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Please help us decide between several game reserves...

Northern Cal
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Please help us decide between several game reserves...

My wife and I will be visiting South Africa for the first time for 14 days in March/April 2014. Our international flights arrive and depart from JNB. Upon arrival at JNB, we will continue to Cape Town for 5 days, then a few days in wine country and then 4 or so days out on the road exploring more of the Western and Eastern Cape with tentative route through Montagu, Prince Albert, the Swartberg Pass, Oudtshoorn, Wilderness, and Knysna, finishing up in Port Elizabeth.

With our remaining three or four days we want to experience a game park/reserve. We are both interested in wildlife and realize that this will likely be a singular experience since we live in California and a return to South Africa may not happen for a while, if ever. Our question is which park to visit and in which part of the country. Our research has identified several possibilities that are aligned to our desire to see the Big Five and other kinds of wildlife but also allow us a comfortable bed and nice surroundings in the evening. Also, we’re not wildlife enthusiasts to the point where the length of an elephant’s tusks will matter tremendously. It will be enough for us to see abundant wildlife in their natural surroundings. We don’t want anything close to a zoo experience but we’re not hardcore safari veterans either. Given those parameters, we would appreciate comment and feedback on these possibilities, or perhaps something we haven’t considered.

1) Fly to Richards Bay from Port Elizabeth (with a stop in JNB), hire a car and drive 90 minutes up to Phinda Private Game Reserve. They also offer Cessna service from Richard Bay but we’ve read they can only load duffel bags into the plane and that even our small carry-on size roll-aboards may not fit. Spend three days in and around Phinda, drive back to Richards Bay, fly back to JNB to begin our journey home.

2) Stay in the Eastern Cape and drive from Port Elizabeth to Kwandwe Game Reserve (or another recommended park in the area) and spend three days there. Perhaps visit Addo Elephant Park, too. On departure day, drive back to Port Elizabeth, fly to JNB and head home.

Phinda sounds wonderful but is it worth two flights with a JNB connection, then hiring a car or figuring out how to solve our luggage issue for the Cessna ride? Is what we might see and experience there so much better than a reserve in the Eastern Cape that it justifies a full day of travel to get there?

All opinions and perspectives are welcome!

London, United...
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1. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

My wife and I have stayed at Kuzuko Lodge in Addo and thoroughly enjoyed our stay there

Washington DC...
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2. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

I'm a big fan of the Kruger region, so would suggest it. If, as you say, you may not get back for a long time, why not go to one of the premier safari destinations in Africa after all that flying from California? You could fly from PE or Durban to Nelspruit (aka MQP or Kruger International), pick up a rental car and be in Sabi Sand in 1.5 hrs. With 3-5 days there seeing the Big 5 is likely, leopards are relatively abundant and wild dogs are a possibility. The reserve has excellent camps that span the price range.

Edited: 14 July 2013, 00:24
Gold Coast...
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3. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

Have to second the advice from Steve.

The Kruger area is the jewel in the crown of South Africa's parks and is one of the largest and most famous wildlife reserves in the world. Access is easy and it's a short flight back to JHB for your flight home.

Pickering, United...
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4. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

Pleasant though Phinda is, IMO, it does not fit with rest of your itinerary. I suspect from your comments that this thought has already crossed your mind. Having to fly via Jo'burg will waste a lot of time and money.

I don't have much knowledge of safaris on your route as we only visited Addo (self drive & catering) and Shamwari but had a great time when driving from CT to Durban a few years back. These are definitely an option but I would be inclined to consider steveb's suggestion and fly up to the Kruger.

Frankfurt, Germany
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5. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

i would definitely recommend the Kruger area. I don't known if you can still change your flights.

If so then to save time I would suggest you fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Kruger Park and from Kruger Park to Cape Town. You can arrange for a transfer from the lodge so you don't need a rental car.

As far as I know there is only one direct flight per day from Kruger Park - Cape Town and vice versa. All other flights go via Johannesburg and this costs time.

Phinda is stunning but as you mentioned it's not worth it collecting a car just to drive to the lodge. Another option might be to check what a transfer would cost.


Michelle - owner Cape Town Guide

Tempe, Arizona
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6. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

Both Kwandwe and Shamwari are easily reached from Port Elizabeth and either would give you the safari experience you have described. Neither would be some sort of compromise destination.

I was just at Phinda a few weeks ago and believe it is a viable option. You could fly from PE to Durban and then drive to Phinda in about 3 hours on good, well-marked roads. The last few miles would be on an unpaved but well-maintained road. I did the drive from Durban airport myself in late May. You would need a morning flight out of Port Elizabeth, obviously. Which Phinda lodge to choose? Rock is spectacular, Forest has amazing accommodations for the price.

If you do choose to fly back to JNB and then onward to either Nelspruit or Hoedspruit, so you can have your safari at a reserve near Kruger - be sure that you reach either of those airports by 100PM, 130PM latest, or you will not get to the lodge or camp in time for the PM game drive.

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

Edited: 14 July 2013, 14:05
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7. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

Hi drmarclevine,

Just picked up on the thread.

Like a lot of the above posts, I'm also a big Kruger fan, and my personal opinion is to make your way back to JHB and head to the Kruger area, if possible. Like thesandmans said, it really is the "jewel in the crown" and the premier safari destination in SA. Having said that, it is by no stretch of anyone's imagination the only great safari destination and I have no doubt, that whatever works the best for you, be it the Kruger area, Phinda or the Eastern Cape reserves like Kwandwe or Shamwari, that you'll have a fantastic safari experience.

Good luck.

Brett | Owner | Safaris For Me | South Africa

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8. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

I would second what others have said above. The Eastern Cape does have some very reasonable safari destinations, but nothing that can compare with Kruger. If you prefer to stay in the Eastern Cape region, then follow Dave's advice and try Shamwari or Kwandwe. The bush is slightly different to what you can expect in Kruger and other typical safari destinations, but it is by no means a zoo and I'm sure you will have a fine safari there. Addo is also a good option and I second the vote for Kuzuko Lodge - it's a bit more remote and feels more like real wilderness, compared to the rest of Addo.

Having said that, I agree that Kruger is without doubt the top safari destination in South Africa. If you were going to consider Phinda via Joburg, you might as well consider the Kruger National Park or Sabi Sand Game Reserve instead (also 2 flights via Joburg) or you can even consider a guided 4-day Kruger Park Safari that departs from Johannesburg. There are several companies that offer such safaris. Normally, my advice is that if you have at least 3 or more nights available, it is worth adding Kruger to your itinerary, particularly if your international flight departs from Joburg anyway.

Try googling 3-day Kruger National Park Safari to get some ideas.

Have fun!

Onne from Wild Wings Safaris

9. Re: Please help us decide between several game reserves...

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