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Best Months for Game Viewing

Fort Lauderdale...
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Best Months for Game Viewing

Greeting South Africa Forum. Some of the Africa regulars may recognize my username from the Kenya/Tanzania forums. Long story short I was planning a perfect 19 day trip to Kenya/Tanzania for September of this year…but my BF and I broke up last year so I lost my travel partner, and the Kenya/Tanzania trip is now on hold. I definitely WILL be taking that trip though, once I find a new travel partner.

My mom travels a lot for work and it’s looking like she will be traveling to South Africa this year for work. She has a good bit of leeway in choosing when she travels there. The plan is to do 3-4 nights in Sabi Sands…and maybe 2-3 nights at Phinda (cost and time depending).

My first question is when is the best time to go to Sabi Sands/Phinda for game viewing purposes? One of my books lists the peak months in Sabi Sands as November-February. Then Frommers says “May to August are considered the best months for sighting big game in and around Kruger National Park…yet many of the private game reserve lodges drop their prices substantially.” If those are the best months for game viewing…why would the game reserves lower their prices?? I’m not complaining if that is the case…it just doesn’t make sense.

My second question is about availability. I realize that we’re kind of late on the draw here. I was planning to have my Kenya/Tanzania trip booked a year in advance. This South Africa thing sort of came out of the blue. If we were to book for sometime between May to August (if that really is the best time for game viewing), does anyone know if the more affordable places (Elephant Plains, Inyati, etc) have any availability left, or are they fully booked for the year?

My last question is about Travel Agencies/Tour Operators. During my Kenya research I think I had a list of about 50-60 tour operators that were recommended on this forum. I’ve read all the threads in the Sabi Sands and Phinda sections and the only operators I’ve seen recommended are Go2Africa, RhinoAfrica, and posts by Africa Direct. Are there any other Travel Agencies I should reach out to about this trip?

So summarized:

1. What are the best months for game viewing in Sabi Sands and Phinda?

2. Is there still availability at the more affordable lodges for summer 2012?

3. Are there travel agencies in addition Go2Africa, RhinoAfrica, and Africa Direct I should reach out to?

Thanks in advance for any feedback!!

-Emily

Sydney
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1. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

Emily,

I don't know about Sabi-Sabi specifically, but the general recommendation I have read is to travel in Winter (July/Aug/etc). There is less rain in the Winter months, so animals will stay closer to known water sources (streams), and so will be easier to locate. The drier months also cause the vegetation to die back, and so seeing the animals is easier. Another plus is that the Winter months are the low-season for mosquitoes.

If there is a specific animal you wish to aim for, or a specific event, then Winter may not be the best time. E.g. the Wildebeest calving season, in which case you have to travel to the Serengeti in Feb/Mar.

We visited Kruger in late July-2010 (staying in Jock's concession), and game viewing was good. It is very cold for the first hour or so of your morning game drive, so bring warm clothes. August will be better than July in this regard.

New York
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2. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

Emily - the simple answer is that peak months and best months for wildlife viewing are 2 different concepts. November thru February is summer in South Africa and particularly around the holiday period/school break is a popular time for South Africans to travel so that is "peak time." During the summer period temperatures are higher, the bush is greener and lusher and there are also more rains. The combination of the lush and full foliage with the fact that the animals do not have to search for water means that the animals are more scattered and somewhat more difficult to spot.

May to August are considered the best months for sighting wildlife because they fall within the South African winter when many of the trees and bushes are bare of leaves and the wildlife tends to congregate around the permanent water sources for drinking water. There is also less rain. There is a trade-off however - it can be cold on morning and evening game drives.

Personally, I prefer the May to August time period because it also means less foliage interfering with my photos. I'm heading back this August for my 4th trip to Africa and 3 out of 4 will have been in the July/August time period.

Because you're thinking about Phinda which is an &Beyond property, you may want to contact &Beyond directly though any of the agencies you mention as well as the others that are often recommended on here (or the principals of which post on here frequently) can make the arrangements for you. &Beyond runs pay3/stay 4 specials for a good part of the year and also has several properties in the greater Kruger area that you can combine with Phinda.

I can't tell you about availability.

Edited: 11 January 2012, 01:58
Ohio
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3. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

My family spent Jan 4-7 at Arathusa Safari Lodge in Lower Sabie. Due to school vacations we really didn't have much choice, so January it was. The bush is definately higher at this time. We did have a somewhat difficult time viewing a leopard once while she was asleep under some brush. However, the lion pride, elephants, rhinos, hyenas, wild dogs, zebras, kudus, giraffes, dwarf mongoose and cape buffalo all were viewed just fine!

I cannot speak highly enough of this private game lodge. Our ranger, Phillip and tracker Rifus were fantastic, often going off road to view the elusive wild dogs and leopards. So despite it being the most lush time of year, do I feel I missed out in viewing all these animals...absolutely not. I highly recommend this lovely lodge with gracious and helpful staff, good food and most of all...incredible game viewing.

We had no rain and little exposure to mosquitoes during our stay. The sun came up at 5am and set around 6:30pm. Cool for the first hour or so in the morning and by afternoon the highest temp was 37C with little humidity.

IWe enjoyed the experience so much I asked Phillip the best time to return for safari viewing and his suggestion was March/April........fall in Sabi Sabi. The bush is dying back at that time and it's still somewhat warm.

So my suggestion? Pick a lodge who's rangers and trackers have years of experience (Phillip and Rifus have both been tracking 14+ years) and you can't go wrong any season you pick.

Ohio
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4. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

FYI..check out Arathusa Safari Lodge in TripAdvisor for more info and pictures. I booked directly through their website. They only book 28 guests so you really feel you get to know other guests and staff throughout your stay.

If you decide to book, try and get the units that surround the waterhole as you can just walk out, sit on your porch and watch elephants, zebra, hippos, antelope hanging around the water. And ask specifically for Phillip and Rifus for your guides.

Cape Town
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5. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

You should not have a problem with availability from May to August but to be safe, think about booking soon.

I think you can also include September in the best months for game viewing in the Kruger area (in fact, this is my favourite month). It should still be dry and it will be a bit warmer but as you mentioned, many lodges put their prices up at the end of August.

As for Phinda, the rain starts in September but you could still be lucky and their lowest rates are during these dates: 01 May - 20 Jun, 16 Sep - 10 Oct, 15 Nov - 20 Dec.

Mark September

Small World Tours

Fort Lauderdale...
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6. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

Thanks for all the responses so far, I really appreciate the info! This is so different from my research into Kenya. The peak season there seemed to be completely dependent upon when the game viewing was best. Looks like we're going to plan for summer 2012. Thanks!

Melbourne, Australia
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7. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

Hi drivingprincesse

Took the family to Sabi Sands last August. Like the earlier posts we were told we would see more game in winter and we did see everything we wanted to see over the 5 days, big 5 and everything else too with a 3 hour morning and twilight game drive every day. Our ranger and tracker also told us you see

more in winter months.

We stayed at Sabi Sabi Earth lodge which was magnificent but not cheap ! We used Dragonfly to book everything with and they were a great agency to deal with.

August is right on the end of winter so whilst it was cold at night and in the morning we had blankets and hot water bottles in our Land rover to keep us warm and comfy. When the sun was out it was very pleasant cruising around Sabi Sands in our land rover. if we went again we would definately go at the end of winter for better eyeball animal action !

Tempe, Arizona
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8. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

The difference in seasons is explained very well in above postings.. And another reason for the 'peak season' from November through February is that it is cold, cold in the northern hemisphere - and that prompts a rise in visitors from Europe and North America. But wildlife viewing is indeed easier in the South Africa winter months, and rates are lower then also. Rates usually drop in May, stay low through August or September.

AndBeyond properties are Low from 01MAY through 20JUNE and then rise a little for a Mid-season period. And they do offer a 4-for-3 all year around - that can be carried over from one camp to the next! You can combine nights in Sabi Sand with nights in Phinda and end up with two free nights if you have time for 8 safari nights/days.

The one element that gets in the way of a Sabi Sand/Phinda combination is travel between the two. Closest airport to Phinda is Richards Bay, which is only reachable from Johannesburg. There is a daily flight between Nelspruit and Durban but it is then a 3.5 hour drive from Durban to Phinda. And you get there too late for the game drive. I have clients combining the reserves who will finish in Sabi Sand, fly to Johannesburg from Nelspruit, then on to Richards Bay and stay the night at a nice B&B - and then go the next morning to Phinda. Works just fine.

Dave Patterson - Owner - The Africa Safari

scotland
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9. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

We went to Timbavati in October and saw LOADS of wildlife!! We then travelled west and saw whales in Hermanus and lots of wildlife around Cape Town, too - we had similar issues with trying to get the right time of year & saw most of the big 5 most days on our trip - it was fabulous!

Glasgow, United...
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10. Re: Best Months for Game Viewing

Have visited both Phinda and Sabi Sands in Apr/May/Aug/Sept/Oct over the last 4 years.

April/May was still quite green and April was the only time we got rained on. Regardless which month I visited the game-viewing at both reserves was outstanding - big 5, cheetah, black rhino, wild dog etc. I think Sept/Oct is possibly my favourite time as the temperature is starting to warm up, so the mornings and evenings aren't quite so cold, but the bush is still dry so the animals concentrate around the water sources.

The service and advice I've received from Tanya (co-owner of Africa Direct) means that I dont even think of getting other quotes any more. For my first few safaris I used to get several quotes and Africa Direct was always the best, coming in even cheaper than approaching the lodges directly. Although the cost is lower, there is never any comprise on standards or service. I cannot recommend Africa Direct highly enough.

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