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Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Overland Park...
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Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Hello everyone,

My family has begun discussing a possible trip to South Africa for July 2013. We would have between five and eight adults traveling from the US. This would be a first time visit for everyone in the group. We're thinking of maybe a twelve or thirteen day trip. Based on some itineraries we've seen on the SAA Vacations site, we've generated a very basic plan. We're open and amenable to any and all suggestions the experts on TripAdvisor can offer in regards to locations, times, accommodations, transfers, etc. We haven't officially discussed budgeting yet, but I'd guess we're in the range of $6,000 - $7,000pp including flights. In a previous trip to Italy we utilized apartment rentals (i.e. VRBO, HomeAway, TripAdvisor) and liked that option. We realize this is not possible, nor do we want it, during the safari portion of our trip. So here we go...

Day 1: Leave US on direct flight via JFK or ATL. Probably JFK so we can have an earlier arrival to JNB. Doesn't the Delta ATL flight get in much later in the day? Would that allow us time to get to CPT on the evening of Day 2? I like arriving in SA earlier, but it's easier for us to get from Kansas City to Atlanta versus JFK.

Day 2: Arrive JNB, fly to CPT. Commence jet lag.

Days 3 - 5: We think we need a minimum of three days in Cape Town. One for a winelands tour, one for a peninsula tour, and one for Table Mountain and exploring the city. Any idea when the gondola is closed for winter maintenance? Stay in the city or Camp's Bay? Advice on private driver guides? Our private guides in Italy were indispensable.

Days 6 - 8: Day 6, travel to the Garden Route, probably by air unless you would suggest making the long drive instead. Stay in the Plettenberg or Knysna area. We've seen some lovely rental properties in both. We definitely want to do a whale watching tour, but don't know of other activities. Should we stay the full three nights, or is two enough?

Day 9 - 11: Travel to Kruger area. Undecided on where to stay; there are a ton of options. Early favorites might be somewhere like Mohlabetsi or Notten's. If the budget works out favorably elsewhere, maybe we splurge on something more high end. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Spend remainder of Day 9 and all of Day 10 and 11 at lodge.

Day 12: Begin the long journey home. Could we get from Kruger to JNB in time for a return flight, or would we need to spend the night in J'burg? It looks like the SAA flight doesn't leave until 9:00 PM.

Day 13: Back in the States.

* If we need to add a day somewhere we probably can. For work and scheduling purposes, I'd like to keep it at fourteen days max. That way we could do a Friday - Friday or Saturday - Saturday and at least have a little time to start recovering before going back to reality.

* Is Victoria Falls worth an extra two days and/or adjusting our itinerary? We don't want to push ourselves too much, but we also realize we might not be back to SA for a long, long time.

I'm sure there are many more questions floating around in my head that haven't manifested themselves yet. I'll be sure to post when the do! Again, we welcome your advice, suggestions, or complete deconstruction of this itinerary. Thanks in advance!

Port Elizabeth
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1. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

This looks like a great itinerary, but is a little complicated.

I think you would probably be better driving to the Garden Route, rather than flying it is around 4 1/2 hours drive from Cape Town and it would make sense to stop off at Hermanus en route. With waiting around it will not be much quicker to fly, the airport is in George which is still quite a drive to Knysna.

It might work well to rent a house as you did in Italy in Knysna or surrounds.

There are direct flights from several airports in Kruger to Cape Town so it would make sense to use one of those.

You could perhaps drive one way to the Garden Route and then fly out from George back to Johannesburg as you fly out

I would do Kruger then fly Cape Town and then fly back form George

Or fly to George, take a one way car hire or transfer to Cape Town- fly Cape Town Kruger.

Johannesburg to Kruger is a 6-8 hours drive or a 1 to 1 1/2 hours flight, some of the more expensive reserves have their own airstrips with direct flights form Johannesburg.

Tempe, Arizona
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2. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Let's deal with the international flights first.. The Delta flight from ATL and the SA flight from Dulles do arrive late afternoon and it's common for US travelers to continue on to Cape Town that evening. But Delta prices that nonstop from ATL to JNB higher than it does the KLM flights that combine with flights from the US to Amsterdam. I suggest some homework on the flight costing sometime later this summer when the fares will be available for you to compare.

Garden Route in July is something I might question. Beaches are useless, so the things-to-do will be essentially the touristy spots. Ostriches (a little north of the Garden Route but commonly included) Monkeyland, Elephant rides, curio shops. Remember, there are no gardens. It's an investment of time and transport that might be better spent somewhere else.

You asked about Victoria Falls. I have people going there regularly, but I always advise - be positive you want to spend the $$ it will take for flights and lodging - before you include it. July is a pretty good time to visit, actually. The water flow will be slowing down so the spray won't be so strong that you have a tough time really seeing the Falls as you might in May/June, but full enough that you do see the Falls at their best. But the tour of the Falls is only a couple of hours, so you also need to do some of the other activities there.

Like what? Elephant-back safari, cruises on the Zambezi at sunset, canoeing on the Zambezi, helicopter or microlight flights, walking with Lions. Yes, another touristy destination.

And I would strongly suggest investing a little more time on a safari. Mohlabetsi is good option for a moderately priced stay and they have a 3-for-2 in July. Also good in that price range - Umlani. Even Thornybush has some good 3-for-2 rates at its mid-range lodges, though 3 of them are small and can take only 8 guests. AndBeyond has a 4-for-3 at all its lodges - and their Ngala Safari Lodge would end up only slightly more than the others mentioned. Elephant Plains is the one genuine moderately-priced property in the Sabi Sand reserve but is heavily booked and could only be considered if you were able to pin down specific dates waaay in advance.

Cape Town has so many lodging options that will be available and reasonable in July that discussing those can wait a little longer. I have recently been suggesting Lawhill Luxury apartments at the Waterfront because they really are upmarket at rates that are reasonable for the quality and location. More Quarters apartments are also well-priced in July and here, breakfast is included. As it would be at Romney Park Suites.

A guide and vehicle will be easy to arrange - cost will depend on the type of vehicle needed which will depend on how many of you travel. But advice on that can wait, too.

I could see an itinerary - if you want Victoria Falls - that has you staying the night of arrival at the Johannesburg airport (many reasonable choices, and the one I use is the City Lodge attached to the Terminals) - flying to Victoria Falls the next morning for a couple of nights - flying Vic Falls to Johannesburg to Cape Town and spending the next week or so in the Western Cape. This could include a drive to the Garden Route that passed though the whaleviewing areas (I prefer De Kelders to Hermanus and even live there myself part of the year). Then on to the safari. Pretty conventional plan and the pieces would fit together nicely.

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

Edited: 09 June 2012, 14:23
Overland Park...
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3. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Wow, thanks for those two detailed responses. A few thoughts:

* Flights -- My thinking is that fewer connections is better, especially when traveling internationally. I'm almost certain we would do the direct ATL or JFK flight. If the costs end up being similar, I don't know which option we'd choose. ATL seems better initially because it makes our US connections to/from Kansas City much easier. But I hate to arrive so late in the day to JNB. I guess it's really only six hours later, and over two weeks of vacation that doesn't equate to missing much, but it would provide a bit more recovery time.

* Timing - July is our arbitrary travel month, but would June or August be better? Also, any idea on when the Table Mountain gondola closes for maintenance? We'd really like that experience.

* Victoria Falls - We're going to have to decide if the extra travel, time, and costs are worth it. With the falls only taking a half day to tour, is the other stuff in the area worthwhile, or is it just a touristy African version of Niagara? It would make sense to make this the section of our trip after arriving in JNB.

* With the safari being the "highlight" of our trip, we'll probably keep it at the end of the itinerary. If we eliminate the Garden Route (more thoughts on that below), I could see us adding an extra day in the bush. We don't have to go "super budget" on this leg of the trip. If there's somewhere with great animals and good lodging, we'll pay up, though something like Lion Sands or Ulusaba might be a bit too rich. Any thoughts on the following lodges -- Garonga, Pondoro, Neledi, Ezulwini? Elephant Plains looks nice, too. Any idea how far in advance we'd need to book it? Which And Beyond property is nicest? Free nights are always a nice thing!

* Our main rationale for the Garden Route was whale watching. Could we hub out of Cape Town for that instead? Maybe we could budget two more days in Cape Town and just do a drive to Hermanus or De Kelders with an overnight stay there.

* Are the winelands worth an overnight stay, or would a full day private guide tour be adequate for a nice tasting experience?

Tempe, Arizona
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4. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Well, Garonga is one my favorite places, Naledi getting rave reviews - but if you are open to leaving sooner, the AndBeyond camps not only have the 4-for-3, but also are in Low season rates through 20JUNE (assuming seasons will be the same in 2013 as they are now). Lion Sands also has the 4-for-3 and will be in Winter season any of the months you are thinking about. Mohlabetsi actually does not offer its 3-for-2 in August right now (speaking to your comments about other months).

If you were to use the Delta (or SA flight from Dulles) then the overnight at the JNB airport would be your 'catch up' night. (Just as the one you are thinking of possibly having in Cape Town if you fly on through that afternoon/evening you arrive). You could then go on up to Vic Falls the next morning.

If you are lukewarm about the Falls because of time & costs, then don't go. Early planning might get you there and back to Johannesburg at a cost that would seem reasonable. Airfares climb the later you book. There's one of the lowfare airlines that flies between Johannesburg and Livingstone on the Zambia side of the Falls, which would be less expensive than SA or BA flights to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Best view of the Falls, though, is on the Zim side.

Here's the Vic Falls operator I use and recommend - www.wildhorizons.co.za - Look under the 'Activities' link and you can see what's offered.. and also look at the 'More Activities' link at the bottom of that first list that comes up.

I really don't know if the Table Mountain management schedules maintenance at a particular time each year. Maybe send them an email and see what they say.

For that matter - I think it's worth a phone call now and then directly to some of the places like that. Not expensive (I use an AT&T International calling card I buy at Sam's for $25 - worth about 160 minutes talking to landlines in South Africa, about half that when calling cell phones).

I vote for an overnight in De Kelders for whale watchers. Whales easily seen from the shore and the 'Ivanhoe' - the licensed whale watching boat - is also an option. For that matter, so is shark cage diving. Gansbaai, next to De Kelders, is the place with the most shark boats, and with lower rates than those in Cape Town.

I am a big fan of spending some time 'on the road' whether we speak of De Kelders & Hermanus or the Winelands. Adds some texture to your experience, being out of the city. Same reasoning applies to the Garden Route in winter. Just being in the smaller towns, eating in the cafes and seeing the countryside.. all of this adds to your experience. And you can be positive that the B&B's and/or Guest Houses (these are official classifications, by the way) will be reliably clean, well-run with owner/hosts who will be very helpful in advising you on the places to see and things to do in their areas.

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

5. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

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Overland Park...
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6. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

OK, we've been playing around with a few things tonight. Here's a new possible itinerary. Let me know what you think! This is assuming fifteen days total, which would ideally be a Friday - Friday trip from Kansas City. Note that this excludes Victoria Falls. We're still up in the air on that side trip.

1) MCI > ATL > JNB

2) Arrive JNB, spend night in JNB instead of trying to make a late connection to CPT.

3) Morning flight to CPT. Spend afternoon relaxing/resting/exploring.

4) Full day in Cape Town - Table Mountain?

5) Full day in Cape Town

6) Coastal drive to Hermanus/De Kelders. Possibly including Cape Point on the drive if we didn't see it on day 4 or 5. Spend night in Hermanus.

7) Whale watching boat tour. Anything else to do here afterwards? Spend night in Hermanus or De Kelders.

8) This is a new addition - SHARK DIVE in the morning at Gansbaai. Drive to Stellenbosch/winelands in afternoon. Spend night in S'Bosch.

9) Full day for wine touring. Spend night in S'Bosch.

10) Drive to CPT, fly to Kruger.

11 - 13) Safari days.

14) Travel back to JNB, leave JNB 8:30 PM to ATL.

15) Back in the USA. ATL > MCI. Begin recovery attempts.

Questions:

- What to do on our two full days in Cape Town?

- Is Cape Town > Cape Point > Hermanus/De Kelders too much driving for one day?

- Where to stay in the winelands?

- Is that too much time on safari? We would have an evening, three full days, and maybe another morning. Any chance we get bored after two days? The safari is the point of our trip, but we don't want to feel like we're wasting that third day when we could be elsewhere.

Adelaide, Australia
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7. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

<<Is that too much time on safari? We would have an evening, three full days, and maybe another morning. Any chance we get bored after two days? The safari is the point of our trip, but we don't want to feel like we're wasting that third day when we could be elsewhere.>>>

GOOD GRIEF!!!! WE spent 3 months in Africa last year. Included 3 week truck trip from CT to Vic Falls (which BTW in NO WAY resembles Niagara). About 2 full weeks of that on safaris in Namibia, Botswana and Zambia 3 days self drive in Kruger and another 9 days safari in Tanzania. Bored??? What the.... ??

If you are afraid of being bored after 2 days on an African safari you are probably looking at entirely the wrong location for your holiday.

kentucky
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8. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

I felt cheated after a 3 night safari--I didn't want to leave--kept thinking "one more day" but we didn't have that, so after two 3 nighters, I got smarter and did a 4. This time we're dong back to back 3 nts each wo lodges. I know,, gluttony.

I was very surprised how compact the area around CPT is. Get that road map I mentioned on PM and you'll see it better. It's such a beautiful area.

I have been to Niagra several times, Iguacu Falls once and next will be Victoria Falls. Niagra is a make me think faucet drip--haha. Can't wait, but have to til next yr.

I think the weirdest thing about doing 2 game drives a day is that we really don't "do" anything but ride and enjoy and get amazed, but after eating and resting, we were still totally exhausted by bedtime and slept like babies.

Make the safari your focal point. You may never get back to Africa again and SA is a good first place to get smitten.

Port Elizabeth
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9. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

I came to South Africa 18 years ago to work for a US automotive company.

I was just so lucky that the timing was amazing. The Game Reserves had just started in the Eastern Cape , and we had lots of visitors and they all wanted an escorted safari so I was at Shamwari 2 or 3 times a month, and there was always something different to see.

I was on a 2 year contract that became 6 and after that I started a tour company, which means I have been to many of the Game Reserves in South Africa. The game drives are still awesome and I am first on the Land River at 6 in the morning. It's still awesome after all of these years!

I was at Singita recently and 25 lions walked right next to the Land Rover. and then the youngsters all played in the river.

Sorry getting back to the thread, no 3 days on safari is not to much !!!

Overland Park...
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10. Re: Advice needed: very preliminary itinerary/planning questions

Yeah, I think four nights and three full days on safari is the right amount for our itinerary. We were a little concerned with seeing everything on the first day and then feeling like the next two days were repetitive, but with this being a once in a lifetime (or once in a long time) trip, we don't want to shortchange ourselves, either.

On another note, we might push back the travel dates so we can get a bit closer to spring. We might do the middle two weeks of August instead of July. Hopefully that would help us avoid some of the stormy winter weather on the Cape. We're really pumped about the shark dive, and I've read that August is the best month for that.

Thoughts?