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3 weeks in South Africa in Nov/Dec 2015: the beginning of the Africa addiction


BieneMaja
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This trip to South Africa was the start of my passion for Africa – two days after we returned I already purchased two travel guides for other African countries and found SafariTalk. So you can imagine I became a vivid reader of trip reports and trip planning threads very quickly.

 

It all started when I came upon an error fare for flights to South Africa while waiting in line to pass security for an evening flight (business trip). So I asked my boyfriend: “what do you think about a trip to South Africa?” He was in, WhatsApp message to my boss to ask for holidays quickly, searching for appropriate dates before departure. After arrival I got an “ok” message from my boss, booked the flight with the last 1% battery while in the taxi towards the hotel :D What an exciting start to the trip already, we are so much looking forward to it as it’s the first trip to Africa for the both of us.

 

Then the reading and booking phase which resulted in this itinerary:

Quick afternoon visit to Cape Town, next morning flight to Durban

St. Lucia Wetland Park

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP

Amakhosi

Drakensberg

quick visit to Lesotho on the way

Kwandwe

Addo Elephant NP

Garden Route

Cape Peninsula

Cape Town

 

We did not book all accommodation in advance, especially during the long driving days and along the Garden Route as we wanted to see where we’d like to stay and be spontaneous. This worked out perfectly for us, there was a lot of availability and we always found a nice B&B to stay at. Only in the National Parks and at the two lodges as well as the first and last nights in Cape Town have been prebooked.

 

We rented a car and went for the cheapest one available which cost approx. 300€ for the whole 3 weeks. There was a lot of driving involved, around 3500km for the whole trip, but we didn't mind that as it was usually very interesting driving with lots of varied scenery.

 

Off we go to South Africa!

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@@BieneMaja Great start to a trip and a report! Looking forward to it.

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After arrival in Cape Town at 2:20pm, we took a taxi to our hostel for the first night. We stayed at Altona Lodge as it was conveniently located close to the V&A Waterfront where we wanted to go in the afternoon. It was only a very short stay as our flight to Durban left the next morning at 6:30am, but we wanted to see at least something of Cape Town. Altona Lodge was a good place for our first night, the staff was very helpful and also organised a taxi for us at 4am the next morning (and even got up to make sure everything went well!). It’s nothing fancy but completely fine for our first night.

 

The weather was amazing, 25 degrees and sun, a nice change from European winter and 0 degrees with a little snow. We very much enjoyed our walk to the V&A Waterfront, got some very tasty late lunch / early dinner at the food stalls at the market and enjoyed the view of Table Mountain. We also had our first Fish & Chips (loved the Hake and Kingklip) while watching a seal playing in the water and some cormorants. We also bought some shorts and hats for our upcoming adventure. Bed time was early due to the need to get up early the next day and the fact that we did not sleep that much on the overnight trip to Cape Town.

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The next morning we went to the airport early to catch our flight to Durban. After arrival we picked up our car which turned out to be a Hyundai i10 – small, but our large backpacks just fit into the trunk. After driving for about 2.5 hours (the first time for me to drive on the “wrong” side of the road) we arrived in St. Lucia and checked in at Mpila which turned out to be lovely. Great setting and view towards the ocean from the terrace. From there we headed into town to book a hippo cruise and to have some lunch (more Fish & Chips). Unfortunately the sunset cruise starting in the afternoon was fully booked already, but we were able to go on an earlier cruise that afternoon.

 

The hippo cruise was absolutely amazing. We saw a lot of hippos, the first time for both of us to see those animals, very impressive. We also saw a lot of birds and some crocs. Our boat driver Stacey proved to be a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife and iSimagliso Wetland Park so the cruise was really nice. There were only two more couples on the boat together with us who had been on a tour to see turtles laying eggs on the beach the two previous nights and they told us this was one of the most amazing things they have seen so far. However, it’s not guaranteed that you see turtles. We decided to spontaneously book the tour for that evening. And it was the best thing we could have done. (to be continued)

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Hurrah another South Africa trip report!

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Welcome to Safaritalk!

 

Excellent trip report so far!

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Really enjoying this, that hippo trip looks like great fun, and you got some super pictures. Thanks also about the Cape Town part, exciting for me to see since I will be there in less than 2 months.

 

And really love your chosen nickname. :)

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Thank you for your comments and likes, @@pomkiwi, @@Towlersonsafari, @@Peter Connan and @@michael-ibk and likes, @@Tdgraves and @@duenelle, I'm glad you enjoy reading my trip report!

 

michael-ibt, where in South Africa will you be going apart from Cape Town? I can highly recommend Parkers Cottage as a place to stay if you haven't booked anything yet, one of the best placed we've been to (for our last 3 nights), incredibly nice and helpful staff, nice rooms and great location.

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We departed around 6pm and picked up one other couple on the way and drove along the beach after getting some more information about the wildlife and what we were up to do that night. Only two vehicles are allowed to drive on that beach at all because it is protected and they are also only allowed to drive up and down the beach once, no turning around possible. Even on the way there, we saw our first African onshore wildlife and Jacques, our knowledgeable guide, explained a lot about them.

Amongst others, we saw a rock python (photo below), we also saw a really nice waterbuck (only blurry photos though), rhino resting next to the road, zebra from quite a distance,…

 

When we arrived at the beach, Jacques deflated the tyres and we met the second vehicle which was completely full, so we were lucky only being four people in the car. When we nearly came to the end of the part we were allowed to drive on, Jacques spotted a leatherback turtle and got out to see if it was relaxed enough to have us watch her. She already laid her eggs and was closing the hole in the sand, so we quietly watched her staying behind her (apart from one quick look from the front) in order not to disturb her. By that time it was raining quite a bit but we didn’t care too much. When she finished, she went back towards the water and we could walk together with her, it was so great to see she made it safely back into the water after this tiring night. The water was surprisingly warm and it must have been full moon or close to it as there was a lot of light even without using a torch or flashlight. An absolutely amazing experience to be able to witness this.

 

On the way back came the second big surprise for us: we saw a leopard that walked past our car and then disappeared into the woods! Absolutely stunning. We have talked to some guys that day who have been to South Africa 12 times and have not seen a single leopard and we are so lucky to see a leatherback turtle AND a leopard on our second day in the country?! Unbelievable. On the way back to the B&B we again saw the rhinos and stayed there to watch them for a while. We also saw a hippo walking along the road and a steenbok in the grass.

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Great start, and wonderful pictures! Can't wait for more.

Our first SA trip was last year, and we are ready to go back. This brings back so many memories...

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@@BieneMaja you surely had a great day's wildlife viewing between the hippo cruise and the night drive. Very impressive turtle, rhino and leopard sightings, and a hard act to follow I suspect.

 

 

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Ahhh, another one got bitten by the bug! Welcome among us, newbies to Africa! Be warned that too much of your future free time will be spent on this forum :o !

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michael-ibt, where in South Africa will you be going apart from Cape Town? I can highly recommend Parkers Cottage as a place to stay if you haven't booked anything yet, one of the best placed we've been to (for our last 3 nights), incredibly nice and helpful staff, nice rooms and great location.

Thank you, we are already booked (De Hoop and Kgalagadi). How lucky with the Leopard, and really like the turtle pics.

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After this nightly adventure we decided to have a leisurely start into the day and went for a long walk on the beach despite the weather not being great. It was raining from time to time and quite windy, but nevertheless we enjoyed our walk a lot. We got a free peeling on our legs due to the sand "storm", the sand looked great, the sea was rough with lots of big waves and a beautiful colour. There were even some local kids who had lots of fun in the water.

 

After a nice lunch in St. Lucia we drove to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park. The drive was on good roads but as cattle was on the streets quite often it took some time. Entering the National Park the first wildlife sight of the day was trees full of yellow weavers with their nests, very pretty. At the reception we bought a map which proved to be very useful both for navigation and for planning our game drives. This evening we checked into Mpila camp which is the smaller one of the two camps and we were very happy with it. Much preferred to the larger camp which we quickly visited the following day. We stayed in a tent which was at the very end of the road inside the camp so we even saw zebras and warthogs from our patio and had a great view from the tent in the morning. Today we saw a rhino from quite far away in a river bed and lots of nyala. As it was quite late already, we didn’t have time for lots of game viewing that day but it was a nice, relaxed day for us after the “not much sleep” and “lots of new things” during the first two days in South Africa.

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@@BieneMaja

 

Welcome to Safaritalk. Thank you for posting this trip report.

 

I love the story about how it all began, and I can well understand the feeling of addiction that you are now experiencing.

 

Your itinerary is interesting. I am especially curious to hear about your report on Kwandwe. I think there's only one other report here on Kwandwe, and a lot of people seem to not be familiar with it. I've been intrigued by it ever since my own addiction began 3 years ago.

 

Looking forward to more!

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@@BieneMaja I loved touring KZN almost a year ago with @bugs: hiring a car at Durban airport and exploring some of the places you went to. Thanks for starting the report.

 

Matt

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Welcome to Safaritalk! Great stuff so far - the turtle experience sounds very cool, and how lucky to see the leopard! They are actually fairly common in the Sabi Sands area near Kruger, but probably less so in that are where you were. I look forward to the report on Kwandwe as well since I was there in 2012 - @@Alexander33 not sure if mine is the report you are thinking of but I did write about it as part of my report on that trip, which was my first to Africa.

Edited by SafariChick
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@@Game Warden What an honour to have you reading my trip report! I loved KZN and would like to spend more time in the region some day. There are so many nice places that we did not visit but even the ones we did get to visit were amazing. I read your trip report to Kenya with @@Safaridude and discovered your Zimbabwe and Botswana reports yesterday, so another fun and interesting read with lots of great photography! You're lucky to have had such great trips with fellow SafariTalk members.

 

@@Alexander33 and @@SafariChick Thank you! Stay tuned for details about Kwandwe, a highlight of the trio for both of us. I skimmed your planning tread, Alexander, and the trip reports of both of you quickly. SafariChick, I am happy you enjoyed your stay as much as I did. And Alexander33, if you are in the region again, definitely consider a visit. Amazing wildlife and location, outstanding staff and the lodge is so nice.

 

@@Treepol It was indeed an extraordinary experience to watch the turtle. We didn't want to get our hopes up too early and actually didn't see the turtle lay her eggs, but even the around 1.5 hours we spent with her were something to remember for our whole lives.

 

@@xelas I hear you... I've been spending way too much time on this forum since we came back from our trip and I discovered SafariTalk. I also read your trip reports on Namibia and really enjoyed them! And the next two adventures for 2016 are already planned: Namibia in June and Kenya in Sep / Oct. So much looking forward to those! And until then: a lot more reading, getting inspired, planning more trips in my mind,... :)

 

@@xyz99 Anything planned yet for your return trip? Happy to hear that you are enjoying reading our trip report.

 

And of course, welcome to the trip report to all of you and @@FlyTraveler

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What a great beginning of your trip report @@BieneMaja! I am enjoying very much the images and the narration. I was thinking of including St. Lucia Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP in my trip to S. Africa, but eventually visited other places, which makes following your trip even more interesting (seeing what I've missed).

 

Thanks for sharing and looking forward to seeing the rest of the report...

Edited by FlyTraveler
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@@xyz99 Anything planned yet for your return trip? Happy to hear that you are enjoying reading our trip report.

 

 

Ohhh boy....so many plans, the hard part will be to pick one. We would love to return to SA and explore more (we only saw Cape Town area, Paternoster area, Hermanus, Timbavati and Sabi Sabi), but we also want to see other countries: Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda (gorillas)...and that's only in Africa. I guess it's one at a time...

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~ @@BieneMaja

 

Reading your trip report is thrilling, due to the variety of fine sightings.

Was your night drive at iSimagliso Wetland Park?

The night images are so clear, with lovely detail.

A leopard, no less! Very COOL!

What struck me throughout your report was the wealth of top bird sightings.

The crocodiles and hippos are nice two, as is the vervet monkey photo.

Thank you for including the images of visitors enjoying playing in the surf.

What a delightful safari destination South Africa is, as shown in your fine photographs!

Tom K.

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@@FlyTraveler Thank you! We very much enjoyed our time in St. Lucia Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP and would actually like to spend more time in the area. There are so many great places to discover. But that has to wait for another trip.

 

@@xyz99 I know that feeling! I'm reading a lot of trip reports about so many countries and national parks, it's hard to pick one, I agree! I decided to go to Kenya next and then stumbled upon great direct flight prices to Windhoek, so another 3.5 weeks in Namibia will happen even before Kenya. But after that... we'll see!

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@@Tom Kellie Thank you very much and welcome to the trip report! The bird sightings were indeed amazing, actually throughout our whole trip. I'll post more details about that later but can already tell you there will be more bird photos soon :) The night drive was indeed at iSimagliso Wetland Park.

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The next morning we got up early in order to drive out of camp as soon as we were allowed to. It was quite cloudy all day so not the best light for photography, but at least it didn’t rain any more. And it was a good decision to be on the road all day. We started with the Southern loop and found out that driving on the gravel road within the park with our little rental car without a lot of horsepower is manageable, but a more powerful car or a 4x4 would make the journey more comfortable. It was basically driving in second or third gear pretty much all day…

 

But let’s start with the wildlife! As mentioned earlier, it was our first time in Africa, so really anything we sae was exciting for us. The day started with more impala. Then the first zebra – how exciting! The hides were not very productive for us as they were very dry, but at the first one we saw some nice birds (can somebody please help to identify them?). Then more zebra and finally some giraffes! After seeing more zebra, a few giraffes and many impala, we went back to our tent for a late breakfast. There we saw a green spider sitting on the yellow flowers of the tree. And we had visitors: some monkeys (sorry, forgot their name – can somebody help out please?) were curious if we really did not leave any food somewhere where they can get an early lunch without much effort. But no luck for them… When we left again, we even saw a mum with a baby.

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Now we made our way towards Hilltop Camp. On the way there, we saw another giraffe really close to the road. It walked past our car, what a great sight. After some more driving, we saw a warthog with three babies, the first for us! They were so cute. Then further on there was a patch of sand and a construction site with lots of large stones to drive, some adventure driving there. A little further we were rewarded with the sight of four white rhinos grazing nearby the road. It was really nice to see them from somewhat close as the rhino we saw yesterday was very far away from the road. A little further down the road we found an elephant mum with her baby together with another few adults. What a great sight, our first little elephant and elephant herd! Driving into Hluhluwe NP we saw an elephant close to the main entrance gate yesterday in a dry riverbed but it didn’t stay there very long. We watched the family for a while until they disappeared in the woods.

 

When we drove further down towards Hilltop Camp, a nice guide conducting a game drive with clients asked us to take the next road to the right and look out for a large elephant bull. He had beautiful long tusks and was feeding. Fantastic. Back to the main road, we took it left to drive a loop. However there was a very steep hill which we attempted to drive up but did not succeed. In addition to being steep, the road had a lot of potholes which slowed the car down and as it was not powerful, we had to go back. Not much fun rolling down backwards a road with potholes that you can’t see behind you… But we made it. Then we made our way to Hilltop Camp and beyond which was a very scenic drive. The landscape changed all the time so it was quite rewarding although we didn’t see any wildlife. But you also need to value the small wildlife: we saw a lot of dung beetles and it was impressive what weight they could move! The dung balls were much larger than they were themselves.

 

On the way back towards Mpila Camp we saw a buffalo herd close to the spot where we previously saw the rhinos. Some of them also crossed the roads. And the elephant family that we previously saw was a little further up the hill, so we again stayed to watch them. We also saw that there was another little elephant and also a buffalo baby. After driving another loop, we nearly were back to the main road when we saw a nice bird in a tree. We could not identify it with the help of the map which also contained drawings of the mammals and birds of the park. Can you identify it?

 

Next to the main road just a little further towards the main gate we then saw a rhino mum and her juvenile pretty much next to the street! How much more exciting could that day get? We were really happy with our day. Could it get any better? We didn’t think so.

 

Wrong: just after the turn to the main gate, we saw four cars stopping on the side of the road. One guy told us he had been following a male lion that was walking around for the past hour. So we joined them and watched the lion get closer and closer to the street. He was very handsome and for us it was fantastic to see our first cat. We watched him until he crossed the street in front of us and walked into the bush on the other side of the road. Close by, a lioness was lying on the ground close to the street. After watching her we needed to head back to camp as it was getting dark soon.

 

Upon return at our tent, I was allowed to just relax after all the driving and the adventures of the day while my boyfriend prepared our delicious first South African braai. We read before that hyenas like to snatch meat off the braai but we only saw the shadow of one walking past. It was really nice to finish the day outside listening to the sounds of nature.

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