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Short notice trip to Kruger

Short notice trip to Kruger

Old Apr 2, 2024, 11:54 pm
  #1  
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Short notice trip to Kruger

My other half and I just booked a trip to South Africa! We got lucky with flights - I found marginally acceptable business class award fares - and the birthday boy we're visiting chose the accommodations in JNB, but I'm really struggling with the safari portion of the trip. We only have five or six nights, which makes it seem more important that we do it 'right.'

We will be in the park in early June - we may fly in to MQP or HDS, but we're comfortable driving, and there are things I wouldn't mind seeing along the way. Our primary wildlife goal is big cats, though we do understand that nature doesn't offer any guarantees, and will enjoy our first visit to this line if ecosystem regardless. I would greatly prefer not to end up in the middle seat of a tour vehicle, but that preference may well be out of our price range. We aren't picky about our accommodations - a double bed with a private bathroom is all we require. We don't mind cooking, but also don't mind having someone else cook for us. Game drive quality is much more important to us than anything resembling luxury.

I'm so lost, I'm not even sure what my budget should be. It looks as though our cheapest option - as little as $1000 or so - would be staying near a gate or in SANpark rest camps and combining their tours with self driving. For around $3000, it looks like we could jump between 'budget' properties in some of the highly recommended private reserves. I can't really tell if there's something of a middle ground, where we stay in cheap accommodations and book an 'outside' drive service that would let us guarantee those window seats. We do anticipate coming back for a longer trip in the not-so-distant future, so I'm not terribly interested in exceeding that $3000 number by very much.

Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated - I'm not really used to planning something like this on such short notice. I don't have any idea if my budget is big enough to bother contacting any tour agencies, and I wouldn't know who to approach regardless. We are confident travelers, and booking it ourselves seems totally doable - but just like I want to pay professionals for the game drives, I'm not opposed to paying a professional to put the trip together for us. If I left out any pertinent info, just ask. Thanks!!

Last edited by synergistic; Apr 3, 2024 at 12:04 am
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 1:26 am
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This is a useful thread to understand the main differences of driving in the National Park versus being guided in an adjacent private reserve: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTo...th_Africa.html

If you stay outside the park (e.g. Hazyview or along the Crocodile River at Malelane, Marloth Park or Komatipoort) then you can either self drive all day or each accommodation will have a preferred supplier for a professionally guided day / morning / afternoon in an open vehicle (typically 9 seats, so you might get a middle seat, or the drive might not be full). If you stay inside the park the best thing to do is drive yourselves around, maybe take 1 or 2 Sanparks drives or a bush braai but the drives from main camps are done on big 20 seat vehicles, so you never know who you'll get next to you and the guiding is variable - sometimes engaging and informative, sometimes just drive you around. Accommodation outside the park is better value, better quality for the cost and better maintained. Accommodation in the park can be tired. But you might have your sundowners or meal with elephants at the fence and bushbabies crying. The third option within the NP is to engage a tour operator who will transfer you, guide you in the park in an open vehicle, and the guide will stay in the same rest camps as you. Look at Wild Wings Safaris for approximate costs with transfers from JNB. You can contact one of the many operators to arrange different pick up / drop off to spend a few extra nights self driving afterwards, for example.

Personally, if you are adventurous, I would self drive for 3 nights and do 2 nights in a private reserve to experience both. Something like... drive at sunrise Johannesburg to Malelane, 2 nights at a south rest camp like Berg en Dal, Skukuza, Lower Sabie. Then 1 night at Satara. Then 2 nights at an affordable private reserve lodge (leaving Orpen gate gives you most options, look at Buffelshoek (basic), Shindzela, Honeyguide tented camps as examples).
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 1:36 am
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In terms of budget...
Self driving: Ensuite Accommodation in park about R2000 per night, car about US$50-60 per day a sedan is fine but an SUV gives you a higher view, conservation fees R490 per person per night staying inside the park, plus food and fuel. So US$1100 for 5 nights for 2 plus fuel and food.
Guided from outside the park is about R2000 per person for a full day shared and about R6000 for a private vehicle - very roughly.
Private reserves are fully catered and guided, so they can offer good value. The ones around R4000-R5000 per person per night will be sharing a vehicle with 9 or 10 if the camp is fully occupied. To get a vehicle gauranteeing 6 or fewer in a 3 row vehicle is typically R10000 pppn. Very roughly.
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 3:01 am
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My experience is solely from friends and my own self drives, but hopefully helpful. The area around Satara is reputedly big cat territory. That's not my experience, but Mother Nature is fickle like that! The lower part of the park has a less strong reputation but we've had awesome sightings there and there is quite a variety of landscapes too.

A family friend works at Mala Mala. It's expensive but his big cat sightings are off the scale amazing. One for your next trip.

I'd echo the split of self drive and and small private preserve. Entering the park via Malelane is both the safest of the lower entrances, easiest drive from Jozi and also quite spectacular in parts. Kruger is amazing. I'm fortunate to have safari-ed in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia and Kruger has delivered as much if not more.
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 3:44 am
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Self drive before or after the guided camp?

We're looking at doing something similar this winter, and with a family of four the self drive option is very considerably cheaper than the camp, so we're also looking at doing a mix. However, I was thinking that it would be better to start with the camp to get some understanding of the ecosystem before we head out by ourselves, but konagirl you're recommending the other way around. Is that just to finish on a high? Or are the other reasons to do that way around?
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 5:11 am
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I visit the park regularly, spending 30-35 days a year in it, I travel solo from the UK and stay in the Sanpark Camps inside the park. If you have any specific questions, happy to help.

I always use Avis picking up from Skukuza airport. One does not need a 4x4, I generally use Toyota Corolla, and more recently a Ford EcoSport, with a few VW Polo Vivo, and Hyundai i20, thrown in.

Staying in the camps absolutely beats hands down staying outside the park, for a start you don't have to queue at the park gates! I would definitely recommend staying min of 2 nights in a camp, otherwise it's too tiring constantly packing/unpacking. Satara is by far the best, and I stay for 8-10 nights just at that one camp, One must be prepated though for putting the work in, and you will be rewarded with fantastic sightings.

Driving is easy peasy, and there are restaurants at many of the camps. Skukuza is the busiest by far, but that is generally at lunchtimes. Accomm is basic, I have plenty of photos etc if you would like to see them I can post on here.

Shops are well stocked, with fresh veg/fruit/meats etc, and there are picnic spots where one can alight and braai.
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Last edited by HGOLI; Apr 3, 2024 at 5:23 am
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 7:30 am
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Originally Posted by Swanhunter
My experience is solely from friends and my own self drives, but hopefully helpful. The area around Satara is reputedly big cat territory. That's not my experience, but Mother Nature is fickle like that! The lower part of the park has a less strong reputation but we've had awesome sightings there and there is quite a variety of landscapes too.

A family friend works at Mala Mala. It's expensive but his big cat sightings are off the scale amazing. One for your next trip.

I'd echo the split of self drive and and small private preserve. Entering the park via Malelane is both the safest of the lower entrances, easiest drive from Jozi and also quite spectacular in parts. Kruger is amazing. I'm fortunate to have safari-ed in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia and Kruger has delivered as much if not more.
We have been going to private reserves just west of the Kruger (specifically Mala Mala and Londolozi) for several years. My personal experience is the big cat sightings there are the absolute best available in southern Africa (we've been to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia & Botswana). But you are absolutely right in saying they are expensive. IMO the best possible way to do them is to scrabble together a 5 or 6 person booking party and then book as a single party. The camps in these private reserves have a maximum of six guests per vehicle (some of the higher end camps have a max of four). And then you will effectively have a dedicated ranger/guide and they will do their best to deliver what you will want to see,
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 8:13 am
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To give you an idea of camp accomm, here are a few pics. All basic, but all ensuite (except for tents, or 'huts'. with kitchens usually outside on the 'stoep'. Accom varies and costs approx 75-85 per night, it is based on the accomm, and not per person. Much of the accomm is for 2 or 3 people, with some catering for 4/5/6 or more.

A lot of accomm is currently being updated.


Skukuza

Satara

Satara
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 8:52 am
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Oh, man, you guys are amazing!! I didn't make it clear, my apologies, it'll be just the two of us deserting the JNB party to go do our own adventure. I can easily turn it into six nights away, and potentially even six nights in the park.


konagirl2 and swanhaunter , your split version is awfully similar to my initial attempt - fly to MQP on day zero to pick up a rental, stay as near a gate as we can manage given our afternoon flight. Three nights at Lower Sabie, two nights at Umkumbe, then fly back to JNB. That came to ~$2300 for my dates, but now I have so many more places to look into!! Your quick response and suggestions have been invaluable already! Knowing private tours are available around that price is also really helpful, has my gears turning for sure.

​​​​And Stewie Mac , the reason I have seen given for the order is that once you've gone luxe, it's hard to swap back. That's not really a concern for me - I'm more trying to make sure we actually get an afternoon siesta the last couple of days so we aren't (as) dog tired upon our return. I have the same 'lay of the land' thought as you, though, and initially planned on starting with a couple of SANpark tours. Now that I'm thinking a private tour is technically feasible, we might start with that instead, and hope we can coerce/tip the private guide into helping us plot for our self drive adventures.

HGOLI , your advice is so appreciated, ESPECIALLY the part about there being car hire available at SZK! I must have managed to search only using hours they are closed - I didn't bother to Google because I'd believed the search to be a longshot anyway. I'm thinking we'll at least plan to fly back to JNB from there, even if we drive pick up a rental and drive in from JNB or MQP. Extra time and rest before we head home are awfully valuable to us - and the flight leaves early enough that, in a pinch, we could just go get another car and drive back to JNB, since I think our travel insurance would only cover economy flights home. I'm also especially glad to know that an experienced soul thinks a compact car is just fine - I'm leaning towards a minivan because I'm old and a bit busted, but it sounds like ground clearance really just isn't an issue.

​​​​cheltzel , part of the reason I 'need' this to be successful is because I'm certain we can convince some friends to join us for a similar adventure if we make them jealous enough. Spending a few days in luxury for a faux-private experience would be amazing.

I'm off to do more research!! I'm suddenly certain Satara is being added to the plan, and I'm now pondering leaving the birthday weekend festivities a bit earlier on Sunday to buy us that extra night. You all have greatly increased both my confidence and my excitement!!
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Last edited by synergistic; Apr 3, 2024 at 9:49 am Reason: Typos & such
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 9:57 am
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north vs south

synergistic - hope you don't mind me adding some questions onto this thread, it's very timely and getting lots of expert advice.

What's the views on North vs South of the park during the winter (July)? Travelling as a family of four, we're trying to find 4 bed cottages/bungalows w Sanparks and there are limited numbers, with much more availability in the North (Sirheni, Bateleur, etc). Leaving aside the greater transit time from JHB, are there any obvious downsides to explain the better availability? Or is it just less accessible, but as good for game viewing ? And obvious caveat that I know there is no such thing as guarantees w game viewing...

tia.
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 10:14 am
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I’ve not done that much of the North, in part as it’s just less accessible. It becomes quite a drive from Jo’burg (and from my winter home in White River). The perception is there are fewer sightings and the terrain isn’t as favourable.

That said trip to the far North and then onwards to Mapungubwe is on the cards for the end of the year. Might not be of interest for kids. And the OH needs to get over a childhood fear of Sanparks scratchy green blankets. 😉
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Last edited by Swanhunter; Apr 3, 2024 at 2:05 pm
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 11:05 am
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Only reason I suggest private reserve at the end is to have the being looked after, cooked for etc at the end. We found we had more questions when we had self driving for a few days and it was nice to start conversations with the guide / tracker when drives were a bit quiet, instigate a conversation.

Interestingly we've never had much luck at Satara, but then we haven't spent that long there. I can completely see why you see cats there, particularly in winter first thing when they enjoy the relative heat of the road at dawn. We have had lots of luck throughout, but my experience is the far south has highest density of everything. Crocodile Bridge for herds of grazers, Berg en Dal for leopard, wild dog and unicorns, Skukuza to Lower Sabie and up to Tshokwane is the most productive part of the park imo for density and diversity. And obviously it's so much easier to get there and back from JNB.

The north is just very different, it is quieter for cars and it is less dense for wildlife. The predator density sticks to the river corridors. From Olifants to Mopani is mopaneveld. It's just harder to see through and with fewer vehicles it's harder to spot. Around Shingwedzi is beautiful and very productive, but you do need to spot wildlife yourself (fewer cars and fewer roads means you can't cover as much ground). And then the far north around Pafuri is completely different, and very beautiful, but you can't expect to spot predators there. Which is why it's more visited in summer when the migratory birds are around. StewieMac, if it's a first trip or first time self driving, I would go for 2 bungalows in the south over Sirheni or Bateleur (the camp staff will site you two together, you can cook together and just sleep with a kid each). Unless it's the last week of SA school holidays, and then I would avoid the south like the plague! What dates are you there?
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Old Apr 4, 2024, 10:00 am
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konagirl, many thanks for response. We're there mid-July, after the SA kids are back, so we'll take your advice and go for 2 x bungalows in the South.
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Old Apr 4, 2024, 12:30 pm
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Originally Posted by synergistic
Oh, man, you guys are amazing!! I didn't make it clear, my apologies, it'll be just the two of us deserting the JNB party to go do our own adventure. I can easily turn it into six nights away, and potentially even six nights in the park.


konagirl2 and swanhaunter , your split version is awfully similar to my initial attempt - fly to MQP on day zero to pick up a rental, stay as near a gate as we can manage given our afternoon flight. Three nights at Lower Sabie, two nights at Umkumbe, then fly back to JNB. That came to ~$2300 for my dates, but now I have so many more places to look into!! Your quick response and suggestions have been invaluable already! Knowing private tours are available around that price is also really helpful, has my gears turning for sure.

​​​​And Stewie Mac , the reason I have seen given for the order is that once you've gone luxe, it's hard to swap back. That's not really a concern for me - I'm more trying to make sure we actually get an afternoon siesta the last couple of days so we aren't (as) dog tired upon our return. I have the same 'lay of the land' thought as you, though, and initially planned on starting with a couple of SANpark tours. Now that I'm thinking a private tour is technically feasible, we might start with that instead, and hope we can coerce/tip the private guide into helping us plot for our self drive adventures.

HGOLI , your advice is so appreciated, ESPECIALLY the part about there being car hire available at SZK! I must have managed to search only using hours they are closed - I didn't bother to Google because I'd believed the search to be a longshot anyway. I'm thinking we'll at least plan to fly back to JNB from there, even if we drive pick up a rental and drive in from JNB or MQP. Extra time and rest before we head home are awfully valuable to us - and the flight leaves early enough that, in a pinch, we could just go get another car and drive back to JNB, since I think our travel insurance would only cover economy flights home. I'm also especially glad to know that an experienced soul thinks a compact car is just fine - I'm leaning towards a minivan because I'm old and a bit busted, but it sounds like ground clearance really just isn't an issue.

​​​​cheltzel , part of the reason I 'need' this to be successful is because I'm certain we can convince some friends to join us for a similar adventure if we make them jealous enough. Spending a few days in luxury for a faux-private experience would be amazing.

I'm off to do more research!! I'm suddenly certain Satara is being added to the plan, and I'm now pondering leaving the birthday weekend festivities a bit earlier on Sunday to buy us that extra night. You all have greatly increased both my confidence and my excitement!!
At Londolozi and the high end Mala Mala camps, be careful going there. Not that there's anything wrong with them. Quite to the contrary as you might get hooked! On our last trip to Londolozi, the camp manager made us a fancy gin drink prior to diner and saw my wife fall in love with it and the makings for this drink miraculously appeared on you vehicle for Sundowners starting the next day. You can get really spoiled.
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Old Apr 4, 2024, 12:56 pm
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Hi there, cheltzel's wife. If you want to check out my photos on instagram, 90% of them are from Mala Mala and Londo. Hippos and the carmine bee eaters are from Zambia. I have a good selection of photos and a few reels as well. Most photos are untouched other than perhaps cropping. At Mala Mala, it's not a question of IF you will see a lion or leopard today, more so, How Many you will see today. Link to instagram is below.

Editing because the link did not show up when I first posted. You might need to copy/paste. I'm wildcattraveler on Instagram.


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