South Africa tour-12 days in Oct.

Nov 21st, 2009, 04:44 AM
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South Africa tour-12 days in Oct.

Last year my DH and I decided that we wanted to go to South Africa. We had never been on safari before, so we decided to hedge our bets by doing a tour that included Capetown scenery, Swaziland culture, and several safaris in KrugerNP and in Hlluluwe Umfolozi. I asked for guidance on this forum as to when the best time of the year might be to take this trip as I wanted to avoid the extemely hot temperatures and rain, if possible. I was told that the first week of Oct. would probably be good and so we decided on that. Then we had to decide whether to go independently or with a tour company. After doing much research on the itinerary we wanted, we decided to go with Smartours. We had been on several of their tours previously and found them very well run and enjoyable. So we booked with them for Oct.6-Oct.20. Long story short, the tour was excellent, the hotels were good to very good, the breakfasts were very good and the tour escort was good. And as an added bonus, It was fabulous value for the money.

We flew from JFK to Johannesburg and then had to to connect there with our flight to Capetown. The connection was slow and inefficient. The airport is under construction for the World Cup, so you have to deplane on the tarmac and take a bus to the terminal. Then you must claim your luggage. We had to wait one hour for the luggage to reach the carousel. You then go through immigration and you have to recheck your luggage. That recheck line was 45 minutes long. So my advice to those travelling through Johannesburg Airport needing to make a connection is -leave plenty of connection time, and carry an umbrella in your carry on so you do not get wet if you need to disembark on the tarmac in the rain. (as we did).

The flight to Capetown took one hour. We arrived in the rain and there was some turbulance on landing. Our tour guide met us and took us to our hotel, the Protea President in the Seapoint section of Capetown. The hotel is a nice 3 star hotel. The rooms were modern and clean. The beds were very good. The front desk was very friendly and helpful. Best of all, it is one short block to the ocean, with a lovely promenade beside the ocean. There is also a public bus nearby., and the hotel is within walking distance to several restaurants in Seapoint.

By the time we arrived and check ed in it was 6 o'clock and we had been travelling for about 24 hours, so walked into Seapoint and ate at Aris's, a family type Greek restaurant. The mousaka was good. The shish kebab was not. The price was very resonable. We also went to a grocery store near the restaurant to buy water and some other goodies for our 4 night stay. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed. Tomorrow is our first full day of sightseeing in Capetown.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 21st, 2009, 07:37 AM
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On our first full day in Capetown, we awoke to beautiful, clear, sunny weather. I thought that this was great as we were supposed to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. After we had a very delicious buffet breakfast, we headed out to Table Mountain, arriving about 9am. Tickets were purchased and we got on line for the cable car. We waited for the line to move for about 15 minutes before we started to wonder what was going on. After being on line for 30 minutes, an announcement was made that the cable car platform at the top was not working, but it should be fixed shortly. After waiting on line another 45 minutes, the decision was made to leave. We later found out that the cablecar was shut down for the rest of day. Since the cable car does not operate every day it is supposed to, either for bad weather or mechanical reasons, I suggest visitors try to get to the top of Table Mountain as soon as you are able, if this is a priority. I was told that only 25% of visitors who want to get to the top, actually are able to.

After taking photos of the scenery we could see from the bottom of the mountain, we left for a city tour. The arcetecture in Capetown
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 21st, 2009, 08:07 AM
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The city of Capetown is lovely. It is very scenic with Table Mountain as a backdrop. We stopped at Company Gardens for about 45 minutes and we walked in the very beautiful gardens. There are several interesting museums in Capetown that I had wanted to visit, but I had to decide between seeing the museums or using the afternoon to go on a township tour.

As I am very interested in South Africa's history, government and social situation , I decide on the township tour. What an eye opener that was. We visited 2 or 3 of the townships outside of Capetown, a school in one of the townships, a bed and breakfast and a shebeen ( non government approved bar). It gave us a very good idea of the abject poverty that many blacks and coloreds live in. We met and spoke to some of the people and despite the poverty, they seemed genuinely friendly and if not upbeat, at least not depressed. They expressed hope for a better life, for themselves and their childre, and feel that someday they will have a better life. The government is supposed to be spending money to build housing to replace the hovels, but to my eyes, it will take billions of dollars to fix the housing problem. Seeing the kids in the township school was a truly memorable experience. They looked to be well fed, well clothed, and happy to be in school. They put on a small singing and dancing performance for us. and they actually were quite good.

We returned to the hotel at dinner time, took a long walk along the ocean promenade, and had dinner at the hotel. The buffet was delicious-curried lamb, fish, veggies and a stir fry section where you give the chef the meat and veggies of your choice and he stir fries them while you wait. There was also a selection of fabulous pastries and desserts. It was at this buffet that we firast tasted malva pudding, kind of a bread pudding. From that moment on, we were hooked on it and tried to taste it whenever it was on the menu. It was excellent 95% of the time.

Tomorrow's journey is an all day penninsula tour.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 21st, 2009, 03:15 PM
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Thanks for posting, looking forward to more.
Femi is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2009, 01:16 PM
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Thanks for letting us in on your trip. I loved Cape Town, but never had malva pudding. More please!
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Nov 22nd, 2009, 01:33 PM
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Today a full day tour of the penninsula was scheduled. However, our guide announced that since he was notified that the cable car was fixed and running, he wanted to give us another opportunity to try to get to the top of Table Mountain. The sky was partly cloudy, not totally clear as it was yesterday, but most of the group agreed that seeing something at the top was better than passing it up altogether, We arrived as the cable car began running, so there was no line. Because we had a very long day ahead of us, we could only spend an hour at the top, but that was enough time to walk on 2 of the paths and take some great photos. The trails at the top are well marked. There is one that takes 30 minutes and another that takes 45 minutes. We were able to cover both in an hour.

The view from the top is truly spectacular. While we were up there the clouds and fog moved in and out. So some of our photos had clear visibility and others had an etherial quality caused by the fog. From the top have great views of Lions Head, Capetown and the coast line. The finbush and protea were in bloom which made the photos even better. After an hour at the top, we took the cablecar back to the bottom. By the time we reached the bottom, the lines to buy tickets and for the cable car were very long. t

We then headed out to Simon's Town to view the penguins. You can get very close to them via a boardwalk which brings you to Bolder's Beach. There were hundreds of penguins sunning themselves on the beach, and others taking cover under the boardwalk. We got to within a few feet of many of them.

After spending some time watching the penguins and taking photos, we stopped at a restaurant at Boulder Beach for lunch. The fish was fresh and delicious. There was a decent wine and beer selection. Our table overlooked the ocean. The service was very efficient. All in all, we had a truly memorable lunch.

Then we headed toward the Cape of Good Hope. On the way, we came across a mother ostich and her babies as well as many baboons, both young and old. We spent some time watching the antics of the baboons. We especially enjoyed watching the mother baboons feeding and caring for the babies.

At the Cape of Good Hope, after taking our obligatory phots in front of the sign, we headed for the lighthouse. We bought a one way ticket for ther funicular which took us up to the lighthouse. After taking photos of absolutely gorgeous scenery, we walked down to equally spectacular views. If you have the time< I recommend this walk. It took about 20 minutes to walk down, a very easy amble with spectacular coastal views all the way.

Our last stop of the day was at Kistenbach Gardens, which I consider one of the highlights of this trip. I love flowers and have been to many gardens, from the New York Botanical Garden, to Longwood Garden in Delaware to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC. Kirstenbock tops them all, IMO. It sits at the foothills of Table Mountain. That backdrop and the fact that almost all of the proteas were in bloom made this a very special visit. We spent about an hour and a half walking the trails (many are uphill, so be prepare), but I could have spent many more hour there. There is a restaurant on the premises which serves lunch, so there would be no need to leave in search of food , if you wanted to spend the day there..

We returned to the hotel about 6:30, tired but happy that we had seen so much in one day. We walked into Seapoint and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. I think the name of it was Tom Yum. The food was excellent, although the portions were small. We had spring rolls, cashew chicken, and pad thai. Everything was delicious. There were many locals eating there who seemed to be repeat customers.

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Although it was about nine o'clock we felt safe walking in Seapoint. We were pretty tired from the long day, so we went to bed at about 10:30, looking forward to our next full day in Capetown.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2009, 02:53 PM
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Second try was the charm for Table Mountain! Ostrich babies at the Cape, very good. Thanks for your hearty endorsement of Kirstenbosch, showcasing species unique in all the world. A garden enthusiast could indeed spend days.
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Nov 22nd, 2009, 09:11 PM
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Shelleyk - Thanks for your reports - keep them coming -- most informative!
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Nov 25th, 2009, 12:21 PM
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shelleyK - love reading your trip report and hope you will add more soon! We have booked a 17 night round trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town next May and your report has certainly made me look forward to it even more. Thanks
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Nov 25th, 2009, 02:19 PM
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ShelleyK, I am thinking of doing this same tour and I am so pleased to find this report. Thank you for so much good info, I look forward to hearing more.
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Nov 25th, 2009, 05:45 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement. I am happy you are enjoying reading this report as I am having a great time reliving the trip as I write the report.

Our last full day in Capetown was another beautiful sunny day. Today I did something I have never done before on a foreign trip. I passed up an optional trip in favor of relaxing and doing not much of anything important.

We could have gone to the winelands. Instead, we took a long walk on the promenade, did some sightseeing at the waterfront and relaxed at the hotel pool. Usually I feel I have to see every tour book starred attraction that is within 10 miles of where I find myself, but today I was content with just relaxing.

We started the day with another delicious breakfast where I allowed my DH and me to linger over a third cup of coffee. We were told that we could walk about 45 minutes along the ocean promenade to reach the V and A waterfront, which essentially is a waterfront development, on a grand scale, of stores and restaurants. I was not interested in shopping, but I do enjoy seeing how properties are developed, so seeing this development interested me.

We began walking, and after about 30 minutes we came across 2 couples walking toward us. I asked them how much further it was to the V and A waterfront, and they said it was about another hour and a half. So much for the information we were given. I then asked them if there was public transportation to the mall, and they said that they were going to the waterfront and if we didn't mind squeezing into their car with them , they would take us there. Normally, in the US I would never accept a ride from strangers, but they seemed like nice, well dressed, well spoken people, so we accepted their offer.

We walked a few blocks to their car, a large Mercedes SUV, which we really did not have to squeeze into. On the walk to their car, we learned that they live in Franchenhoek (the wine area). They were very interested in asking us questions about our travels, the US and President Obama, and they gave us some touring tips if we were ever to return to Capetown.

My DH and I spent several hours at the waterfront mall. It was a weekend and there were many people there, so it was great for people watching. In addition, there were several street performers at different venues in the mall. Our favorite was a dixieland jazz band that was excellent. We sat outdoor and listened to them for about 45 minutes.

We also spent some time in the Mandela Museum which is at the landing where the boat leaves to go to Robbin's Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. We could have gotten tickets for the next boat, but decided to pass, as the sea was a little choppy and my DH tends to get sea sick if the water is anything other than calm. The people I spoke to who went to Robbins Island said it was very intersting and they highly recommended the trip. It is recommended that tickets be obtained at least the day before as the boats are frequently sold out days in advance.

After a few hours we had to make a decision as to whether to take a one hour bus ride to the wine country or to return to the hotel and sit outside in the beautiful sunshine. I opted for the latter. We returned to the hotel by public bus (I love trying public transportation whenever I am i a foreign country). It was about a 20 minuted ride at a cost of about 1 US dollar per person. A cab ride would have cost about 10 USD.

The pool at the hotel is a very nice infinity pool with a bar at pooside. I thought it was too cold to swim, but there were a few brave souls who ventured in. I enjoyed sitting in the lounge chair and reading, something I never find the time to do on vacation. Maybe because we had seen so much the day before, I felt it was ok to do this.

We had another great dinner in Seapoint and came back to the room to pack as tomorrow we will be leaving Capetown and flying to Durbin.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 26th, 2009, 12:14 PM
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hi shellyk,

loving your report which is bringing back memories of our trip just over 2 years ago. I realise that we were so lucky to get up Table Mountain the first day we were in Capetown, even though we had problems too - in our case the cable car broke down after about 50 yards, and after a very long 20 minutes or so "hanging about", they took us down and we tried again. we had about two hours at the top and took advantage of the free walking tours that are run at 10 am and 12 noon by volunteers.

I too am very keen on gardens and loved Kirstenbosch, even though we were there in June, which is probably the worst season as very few of the proteas etc. were in bloom. I'd love to go in Spring, like you did.

looking forward to more,

regards, ann
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Nov 28th, 2009, 04:27 PM
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I've never wanted to visit the waterfront before now. Your description makes it sound more interesting than I had imagined.
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Nov 29th, 2009, 09:03 AM
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Waiting to hear more....
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Nov 29th, 2009, 12:35 PM
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ann-The people stuck in the cable car the first day "hung about" for over an hour and were still hanging there when we left. Although we were not happy about wasting time the first day, we were happy to be wasting it on the ground rather than in the air.

Femi-I don not know what the waterfront would be like on a weekday. We were there on a Saturday, in beautiful sunny weather, so there were many tourists and locals out and about. It certainly was a happening place when we were there.

P_M-Here's the continuation of our trip. The flight from Capetown was fast and uneventful. We landed in Durban about lunchtime, but since it was Sunday, most of the stand alone restaurants were closed. So our guide decided to take us to an amusement park on the Durban waterfront, which had several restaurants, including some chain restaurants that we had seen at the Capetown waterfront.

We ate a quick, non memorable lunch, and then strolled around the waterfront promenade and the amusement park. Durban has a very large Indian population, and it was quite interesting to see Indian women strolling around wearing their lovely saris, with their children and husbands in tow. At the waterfront, there was a group of teenagers performing African traditional dances. We stopped to watch them for a while, until it was time to board our bus for a three hour drive to Hluhluwe Umfolozi.

The ride was over good roads and went quicky. We arrived at our hotel, Huluhluwe Hotel and Safaris, just brfore dinner. The hotel is a smallish, low rise hotel, set on lovely grounds (behind a gate and barbed wire), with strolling peacocks and birds in the garden, and beautiful jacaranda trees in bloom. The rooms were average, modern and clean, with a decent size bathroom, TV with English speaking stations, and good bedding.

The included dinner was a buffet, and it was the only bad meal we had on the trip, not because of the quality of the food, but because the food was extremely over salted. The only redeeming part of the meal were five delicious desserts, including yummy malva pudding. I think if the pastry chef had prepared the main courses, the meal might have been edible. So in view of the aformentioned problem with the main courses, I made a meal of the five desserts that were offered-every child's fantacy of a really great meal.

We went to bed early as we had a five o'clock wake up call for the first safari of our trip. We had coffee and biscotti at 5:30 and were picked up for our safari at 5:45. We reached Hluhluwe Reserve at 6 o'clock, just as it opened.

The safari vehicles was open sided, and held eight or ten people at staggered levels. My DH and I sat in the back at the highest level which was great for picture taking. Hluhluwe Reserve is known for rhinos and we saw many, both black and white rhinos, some crossing within a few feet of our vehicle. We also saw many giraffes,buffalos,wildebeests, and two brother lions. I am glad we saw those lions as theywere the only lions we saw for the rest of the trip.

After spending 3 hours in the reserve, we returned to the hotel for breakfast at about 10:30. Breakfast was better than dinner, but just ok. I did not eat too much as we were going to Damazulu Village and we were scheduled to have a buffet lunch there.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 29th, 2009, 12:43 PM
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Thanks for posting more. Sorry about the salty food but when dessert is good, that always makes up for a bad meal.
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Nov 29th, 2009, 02:05 PM
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I am enjoying your trip report. I had planned on taking this same tour this year, but had to cancel. It is on my list for October/ November 2010. Thanks for all the detailed information.
wlbox is offline  
Nov 30th, 2009, 06:06 AM
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A correction-We returned to the hotel for breakfast at 9:30 and left for Damazulu Village at 10:30. Damazulu Village is a recreation of a Zulu village. People were dressed in Zulu clothing, demonstrating traditional crafts. We had a one hour guided tour of the village, which was interesting, although it was very touristy. After the tour, we had an included BBQ buffet luncheon, which was very good-grilled to order chicken and beef, veggies and other sides and three different kinds of very good ice cream for dessert. All in all, a surprisingly good meal.

We returned to the hotel at about 2:30. Some people opted to go out on an afternoon safari. I felt I had seen enough on the morning safari, so I decide to stay at the hotel, relax and wash my hair.

What to do for dinner was a harder decision to make. Should we gamble that the chef would use the salt shaker more sparingly? Or should we look for an alternative.

We walked into Hluhluwe town which was a five minute walk from the hotel. It had limited options-A hamburger joint and a KFC, neither of which appealed to us. There was a large supermarket that we walked into, 10 minutes before closing time. We decided not to gamble on the hotel chef, but to buy several containers of yogurt, some bananas, bread and cookies and have that for dinner. It turns out we made the right decision, as the people who opted to eat in the hotel restaurant said it was no better the second night than it was on the first. And dinner at the hotel came to about 45USD for 2 including tax and tip, but no alcohol.. My advice to those stopping at this hotel is-bring granola bars and or ask the hotel manager if the chef could prepare your meals using no salt.

The next day we had a decent buffet breakfast and left for Swaziland. The drive took about 6 hours with stops to go through immigration, for lunch and to shop. The scenery was pretty, with green rolling hills. The country is mostly agricultural.

We stopped at the Swaziland Candle Factory which makes candles in all colors, shapes, and sizes. We had a demonstration of the candle carving techniques use to fashion the wax into elephants, lions, ect. The quality of the candles was very good, but the prices seemed high for Africa. This place is mentioned in many guidebooks, although I was unimpressed.

We then drove to our hotel, The Lugogo Sun. This hotel is one of three Sun hotels on extensive grounds, including a golf course, and a casino in one of the hotels.

When our group arrived, the front desk informed the guide that there was no record of our groups reservations, and there were not enough rooms at the Lugogo Sun to accomodate all of our group. After much discussion, they found rooms at the other hotels on the grounds. At that point, I was happy to be part of a group. I can't imagine arriving at a hotel at 6 PM, in the middle of no where, and being told that there is no reservation.

Since we had skipped dinner the previous night, we decide to splurge on dinner tonight. The Royal Sun, the hotel with the csino, had a fine dining restaurant which I had read about on Trip Advisor. The buffet came highly reommended, so we made reservations for the "Royal Buffet". We took the hotel shuttle from our hotel to the Royal Sun. It was less than a five minute ride.

The Royal Buffet was fabulous, beter than any high end buffet in Las Vegas. We arrived at 6:30, as the restaurant opened. Because we were the first and only diners at 6:30, we were given a tour of the buffet, and an explanation of how the dishes were prepared, by the executive chef. As time ticked by, the restaurant became a little more crowded, but remained only half filled for most of the evening.

The ambiance in the restuarant was lovely. The dishes were beautifully presented, unique and well prepared. The service was outstanding. It was definitely worth the price, about $75 including tax and tip, excluding alcohol.

There are less expensive options for dinner at the Lugogo Sun, but people who ate at that restaurant reported the food was just passable and the service was bad. Orders were mixed up. Food came out tepid. And no one seemed to be in charge of the restaurant. I'd recommend avoiding it.

We took the shuttle back to the hotel. Tomorrow we head for Kruger NP.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 30th, 2009, 08:32 AM
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I neglected to mention something important about staying at this location. Outside the hotel gate and about a ten minute walk from the hotel is a shoppers paradise for hand crafted items-carved animals, masks, batik prints,etc. It is an outdoor "mall" of about one hundred shops stretching for about half a mile along the roadside. This place had the biggest selection and the lowest prices for the souvenirs we saw during our trip. The only draw back is that the shops close at sunset, as they have no electric lights in them. Another caveat is that the floors of these shops are dirt and can be uneven, so it is necessary to watch your footing while brousing. The people who owned these shops were very friendly, but also sounded a little desperate that we buy from them.. Considering the poverty in Swaziland, this was understandable. And unlike in some other countries we have visited, they were gracious if we chose not to buy from them.
shelleyk is offline  
Nov 30th, 2009, 01:08 PM
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Great, informative report with loads of tips that I will print out to take with me when we go on our tour. I am enjoying reading it and look forward to the next instalment!
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