South Africa in four weeks: where, what, how

Itinerary completed! Well, largely at least.The start and finish line pretty much depend on where you land and depart, but everything in between is for to you fill in. Ah, the freedom. So many choices, so much to see, so little time. While four weeks of holiday aren’t bad (you don’t hear me complaining), it is still challenging to pack in all ‘must-see slash want-to-see’ spots in those weeks. But we’re really happy with the plan as it stands now. Though there is plenty more to discover in SA than what we can handle in four weeks, we decided to stick to the coastal area starting in Cape Town, driving up East to the Mozambique border and from there head on to Swaziland and some wildlife excitement in the Kruger area. So what exactly are you (we) able to pack into four weeks? A peek into our sensational schedule:

Week 1: West coast with its whales, sharks and penguins

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Cape Town and its Table Mountain

Day 1: Departure day! Paris – Dubai – Cape Town. A pretty long flight from the Middle Eastern heat to very likeable temperatures in SA (it’s spring time). We’ll fly with Emirates and expect a pleasant flight since they have pretty high standards and good customer service. Travels within SA will be done by car (and some planes).

Day 2-4: Discovering the wonders of Cape Town. On the menu are Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was held prison for the majority of his 27 years in captivity), hiking up Table Mountain, admiring the city’s view from Lion’s Head, head to District Six museum (District Six was a former inner-city residential area where Africans were forcibly removed during the Apartheid regime. The museum serves as a remembrance to the events of the apartheid era as well as the culture and history of the area before the removals. Should be impressive), and chill a little at the V&A Waterfront and the city’s botanical gardens (which are supposedly superb!).

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Boulders beach. Amazing!

Day 5: Heading South! South – South I mean. We’ll do the scenic Chapman’s peak drive along the sea to Africa’s most Southern point: Cape of Good Hope for a little walk with the residential baboons. Also on the plan: Boulders beach, a pretty beach packed with penguins! Oh, the fun!

Day 6: Whale watching in Hermanus. Either on a boat, otherwise by kayak. We don’t know what would be more awesome, but are definitely looking forward to this outing! And the afternoon will be glorious too with a visit to Gansbaai (Gans bay). The place to be for diving with white sharks. No worries, the diver (me!) will be in a cage where (hopefully) the shark cannot catch me. Thrilling!

Day 7: Early morning shark dive (if not possible day before) and relaxing at the very pretty area of Plettenberg bay with our bums at the beach, a good book, and a refreshing cocktail. We might pop in some surfing here.

Week 2: Beaches and back to nature in the Eastern Cape region

Day 8: Roarrr! Heading for a visit to a cheetah rehabilitation centre in Plettenberg where we’ll have an early morning walk with the cheetahs. While this might feel a little zoo-like, the cats are set back out into the wild after recovery and it’s kinda cool to be able to get really close to these beautiful beasts.

Day 9: Port Elizabeth – Durban by airplane. The quickest way to get around and cover large distances. We’ll be off to Umkomaas after picking up our rental car.

Day 10-11: Some more adventure in Umkomaas and Aliwal Shoal where we want to dive with tiger sharks. And this time, without a cage. Ayay! My beau’s dream, while I might be a little too scared to actually do this. There’s plenty of other things to do around Umkomaas, including some swimming and surfing, a little bit of snorkelling and plain scuba diving (ah, safer!). I might even do a walk in a bird sanctuary. Although I am not much of a birdie, the landscapes are too pretty not to admire.

Day 12-13: Not really sure what the plan here is yet but we’re thinking about spending a couple of days North of Durban, hitting up the area around Dolphin Coast. Yes, you guessed that right: you can watch dolphins here (swimming freely in the sea/ocean!). Besides that, we’ll book in a little more beach time, and maybe a lagoon nature trail, horseback ride, or another whale watching adventure. If we don’t feel like any more sand between our toes, we might opt for some inland driving – towards the Drakensberg region.

Week 3: Wilderness and wetlands

Day 14-16: Into the wild! We booked a 3 day hiking trip in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. I cannot wait for this. What it is? A few days of walking (with a ranger) in this magnificent wildlife park in between whatever animals cross your path (they have the Big Five here!), and sleeping in the middle of the bush in small tents. No electricity, no showers. Ultimate coolness.

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The biggest elephant bulls in Tembe

Day 16-17: The last day of the trail ends at noon and the rest of the day (+ the following one) we’ll spend admiring the unique ecosystems of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and its plentiful hippos, crocs and other wetland wowsomeness.

Day 18-19: The biggest elephant bulls (of the world!) can be found in Tembe national park. It’s located far East, right at the Mozambique border. The wildlife park is owned and run by the local tribal authorities who also do the safari drives (aka game drives) in open 4WD vehicles. The park has 9 lodge units which is really nice since not many people will be doing game drives at the same time, meaning: better photographic opportunities and more peace. Since I am an elefan, I am definitely looking forward to our stay here.

Day 20-21: Crossing the border to Swaziland for some rhino viewing in Mkhaya Game Reserve, located almost in the middle of the country. With its magnificent scenery, friendly people, and largest rhino population in Africa, this place has got to be a winner.

Week 4: Going Kruger!

Day 22-26: No safari experience in SA is complete without a visit to the Kruger Park. It’s one of the largest wildlife parks the country has and it’s packed with the Big Five, cheetahs, zebras, antelopes, hippos, giraffes, vultures, scary snakes and plenty more. It’s Adventure with a capital A. There are different options in Kruger: you either ‘do’ the National Park yourself on a self-drive and camping basis. Pros: you are very independent and it’s very affordable. Cons: driving + wildlife watching can be hard. Not all animals are easy to spot and since you (we) are no wildlife spotting experts, there is a big risk you (we) might miss some good viewings. You also need to stay on the roads (tracks), making up close animal viewing a little harder. Plus, it’s more challenging to take amazing shots (with your camera) when you also have to drive.

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Up close wildlife encounters in the private game reserves of Kruger

The other option is to stay in one of the private reserves adjacent to the Kruger Park and which are part of the Greater Kruger Area. Pros: awesome vehicle with a guide plus tracker (open 4WD), experienced staff, cars can go off road for close encounters with ellies and other animals, and your place for the night is far more luxurious. You will enjoy nice meals, hot showers, and fabulous views. Cons: this all comes with a price tag, and it will cost you a pretty penny. Count on around 150-250 EUR per person per night in a standard lodge (our option! And these standard places still look very nice), while paying two to three times more for the upper class luxurious camps (for those with a few more zeros on their bank account). You also have less independence since you do all game drives with some of the other guests (no private viewings) and drives occur at set times.

After looking around at all different private game reserves in the Greater Kruger Area, we opted for Timbavati GR. Sabi Sands is far more famous because of its dense animal population, but Timbavati (which is further North than Sabi Sands) comes at a very good second spot and has more affordable lodging options. Plus, the area for game viewing is bigger with fewer lodges – hence, less vehicles and people. With 2 game drives (early morning and later afternoon/ early evening) and a bush walk per day, we hope to have similar great sightings as we had last year during our Kenya and Tanzania trip. I learned a lot from that safari experience on costs, what to expect, and what information you should know (and ask for) beforehand (I will dedicate a post to safari booking soon!), so I am pretty confident and happy with our choice of reserve and stay (we booked the Motswari private game lodge). The wildlife freaks we are, I am sure we’ll not regret splurging some cash on this.

Day 26: We’ll leave Kruger (Timbavati) in the early morning, following a scenic drive along Blyde River Canyon, some chilling in Graskop or Hazyview area and an overnight stay in Nelspruit (most likely).

Day 27: We fly from Nelspruit to Jo’burg in the early afternoon, leaving SA in the evening over the same route as we arrived (Dubai-Paris). Bringing home plenty of sweet memories and, most likely, hundreds of photos.

And that’s what we decided to fill our four weeks in SA with (you can find our travel map here). A few things might change but this is what we intend on seeing and doing. Countdown has started (can you start countdown one month in advance, or is that too psycho?), I am getting really pumped and my heart is jumping-jack-flash of excitement: adventure is on its way!

Have you been to SA and have any tips, must-see spots or fine eateries to share? Leave a comment, I am always happy to get any new ideas.

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