Just thought I would post a trip report. We had an amazing time in South Africa. I was born in South Africa, left in the 80s and return as often as I can. Despite the amazing trip and all the positives I will mention, there are one or two general things I think that the country should improve on..
As usual the country was very easy to drive around, the roads in general were excellent (with the exception of the Free State side of the R74).
The weather was a little nippy at night around Lydenburg where we stayed over en route to Kruger) and Johannesburg early in August. During the day we generally experienced temperatures ranging from 21-32 including in the Royal Natal National Park! At night it was not too cold in Kruger, St Lucia, Durban or in the Drakensberg surprisingly (5-15 celsius). We felt that by late August in the northern Drakensberg, spring was very much taking hold. The winter climate in this part of the country is sublime - lots of sunshine.
The only drive that was "ugly" was the N12 between Jo-burg and Witbank - this is a main tourist route and I think extra effort should be made to tidy up the sides of the road, remove litter, improve buildings etc. I realise of course that budgets are limited and that areas away from tourist routes also need attention, but some more sensitive tourists may be disgusted by the litter and housing on this stretch of road - especially as a second impression of the country (the excellent O R Tambo being a brilliant first impression). Some of the newer RDP houses complete with solar panels actually look quite smart, so I hope these will become a trend in an effort to improve the lives of the poorest.
There was lots of litter on the sides of the R roads in Mpumalanga and Limpopo which really blights the gorgeous scenery - this should be easy to improve on..
Just before departing I commented on a thread about O R Tambo airport, and once again we had a great experience at the airport - the staff including the border staff were very chatty and friendly, and the shops, bars and restaurants are extensive and excellent..
I have been to private game reserves before but Kruger was an unbelievable experience – cannot comprehend the scale of the park! We stayed two nights in Olifants camp and two nights in Lower Sabie – would have loved to have stayed longer, but St Lucia and the Drakensberg beckoned!
We did a guided walk on our first morning in the park and saw some general game, but walks are more about understanding plants, signs, tracks, smells of the bush etc.
On our drives in Kruger, we saw about 20 large herds of elephants in Kruger, a crocodile attacking some impala (unsuccessfully), a pride of lions roaming around south of Olifants, a pride of lions hunting a warthog near Crocodile Bridge, a cheetah, a hyena suckling from its mother by the side of the road, two separate hyena dens, two sightings of rhino, lots of incredible birds, lots of general game (buck, giraffes, wildebeast, zebra etc) etc etc. Still no leopard though - I am beginning to think they are fictitious!
We found that we were by ourselves for most of the sightings as we mainly drove the gravel roads in our VW Polo!
The drive to St Lucia through Swaziland was easy - drove in at Mananga border post, out at Lavumisa and stuck to the eastern side of the country. Roads were fine apart from near Siteki where there were potholes!
St Lucia was amazing - went on several hikes, self-drive game drives in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, went swimming at Cape Vidal and went on a boat tour on the estuary where we saw lots of Crocs devouring a dead hippo!! Highly recommended as a base to explore the area - just watch out walking around the town at night as there are hippos that come to graze on the succulent lawns!
Our only two bad days of weather were in Durban, so we have vowed to go back, as thick heavy cloud made us feel sluggish and we did not properly explore the city (we had a long afternoon nap). We stayed in Umhlanga Rocks - near the beach and unfortunately we did not like the area. It was very safe to walk around day and night with good restaurants and shops, but the area felt like a prison - every house had huge walls, electric fences and security teams patrolling the streets - it was a very stifling environment. I have family in various parts of Jo-burg, Cape Town, Paarl and Port Elizabeth and yes you do see high security in some of the areas in these towns and cities, but never have I been to an area where literally every house had a prison style electric fence! Anyway we will be looking for a different area of Durban to stay in the future - perhaps one with a little more historical charm.
We were very impressed with the "new" Durban beachfront - we parked our car not far from the Moses Mabhida stadium and walked to Ushaka Marine World where we ate bunny chow at the Curry Leaf restaurant - yum - was one of the best curries I have had and the most friendly service - even by South Africa's exceptional standards.
Our final few days were in Thendele Camp in the Royal Natal National Park. We ran out of time so did not stop to view the Howick Falls - will do so next time. The chalets are nice, clean and basic. The view is incredible! Braaiing out on the stoep under the stars was the highlight of the holiday! We did about 6-7 hours of hiking a day. This place is a hikers paradise! We drove back to Jo-burg in good time, despite roadworks near the Sterkfontein Dam on the R74.
Great holiday - we will be back in winter with a similar itinerary!!