South Africa - Sabi Sands Reserve and what else?

Nov 28th, 2011, 06:08 PM
  #1  
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South Africa - Sabi Sands Reserve and what else?

We are in the process of planning a trip to South Africa August 2012 (My dream!!). We are looking for a safari experience where we can see Big 5 and some and stay at a moderate priced lodge 4 nights. In addition we want to add something else to our trip to make it even more memorable (I can't imagine we will ever be back) that won't add too much cost. I can't imagine flying all the way from NY to South Africa and only doing 4 days at a reserve...but we do have a budget to keep in mind.

As of now, we are thinking Sabi Sands Reserve (possibly Exeter River Lodge) for 4-5 nights and we would like to add something else to our trip at a minimal cost. Ideas include a local/cultural experience, visit to Johannesburg or cape town, another reserve/conservation center, ?? any suggestions appreciated. Only problem is we only have another $500-$1,500 to spend. There are so many wonderful options in South Africa, however not necessarily within budget. Any add on experiences would be wonderful.
Jill14 is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 06:29 PM
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Firstly, Exeter RL is an AndBeyond camp and they have discount rates if you stay minimum number of nights. So be sure you look into that. And you will see the big 5 in Sabi Sand reserve, the only (wild/unfenced) reserve in Africa that I will guarantee that!!!

You're from NY so you are not going to fly to SA for only a week, are you??? You're probably flying into Johannesburg?? If you're looking for more safari, Sabi Sand is adjacent to Kruger National Park. You could drive yourself (rental car) in Kruger for a few days for around another $150 per day per person (total for car, bungalow, meals, etc). We've done that (Kruger) three times before going on to private safari camps.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Nov 28th, 2011, 06:41 PM
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Not sure if you are aware, but Exeter River Lodge and the other &Beyond lodge in Sabi Sands, Dulini, go to a shoulder season for a couple of weeks in September and the rates are lower at that time. Game viewing is very good then too.
shouldbewriting is online now  
Nov 28th, 2011, 06:56 PM
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There are many options and prices in Sabi Sand:

http://www.sabisand.co.za/

If you stay in less expensive digs than Exeter you may be able to extend your stay. My favorite camp is Mashatu in SE Botswana. Easily combined with a Kruger area (Sabi Sand) camp either flying or driving (you can hire drivers). Tented Camp is rustic but affordable - and has a very nice staff. Combined with Pafuri in northern Kruger makes for easy transfers. Or try a camp in Timbavati, also adjacent to Kruger. Or Entabeni - three hours north of JNB.

The Cradle of Humankind and apartheid Museum in Johanessberg are full day experiences. CT lovely city with lots to do, but I love safari.

I thought our first S Africa trip would be our only one, too. I'm planning my fourth in seven years. Africa has a way of getting into your soul.
christabir is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 01:20 AM
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www.seat61.com/SouthAfrica.htm

How bout an epic overland train journey

not expensive lots of fun...
qwovadis is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 02:04 AM
  #6  
 
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Christabir gives good advise imho.

Only 500$-1500$ to spend on the non-safari days? Seems that Exeter took a too big cut out of your total budget!

I wonder what made Exeter stand out for you. It certainly is not one of the cheaper options in Sabi Sands. Plus, it sits in that west-block of the reserve; closest to civilization, and a lot of lodges there (who all share traverse, which may result in limited time-slots to stay at a sighting). The map on the website that Christabir gave shows all traverse rights:

http://www.sabisand.co.za/ssw-map.html

I'd certainly choose another lodge in Sabi Sands and stretch the budget that way. Good options are Elephant plains and Arathusa in the north. Affordable, and a bit less busy there (although you may still run into sightings that are too popular). I guess you can't have everything; the plots south of there are really expensive (Singita, Londolozi, MalaMala -> the latter is the unnamed big block on the right of the map). Altough there's one other option; Umkumbe. No traversing rights (yet, that I know of), but at a great spot and at a fantastic price.

Timbavati is indeed an option as well. In fact, if I look at the area that most lodges share, then I can only conclude that a safari there is quite similar to Sabi Sands (in terms of traverse and sightings). At least that is my experience.
I've been at Simbavati River Lodge, quite affordable as well, and they share with Motswari, Tanda Tula, King's Camp and Umlani (the latter only by invitation). I've also been at Shindzela. They do not share traverse, but have a rather big plot, in a great spot (flanked on two sides by Ngala, an expensve &Beyond camp), and are not expensive. Plus they offer walking safaris. Quite a different experience than the regular gamedrives.

There are a few other pro-arguments for Timbavati that are worth mentioning. Like;
- the Hoedspruit airport is much closer to Timbavati than the Nelspruit airport is to Sabi Sands. For me, the connections are better too; the Hoedspruit flight arrives just after noon, giving me the chance to do the afternoon drive. In Nelspruit, I arrive at 4PM and by the time I get to any lodge it is dark and too late to join the gamedrive
- You can combine Timbavati with Klaserie, which is equally close to the airport than Timbavati. Always more fun to do two lodges (and thus two areas) instead of one. Klaserie has got some great options as well, like the Sun Destination camps nThambo and Africa On Foot. Incredible prices, and quite a bit of traverse as well (with Gomo Gomo nearby, and with Baobab Ridge (on invite) which is also nearby, in the south), and with a bunch of (mostly self-catering) camps in the north. You can basically combine any camps in Klaserie and Timbavati, and NOT pay any transfer costs. This is not the case with Sabi Sands; from SS to any other reserves means a transfer with a minivan.

If you choose Hoedspruit as your airport, you could add the Panorama Route to your trip; a self-drive through the Drakensbergen, seeing all tourist attractions (Three Rondavels, Blyde rivier, Bourke's Potholes, God's Window, Pilgrim's Rest, ...). Good places to stay are Otter's Den or Blyde Rivier Canyon Lodge in the north, Tanamera Lodge or Blue Mountain Lodge near Hazyview, and Dawson's Game&Trout Lodge in the South.

Some of the above lodges offer activities such as mountain hikes, horseback riding and fishing.

Maybe do the Drakensbergen first, then the safari part? I'd do that anyway. Keep the best for last.

A last tip; choose a local (South African) TA, let them give you more options and let them handle the overall organization of this trip + bookings. I can certainly recommend Sun Safaris.

Have a good trip!

J.
pixelpower is offline  
Nov 29th, 2011, 08:42 AM
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Will echo J. I've been to the Timabavati reserve four times to Kings Camp. The Hoedspruit airport (HDS) is served by scheduled SAA at usually about half the cost of FedAir to Nelspruit or Skukuza or reserve private strips. Your safari camp will shuttle you to/from HDS (for a cost). Another option if you want to see some country as J suggests is to rent a car (we use Avis) at JNB airport and leisurely drive up to Hoedspruit. Avis has an office at HDS and they will drive you into your safari camp and return the car back to Avis (HDS).

Timbavati reserve, I believe I've seen the big 5 everytime I've been there, rhino being the most elusive critter. You will see lion, leopard, elephant,and buffalo every day and likely every game drive. (Two game drives, early morning and late afternoon).

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2011, 02:58 AM
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Tom,

None of the camps I visited in Timbavati or Klaserie has charged me for transfer to/from the airport.

Another idea; fly to HDS with SAA, rent an Avis car there, do the Drakensbergen, come back to HDS, then do the safari part. This way you do not lose time driving from/to JNB. Plus; JNB is not the most fun place to drive. ;-)

Ciao,

J.
pixelpower is offline  
Nov 30th, 2011, 09:11 AM
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Kings Camp charges us everytime, the bums, even when we stayed 8 nights with them!!!!

We have rented car JNB then driven to Drakensbergen/rift, then to HDS and left car there with Avis. Then safari camp and fly back HDS to JNB. But this probably works only with AVIS because they have office at HDS where you can leave car.

Re the general drive around Drakensberg/Gods Window/Rondavels/rift/etc. It was ok, a way to rest up a little and get used to our 9 hour time change. But as for scenic beauty/wonder, don't compare it to the Western USA or parts of Europe.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2011, 12:00 PM
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Simbavati will do a free road transfer to/from HDS if you stay 3 nights or longer. I stayed at Shindzela recently and enjoyed it... four of the Big 5, including a leopard every night, three nights in a row. There were guests that were doing self drives there and also at Mohlabetsi and Kapama where I stayed.
ShayTay is offline  
Nov 30th, 2011, 11:02 PM
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>> Kings Camp charges us everytime, the bums, even when we stayed 8 nights with them!!!!

Next time, take another lodge!
About the Drakensbergen; can't compare with Western USA as I haven't been there, but I liked it better than any mountain range in EU; much more unspoilt (albeit not really that high).
Thing is that there's nothing better in the neighborhood to extend your safari with, unless you throw in some extra flights. Then I'd choose the Moz coast. Good deals to be had, if you stay away from the websites that seem to be set up specifically for "wealthy" people on our hemisphere. ;-)


@ShayTay;

I absolutely agree about Shindzela; it's a gem! And if you don't like walking safaris then there's lots of lodges further north in the reserve that all share about the same traverse. But Simbavati River Lodge is the one that was priced the most reasonably.

Mohlabetsi is in Balule, right? From a trip report on SafariTalk my suspicion that it is less populated (game-wise of course) seemed to be confirmed. Did you have the same experience? Also; did they drive around only in Balule or do they go to Kruger Park? I read some Balule lodges do that as their area of operation in the reserve is really small.

The only thing I know about Kapama is the location and the lodge names. Care to give more details? Bit curious what that reserve is like.

Thx,

J.
pixelpower is offline  
Dec 1st, 2011, 08:50 AM
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You're right PP, I don't drive much of a bargain!!! But come this May, I will, plan is to call camps about two weeks before my flight (May 8) and see what kind of value $$$ deal I can make with camps in Timbavati and Sabi Sand. Any/all suggestions, anyone, on best way/time to do this much appreciated.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Dec 1st, 2011, 03:44 PM
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Pixelpower, I studied your thread on reasonably priced lodges in the Kruger area and chose Shindzela as a result. I went on with an Ntaba Tours group. It was more for "first-timers", but I wanted to see how they did, given that the company is run by a couple of ex-pat South Africans living in the US.

Kapama was a part of the tour. We stayed at Buffalo Camp, which is a really nice tented camp. The staff was superb, especially the Asst. Mgr. Claire. The reserve is large, but fenced. I did see all the Big 5 there. The rangers use headsets and have a 2-vehicle rule at sightings. My ranger Joe knew his bushcraft, but never checked to see if I was still shooting videos or photos. Most of my videos end with the Landy starting up and moving. I finally got word to him via the tour leader that he needed to add that component to his guiding and he did try to work on that afterwards. I was fortunate to see an aarkvark one evening on the way back to camp.

Ntaba suggested Mohlabetsi... insisted on it, in fact. The lodge itself was nice and the food, superb. The game-viewing was conducted entirely within Balule (it doesn't share a border with Kruger, although there are no fences between them.) Before I arrived, they were having "Big 5" drives. I saw all the Big 5 except for leopards. We walked rhino a couple of times and also walked a lioness with cubs. I didn't know that's what we were walking and was surprised when we were suddenly charged by the lioness (an understatement to say the least!) The York pride of lions moves on and off the reserve and I had a quick view of them one evening at sunset. The rangers I had were great... Nick, Hamilton, Solly and Lucky. I'd recommend it as an addition to other reserves.

I had good drives and "quiet" drives at all three reserves. All them fill their vehicles to capacity, which I don't like, but it's what most of the lodges in SA seem to do. Shindzela wasn't full until my last evening, so we didn't have a full vehicle on every drive. No one did a walking safari while I was at Shindzela, but one of their rangers was out for his week off. They needed the other two for the game drives (Mike and Sam.)

The bush is thicker in this area than what I remember down in the Sabi Sands area (Kirkmans, Mala Mala.) The bushes were still without their leaves, but they were just beginning to bud (this was in October.) It did make photography a bit of a challenge. Most of the guests at the camps were European. Other than 2 other Ntaba guests at Mohlabetsi, I think we were the only Americans.
ShayTay is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2011, 08:20 AM
  #14  
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Thanks for all your responses. They have helped us to reevaluate and we want to see 2 different areas, over 1 week by starting off somewhere (not sure yet...SE Botswana, Kruger, ?) a bit more rustic for an authentic bush experience then go for a bit of luxury in Sabi sands or timbavati to finish our trip.

We have increased our budget a little to make the most out of the trip. We would prefer not to rent a car or do self drive since we would rather exclude that aspect of planning and don't trust ourselves navigating alone.

Can anyone recommend a good compliment to Sabi sands, maybe a different Eco system or somewhere with different sightings. Is a trip to SE Botswana going to offer us a different experience than SS.

Now I'm going off topic but something about kwazulu-natal interests me, but that may be an expensive addition due to transfers unless we bring our accommodation expensives down. Phinda reserve seems too offer a diverse Eco system with Zulu culture! I keep going toward the &beyond camps bc they offered good detailed information, and we want to book, but maybe i should branch out to different areas..Not sure what a transfer from SS to somewhere like that goes for though. I'm guessing more than my weekend flight from NY to Florida!

So many decisions! I will be lookingninto the accommodations you all suggested.....max we want to pay at the nicest accommodation is $450 per person and thats pushing it. But who doesn't want a pool near their room???
Jill14 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2011, 12:32 PM
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Tom,
Anywhere not far sabi sands where it is more likely to spot "plains animals" specifically giraffe and zebra?

Thanks,
Jill
Jill14 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2011, 12:48 PM
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We would rather go back to S Africa often than stay at the more expensive camps. It's a choice that we have been extremely happy about. Our last two trips were affordable, especially this year's self drive that was only $210 pp/pn over three weeks. It was an entirely different experience, with lots of nights in both private reserves and national parks. We loved it. It's doable for a first-timer, but I wouldn't suggest it. The trip we took in 2009 was perfect for us - ten nights, all safari, Arathusa in Sabi Sand, Pafuri in northern Kruger and Mashatu Tented. Three very different eco-systems and different animals and interesting differences in staff. I can't say enough good things about the staffs at Mashatu and Pafuri. Easy transfers between camps (we hired drivers and they were nice and good tour guides!) and interesting people and things to see along the way. So glad we did it "on the ground" instead of flying. S Africa is an interesting place. With private air charters at the beginning and end, it was less than $10000 for two in 2009. I highly recommend it, especially that Pafuri has improved tremendously since we were there;

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...ented-camp.cfm

A Sabi Sand/Phinda trip is very popular. Phinda is out of my price range, but we stayed in Tembe Elephant Park and ZuluLand Rhino Reserve this year. We were able to stay twice as long for less than staying at Phinda and we had some great experiences (our final game drive at Tembe is in our top two out of over thirty) and met some fabulous S Africans. The drive from SS to ZL is a full day, so it adds a day whether driving or flying. Flying is pretty expensive. To avoid charters, you can fly in/out of Richards Bay and get road transfers to any camps. Our insane trip report:

http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...zulu-natal.cfm

It was so fun!!

Safari doesn't have to be such an expensive trip. The less expensive camps are not marketed in the US and finding info might have to be done on your own. But any good safari agent will arrange the trip you want. Ours did for the 2009 trip - but they made clear they had not been to the camps we wanted, and were not sure if they were up to their standards. But the arrangements were flawless. We planned the last one ourselves and self-drove. As you can read between the lines, I really loved our Mashatu-Pafuri-SS trip. Eland and painted dogs in Mashatu, nyala in Pafuri and rhino (and leopard) in SS were our highlight animals at each camp.

Lots of plains game in Mashatu. But you'll see lots of them in SS too, just not in big herds for the most part. We had a herd of at least 200 buffalo in Shindzela (Timbavati) and in Kruger NP.
christabir is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2011, 12:50 PM
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BTW - it's cold in August in S Africa. I'd rather have a waterhole than a pool.
christabir is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2011, 01:05 PM
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"Anywhere not far sabi sands where it is more likely to spot "plains animals" specifically giraffe and zebra?"

As CB mentions, Kruger National Park. Many parts of Kruger are more plains than bushy hence more to zebras, giraffe liking. Eles also. While leopards on the other hand like the bush and trees where they can more easily hide and drag their kills into.

Agree also, August is winter time in SA and it can get pretty chilly if not cold. And I'm no big fan of pools anyway.

And, not your answer, but the only other reserve area in SA I've been to is Madikwe. But Madikwe eco really not that different and I would not recommend making the journey over to it.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Dec 8th, 2011, 04:25 PM
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I am also planning a trip that includes Cape Town, Nottens in Sabi Sands, Victoria Falls, and Botswana (camp not yet decided). We have been working with Africa 2000 Tours located in South Africa. They are very responsive and ask a lot of questions to plan the trip you want. They try very hard to offer options and to keep to your budget. I highly recommend them. Its a lot easier than trying to plan and book everything yourself.
hmelman is offline  
Dec 10th, 2011, 01:18 PM
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Last July 23rd thru August 5th I did Victoria Falls, Chobe in Botswana, Cape Town and Sabi Sand where I stayed at Exeter River Lodge. Booked all airfare on one ticket routing JFK to Victoria Falls (transfer in Johannesburg). Took road transfer from Victoria Falls to Chobe and then back to VF airport before heading to Cape Town (again transfering planes at Johnnesburg). Cape Town was incredible and the rates were very good for a room with a beautiful view of Table Mountain and Marina at the V&A hotel. I also visited Robben Island, Cape Peninsula, Winelands, and since Table Mountain Cable Car was closed for maintenance, I paraglided from Lions Head down to Camps Bay and I'd highly recommend to anyone wishing to get another perspective and yes it wasn't at all scary.

I saved the best for last which was Sabi Sand which exceeded my expectations as last year I'd visited Kenya and the Mara during the migration and was worried Sabi Sand would be a let down. There is one non-stop flight from Cape Town to Nelspruit and then a 90 minute road transfer to Exter. The people that took a charter actually arrived at camp after me so the road transfer worked out perfectly and beautiful scenery along the way. I highly recommend Exeter River Lodge as the staff and cottages are incredible and the game viewing was amazing. I did the stay 4 pay 3 so a very good value. Not only did I see the big 5 in one day, but also Wild Dogs. You could also sit on your deck and watch Elephants and various animals at the river and on the property. It was truly a wonderful Safari experience and I definitely preferred Sabi Sand to Chobe National Park although I did have a great time there as well. I booked all my own airfare on Orbitz and hotel in VF and Cape Town, but I worked with Lise Kargaard with Southern Destinations and she was very helpful and great with follow-up with my reservations and transfers for both Sabi Sand and Chobe and I would definitely use her again for future trips to Southern Africa. Good Luck with your planning and I hope your trip ends up being as spectacular as mine was last summer.
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