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South Africa at end November and beginning of December

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  • yorkshireRich

    I booked a return to Johannesburg the other day for myself and the wife on a 2-4-1 and looking at some advice really for our trip. I will look at TA and other sites but I know people are on here are extremely well travelled so some pointers would be greatly appreciated.

    We have just over 2 weeks in total and so far We are thinking so far on the lines of stay one night in the intercontinental on points at the airport. Do a day tour of Johannesburg. Fly to Kruger national park. We are then looking at possibly Victoria falls but not 100% sure yet. We would then fly to either port Elizabeth or Cape Town and stay around there for 1 week before flying back upto Johannesburg for the flight home.

    Thanks in advance

    AJA

    Is this a first time visit?

    I think there are nicer hotels in Sandton rather than staying at the airport.

    I would consider hiring a car in Johannesburg and driving to and from the Kruger National Park. It won’t actually be that much longer than flying when you factor in the time needed to check in before the flight and then the journey from Kruger Mpumalanga airport (the closest airport) to the park. Plus you can then drive around the park itself.

    Victoria Falls is a good shout. As for Cape Town vs Pirt Elizabeth I’d go for the former, there’s more to see and do.

    JenT

    Definitely second driving to Kruger rather than flying. It’s an easy trip in the daytime and will give you a lot more flexibility while you are there. There are plenty of private game reserves but we had one of our best experiences by going on one of the National Park’s own walking safaris. Not luxurious, but a wonderful authentic experience with just as much wildlife and a fraction of the price.

    Port Elizabeth for a week is a long time in my opinion – unless you are planning on driving the Garden Route and coming back from Cape Town. Good private game reserves near Port Elizabeth but unlikely you’ll want more of that if you have just come from Kruger.

    Cape Town and the nearby winelands are a good option for a week – again, get a car. We really like Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle… It’s by far the cheapest of the Virgin Limited Collection if you want to say you’ve been to one! For drinking, base yourself in Franschoek as the wine tram tours mean no one needs to drive.

    yorkshireRich

    Thanks for the replies, it gives me a good base to start with.

    Sorry about my typo, what I meant was that I will either fly to Cape Town or port Elizabeth after I’ve been to kruger.
    I will definitely go to Cape Town and quite probably hire a car and drive the garden route. Whether that will be from port Elizabeth or if I will just keep Cape Town as my base is yet to be decided.

    WaynedP

    Good time of year, fine weather and avoiding school holidays when everyone inland decamps to the coast.

    Good advice to stay in Sandton hotel rather than JHB International area which is quite grim and industrial. Plenty of Protea hotels which are part of Marriott if you have status. We had a lovely one night stay in May in Protea Wanderers overlooking the famous cricket ground complex and with a sports theme with plenty of interesting coffee table books in the lobby/lounge. Nice little room upgrade as Gold members but best thing was early checkin around 11am, all we did was ask politely. Nice location, ample secure parking, great al fresco breakfast, very civilised and good value for money. We did also consider the nearby Sandton Hilton as an alternative, seemed to offer nice rooms also in a good location for very similar money, but we used the trip to earn Platinum Elite status with Marriott.

    Johannesburg is one big mine dump containing the country’s financial services heart and surrounded by low-to-no income townships, like Soweto which famously boasts Nelson Mandela’s House. I can only imagine the latter being potentially interesting to foreign tourists. For the rest, there’s a good reason why everyone who lives in JHB flees JHB to seek recreation anywhere other than JHB if they can possibly help it.

    If you want to stick around, you’re better off visiting nearby Pretoria, but I only use JHB as a first night regroup to hit the road to Kruger National Park (KNP) straight after breakfast around 09:30 once the rush hour traffic has died down.

    Road to KNP (N4 national highway) is fairly good, especially if you’re entering the park from one of the southern gates like Malelane or even Crocodile Bridge which minimises time on the regional R roads to just a few miles. Entering through any of the other gates on the western side like Numbi, Paul Kruger, Orpen or even further north requires considerable more driving on regional R roads which are often heavily pot holed and always have goats and cattle grazing freely beside the road. They need to be negotiated carefully and slowly. Best avoided as far as possible.

    WaynedP

    We’ve always hired a car at JHB airport and driven rather than fly, and always worked well for us. I always use Avis either with AWD code A756900 if carrying Amex Plat card if challenged (but never happened yet) or Virgin Silver code N645801 or Virgin Red code Z333300 if can prove that status if challenged (never happened yet).

    Also have a Tom Tom portable sat nav that my family researched and bought for me several years ago specifically because it included South Africa, Lesotho & Eswatini (former Swaziland) road maps, and it must have paid back its purchase price many times over in convenience and savings on not hiring an Avis GPS device.

    Only problem is no signal in the underground car hire pickup garage, so ask for directions to the Engen Skystop which once you know how to get there is a 60 second drive out the underground garage and still part of the airport complex. Park up for the free twenty minutes to get your sat nav up and running and programmed for next destination from there. Engen Skystop is always best place to fill up the tank just before returning the car – I always tell them that I’ve just filled up at Engen Skystop and have never been charged any extra.

    WaynedP

    Enjoy the KNP, I’ve always loved it from when I was a kid, and my own (culturally UK) children all now share that same passion for the place.

    Accommodation is basic and self catering so take your own supplies and enjoy building your own fire and cooking your own meat every night while you watch the multitude of stars and listen to the night time sounds of the Bushveld. Magic.

    Restaurants are available in some of the bigger, more commercial camps, but we always prefer the more rustic ones.

    Port Elizabeth can be done in a day, unless also staying for a night or two (but no more) at Addo Elephant National Park, which I recommend if you can comfortably fit it in. PE is much less appealing than other coastal towns back down on the Garden Route towards Cape Town like Jeffrey’s Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Sedgefield and George. Again several Protea Hotels but also plenty of nice B&Bs and Guest Houses on sites like Booking.com. N2 national coastal highway is a good road. Use the i-traffic.co.za site and app for live traffic intel and general road and route conditions.

    Closer to CT, Agulhas (southern most tip of Africa) can be interesting, Hermanus and Walker Bay are definitely worth a visit, but aim to reach CT as soon as you can and maximise time there. You won’t be disappointed and will want to return.

    WaynedP

    Traditional big three wine regions are Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch (in decreasing order of charm and delectability IMHO) and as pointed out you can research the wine lands tram and position yourself accordingly accommodation-wise to fully appreciate the full range of wonderful wines on offer without having to risk life and limb behind the wheel of a car. Also great goats cheese in Backsberg Estate (Franschoek region) with other estates offering cheese to accompany wine tasting (but Cyril Back was the pioneer).

    But there are plenty of other, newer estates closer to CT itself, all of them with decent, award winning offerings.

    Also consider a trip up the West Coast to Yzerfontein (also sometimes spelled Ysterfontein) and Langebaan, dropping by into the local, less famous Swartland Wine region, where I have found some real hidden gems. One day there, overnight in a nice B&B or guest house somewhere near Yzerfontein, next day back to CT should do the trick nicely.

    I recently posted something fairly unique that can be done in CT, namely Champagne Breakfast watching the sun come up over False Bay, and evening Sundowners watching the sun sink into the Atlantic all in the same day just by crossing over to the other side of the Peninsula. Nice one to tick off your life list if that sort of thing appeals.

    Have a great trip!

    zio

    Such a fantastic destination with so many options. There is a danger of trying to cram too much in. Although amazing, Vic Falls for example is of course an entirely different country, or two…

    Another +1 for hiring a car for the KNP. Go for an SUV for extra height. I would always also spring for at least one game drive as the guides’ “bush eyes” are so remarkable. Book accommodation in the park as far ahead as you can.

    The Garden route is famous for a reason, but take your time to get out of the car and explore a bit. For a slight detour try the Schoone Oordt in Swellendam (Mr and Mrs Smith, bookable via IHG)… how many hotels have you been to which wash your car every morning?

    A shame you aren’t there (this time) for whale watching season: I am an evangelist for de Hoop, where there is another Mr and Mrs Smith property.

    The wineries… Cape Town itself… decisions, decisions. Enjoy!

    strickers

    Lots of good advice here, we drove the Garden Route a few years ago an were really surprised how good most of the roads are. We generally felt safe doing so but hired a nondescript car so we didn’t stick out. If you do head to Franschoek have a look at the wine team, it’s a great way to see more than one winery. We will be in Cape Town for 10 nights at the end of Nov but mostly just relaxing, enjoying the food and wine with a few day trips thrown in. For fine dining La Colombe is pretty special.

    JDB

    If you were to drive up to Langebaan, it’s worth stopping at the San centre – !Khwa ttu and in Langebaan itself, La Petite Maison has great food and views and there’s a nice walk along the coast from their back gate. If you continue to Paternoster, which is very pretty, it has become something of of foodie centre for seafood and land/sea foraged ingredients, notably Wolfgat and Oep ve Koep. As @WaynedP says, great and unusual Swartland wines to discover. Beyond this, Velddrif on the amazing Berg river estuary and the Ermitage Qagga Lodge are fabulous. We found the west coast much more interesting than the garden route, now a bit too well travelled and designed/priced around foreign tourists.

    Re wine, Franschoek may have the tram, but the whole place has been turned into a rather fake Disney environment, is extortionately expensive and too busy. Mont Rochelle nature reserve beautiful though, as is Jonkershoek Nature Reserve (near Stellenbosch)if you like hiking/mountain biking. Paarl less popular and much nicer – Grande Roche hotel under new ownership, very good value, great views and nearby Noop restaurant excellent.

    yorkieflyer

    Agree with most contributors and very good advice which I won’t repeat. My points, perhaps skip Victoria Falls as a risk in trying to do too much Ona first trip, the falls can incidentally be done a a day trip from Chobe combined with a trip to Chobe in Botswana flying into Kasane, we’ve done this.
    Also disagreeing with most contributors, the N4 from JNB to Malelane or Crocodile bridge (agree best entry points) is a long drive on an admittedly good road with the Half at the JNB end particularly boring passing coal mining areas
    An alternative is to fly Airlink to Nelspruit hire a car, independent companies with good deals here, and fly direct back from here to Capetown again with Airlink.
    Also agree strongly re the NP walks with rangers bookable as an add on to park accommodation, awesome

    Noods24

    I’m in agreement with the above comments from Zio & yorkieflyer

    If you’ve never driven long distance in Africa or SA before, I’d seriously recommend flying to KNP and hiring a car there (pref higher stance vehicle for better views) the N4 is in decent condition mostly, but to anyone used to driving on well structured UK roads, some of the “obstacles” you may encounter on the drive to KNP would be stressful to some people ! Having lived there in my younger years, and travelled to KNP from JHB International on many occasions both flying and driving, my choice now is always to fly, it is so much easier and less stressful. Having once arrived on BA flight from UK in the morning, I hired a car from AVIS and threaded my way through rush-hour and attempted to get to Phalaborwa Gate by 5:30 pm closing time, I can tell you I’ll never do that again !! I had been told I’d “need to keep my foot in it” to get there on time, and soon after getting free of the R/H traffic I worked out that I was going to have to sit at very far over the speed limit to even have a chance of making it, which I did with 7 minutes to spare, and I only stopped once for 20 mins. Obviously the southern gates are closer, but you still won’t have time to mess around, believe me. And driving like that in South Africa now is not something I’d advise, I did this crazy dash back in 2008/9. I would not attempt that again, it was very tiring. I have flown every time since.
    Having said all that…..it is most certainly one of my favourite places in the whole world, there’s little else like it. Enjoy your trip, I am most jealous.

    tiriavpo

    I would consider hiring a car in Johannesburg and driving to and from the Kruger National Park. It won’t actually be that much longer than flying when you factor in the time needed to check in before the flight and then the journey from Kruger Mpumalanga airport (the closest airport) to the park. Plus you can then drive around the park itself.

    Done both and we would definitely fly direct to the park again. You can actually fly right into the park, into Skukuza, and pick up an Avis rental from there. You can also fly direct from Skukuza to Cape Town and then self drive the western cape and wine lands.

    WaynedP

    If flying to KNP check out comparable prices and availability of vehicles between Nelspruit and Skukuza beforehand. No personal experience myself to draw on, but I have heard local opinion that Skukuza is overpriced and has less choice than Nelspruit.

    A 4×4 pick-up truck has its advantages, but is not essential for the Park’s tar roads and also the majority of its gravel roads. I’ve never paid over-inflated 4×4 prices, always hired a cheaper MPV (like Toyota Avanza) or SUV (like Ford Ecosport or Toyota RAV, latter might be 4×4 or All Wheel Drive these days, not sure) and always been OK since both offer sufficiently high line of sight and ground clearance for ample game spotting.

    yorkieflyer

    If flying to KNP check out comparable prices and availability of vehicles between Nelspruit and Skukuza beforehand. No personal experience myself to draw on, but I have heard local opinion that Skukuza is overpriced and has less choice than Nelspruit.

    A 4×4 pick-up truck has its advantages, but is not essential for the Park’s tar roads and also the majority of its gravel roads. I’ve never paid over-inflated 4×4 prices, always hired a cheaper MPV (like Toyota Avanza) or SUV (like Ford Ecosport or Toyota RAV, latter might be 4×4 or All Wheel Drive these days, not sure) and always been OK since both offer sufficiently high line of sight and ground clearance for ample game spotting.

    Yes re an Avanza or small SUV. Skukuza is just Avis who have the sole franchise and the prices reflect that

    Notmyrealname

    I’m flying to JNB in early Sept, then a drive to Kruger via Graskop (1 night stop-panorama route) then one night at Phalaborwa before entering the park the following day.

    10 nihgts in Kruger

    After Kruger we have a week to get back to JNB-still undecided where to go TBHO. Eswatini\Losthoso, Battlefields

    I was looking to get a SIM card in JNB and using Wave\mobile phone as my route planner, however I’m unsure if the GPS signal would suffice for that router and around Kruger.

    So as a Back up I was thinking of hiring a GPS from Sixt.

    Any comments on this plan?

    Cheers

    James

    Had no problems using Waze/Google maps in KNP recently with a local SIM (CellC). Google maps lets you download the maps to your device if you are worried about cellular coverage.

    yorkieflyer

    I’m flying to JNB in early Sept, then a drive to Kruger via Graskop (1 night stop-panorama route) then one night at Phalaborwa before entering the park the following day.

    10 nihgts in Kruger

    After Kruger we have a week to get back to JNB-still undecided where to go TBHO. Eswatini\Losthoso, Battlefields

    I was looking to get a SIM card in JNB and using Wave\mobile phone as my route planner, however I’m unsure if the GPS signal would suffice for that router and around Kruger.

    So as a Back up I was thinking of hiring a GPS from Sixt.

    Any comments on this plan?

    Cheers

    Graskop nice village and very scenic for canyon views, we’ve done this as a stopover from JNB to northern Kruger gates.
    The camps sell very good map/guides printed on cardboard and paper by the way!

    Notmyrealname

    no problems using Waze/Google maps in KNP recently with a local SIM (CellC). Google maps lets you download the maps to your device if you are worried about cellular coverage.

    Thanks

    Did you get the SIM from JNB?

    James

    no problems using Waze/Google maps in KNP recently with a local SIM (CellC). Google maps lets you download the maps to your device if you are worried about cellular coverage.

    Thanks

    Did you get the SIM from JNB?

    Yes all the main carriers have shops as you come out of arrives.

    jek

    It seems the HfP readers are experienced with South Africa!

    We are planning a trip to South Africa for the last 10 days of January (replacing a planned trip to Sri Lanka). As the trip is on a 2-4-1, we could only find availability for Johannesburg. Given the duration and location we are mainly looking at KNP and the North East.

    However, we are now considering if we should change our plans again as it seems that January is not a great month to visit KNP and the North East. Has anybody experience with visiting in January? Should we abandon the North East completly and instead look for local flights from Johannesburg to Capetown to go the Wine Country and the Garden Route?

    JenT

    January is the wet season in KNP but nature works 12 months of the year – every season is different and there’s always something to experience. Birds are particularly good to see then, but foliage and bush can be thick which makes it harder to spot animals – I’d definitely recommend a guide if visiting them. Very hot, humid and can be wet, so your enjoyment depends on your comfort and appetite for that climate.

    It’s easy and quick to fly to Cape Town etc from JNB – we have done it following a companion ticket flight (not on same booking) and with flights pretty much every hour, even if you miss one, there are plenty of other options.

    WaynedP

    @Notmyrealname +1 vote for getting paper maps of the KNP rather than mobile phone based GPS. They make a nice souvenir anyway and are available at all camp sites (and some entry gates, although don’t rely on that). For first trip between entry gate and first camp (which I would try to make as short as possible, allowing an average travelling speed of about 25-30 km/h) you can download adequate maps from https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger//tourism/map.php but I would still get a nice paper map at first opportunity and navigate the old fashioned way. Road markings in KNP are clear and well signed.

    Also download from the same website the distances and travelling times between places (look under the How to Get There drop-down menu). If you heed this advice you’ll avoid being over-ambitious in your daily road trips which are nice to plan in the evenings with a spread open map and a glass of SA red.

    Telecoms is my OH’s domain, as I can happily live without any electronics whatsoever for a week or more in the KNP. She reports that in May this year we picked up a local SIM from the Vodacom store on ground floor inside JNB Airport terminal (just off the international arrivals indoor rotunda area, marked as “Vodacom, shop AR3” on google maps). We signed up for cheapest calls (150 mins) and data package (5GB she thinks) costing about R600 or £30 which more than lasted us for three weeks. Inserted the SIM into an old UK phone and were fine. My wife reports reception coverage was about 50% in KNP, comes and goes and not always strongest in the camps where you might expect it to be. Poor ability to check remaining call minutes on rubbish app, but as I said it didn’t affect my enjoyment of our trip. It was all sorted by my efficient OH before we even picked up the hire car.

    The other main cellular comms player is MTN, which I’m sure also has shop(s) within the airport terminal and probably offer much the same.

    Wishing you a fantastic trip !

    WaynedP

    @Jek Lucky you ! That time of year is great, you’ll have nice, hot weather and the roads, restaurants, beaches and beauty spots pretty much to yourself as the long summer holidays will be over. I’d consider three options.

    1) Fly down to CPT on same day as arriving JNB and enjoy a couple of days/nights soaking up the sunshine and atmosphere. Hire a car and drive the Garden Route as far east as Knysna (or maybe Plettenberg Bay at a push). I’d start out from CPT on the N1 (rather than the N2) and break the journey up, staying overnight in Montagu (possibly Swellendam or somewhere in between the two) then join the N2 at Swellendam after a good breakfast and push on to overnight at George (or possibly Sedgefield or Knysna). Spend a day travelling out as far as Plettenberg Bay and back for a second night at the George/Sedgefield/Knysna base then head back the same way, breaking the journey overnight again in Montagu/Swellendam. Then back to CPT for the remaining two to four nights of your trip, leaving flexibility to have one night in JNB if needed, or to pad an extra night somewhere onto the Garden Route drive, or not. That’s a manageable round-trip drive of 1,100 kms over four days if you go as far as Plettenberg Bay. SA car hire companies are not permitted to limit daily distance rates for foreign tourists, so all car hire will come with unlimited kms included. PROS: Cape Town, sane F&B prices, quiet beaches, Garden Route. CONS: Cost of return flight to CPT (although depending on flight availability, cost & timing you should be able to enjoy breakfast in CPT on last day and fly up in time for return evening flight to UK without needing overnight stay in JNB).

    2) Fly down to Port Elizabeth on same day as arriving JNB, spend one night in PE, then drive a hired car down the Garden Route to CPT breaking the journey twice for one (or more) overnight stays at Plettenberg Bay/Knysna/Sedgefield/George, then Swellendam/Montagu, then on to CPT. That’s a very manageable drive of about 750 kms over 3 days, allowing lots of time for leisurely sightseeing and still plenty of time in CPT. Fly back to JNB on same day as overnight return flight to UK depending on flight availability, cost & timing. PROS: Garden Route, Cape Town, sane F&B prices, quiet beaches, more opportunity to squeeze in an extra day/night trip from CPT base, e.g. west coast Langebaan, south coast Hermanus/Gansbaai, interior winelands: Paarl, Franschoek or Stellenbosch. CONS: Open jaw JNB-PLZ & CPT-JNB may be over-priced, as could car hire due to different pick-up and drop-off location.

    3) To follow …

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