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South Africa Wineland in Winter

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We're planning a two week trip to South Africa over Labor Day weekend (likely the last week of August, first week of September, or the last two weeks of August). We want to go at this time of year for viewing animals at Kruger, but we realize that it will be chilly and possibly rainy around Cape Town. We ideally would like to spend about 6-7 days in Cape Town and the winelands (we'll rent a car). Is this a mistake? Will we be disappointed by the scenery this time of year? We're really into wine, and will be flying from NYC and it's our 5 year wedding anniversary trip (the honeymoon we didn't have time for/couldn't afford then) so we'd really like to see and do everything on our wish list. Because of weather, should we cut down our time in Cape Town and spend it elsewhere?

[Our current plan is to fly direct NYC-JNB and spend about 4 days at Kruger or a private reserve nearby, about 3 days in Cape Town, 3 days in wine country, and 2 days at Victoria Falls. We'll have 14 full days on the ground so this accounts for travel time. It's our first trip to Africa.]

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    It can be chilly and wet then, but also sunny and lovely. Here's a photo I took in the winelands around the first of September a few years ago -

    One thing I'd recommend, which might require a modest alteration to your plans, would be to try to get up the west coast north from Cape Town around an hour to West Coast National Park, where the spring wildflowers will knock your eyeballs out, e.g. and . A route like this might work - . You could spend two nights in the Winelands and one in Paternoster, a lovely little whitewashed-thatched village on the ocean.

    I will just say that we were rather underwhelmed by Victoria Falls at that time of year. The flow of water was quite low as it's the dry season, and to be frank it was something of a one-hour experience, if you get my meaning. Others will disagree, I'm sure.

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    I too, think VF is overrated during dry season. If you go, add time in Chobe so the time/money spent to get there makes more sense.

    It's impossible to figure out perfect timing for the fynbos (the spectacular flowers) but you might be there for it. At least a day trip, even if flowers aren't your thing. S Africa is experiencing a terrible drought so when the rain starts it will be beautiful.

    I'm not a city person, but there's lots to do in Cape Town. Maybe add a day. Being into wine - does that mean you need to visit multiple wineries? S Africa is very proud of their wines and the wine lists at most restaurants and game lodges are excellent. For me, three nights is too much.

    If you want to visit two lodges, I would increase the time in/near Kruger. Two nights at two will make you feel rushed. Look into &Beyond lodges for their long stay specials - maybe Ngala Tented (not Ngala Lodge) in Timbavati and Kirkmans in Sabi Sand have availability. Availability might be your limiting factor here. Safari lodges sell out early. There are lodges in every price range, so don't just look at the very expensive ones. You'd be surprised how nice the lower priced ones are. Wildlife doesn't know how much we spend to visit them either.

    If you like to hike, check out Africa on Foot - daily bush walks (good ones) and a game drive. It's thrilling to see wildlife while walking. It's so different than the normal game drives. Also look into nDzuti - it's only got four chalets, so the experience is intimate. The owners/managers are minor local celebrities for their conservation work. It might not be super luxury, but the wildlife is the priority. Senalala is newish and gets good reviews. There are many really good ones that aren't super expensive.

    I would combine a lodge in either Timbavati or Klaserie with a lodge in Sabi Sand. Again, availability will be limited.

    You can also stay in the surprisingly nice Kruger Park accommodations and drive yourself around. I still can't believe they let us do that with elephants and lions (and so much more). It's so fun. Great for a few days combined with a private reserve lodge.

    Don't worry too much about the weather. I was in Cape Town around the same time and it was gorgeous every day. It rained as we were leaving, but cleared up next day. CT is a lovely city with tons to do. Don't miss Table Mtn which you can hike up, the Cape of Good Hope, the penguins and seal rock, Robben Island. We used the HopOn HopOff bus for the city and hired a driver for the Cape of Good Hope/penguins day. At the time, we weren't comfortable driving on the left (we do it all the time now). The legal alcohol limit is almost zero, so be very careful when visiting the winelands.

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    Oops. Forgot the map of all of the lodges near Kruger:

    Senalala is missing. It's in Klaserie. I don't recommend the lodges in Thornybush or across main roads as they are fenced off from Kruger. In Sabi Sand, the lodges east and south are nice - closer to Kruger, farther from "civilization". Water is always good to attract wildlife.

    Have fun.

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    This is some great info, thank you both! I hadn't considered this being a bad time to visit VF. As I initially said, we were planning on spending 2 days there, but we thought we'd do a day trip to Chobe for one of those days (I read that's a pretty popular day trip that people do and the tour companies arrange it all for you, etc.). Should we do more than a day trip at Chobe? I hate to move hotels every day, which is why the day trip initially sounded best for us.

    I'll definitely check into the lodge suggestions and also going to Paternoster - that wasn't on our radar at all so thank you for the rec! We do plan on visiting multiple wineries, but maybe 3 days IS too much and I do think we'll look into getting out to the west coast and Paternoster.

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    I would actually do it the other way - do day trips from Chobe to VF. The wildlife is most active early and late and you miss them doing a mid day outing. VF looks pretty much the same all day. Two nights in Chobe with a day trip to VF. (Or skip it). In addition to August/September being low flow time, the horrible drought they are experiencing makes it even lower this year.

    Another really fun option instead of VF is KwaZulu Natal. It's my favorite province of S Africa - more S African feel than others. St Lucia on the edge of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is possibly the most fun town anywhere. Every water activity, horseback riding with impala and wildebeest or on the beach, kayak with hippos (crazy but so fun!), beach, scuba/snorkel. So much. The drive to Cape Vidal might be the most beautiful drive we've ever taken, plus gorgeous wildlife at every turn. See for most of the fun stuff to do. I absolutely love KZN.

    I'd try 5 nts CT, 3 nts St Lucia, 6 nts Kruger (adjust as wanted). Fly CPT to Durban, Richards Bay or Durban to Kruger. Easy. Three very different areas of S Africa, all beautiful. IMO, perfect.

    You'll be back - Southern Africa gets into our souls. When you visit again, see VF when it's higher flow.

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    Of course this is your trip, so this is only personal opinion, but we did something similar some years ago - a couple of days at Chobe, a couple at Victoria Falls... and if I were to do it again, frankly I'd skip both.

    It comes down to a question of alternative ways to spend the same days. Chobe is fine, and you'll see a huge number of elephants, but compared to the experience in the greater Kruger area, in retrospect I think Chobe compared unfavorably.

    I don't know if your air arrangements are already made to Victoria Falls, but I'll just throw out an opinion that if they're not, don't. Use those days and the budget to spend either more time around Kruger or more time in the Western Cape. This is NOT to disparage Botswana or Zimbabwe or Chobe or Victoria Falls, but instead to increase your enjoyment of South Africa given your limited time. If you had an extra week or two, I'd say great, go to Chobe, or maybe head over to KZN, or down to Addo or the Garden Route. But you don't.

    Just as a "for instance," you could visit the Panorama Route before or after Kruger/Sabi Sand/et al. Towns like Graskop or Pilgrim's Rest are located a short distance from some of the most dramatic scenery in South Africa, where the Blyde River carves an impressive canyon through the red rocks, or where sheer cliffs overlook the land below. Did you ever see the film The Gods Must Be Crazy?" The "toss the bottle" scene was at God's Window, around 90 min. from one of the gates into the Sabi Sand reserve. Just up the road are the Three Rondavels, remarkable barrel-shaped hills looming over the canyon below. And more. Frankly, and this may be heresy, I thought the scenery on the Panorama route was every bit as great as Victoria Falls.

    Stay at the cute and affordable Graskop Hotel, have pancakes next door at Harrie's... it's a blast and drop-dead easy to combine with game viewing just a little to the east.

    Just an example, but I thought I'd throw it out there for your consideration.

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