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Planning Kruger Park/Pezulu Treehouse self drive & guided

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I am planning to take my family of four (2 adults, 2 children over 18) on safari in South Africa. We are true first timers with no safari experience. We are coming from the East Coast of the US. I am shooting for early June or late July, early August of 2016 or most likely 2017. I would like to avoid the SA school holidays if possible. I am on a pretty tight budget, so luxury lodges are not on the agenda. However, I do want to have a varied safari experience - part guided, part tent, part special lodging. Based on my research, here are my thoughts:

Budget : $9400 US
Length: 12 days
Flights: This is half my budget! Fly into Johannesburg and either drive rental car or fly to MQP airport - Hazyview area and get the rental car there. This is flight cost and flight schedule dependent. May spend 1 night in Johannesburg on front end and back end, depends on flight schedules.
Lodging: 7 nights at self catering timeshare apartment in Hazyview (I don't include this in my budget because we trade for it), 1 night mid week in Kruger Park at Tamboti Tent Camp, 2 nights Pezulu Treehouses, 1 or 2 nights in Johannesburg (to be determined).

Plan: Kruger Park - Guided Sunrise Game Drive and a Guided Sunset Game Drive on two different days from the Phabeni Gate mixed in with some self drives of the Southern Kruger area. Mid week we'd self drive safari up to Tamboti Tent Camp for the night and take a morning Guided Bush Walk from Orpen, then self drive safari back to Phabeni Gate & Hazyview. We'd mix in a rest day and a day to do the Panoramic Route. Then we'd move to Pezulu Treehouses for 2 nights to do a Boma dinner, a morning Guided Bush Walk and a Guided Game Drive or two in Thornybush (yes, I know it is a fenced reserve). From here we'd drive or fly back to Johannesburg and depending on flights, spend a night there.

I've budgeted about $5000 for flights, $700 for rental car, $1500 for food and gas, $500 cushion for whatever (entertainment, golf, etc), $700 for lodging (not including timeshare), $650 for guided drives and walks, $350 for Kruger park entry fees. Am I missing anything?

Now, hopefully you South Africa safari experts can help me fine tune my plans. I am open to suggestions!!!

  • Report Abuse

    Wow that's a tight budget! But you can do it, and might be able to squeeze in a better option than Pezulu.

    If you are flying from JFK, the flight to JNB could be closer to $1000 during that season. It's winter, so not high time for S Africans to enjoy the great outdoors. There are a couple of holidays - look them up so you miss them. We were in Kruger during a holiday weekend and it wasn't nearly as bad as we expected. Fly into JNB in the morning (usually through Europe) and you can reach your timeshare before nighttime. Rent the car - an SUV is expensive, but you will appreciate the height when searching for creatures - at JNB and drive. Check online for closest location for a PickNPay or SPAR supermarket. We pack a cooler and check it on the airplane and bring Tupperware for ice and storage. Buying that stuff there is easy and you can leave it at your last location for the staff.

    You didn't budget for Kruger entrance fees. For a WildCard pass, it's R2770 per couple - so you need two, or R264 per person per day. You'll have to figure out what works for you - the current exchange rate is over R12/USD, so it's pretty expensive even with the excellent exchange. You also didn't budget tips, which can add up for rangers and maid service.

    Look for coupons for Avis car rentals or corporate rates if you have access to the codes. Costco and BJs sometimes have good rental rates. International codes are few - search everywhere to find them. Learn how to drive a shift if you don't, but you will be driving on the other side, so it's odd even if you drive a manual every day.

    Does Tamboti have accomodations for four adults? If not, you need two.

    If you golf, golf at Skukuza is a hoot. It's in Kruger and unfenced. They have crappy clubs to rent so you don't have to schlep them from home. I don't golf, but they let me walk the course for free while my husband played.

    I'm hoping you can work it out to stay in one of the less expensive lodges in klasserie, Timbavati or Sabi Sand. Umkumbe, nThambo, Gomo Gomo, nDzuti or Shindzela might work? I know they are more expensive, not high end though, but it is such a great experience! There might be a couple of self-catering lodges that also have game drives - I will look around. I think they are in Klaserie. I can't tell you how much I hope you can stay in one of the unfenced private reserves for a couple of days.

    Have fun planning. You are off to a great start.

  • Report Abuse're right, I forgot about tips. Will add that to the budget. We will be flying from the Washington DC area. I hope to keep flights in the $1000 - $1200 range. Will definitely rent an SUV, and luckily both of us can drive stick.

    I did include $350 for Kruger gate fees. When I ran the numbers, the breakeven point for the Wild Card was 5 (or 6, don't have my notes handy)days in Kruger. When we finalize the schedule I will revisit the Wild Card.

    I need to get the timeshare trade nailed down first. I hear Tamboti books up fast. They have 15 4 person tents. The 4 person ones each have a braai but have to share a communal biggie for me.

    I am going to research some of the reserves you mentioned and see what fits the budget. I did check Timbavati and Sabi Sands a couple of weeks ago. Their lodging was too pricey for me. I don't want to do self catering or camping for those last two nights. I'm trying to work in a tiny sip of champagne on my beer budget by staying someplace unique that includes meals, a boma dinner, guided walks & drives but does not have that high luxury price tag. I'll look at Klaserie.

    Thanks for all your suggestions! Looks like I have some more research to do.

  • Report Abuse

    I also realized that if we do stay at Pezulu Treehouses, it would be better to do the 1 night in Tamboti Tent Camp at the end of the timeshare stay vs in the middle. Then we could explore the area around Tamboti and exit the park through the Orpen gate...much closer to Pezulu or Klaserie.

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    We mix self catering and full service, too. I love to be taken care of for the last few days.

    Check out Gomo Gomo and Shindzela. They are only about $50 more pppn than Pezulu. Hopefully you can stretch the budget a bit so you can visit one of them. Shindzela is tented and rustic and very casual, but full service. It's in Timbavati. We liked it a lot, although it changed hands but still gets nice reviews. Gomo Gomo is on our short list for when I take my grand niece and nephew on safari. It's on a waterhole (so great to watch the creatures come to you between game drives) and I just read an incredible trip report on safari talk - they saw wild dogs, all the cats, rhino babies, really spectacular but not common to see so much in a short time. It's surprisingly affordable.

    You can't book Tamboti until 11 months ahead. If you can't get availability at first, check back constantly and rooms open up during the year.

    You really have done your homework! We rented a Toyota Avanza to save money - it's the same height as an SUV, but not as comfortable. Just putting it out there because it's significantly less $$. Does your medical insurance cover you out of the country? If not, look into medical/evacuation insurance. I use and plug in $0 for the trip cost and it spits out a bunch of options. We got one a few years ago that included car rental insurance - your credit card won't likely cover an SUV. Read the fine print on everything to make sure you have the coverage you want/need. I get $100,000 med/$1,000,000 evac. Pretty cheap without insuring the trip - for two 50 year olds it was about $75. Don't leave home without it.

    Good luck. Have fun planning.

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    Sorry to wait so long to respond. I was out of commission for a few days.

    Your suggestions about Shindzela in Timbavati and Gomo Gomo in Klaserie are great! I ran the numbers and when I add in the extra charges for game walks and drives at Pezulu Treehouses, the costs are very similar. For a 2 night stay it would only be $80 to $200 more total. I am adding these two lodges to my list for sure. Thank you so much!!!

    I always need to double check all the numbers in a Rand to USD converter. Those Rand numbers always look soooo high!

    I think timeshare wise we are looking at Kruger Park Lodge in Hazyview near the Phabeni Gate and Burchell's Bush Lodge right near the Paul Kruger Gate. Burchell's shares amenities with the Protea Hotel Paul Kruger Gate. this might be my first choice.

  • Report Abuse

    I'm so glad I was able to help! You will love either option, but GG might be the better option as it's more luxurious. Shindzela is rustic - but such a great vibe there. You really can go on safari on a budget. Since I can guarantee you will be planning your return before you land at your home airport, accumulate airline miles for next time. It saves us a lot - it's not free, but much less expensive.

    I would choose the timeshare that has the best service - they can help with options for outings besides game drives in Kruger. You might want to go to Blyde River Canyon or something. Just no lion or elephant walks (see below).

    Here is the BEST list ever created of the affordable safari camps around Kruger. The info is from 2010, but the list that pixelpower put together is excellent. The Rand was R10/USD back then, so the rates might be similar now with the better exchange rate. It might give you more options and more info:

    I don't know anything about most of them, just what pixelpower wrote. I miss all those posters. There was so much more feedback then. I really miss SV's passion.

    Enjoy the rest of your planning. So glad you can use a private reserve lodge!!

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