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Joe explores South African highlights – April 2017

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Having visited Cape Town previously as a backpacker, I was excited to see the city from a different perspective. I had previously acquainted Bree Street for food, Long Street for beer and Kloof Street for everything else – broadening my horizons was a must!

Thinking I already knew Cape Town and its surrounding areas, I departed on a peninsula tour with my guide Andrew and his incredible depth of knowledge. Table Mountain was to be my first stop, but unfortunately Cape Town’s infamous four seasons in one day struck and I was unable to board the revolving cable car to the top. So instead, we worked our way southwards through the beautiful Camps Bay, Clifton, Llandudno (not the one in Wales, it’s very different!) and Fish Hoek through to Cape Point. This worked out excellently as we beat the crowds and enjoyed a tourist free experience. After enjoying the spectacular views at the most south-westerly tip of Africa, we ventured to Simonstown and the famous Boulders Beach Cape Penguin colony. Watching the little critters basking in the sunshine is such an unusual experience and therefore very popular with tourists. 

After a superb seafood lunch in the Harbour House restaurant in Kalk Bay, we continued on our way to Constantia, a leafy suburb. You would not expect to see ten vast wine farms only 20 minutes’ drive from Cape Town city centre, but that’s exactly what I found. Visiting Groot Constantia (the oldest Wine farm in South Africa) as well as a few others, although unfortunately I could not partake in the tastings!

One of the most noticeable things I learned whilst in Cape Town is that it is more than just the V&A Waterfront. To properly explore the city and its surrounding areas I think you need at least four days.

After my time in Cape Town, I boarded the direct flight to the Greater Kruger Area. My first two nights were spent in the Timbavati Game Reserve. I had envisioned heavily touristic tar roads and a very removed safari experience (perhaps due to the Kruger National Park stereotype?) but was greeted with a surprisingly different experience. Compared to East Africa, the safari provided a more sophisticated experience with spotters/trackers perched on the front of the vehicle and the guides equipped with ear pieces and hands free radios! But the game viewing was the first thing that grabbed my attention as my first drive brought four of the ‘big five’ including two lionesses on a kill and a beautiful female leopard lounging in the shade of a marula tree. On my second day (I promise this won’t just be a list of all my sightings!) whilst enjoying pre morning walk coffee, a kudu sprinted past followed closely by a wild dog. What a start! We headed out on a vehicle to gain a sighting and came across two female lionesses’ eating the kudu that the dog had been chasing. Twelve hyaena then arrived on the scene cackling away to irritate the lions to gain a share of the spoils, but to no avail. 

I then visited the Klaserie Game Reserve which offers some reasonable walking options before heading southwards into the aptly named Thornybush Game Reserve. The thick foliage following the rain had made game viewing much more difficult, although we were fortunate enough to see elephant, buffalo, lion and a young male leopard trying to understand how to tackle a snake in the long grass.

The Sabi Sands was next but first we had to pass through the small town of Hazyview which works excellently for an overnight stop or for a longer stay where you can enjoy a number of different activities in the area. After having a chat with the incredibly charismatic Chris Harvie (travel author and owner of the Rissington Inn) I made my way into the Reserve.

Three nights were spent in the Sabi Sands, experiencing the flora and fauna it had to offer. I had been told prior that leopards would be ‘dropping out of the trees, there were so many!’, they weren’t quite doing that, but sightings were still superb, as was the guiding.

The Sabi Sands Game Reserve, like the other reserves bordering the Kruger, is sub-divided into numerous different ‘private reserves and concessions’ with different properties having their own exclusive use and traversing rights. The accommodation varies vastly from very expensive luxury lodges to more value options. For almost guaranteed all year round game viewing, both the Timbavati and Sabi Sands Game Reserves are two of the best options in Africa. A feature of the unpredictability of wildlife viewing is the fact that during my stay at Umkumbe, an area with the smallest traversing area out of all the properties visited, it delivered the best game viewing I experienced in the Sabi Sands – albeit I only spent one night at each property!

My next stop was the Madikwe Game Reserve in the North-West Province on the border with Botswana. Being located in a malaria free area, it makes a great option for families – there are a number of properties with specially designed family units.

Access to Madikwe is either by a 60 minute light aircraft fight from Johannesburg or a 4.5 hour road transfer. Game viewing is good and quite reliable as it is a fenced reserve. Two of my highlights however were not while out on drives but instead sitting at two hides. The first was at The Bush House (their underground hide allows you to view wildlife up close whilst at ground level) where I had a very special experience during my site inspection – as I was about to leave, a herd of around 30 elephants arrived at the waterhole and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make use of the hide and take some photographs. Jaci’s Tree Lodge have a similar set up with their Terrapin Hide – both allow you to view wildlife from a different and slightly unusual perspective. 

Generally, my time in South Africa provided a more sophisticated safari experience coupled with slicker service and a slightly more westernised feel. A safari here lends itself to those looking for slightly more comfortable accommodation options with creature comforts of home but also excellent game viewing. It attracts both first timers and more seasoned safari goers – I met a number of couples who had travelled all over Africa and still found themselves coming back to South Africa (in particular the Greater Kruger Area). 

Whilst it was a busy schedule of some of the key regions of the country, visiting 44 properties in 13 nights really ensured I maximised my time.

 

During Joe’s trip he stayed at: Blackheath Lodge, Glen Avon, Sea Five, Tanda Tula, Kambaku River Sands, nThambo Tree Camp, Jackalberry Lodge, Nottens, Umkumbe, Mala Mala, Impodimo, Makanyane and Jaci’s Tree Lodge.

Joe also site inspected: Winchester Mansions, The Silo, Cape Grace, Victoria and Alfred Hotel, Four Rosmead, Kensington Place, Cape Cadogan, More Quarters, Camps Bay Retreat, The Bay Hotel, Kings Camp, Makanyi, Kambaku Safari Lodge, Africa on Foot, Chapungu Tented, Thornybush Game Lodge, Rissington Inn, Savanna, Duluni River Lodge, Dulini Leadwood, Rattray’s, The Bush House, Tuningi, Etali, Madikwe Safari Lodge, Jaci’s Safari Lodge, Jamala, Citylodge OR Tambo and the Intercontinental OR Tambo.

 



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