South Africa with active teenagers

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Jan 24th, 2012, 01:33 PM
  #1
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South Africa with active teenagers

I'm planning a trip for our family of five to visit South Africa late June/early July two weeks. The kids will be 19, 16 and 13. We all like an active vacation (hiking, biking, kayaking, etc.) and to have authentic cultural experiences. I'm thinking that we should start in Capetown for 4 nights. Weather permitting we can hike Table mountain, maybe kayak with some penguins, do a township tour, etc. We also want to include safari in the trip. As I put together the itinerary and do research I have the following questions:

1. It has been suggested that after Cape Town we spend 3 nights at Grootbos Nature reserve. I'm concerned that it may feel a bit resort like. We like beauty and comfort but I worry that it may feel too structured and touristy. Another suggestion In the area is Farm 215. Is this area worth 3 days? My youngest loves whales - but we are lucky to live in New England and have done lots of whale watching. That being said, we haven't seen southern right whales....

2. Does is make sense to split our time between 2 safari locations? I'm thinking about Phinda and Sabi Sands. Is it worth the effort and money to do 3 nights at each? Are they different enough? I do have some concern that my family will get somewhat restless being confined to jeeps for many days at a time. I've been looking into Kirkmans and Phinda Mountain as well as Londolozi Founders Camp.

3. The panorama route also looks amazing. Given the time of year are we better off spending a day or two there rather than Groobos? Or do Groobos, Panorama and Sabi Sands.

I'm overwhelmed by all of the amazing choices that we have. As always I look forward to Fodorite feedback! Thanks.
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Jan 24th, 2012, 06:36 PM
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It sounds like a decent plan so far. I have been everywhere you mentioned on this email including most of the lodges in the Sabi Sands, Phinda, Cape Town and Hermanus. I have been to South Africa 29 times and took my wife and kids this past summer. My daughters were 13 & 16 when we went last summer. We stayed in Cape Town for eight days after an eight day safari in Zimbabwe and did not run out of things to do. We did a day trip to Hermanus but lost track of time visiting relatives and did not go see the whales.

Grootbos is not resort like at all. It is very authentic as a nature reserve and eco-location. Not sure how to exactly bucket it. But, perhaps. Maybe two nights is fine. Perhaps do two nights there and four nights or more in Cape Town. I have stayed at many hotels in Cape Town. For moderate price you might want to consider the four bedroom home called Redcliff at More Quarters. It is a home but has full hotel services like breakfast in the main hotel area and maid service. There are many good restaurants in easy walking distance like D’Vincis and Saigon. The house is stay4pay3 in June-August 2012.

Phinda is great for families. With the age of your kids you could even consider Vlei or Forrest but you might want the 13 year old in your room if you do that. I would not spend three days there as they have stay4pay3 for all of 2012 so a fourth night is 100% free. Phinda rates vary wildly throughout the year. I think June 20 onward is medium rates. To solve your concern about “too much safari” perhaps spend the 2nd or 3rd full day NOT on safari doing one of the many optional activities. The lodge is actually very close to the ocean. Optional activities: http://www.andbeyondafrica.com/luxur...nal_activities

I always tell people on these forums if they only do one safari in South Africa then go to the Sabi Sands for 3-4 nights. I also always say that the best compliment to Sabi Sands still within South Africa is Phinda or Pafuri. Phinda is actually the best rhino and cheetah habitat in my opinion and experience. I once say 31 rhino and five separate cheetah sightings in one game drive. Pafuri is in the far north of the Kruger almost 150 miles from the Sabi Sands. The cheapest way to get to Phinda is to fly in and out of Richards Bay/RCB from Jo’burg on SAA and road transfer one hour to the reserve. Other than Phinda or Pafuri, perhaps consider Mashatu in Botswana. This is a great compliment with the Sabi Sands and very inexpensive relative to all other choices.

In the Sabi Sands, Kirkman’s is a great option but perhaps consider Lion Sands or Tinga as next door neighbors. All three have stay4pay3 so I would not stay 3 nights. Londolozi is good for kids and so is MalaMala.

It is cheapest for logistics and perhaps best given your concern for too much safari to split the safaris with Cape Town/Hermanus. Breaking up the two safaris with the city is a good mix in my experience. The "shuttle" from the Sabi Sands to Phinda on FEDAIR is over $1,000 per person.

Idea:
Day 1. Land JNB. Overnight or land in the AM before 10 and go on safari same day.
Day 2-5. Fly to RCB. Road transfer one hour to Phinda stay4pay3.
Day 6. Road transfer to RCB. RCB-JNB-CPT flight.
Day 6-11. Cape Town and Hermanus.
Day 12. Fly CPT-MQP. Road transfer 2.5 hours to Sabi Sands.
Day 12-15. Safari in Sabi Sands.
Day 16. Fly home!

Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond
2011 Travel & Leisure A-List Agent for Botswana and Zimbabwe
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Jan 25th, 2012, 05:30 AM
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Craig - good plan to save that FedAir flight! Yikes!

Good suggestions from Craig. My favorite reserve is Mashatu and we had a great time there. But combine with the Kruger area camps for rhino. I have not been to Phinda, but have been to other reserves in the area. It's much different than Sabi Sand.

If your kids love action, Cape Town has sand surfing. I'd love to try it.
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Jan 25th, 2012, 07:46 AM
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Thank you both so much for your replies. If I book at Kirkmans and Phinda , &Beyond offers a shuttle between the two that would be $675 pp. It's a lot but if we follow your suggestion and include Cape Town in the middle, we would have 5 flights and more transfers. I just wonder if the cost winds up being comparable.

Either way, it sounds like its worth doing both Sabi Sands and Phinda. What about the panorama route.? Does it make sense to try to squeeze in a day for that and take away a Grotboos day? Some on this site say that it's not worth it if you've been to the Rocky Mountains (we have), but it looks pretty spectacular in the photos.

I will investigate further all of your suggestions. My 12 year old just saw the reference to sand surfing and is very intrigued! Cape Town seems to offer so much I feel like we could easily spend a week there. I do worry a bit about the weather there, though.

Thanks again.
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Jan 25th, 2012, 06:05 PM
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What is your draw to Grootbos? I'd skip it and add another day in CT, the Panorama Rte and safari. You can whale watch from CT. You can't change the weather, so just make your plans adjustable.

I know your kids are probably not very interested, but I would take the time to do Robben Island. My nephew was very sullen about "having" to do it - he still thinks it's one of the best things we did. He feels a kind of "connection" somehow. The hop-on/hop-off bus was a fun overview and we could visit places that just looked interesting. For five of you getting a car/driver might make more sense for a tour.
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Jan 26th, 2012, 06:09 AM
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Thanks, Christabir. We are looking at Grootbos because we want a place to do some hiking and see some other scenery. It has been recommended to us -- but it has been a question mark and your feedback is valuable. I've been struggling to find some good hiking other than in The Cape town area. I suppose that supports your suggestion that we add to CT.

The Panorama route looks beautiful but there seems to be little hiking available that is shorter than a few days. I'd love advice on the area if you have it. My family needs a lot of activity and I worry that 6 days of safari will be too sedentary for them - I need to work them out during he first half! ( they're exhausting).

We will definitely go to Robben Island. The kids are very politically aware and while they don't like museums I think they'll appreciate that trip. We are also on the look out for authentic cultural experiences if anyone has a suggestion I'd appreciate it. I've read about a jazz tour in Cape Town that sounds pretty good.

Thank you.
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Jan 27th, 2012, 09:18 PM
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Do some research before heading to Robben Island. The tours are getting getting scathing reviews at the moment - packed buses, can't hear the tour guides, not being allowed out of the buses on any section of the bus tour, rushed through the jail...

We have been living in Cape Town for the past six months and have had a steady stream of Canadian visitors, all of whom we have sent to Robben Island. The comments have not been favourable, and two of the five groups said they wished they hadn't gone - it wasn't worth the money. They were very frustrated by the whole experience. Honestly, I was shocked. I have been twice - but several years ago - and, each time, it was a wonderful experience.

To me, Robben Island is such an important historical site, and no visit to CT would be complete without visiting the island. However, as a result of my guests' comments, I did some research, and was surprised by the negative criticism I found. I will continue to suggest Robben Island to guests - how can I not? - but I will at least warn them about recent feedback. Unless things improve drastically, be prepared for a far from positive experience.

The 2010 Frommer's says, "Unfortunately, the tour of the island itself is underwhelming; passengers are packed liked sardines in a bus, and chances are, you'll be on the receiving end of fairly neglectful, unexciting narrative that hardly welcomes any sort of interaction....mercifully, at one point you're let off the bus to admire the view of Cape Town across the water..." (This stop to admire the view has ended - the buses no longer stop anywhere). The 2010 Fodor's simply states what the tour involves, but does not offer much in the way of a review.

Such a sad state of affairs! Nelson Mandela would be horrified! CR
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Jan 28th, 2012, 07:03 PM
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Thank you, Canadian Robin! We hate to feel like we are on tours and that sounds awful. I think we'll look elsewhere for a bit of history unless we hear things have changed. Maybe Winter will be less crowded?
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Jan 28th, 2012, 07:18 PM
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CR - do past prisoners still do the tour? Ours in 2006 was great (he made me cry real tears!) and we never felt rushed or packed into a bus. It's changed that much? I'd still do it.
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Jan 28th, 2012, 08:44 PM
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As of April 2011 when we went, former prisioners were still giving the tour. Ours was really excellent and I am sorry to read some people have had negative experiences. Our guide was a natural storyteller and very engaging. At the beginning of the tour, he went around the bus and asked everyone where they were from. Throughout the tour, he found ways to relate a part of the history of Robben Island to every represented country. He even remembered who was who. I think a lot depends on the guide, my partner had been before and he said our guide was better than the first he had. We went out on the first tour of the day, I don't know if that makes any difference.

We were still able to get off the bus at the view point mentioned above so that seems to have changed since I have been there. I never felt rushed either, though since we are wanderers, I would have liked to explore more for a couple hours on foot to walk around the island by ourselves, but it is not setup like that.

All things considered, if you are interested in South African history, I think this shouldn't be missed. Have a great trip whatever you decide.
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Jan 29th, 2012, 03:22 AM
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The prison part of the tours is still being led by ex-political prisoners. The guards are no longer involved. I gather that the guides are as fabulous as ever, but they are totally overwhelmed and not able to handle the large groups. Their priority seems to have become to keep their group on schedule, so they are rushing through the prison. The commentary they give as they move through the prison is often finished before most of the group has shown up, so people miss out on what is being said. When one of Robert's grad students tried to ask questions, the guide apologized and basically told her that they had to keep moving. The student had looked forward to the tour for such a long time, and it was to be a highlight of her visit to CT. When I picked her up at the V&A, she was so frustrated and disappointed that she was almost in tears. I felt very badly for her. She wished she hadn't gone and it wasn't a money issue - it was simply a very poor tour. Another comment I received was that the jail is now devoid of any artifacts, with the exception of Mandela's cell, so what visitors see are basically empty rooms. There are wonderful and moving photos and stories of men who occupied the various cells but, when two of our guests tried to stop and read them, they were told by the guide of the group behind them that they needed to keep up with their group.

All of our guests thus far have been visiting during CT's peak season - perhaps this is why it has been so crowded and rushed. We can only hope it will improve.

Honestly, if I were coming to CT for the first time, I would likely visit Robben Island despite the poor reviews. I don't think I could stand to miss it. Those running the tours are at the receiving end of a lot of poor publicity at the moment, so maybe things will improve. I am not optimistic, however, given that the research for the scathing review in the 2010 Frommer's probably took place in 2008 or 2009. This is not a new problem! CR
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Jan 29th, 2012, 04:43 PM
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Thank you for your input on Robben Island. I'll keep an open mind about it, I promise. I would love some feedback on my itinerary.
4 nights Capetown
2 nights around Hermanus - Grootbos or Farm 215 have been recommended
1 night back in CT before early flight to Kruger
2 nights panorama route -- Hazy View?
4 nights Sabi Sands

Again, we are hoping to find some hiking around Hermanus and Hazy View.
I'd love suggestions on where to stay for a family of 5 and would so appreciate it if anyone has hiking suggestions for day hikes. We'll definitely do Table Mountain, weather permitting. Are we missing out by not including Garden Route? Thanks!
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Jan 29th, 2012, 10:20 PM
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Our favourite hike in CT is Lion's Head - you spiral your way up and, as you go around the peak, you enjoy stunning views of Robben Island, Table Bay, the city bowl, Table Mtn and the Cape Peninsula - it is a fabulous hike. The very top requires a bit of scrambling with chains (the teenagers will love it!), but the remainder is a relatively easy walk. There is a sitting area for the height challenged (me!) to wait while the rest of their party climbs the final bit to the top! You can be up and down easily in 3 hours, but pack some food and take your time.

Personally, I would not hike up Table Mtn. Many of the hikes do not offer much in the way of a view - it is more about the experience and being able to say that you climbed Table Mtn. I would ride the cable car up - the views from the car and at the top are lovely, and there are paths leading to some wonderful viewpoints.

For active teenagers, you may wish to have them do some surfing (depending on where you are from). One of the best places is Muizenberg Beach (good waves for beginners), about 30 min south of Cape Town (on the way to Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope). Gary's Surf school is a great place. The lessons are cheap, and a wet suit and the use of the board for the rest of the day after the two-hour lesson is over is included in the price.

http://www.garysurf.com/

After surfing, you could continue south to the Cape of Good Hope and do the hike between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope - about 30 to 45 min one way - more of a walk than a hike. At the Cape Point end, there are stairs down to Diaz Beach (the gorgeous beach that you see from the lighthouse at Cape Point), a lovely spot to sit and enjoy lunch (but not safe for swimming).

Looking at your itinerary - if it were me, I would devote more of your time to the safari. I would actually give up a night in Hermanus and on the Panorama Route (both of which we have done) to spend more time on safari - actually, I would give them up altogether, and just do CT and the safari. To me, Africa is about the wildlife, but that is just my preference. We like to spend about 10 days on safari. I would be inclined to go back to your original plan of two safari locations - 3 or 4 nights at each (watch for those pay for 3, stay for 4 deals - they are very popular in SA). You could self-drive in Kruger before Sabi Sands (I have not been to SS) - that would give you lots of flexibility, which would work well for a young family.

http://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/

CR
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Jan 30th, 2012, 10:40 AM
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Thanks, CR. If I were planning the trip with my interests in mind only, I'd do all Cape Town and safari. I think I could do a month on safari and never get bored. The rest of my family likes a lot of physical activity. I'm telling you, I always feel like I need a vacation when we get home from vacation. They like to hike everything in site, the bigger the better. My husbands the craziest of all! For me, I'm happy to hear about the resting place on Lions Head. So I'm worried that they'll get antsy with too many days on safari sitting in a jeep. If we could do more walking safari than an hour it would be great.

That being said, I guess I'm still not getting what is really gained by moving between camps. Are the wildlife experiences that different? Enough to merit packing up and flying elsewhere? I get how different it would be in Botswana on the Delta or in Tanzania but I'm not convinced the extra cost and hassle make sense if its within SS. I've been thinking about this a lot. When I look at the pictures at Phinda and Sabi Sand they don't look all that different in terms of wildlife and landscape. I'm happy to be convinced otherwise -- I don't want to make a mistake!! Thanks!
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Jan 30th, 2012, 11:05 PM
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About hiking near Grootbos, you could go to Cape Agulhas NP there are several hiking trails. Make sure you take the coastal route from Cape Town.
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Jan 31st, 2012, 07:10 AM
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I had posted the same as braai on another thread:

http://www.sanparks.org/parks/agulhas/all.php

They have accommodations for families. I'm a big fan of Sanparks. The cabins are quite a value and can sleep your whole family.
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Jan 31st, 2012, 07:17 AM
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I am not able to comment on Sabi Sands and/or Phinda because I haven't been to either. Generally, the reason for splitting your time between camps is that, assuming you select camps that are in very different habitats, you will see different animals and birds. Also, staying at more than one camp gives you the opportunity to work with different guides - something we always enjoy.

You keep mentioning that you have a very active family - have you considered self-driving and staying at tented camps? I will provide the link to photos and a report of a trip that we did this past August. We drove ourselves in rented 4x4s and stayed in tented camps - some self-catering (in the national park) and some all inclusive . The trip combined a safari in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa with a visit to the dunes of Namibia. Perhaps your teenagers would enjoy hiking the dunes?

Just another idea to consider! CR

http://bert-and-bin.smugmug.com/Trav...9180243_8Kkvjg
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