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South Africa safari, Cape town self drive trip plan- many questions

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We are planning a trip to South Africa in early Nov and have decided to focus on a safari (Kruger/Sabi Sand or ?) and Capetown. We have 16 days.
We originally thought of
2 days in Johannesburg
2 days driving to Kruger with stops at Hazyview or ?
5 days in park then drive back to JB and fly to Cape town.
Considered the Garden Drive – but read some reviews and will pass on it.
Do wine area and Cape Town.

But now after reading Fodorite comments and wanting to use our time most efficiently we now plan (subject to fine tuning after I receive your welcomed comments):

Once we arrive JNB, fly out to the park –(Hoedspruit) and rent a car. Drive to a lodge (ideally 2 stays of 3 days each –maybe north in Kruger, then to Sabi Sands) - recommendations?
We thought that by having a car (and also participating in safari drives provided by lodges) we could venture out on our own a bit and drive to the scenic areas near Hazyview for a day. – is this reasonable?

Then fly out to Cape town (maybe from Nelspruit?) – do the car rental companies charge a drop off fee?
Once in Cape town we would rent a car and head to wine area for 2 nights then drive west for maybe 1-2 nights then back to Cape town to explore the city and sights for 4 or 5 nights.

I usually book trips myself but this time I think I will call an agency to assist with reservations as I see the lodges do fill up quickly and also (I hope) an agency can negotiate better rates. --any recommendations?

We have enough flexibility with days to make some small additions to this trip.

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    Howzit Heath,
    I like both your original and amended itineraries :-)
    Being a committed Capetonian, it's taken a while but I've become a bit of a fan of Johannesburg, and subsequently I always try to squeeze in a day or two into our client's itineraries. There's a great walking tour of the inner city, focusing on the wonderful mining history and including a gin & tonic in the colonial Rand Club. There's also a great day tour visiting some iconic sights in Soweto (including Nelson Mandela's house) as well as the Apartheid Museum (everyone should visit here...the world always knew that apartheid was bad, but did we ever really know what it was all about?).
    Alas, I'll now get off my soap box about poor ol' Jo'burg always being left out of traveler's itineraries.

    In short:
    GREATER KRUGER - our two most popular lodges in the Greater Kruger are both located in the wonderful Klaserie Private Nature Reserve: safari legends Bruce and Judy Messer's n'Dzuti Safari Camp, and Senalala Luxury Safari Camp, managed by the wonderful Corlia and James Steyn. These two camps are close to Hoedpsruit, where our clients also often visit Nyani Cultural Village, which offers an informative, fun (and not cheesy or condescending) and interactive performance and village visit.

    CAR HIRE - we always use the services of Around About Cars for our hiring of vehicles, who in turn have negotiated great rates with most of the major national franchises. They would therefore be able to book a car with a company that allows a Hoedspruit collection and Nelspruit drop-off (with a one-way fee).if you are only going to visit the private reserves (i.e. "Greater Kruger") however, then I wouldn't bother with the car hire. The lodges can organize all of your transport between airports and lodges, or we use the services of a local transfer company called Sable Tours.

    FLIGHTS - SA Airlink offers direct flights between Hoedpsruit - Cape Town (daily except Saturday), Nelspruit - Cape Town (daily) and Skukuza - Cape Town (daily).

    WINELANDS - this is a recent thread that might interest you:

    Happy planning.
    Darren Humphrys/Compass Odyssey

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    Hi Heath!

    Unless you really enjoy sitting in a car for very long periods of time, I think you should consider flying JNB to HDS or SKU then onward to Cape Town then back to JNB. I would much rather be in the bush or in Cape Town than in the car, even if it meant I had to adjust my lodging to accommodate the cost of flights. Is flying absolutely out of the question? What kind of budget do you have to work with?

    Africa Direct USA

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    Thanks for the comments.
    We are now planning:
    2 nights in Joburg, fly to Kruger (which airport depends to where I can secure a reservation), 6 nights in 2 locations in Kruger/ Sabi Sand.
    Question: trying to decide if we should rent a car from the airport to give us some freedom to explore the park a bit on our own, and to travel to and from airport(s) and from 1 lodge to the other. I think we may fly into HDS and out from SKU to Cape town.
    Budget is flexible although shying away from higher end lodges.
    Would appreciate hotel recommendation in JB that is convenient for our short stay to visit museum and do a tour of Soweto.

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    Howzit again Heath,
    Some of the "Greater Kruger" private reserves/lodges are easily accessible and some aren't, and some reserves/lodges are close to one of the Kruger National Park gates, and some aren't. It's worth considering this if you intend to self-drive yourself may end up doing a lot of back-tracking, you may also end up paying for a hire car that isn't being used every day (e.g. at a private lodge).
    I do understand your desire to mix'n'match your stay by doing some private exploration in addition to organised game drives at a private lodge...I'd be the same.
    My suggestion, for what it's into Hoedspruit and overnight at Amafu Forest Lodge to enable a day's exploration around Hoedspruit (Endangered Species Centre; Moholoholo Wildlife Rescue Centre; Nyani Cultural Village), then stay a few nights in Klaserie or Thornybush private reserves (I mentioned my two recommendations in my first post) followed by some wonderful self-drive game viewing in Kruger National Park, entering through Orpen Gate and either 1. dropping off at Skukuza Airport; or 2. exiting at Paul Kruger Gate (Numbi Gate isn't a great option at the moment due to major roadworks on the R538 highway) on your way to dropping off your hire car at Nelspruit-KMIA...for a direct flight to Cape Town.
    In Jo'burg we always book our travelers into Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse or Rutland House, both located in Craighall Park. You don't need to be so close to the Apartheid Museum/Soweto, as a guided day tour will collect you and drop you off...depending on traffic it's a 25- to 40-minute drive from Craighall Park to the museum, which in turn is a 10-minute drive from the majority of sights in Soweto.
    Your fellow traveler,

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    With 16 days, I would do it differently. There's really not a lot in Joburg - I would not use my short time with 2 nights there. I like to safari last as I think it's the best part, so do Cape Town first. And 3-4 nights is plenty. It's a beautiful city with lots to do, but nowhere else can you see lions and elephants. All of the lodges and restaurants have excellent S African wines, and any good liquor store in the U.S. can order S African wines for you, so I'm not such a big fan of spending more than a day trip to the winelands. We like to mix private lodges with in Kruger camps to make things affordable and we love to drive around Kruger from sun up to sun down. But there are logistic issues - cooler, food, ice, drinks, utensils - that are difficult with limited time and flying.

    Fly to Cape Town, three-four nights
    Fly to Kruger area (depends on lodge), rent car, three nights Sabi Sands or Timbavati - I always suggest Shindzela, Arathusa, Cheetah Plains, Gomo Gome, nDzuti, Africa on Foot (and sister camps) for affordable, good value accommodations
    Drive north to Pafuri rest camp (or other camp in northern Kruger) if you choose to provide own food/drink/etc or The Outpost for full service - two-three nights
    Drive west to Tuli Circle in SE Botswana - choose a full service lodge or a self catering if you choose to provide own food/drink/etc, three nights
    Drive Joburg - visit Apartheid Museum, Cradle of Humankind, Soweto in time allowed (I'd stay near airport, I like the Sun International - sign up for their specials on website for really great rates!)
    Fly home

    Wild Wings and Sun Safaris are two agents in SA that are recommended. They can arrange everything. I use Avis for car hire - they don't charge a drop off fee and insurance is included in rates (but I add car rental insurance in my medical/evac insurance - most health insurance does not cover you outside the US). It's inexpensive. There is not a lot of opportunity to leave a lodge after am game drive - around 10am - and drive on mostly terrible roads to Kruger, drive around and get back for the afternoon game drive - around 4pm. It's just not enough time for very little reward. If you stay at a camp with a waterhole (Arathusa, Gomo Gomo, Shindzela) the animals visit during the day - no need to go anywhere as they come to you! Sometimes elephants visit the pool, too. In Nov, you will enjoy the pool, it can be HOT!

    I will reply with Tuli Circle lodges. We LOVED Mashatu Tented camp, so if it fits your budget, highly recommended, but there are others. If that's not a place you would be interested in, Wildside Camp in Entabeni just north of Joburg might fit better for you. Lots of fun there - especially if you enjoy golf and safari! We actually went there for the golf and ended up having lots of fun and much better wildlife viewing than expected.

    Have fun planning. Just remember that just about all of us thought we'd go to SA once - you'll be back! Don't try to do too much. I like three night minimums with only one or two long days of driving (except in Kruger). It gives us time to settle in and really enjoy each location. No matter what you decide, SA is special so you will love whatever you do!

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    If you choose to include the Tuli Circle/Mashatu option, I would do it first, then Pafuri/Outpost, then Sabi Sand/Timbavati - drop off car in Kruger airport. Cars are MUCH more plentiful in Joburg so you will have better availability, especially if you need an SUV. I highly recommend a high clearance vehicle, though you probably don't need to spend a lot on a 4x4. Are you comfortable driving a manual transmission on the "other" (unless you are from Australia or the UK) side of the car on the "other" side of the road? If not, renting a vehicle in the Kruger area gets even more difficult.

    For self-catering accommodations in Tuli Circle:

    The website is excellent, with some great info. Of course, also check out Mashatu.

    For a very interesting stay near Mapungubwe NP for more beautiful scenery and San Art! just on the SA side of Tuli, check out Mopane Bush Lodge or the rest camps in Mapungubwe.

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    Thanks for all your suggestions - appreciated! I have incorporated some recommendations into our plans.
    Since this is our 1st visit we want to stay a bit focused (heard many good things about Mashatu and Botswana but will save this for next time). Also we decided to do Kruger before CT as we assumed the weather will be getting warmer in Kruger during Nov.
    Revised plan: 1 night JB and do a tour, rent a vehicle in JB for better selection and then drive to Amafu (or nearby), then 3 nights in Senalala and 3 nights in Aruthusa.
    Then a partial day doing self drive in park and staying outside park-maybe Kruger Gate or Hazyview. Trying to figure out which airport is best for vehicle drop -Skukuza or Nelspruit -if there is any advantage.
    Questions: do you pay a fee every time you enter the park or is there a week pass? To leave Aruthusa to do a self drive do you leave the park and re-enter through Orpen Gate. Is a self drive from Orpen-Satara-Skukuza-Kruger Gate too long? (I will look at some other drives - maybe shorter ones as we really will not have a full day unless we leave the Lodge early in the morning and miss out on activities there)
    I think the CT / winelands part of the trip will be much easier to plan.

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