix of some wildlife, hiking, etc. Would two nights at BK be sufficient? Is the end of September too late for wildflowers? What about two nights at Grootbos—would that be enough to see the fynbos and do some whale watching, or is 3 nights better? We live 1 hour from Napa, CA, so the wine region is not a high priority.

Thanks for all and any advice!
traveler318 is offline  
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Dec 12th, 2011, 06:19 PM
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I can't help with all of your queries but here is a link to our trip report from Sept 2010 - you might be interested in the sections on Vic Falls and Chobe. We did not stay in JNB but flew right on to Livingstone after flight from JFK. We stayed two nights at the Zambezi Sun in Zambia and two nights at Muchenje for Chobe - - both were great accommodations. Two nights were good for the falls and an additional night at Muchenje would have been beneficial. Here is a link to the full report:
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Dec 13th, 2011, 12:31 AM
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I've been to both Iguazu and Victoria Falls and would rate Iguazu above Vic Falls (Zambia side) due to the amount of wildlife around the falls, the accessability of Iguazu, especially being able to stroll out onto the platforms across the river and looking back into the falls and the sheer scale of the falls. I suspect that VF may not be a thundering torrent in September, others may be able to shed more light on seasonal variations. I should think that one night would be enough for the falls - the Victoria Falls Hotel sometimes lists some very good value Internet specials.

I presume you have opted for Chobe due to proximity with VF? I was in Savute in July where elephant density was very high, don't know how this compares to Chobe, my trip report and photos are available at

Samara Game Reserve offer what looks to be a similar experience to Bushman's Kloof and they have the added attraction of a 'good chance' of an aardvark sighting.

Umkumbe Lodge in Sabi Sands is reasonably priced and offers good game viewing.

Happy planning,

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Dec 13th, 2011, 02:58 AM
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Garth Jenman most knowledgeable for this area for me.Sabi Sands and Rift areas Chobe Lodge and Vic Falls.Short stay would work fine for me there.Less is more for me always try to avoid cramming in planning.
Happy Travels!
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Dec 13th, 2011, 04:57 AM
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First of all, I work at Grootbos, but I'll try anyway to be as objective as possible.
September is an excellent month to come at Grootbos. The prices are pretty high since is the beginning of the high season but I think is worth the spending. September is great for flowers as well as whales. The boom of the flowering season here at Grootbos goes from August until the end of September. I said the "boom" because the best flowers' colors I saw are blooming in this time of the year. My favorite flower is the Erica Irregularis ( and
The whale season starts from July until December so September is a great time to come and visit. Nevertheless, at Grootbos you can even try shark cage diving. There's no specific season for that, as they are here all the year around.
If you are interested in flowers and whales 2 days are enough. While, if would like to do horse riding or shark cage diving than I'd recommend 3 days.
I hope that helps.

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Dec 13th, 2011, 08:27 AM
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Thanks for the replies.

Treepol, yes the Chobe idea was that it would be possible to combine that with Victoria Falls and not have to add another flight. I think you must fly (small plane) to Savute, right? If we were to skip VF, what's the routing and size of the aircraft to get from JNB to Savute? Am I correct in thinking that it really must be Botswana for large elephant herds?

I realize it isn't peak flow at the falls in Sept, but it wasn't at Iguazu when we were there either and it was still great. Your comparison of the two is what I expected, hence my ambivalence. Hadn't heard of Samara--will check that out. I liked your photos. Roan and Oryx, really spectacular. Would really like to try Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park or Tswalu Kalahari someday, but couldn't figure out how to fit them into this trip.

Jeep61, great report. Thanks for the info on Chobe NP.

Taco, thanks for the info on Grootbos. Good to know that two nights would be sufficient. I think we will definitely try to add that to the trip.

Anyone else have any opinion of Bushmans Kloof?

Again, thanks for any and all advice.
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Dec 13th, 2011, 07:29 PM
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I have not been to Chobe, but the biggest elephant herds we've seen were in Tembe Elephant Park in Kwazulu Natal. Mashatu in SE Botswana had a couple of big ones, too.

Don't get me wrong, but since safari isn't your top priority, spend some time on the Garden Route and visit Addo, just north of Port Elizabeth, instead of Sabi Sand. I know - it's not my normal advice, as I'm a safari girl - but if you'd rather see the flowers (I would go to Namaqualand) and go to Bushman's Kloof instead of the "normal" spots, it makes sense. You'll be back some day. You can add the Kruger area then.

I was at Vic Falls in early September 2006. It was barely a trickle. Not sure if I'd go at that time of year again.

Are your flights into JNB and out of CT? Or in/out JNB. That might change my thinking on this one. There are so many options!
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Dec 14th, 2011, 02:27 AM
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Access to Savute is by charter plane or road from Maun in Botswana. From memory, it was a leisurely 6 hour drive from Maun to Savute. I'm not familiar with any of the lodges around there, however Masson Safaris would be able to arrange both lodges and flights. If you skipped VF, you would fly Joberg to Maun, then catch a charter to Savute or overnight in Maun and do a road connection the next day.

There are so many elephant in Africa I'm tempted to say that big herds are increasingly common in places other than Bots. Whilst Chobe has a longstanding reputation for large herds and the Savute population is increasing rapidly following the resumption of the Savute Channel flowing once again, its a long way to Botswana for the 2 days ele viewing in your provisional itinerary. Maybe Kruger or Tembe will allow you to maximise your time in South Africa.

I agree with Christabir, Mashatu have over 1,000 elephant these days and Kruger is carrying around 14,000 which is a significant population.

Maybe the issue is not one of size of herds but how acessible they are and the ease of viewing, in which case Chobe, Savute and Mashatu are contenders and presumably Kruger. I've not been to Kruger for almost 6 years and can't remember the best elephant viewing area, however those 14,000 eles can't hide forever.

If you have a specific interest in elephant have you thought of a visit to Thula Thula, an upmarket game reserve in KZN which is the home of Lawrence Anthony, author of the Elephant whisperer. Lawrence gave a rogue herd of elephants a last chance, settling them on his property - the book tells of the challenge of rehabilitating this disturbed herd.


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Dec 14th, 2011, 04:29 AM
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I'm with Christabir on this one. if safari is not the most important part of your trip, then why go so far to see a bit of wildlife?

On top of that; the trip to Vic Falls & back is a tourist trap; you lose plenty of time at the border (and quite a bit of money too), and in return you get condescending border officials, a too speedy visit to the falls and a visit to an "African Market" with tourists trinkets made in China.
If you travel the other way round (Zim to Bots), you may be able to visit the falls at a slower pace, and avoid that silly market, but you still have the border to deal with. The time you lose there is very unfortunate, certainly as it always cuts right into prime game viewing hours.

If you want to see spectacular falls, go to Iguaçu, and make sure you visit both sides. You can easily spend two days there, and even prolong with a stay in an eco-lodge such as Yacutinga. Much more fun. Much more spectacular. Much better value for money.

I'd stick to Addo NP too. Or the private reserves nearby. Advantages; big 5, no malaria, and close to your other destinations like Cape Town. The time you'd lose by all that traveling around (and passing borders) is better used having fun. A few tips for private reserves;
- Amakhala;
- Shamwari;
- Lalibela;
- Pumba;
- Kwandwe;

Have fun!

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Dec 14th, 2011, 07:23 AM
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We went to Chobe and Victoria Falls in late August a few years ago; in our case we flew into Livingstone (Zambia) and had to cross the Zambezi (in a skiff with some people we met on the flight, who strongly discouraged the ferry) and stayed at the (inexpensive) Chobe Safari Lodge for a couple of nights. Then we transferred by road (provided by the lodge, not terribly expensive) to Victoria Falls, where we stayed at the Mercure Rainbow, decent enough for the price. Then we just hired a local (arranged through the hotel desk) for a day tour to the falls. Then we flew out of VFA back to Joburg.

Chobe was crammed with elephants - quite spectacular in retrospect; and we also went on one of the tourist "barges" along the river, and saw a lot of crocs and hippos; way more than we've seen in subsequent visits to lodges in the Sabi Sand reserve and other parts of SA.

Would we return? Frankly, no, and especially no for Victoria Falls. Not because they aren't spectacular - they are, but because South Africa has so many spectacular sights and experiences - landscapes, cultures, wildlife... that the same number of days has a "higher yield" - to use a lousy expression - there than elsewhere.

Haven't been to Bushman's Kloof, but have been in the area in August/September. GO. DON'T HESITATE. The wildflowers in the Western Cape in early September will knock your eyeballs to the back of your skull - unbelievable. Get a car and travel along the Atlantic coast north from Cape Town - visit the beautiful and historic village of Paternoster, see Pieter-Dirk Uys' cabaret show in Darling (a well-named village). It's scenic, friendly, and restful, and a day spent visiting the West Coast National Park - antelope and zebra in the wildflowers, incredible bird life - all a couple of hours from downtown Cape Town - is a real treat.

A couple of pictures which do NOT do the area justice, but just for illustrative purposes:


West Coast NP: and

Atlantic sunset at St. Helena Bay:
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Dec 14th, 2011, 08:45 AM
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So much good info. Christabir, yes our flight is into JNB and we fly home from CPT, as I always had it in mind to go to Sabi Sand/Kruger. Although we don’t want this to be just a safari trip, I can’t imagine going all the way to South Africa and not going to its most famous safari destination. Maybe it would be sufficient for elephants—it just seems to me that when I look at pictures from Sabi Sands, they are always of cats, a few rhino, and sometimes a lone elephant. I have in my mind large family groups with lots of juveniles. Mashatu—I had looked at that before and can’t remember why I had ruled it out. I’m going to study that more closely. Thanks for the advice.

Trying to avoid self-drive on this trip. We just got back from 3 weeks in Australia, self drive on the “wrong” side, and would like to leave the driving to someone else in South Africa. Also, seemed to me that the Garden Route would be very similar to what we just did in South and Western Australia.

Pixelpower, I have been to Iguazu, and enjoyed it very much. I expect the “tourist trap”, hence I think only one night if we do go to VF. I had considered some of the other private game reserves you mentioned like Kwandwe or Shamwari, but aren’t they pretty cold that time of year? I considered Addo, but then read it has only about 500 elephants. And it seems really aimed at families and self-drive. Will look at your other suggestions and let you know if I have questions. By the way, I always enjoy your photos when you post a link to them.

Gardyloo, those pictures are fantastic, just what we want to see. I understand the wouldn’t go back comment, but I’ve been places I say that about, but am still glad I went once. We’d have 8 or 9 days in the Cape region even if we kept both Sabi Sands and VF/Chobe. I’m inclined to keep Sabi Sands, but I could substitute one of the other game reserves suggested for the VF/Chobe. Decisions, decisions!

Appreciate all the advice.
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Dec 14th, 2011, 10:19 AM
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Air Botswana has flights between JNB and Kasane on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Could you tie in you schedule to any of these days? You could either fly in to Kasane and go to Chobe, then cross the border to Vic Falls, flying out from there, or reverse the schedule. I was in Chobe last year in September and loved it! We were on the Ichobezi safariboat, which is an excellent way to see Chobe without all the crowds. One night in Vic Falls and three nights on the Ichobezi would be a good itinerary.
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Dec 14th, 2011, 11:56 AM
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Hey 318,

Hadn't noticed the period you will be there. September will indeed still be a little nippy.

But 500 ellies in Addo; that's more than you think. Addo is known for them.

Sabi Sands does have quite a bit of elephants too, as do reserves nearby like Manyeleti, Timbavati and Klaserie. We were there 2 years in a row (this year and last year). Trip reports;

2010 trip report;
2011 trip report; (sorry title given while in silly mood)

Some sightings I remember;
Sabi Sands; watching big herds at Elephant Plains from the balcony of the lodge, and at Umkumbe while on game drive (we followed a herd on the plains for a big part of the afternoon).
Manyeleti; big herds at the water pump of Pungwe Bush Camp
Timbavati; big herd coming to drink at a water hole right in front of Shindzela camp, our huts being a mere 50m away. And at Simbavati River Lodge we saw ellies coming to drink at the river, opposite of the lodge. Plus lots more on gamedrives.
Klaserie; there I can actually not remember a game drive WITHOUT elephants. Some were lone bulls, some were regular herds.

Bottom line; you don't really need to go to Chobe (and lose two days in the process) to see ellie herds.

But if you really want to go to Chobe, the best advice I can give you is; don't go with those lodges located in the east of the park. The rarely get to the more interesting part of the reserve, it's too crowded in the east part too. To understand what I'm talking about, here's our trip report of Botswana:

Top sighting was about 1000 elephants on a whole afternoon in Chobe. Got a pano with more than 300 of them on it. But this was far from the river!


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Dec 14th, 2011, 12:48 PM
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I've been to Kruger Nat Park, Sabi Sand and Timbavati reserves several times and have seen eles probably every game drive. Many times large breeding herds of several families.

regards - tom
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Dec 14th, 2011, 01:06 PM
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Thanks, ShayTay, will look into that. And more good advice to ponder, pixelpower and Tom. Maybe a second area in the Kruger ecosystem would be an alternative to Chobe/VF. I think you've all given me plenty to consider. Thanks!
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