So. Africa itinerary choices

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Aug 30th, 2004, 03:20 PM
  #1
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So. Africa itinerary choices

We're moving forward with planning our time in South Africa next year (probably arriving mid-May) as part of our RTW, and are trying to decide among a couple of alternate itineraries. I've gone through previous posts but can't find one that addresses these questions directly. Forgive me if I'm going over old territory.

We'll be arriving in Johannesburg (from Sydney), and eventually flying out from Cape Town (to London.)

Current thinking is to fly up to Victoria Falls for a couple of nights, then back to Johannesburg to pick up a rental car, then drive to a game reserve, in the Sabi Sands area (of which there seem to be a bewildering number of choices) for three nights or so; the budget won't tolerate more.

Now for the difficult choices. We'd have around a week, no more then ten days, to spend in transit to Cape Town.

(1) Should we return the car to Johannesburg and then fly to Durban, rent another car, and use it to explore KwaZulu-Natal, then return it and fly to Cape Town?

(2) Same as (1) but keep the car and drive all the way to Cape Town via the Drakensberg, coast, all that?

(3) Or should we keep the first car and just carry south through Swaziland, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route etc., ending in Cape Town?

(4) Or finally should we just go back to JNB from the Kruger area and fly to Cape Town and tour locally (incl. the Garden Route or Wine areas), and just save the East Cape and northern coast for another time?

Is May an acceptable time to visit Victoria Falls, or would we be better off re-allocating that time to somewhere else? (I know, subjective, all of this, but you all know the traveler's dilemma.)

We are reasonably intrepid road-trippers, and not necessarily put off by distances or less-than-perfect roads. But "less than perfect" can cover a multitude of sins, and I don't want this to be an exercise in tire/tyre repair either. With seven days we would need to average between 300-400 km a day by my thinking, small potatoes for the US, probably not by SA standards.

Thanks for any assistance.
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Aug 30th, 2004, 04:02 PM
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Hello Gardyloo,

You have come up with some good ideas. The main thing that I would do, if I were you, is switch everything around so that you travel from south to north in the southern hemisphere's late spring. This will give you the best chance of arriving in Cape Town before the onset of cooler, wetter weather.

So, if you accept this suggestion, you may fly to Cape Town and stay there for, say, 4 days.

Then I would suggest flying to Durban, renting a car, driving through KwaZulu Natal, driving through Swaziland or swinging past the west side of Swaziland, through the Kruger Park / Sabi Sands game reserve area, and on to Johannesburg. Then finish up the Southern Africa portion of your trip with Vic Falls.

An alternative plan which, especially at that time of year, would be a lesser option in my opinion, would be to do Cape Town and the Garden Route for a total of say, 7 days, followed by a flight from George or Port Elizabeth to the Kruger Park / Sabi Sands area, followed by a flight or drive to Johannesburg.

Much as I love the Garden Route, the thing that makes Africa different from the rest of the world is the wildlife which, in the case of South Africa, is available mostly in Mpumalanga (Kruger area) and KwaZulu Natal. Furthermore, Cape Town and the Garden Route may be starting to cool off by then, whereas KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga would be pleasant (well certainly pleasant during the day, and perhaps a little cool at night). Cape Town gets a special diplomatic immunity from the cool / wet weather warning. I think Cape Town is so neat that it's worth visiting in late May, even if you are bumping up against the possibility of some coolish, damp weather.

If the costs of the private games reserves sound prohibitive to you, you can still get a pleasant game viewing experience by going through national parks (such as Hluhluwe in KwaZulu Natal and Kruger in Mpumalanga) on a self-drive basis.

People have a variety of opinions about driving through Swaziland versus driving around Swaziland. Its roads are worse than those of South Africa. Recent reports suggest that, while Swaziland's roads still aren't as good as South Africa's, they have improved in the last little while. I'm biased, because I was born and raised there, but I think almost anyone will tell you that Swaziland is a pleasant country with a distinctive atmosphere of its own, and is worth travelling through if you have the time.

Hope that helps.
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Aug 30th, 2004, 04:42 PM
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Postscript.

Although I felt my comments about the Garden Route versus the game reserve areas, especially at that time of year, were valid on a stand-alone basis, I also made them knowing that you would have just come from Australia where you would have seen awesome beaches. I mean you would have to mess up the planning of the Australia portion of your trip very seriously in order to avoid its gorgeous coastline. Hence the need to see South Africa's coastline, lovely as it is, becomes less urgent.

Cape Town and its environs are not unlike parts of Australia in some respects. Nonetheless, visiting Cape Town would not be repetitious. The SW Cape has enough distinctive features -- Cape Dutch architecture, Malay influence, etc. -- to make it unique.

I didn't specify, but perhaps it was implied, that, while you technically could cover the necessary mileage to drive from Cape Town up the east coast and then inland to Johannesburg in 7 - 10 days, that would deny you the opportunity to do justice to the aspects of that trip that I think are truly important.

Sorry, I forgot to answer your question about the suitability of visiting Vic Falls at that time of year, although my opinion perhaps was implied by the fact that I included it in my suggested itinerary.

I visited Vic Falls in January, and I thought it was great. Perhaps I was lucky because, the particular January that I went, I was able to see the falls. I've heard that other people who have gone in the rainy season (southern hemisphere summer) haven't been able to see the falls because the volume of water created so much mist / rain.

May is part of the dry season, when the volume of water is said to be less spectacular, but the falls are said to be more amenable to being photographed because the amount of mist isn't so overwhelming.

In short, I think May is an okay time to visit Vic Falls.
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Aug 30th, 2004, 06:27 PM
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Judy, thank you for a quick and excellent response.

I have also read that Victoria Falls can be an unsatisfactory experience if you're there too close to the rainy season, for the same reason (sights obscured by mist). I'm concerned that May might be too early to guarantee good viewing, so we may just skip it this time and use the two or three days elsewhere in the country. Or we might play it by ear and add it at the end of the SA visit if time and conditions appear right. We have up to 4 internal flights in SA available, so jumping around is possible within limits.

I'm trying to keep in mind the north/south dichotomy throughout this portion of the RTW - starting off on the S. Island of New Zealand so we're still there in autumn and not the beginning of winter - short days, etc., then moving over to NSW and the Queensland coasts once the heat and jellyfish have begun to subside, all of that. Complicated.

I think the idea of flying to Durban and closing the loop to JNB via Sabi Sands etc. makes excellent sense. If we don't go to Victoria Falls and end up with time to spare, we can use the flight segments not used for VFA to return to Cape Town for some more time, then fly to London from there.

Again, thanks for the help.
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Aug 31st, 2004, 07:06 AM
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I'm still studying your itinerary. If your start point is J'Burg, a drive to o Kruger (Sabi Sands) will consumer six plus hours. Your best bet, if CT is you end point, and if you want to see Natal, is to drive to N2 and then south thru Natal. Look at a map to see two options - thru Swaziland (about 8 hours to N2) or around it, which is an easier drive, but a bit longer. If your budget can stand it, think about Phinda (two nights) or another lodge along N2... to see the animals. Also the St. Lucia area to see hjigh dunes and the beach. The drive down N2 to Durban is an easy one, offering many stops along the way. You can overnight in Durban, staying at hotels like the Edwards, next to the ocean. You are then within two days of CT, and along the way you have numerous options, including Hermanus, then two hours more to CT. Leave a day to drive RT to se the Cape area. Drop the car at CT airport, an easy drive from the city via N2.
 
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Aug 31st, 2004, 12:23 PM
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I agree with Judy that it's best to start in CT, fly to Durban and get a fresh rental car there rather than driving up the entire coast.

We did enjoy the garden route a lot but given a shorter duration (we spent 5 weeks in SA) and the fact that you'll no doubt have spent time at Aus and NZ beaches, I would concentrate your time in CT and in KZN.

We recently did a self-drive trip in KZN taking in Hluhluwe-Infolozi, St Lucia, Ndumo, Ithala and then Kruger and I'd be happy to respond about route, nights, accommodation, wildlife etc.
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Dec 23rd, 2004, 04:45 PM
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I'm topping this because time marches on and plans tend to morph.

Rather than May it now looks like herself is not going to have the time to take off until later in the year, specifically the second half of July, which would put us in SA sometime during the second half of August. I appreciate that it may not be the best time for Cape Town, Garden Route, etc., but it sounds like it will be acceptable farther north, specifically KZN and Kruger. We're still thinking about Madikwe too.

Anyway, a more mundane item. We'll be flying into Jo'burg from either Sydney or Singapore, either of which involves a substantial time change. Neither of us are particularly snappy at jetlag recovery, so we're thinking about heading right away (connecting flight) to someplace where (a) we can spend 3 or 4 nights recovering and synching our clocks, (b) that has enough interest for first-timers that we'll have things to occupy our waking - if groggy - hours, (c) is reasonably warm, and (d) not bank-breaking costly.

So I had a thought - What about Durban? The idea would be to find someplace relaxing within easy reach of Durban's sights, neighborhoods, food and activitiees, and hang out before motoring inland toward the Drakensberg area and/or Ithala and/or... Is August a good or terrible time for the coastal areas south of Durban? I wouldn't expect going-to-the-beach weather but maybe otherwise?

Anyway, in the grand scheme we would start the tour of the country in the northeast, traveling indirectly via KZN, Kruger, etc. back to JNB, drop the car, fly to CPT, spend some days there, then onward to London and home.

Is this a decent concept?
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Dec 23rd, 2004, 05:51 PM
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>>>>>>Is this a decent concept?<<<<<<

Yes.

There are nice places to stay on the coast, both north and south of Durban. A rather nice place is Umhlanga Rocks. It's a seaside suburb to the north of Durban. Technically it's a separate municipality, but it's part of Greater Durban. It's a pleasant place to kick back and relax, and yet it's close enough that you can drive into Durban and look around.

Perhaps Traci, a resident of Durban, will see this thread and have better suggestions. But, in the absence of other information, I don' believe you'll go wrong with Umhlanga.
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