|Big skies, rough drives
COMING face to trunk with a colossal African elephant is an experience not for the faint-hearted, but it's great for an instant adrenaline high. If you’re driving yourself, your car will suddenly seem alarmingly flimsy; if you’re on a guided safari, you may briefly lament the Land Rover’s lack of a roof or sides. Fear not – Bigfoot will probably saunter past without batting an eyelid. But occasionally, he will look straight at you and lift those massive ears. Mock charge or the real thing – you don’t want to hang about to find out.
Whether it’s an elephant or one of the other “Big Five” (lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino), it’s hard to describe the excitement and awe upon finding oneself in the untouched African bush, where these animals – and countless other species of fauna and flora – exist in their ages-old natural habitat. A South African safari can challenge your wits and your senses, but you can do it all in style. Pick from five-star resorts, luxury lodges and hideaway resorts. It’s all here in this detailed review of South Africa national parks, game reserves and lodges. A luxury hotel in the bush? No problem. But it may have a thatch roof.
Being hosts of the Soccer World Cup (June and July 2010) has lent fresh impetus to the country’s tourism allure and the lodging options are more varied and intriguing.
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In South Africa, you have a choice between well-run National Parks (managed by South African National Parks [SANParks]) in arid, coastal, “Bushveld” or mountain regions, with reasonable tariffs and comfortable, clean, serviced accommodation, and private game reserves.
|Leopard pose/ photo: &BEYOND
The latter are often luxurious, with five-star accommodation, exclusive game-viewing, and an atmosphere that tends to be personalised and relaxed. Whether you choose the former or latter you are sure to see plenty of animals, but if you go for the private reserve option, sightings of the Big Five are pretty much guaranteed, since your guide and tracker will know roughly where the animals are and will go off-road to find them for you.
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Game-viewing in South Africa's private reserves is done from open-topped four-wheel-drive vehicles. Your guide will explain that predators such as the big cats tend to see the vehicle and its passengers as a single, unthreatening entity. So long as everyone remains seated there is no danger. Guided game-walks are often part of the package. Tariffs include all meals (served outdoors in enclosures known as “bomas”), drinks, game drives and walks.
Most national parks also offer organised night drives or early morning drives in park vehicles with guides. Guided walks, hiking, bird watching – and sometimes four-wheel-drive trails – may also be on offer at set times but if you prefer a flexible schedule it’s a good idea to hire a car and explore the national parks on your own. Most parks have rest-camps and – depending on the park – a range of accommodation, from camps and huts to bungalows and guesthouses. Most accommodation is equipped with self-catering facilities, many camps have shops and petrol stations, and some have restaurants. Take a look at our South Africa game parks map to get your bearing.
South Africa’s Mpumalanga province is internationally known for its wildlife and many of the country's acclaimed game lodges are based there. The area also has spectacular scenery – some of the places of interest worth visiting are the Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window, from where there are sprawling views. The temperate Eastern Cape, the hot, dry North West Province and Limpopo province are also increasingly popular game viewing regions.
|Thanda Phoca wellness/ photo: hotel
KwaZulu-Natal is known for its scenic diversity: from sandy beaches to soaring mountains. About a third of the province is under some form of private conservation – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is the provincial “protected area” agency entrusted with the long-term conservation and management of these areas and the region’s ecosystems. (Ezemvelo is the Zulu term for the concept of the environment.) The organisation is separate from South African National Parks.
Game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal are spread across the subtropical plains of the east coast and on the upper reaches of some of its larger rivers. The Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, set in tropical savannah with the Big Five roaming freely, is the oldest proclaimed park in Africa. Other eco-tourism destinations in the province include the iSimangaliso Wetland Park with its lakes and wetlands fringed with Indian Ocean coral reefs, and the spectacular Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park. With an average altitude of 3,000m, the Drakensberg mountains comprise the highest range south of Kilimanjaro. Both parks have been declared World Heritage Sites.
South African National Parks and safaris
South Africa’s most famous national park is the massive Kruger National Park, comprising nearly two million hectares and situated in Mpumalanga province, bordering Mozambique. About 350km in length and 54km in width, Kruger is about the size of Wales and has nine different entrance gates. You can drive for days in there. A five-hour drive from Johannesburg (or take a domestic or international flight directly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport outside the Mpumalanga capital of Nelspruit or a domestic flight to Phalaborwa or Hoedspruit airports), the park has the greatest variety of wildlife species in the country. It is home to 147 types of mammals, 507 types of birds, 114 types of reptiles, 49 types of fish and 336 types of trees. It also has ancient bushman rock paintings and archaeological sites.
|Lower Sabie, Kruger/ photo: SANParks
On visits to the Kruger Park we have seen plenty of lion (and in one case had a very close encounter indeed when a large male literally brushed by the side of our small sedan car). During the same trip, we also saw a leopard with her cubs, another leopard stalking prey, plenty of elephants with babies in tow, many types of buck, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, baboons, crocodiles, hippopotami and countless birds, including birds of prey like the majestic Bateleur eagle, different types of hawks and bald-necked vultures.
The park, established back in 1898, has 12 main rest camps and four satellite camps, offering a range of accommodation from camping, huts, safari tents, bungalows, cottages, bush lodges and luxuriously appointed guesthouses. Major camps have restaurants, petrol filling stations and Internet. There are also five smaller, more secluded "Bushveld" camps, two overnight hides and two bush lodges. Kruger also comprises nine pre-allocated private concessions where guests can stay in luxury lodges surrounded by unspoilt wilderness.
You are free to explore the park by yourself during daylight hours (in an enclosed vehicle) but you can also choose from a range of guided activities (wilderness trails, including three nights in a wilderness camp accompanied by a ranger from 3,120 rand; guided morning walks from R310; sunrise and sunset drives from R210 per adult and afternoon walks from R240). As well as being a major tourist attraction the park is also very popular with South Africans, so book well ahead, particularly during local school holidays. A good time to visit is in the South African winter when days are mild but nights cold. Kruger Park is in an endemic malaria area – consult a travel clinic or doctor before your arrival for a prescription of appropriate anti-malarial drugs. Don’t forget the repellents. The highest malaria risk is during the December to April rainy season.
|Kwandwe/ photo: &BEYOND
Apart from the Kruger National Park, there are 19 other national parks in different parts of the country. Most have overnight facilities. Not all boast the Big Five, but there are plenty of options for serious game viewing.
The 28,000-hectare Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site is 230km from Polokwane, the capital of Limpopo province. The area has a rich history (it is the site of an ancient kingdom – cattle and crop farmers inhabited Mapungubwe Hill and surrounds between AD 900 and AD 1270 and participated actively in Indian Ocean trade of the time). It is also rich in traditional San art and a sanctuary to endangered large mammals such as the highly elusive wild dog, and black and white rhino. Mapungubwe, which means “place of the stone of wisdom”, offers a range of accommodation including a tented camp, luxury lodge and camping site. The main camp has a swimming pool and sun deck. Apart from game watching there are also at least 400 bird species. Take a walk among the riverine forest on a raised canopy walk that takes you to a hide overlooking the Limpopo River. The numbers of game such as leopard, lion, giraffe, and different types of antelope, zebras and baboons, fluctuate with the movement of the animals (they are not restricted by fences).
One of the best places in South Africa to see and appreciate elephants in the wild is the Addo Elephant National Park, proclaimed in 1931 when the number of elephants in the area had dwindled to only 11. The park is set in the Sundays River region of the Eastern Cape, 72km from the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. There are regular flights to Port Elizabeth from all the country’s major airports, including Johannesburg and Cape Town international airports.
The original park has been expanded to include a nature reserve and marine reserve (an important breeding habitat for gannets and African penguins). This means that not only does the park contain five of South Africa's seven major vegetation zones (biomes), but it also houses the “Big Seven” (the Big Five, plus the southern right whale and the great white shark) in their natural habitat. Bear in mind, though, that most of the animal action is in the area around the main rest camp.
|Ulusaba Rock Lodge/ photo: hotel
While we were expecting to see plenty of elephants (and the sightings indeed exceeded our expectations), we were pleasantly surprised to see lionesses relaxing in the shade next to the road two days in a row on a recent visit. Here, rain occurs throughout the year and the climate is described as “temperate to warm” – bring warm clothes in winter, and a jacket or something fleecy for chilly summer evenings.
The park boasts over 450 elephants, as well as Cape buffalo, black rhino, a variety of antelope species and, on the other side of the spectrum, the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively here. Visitors are regularly reminded that the large black beetles have “right of way” on the reserve’s roads. A wide range of serviced accommodation, including a tented camp, is available. The main camp, with an indoor/outdoor restaurant, game-viewing area and swimming pool, has two chalets and two cottages adapted for use by people with physical impairment. The PPC Discovery Trail has a boardwalk surface and guide rope to provide easy access for people in wheelchairs and those with impaired sight.
Really want to get away from it all? Head for the remote Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (it includes the former Gemsbok National Park in Botswana) with an area of more than 3.6 million hectares. Situated in the fascinatingly arid Northern Cape, the park has red dunes, sparse vegetation and dry riverbeds.
Boasting vast herds of different types of antelope, lions and leopard, as well as many types of birds (the area is famous for its birds of prey), more patience is required to spot big cats here than in some other parks across the country. However, a black-maned Kalahari lion is a sight you will never forget. The park is also less accessible than most others. Get there by flying to Upington in the Northern Cape, from where the park is a 260km drive away. Note that roads in the park have gravel surfaces. If you’re planning to enter the Botswana side, you need a four-wheel-drive, but sedans can handle the main roads on the South African side.
|Amber Suite, Earth Lodge Sabi Sabi
There is also a landing strip where light aircraft may land with prior permission. The park has no surface water and an annual rainfall of only 200mm. There are three rest-camps with basic shops and petrol stations, offering accommodation from camping to family cottages. The smallest of the camps, the recently upgraded Mata-Mata Rest Camp, now has eight brand-new thatched chalets. The older chalets have also been refurbished and their design and fittings maximise energy efficiency for the Kalahari’s harsh conditions. In addition, unfenced wilderness rest-camps (a maximum of eight people per camp) have armed “tourism assistants” to protect you against unwanted predators (of the feline variety).
The luxurious !Xaus Lodge (pronounced “Kaus” and meaning “heart” in the Nama language), consisting of a central lodge and 12 individual chalets, is owned by the Khomani San and Mier communities. These “Bushman” people were traditionally hunter gatherers living completely off the land. The establishment of the lodge followed a land settlement agreement with the South African government and SANParks. (The land belonged to these communities before it was incorporated into the then Kalahari Gemsbok Park in 1931.)
Set on red dunes, the lodge overlooks a massive salt pan with a waterhole where animals come drinking. This is your chance to join a guide in tracking animals, seeking out traditional healing plants and gaze at the pristine Kalahari night sky through telescopes.
Visit in the South African autumn and winter (April to September), when days are warm and the mercury plummets to sub-zero at night. Summer temperatures are scorching.
The Karoo National Park set in the vast Great Karoo is a great place to break the long road trip from the country’s interior to Cape Town – it is 500km north of Cape Town and 1,000km south of Johannesburg. You will not find any big cats or elephants here, but it has about 20 pairs of black eagles (one of the highest densities of this species in Africa) and five species of tortoises.
|Londolozi Camp/ photo: hotel
It also hosts the Cape mountain zebra that came close to extinction in the early 20th century and high numbers of Springbok, as well as black wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, kudu and other antelope. Activities and facilities include guided game drives, hiking trails and four-wheel-drive eco trails. The park has an immaculate rest-camp boasting cottages and units in Cape Dutch style (breakfast included), an award-wining campsite, restaurant, swimming pool, shop and wonderful views. Real big sky country this. Do look at our South Africa game parks map to get oriented.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife parks
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manages more than 80 protected wildlife areas throughout KwaZulu-Natal province, aiming to preserve its ecosystems while allowing people sustainable benefits from the areas. Accommodation in the KZN Wildlife parks range from log cabins and cottages to trail huts, bush camps and camping.
The world-class Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (Hluhluwe is pronounced “Shlushluwe”), run by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, is home to all of the Big Five. The 96,000-hectare park, which is actually two adjacent game reserves (Hluhluwe to the north and Imfolozi to the south), is renowned for “Operation Rhino”, when endangered white rhinos were captured and relocated to havens within South Africa and abroad in the 1960s, saving them from extinction.
As a result, this country's white rhino population is now 12 times the 1960 count of 500. The park has at least a fifth of the world’s black and white rhino population, as well as lion, elephant, buffalo and leopard. Other abundant wildlife includes hippo, Nile crocodile, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, baboons and more than 300 species of birds. Go on self-drives, guided walks, boat rides or organised drives on open four-wheel-drives, or explore a self-guided walking trail.
|Mala Mala: Let sleeping lionesses lie
The park is located in central Zululand, about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Durban (six hours from Johannesburg and one hour from Richard’s Bay). The two safari camps offer a range of self-catering options, from chalets and cottages to rest-huts and safari tents. Award-winning Hilltop Camp also has a restaurant. There are a number of eight-bed lodges, with cooks and field rangers, scattered across the park, including Mpila, Muntulu and Gqoyeni. Mtwazi Lodge, once the original home of the reserve’s warden, is set under a large fig tree within its own secluded veldt garden and features memorabilia from its rich history. There is also a large range of accommodation options in the town of Hluhluwe 25km away. Guests are cautioned to use the locks on the fridges and not to leave food lying around – the hyenas have become adept at opening fridges. Summers are hot and humid with frequent thunderstorms, while the winters are generally warm and dry during the day, but it can get really chilly at night.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park (iSimangaliso means “miracle and wonder”) on the Zululand coast is about 250km from the city of Durban. The 332,000-hectare park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems and Africa’s largest estuarine system, the 80km-long Lake St Lucia. Apart from diverse wetland systems and the highest vegetated dunes in the world, there are many types of antelope (including kudu, reedbuck and bushbuck) to be seen, as well as buffalo, crocodiles, hippo and numerous waterfowls, grassland, forest and sea birds.
This Unesco World Heritage Site is South Africa’s third-largest protected area and the one park in Africa where hippopotami, crocodiles and sharks can be found all in the same area. There are a number of campsites, self-catering options and bush lodges. The Park comprises a number of conservation areas, the oldest of which is the St Lucia Game Reserve, established in 1895. Swimming in the lake is prohibited because of the crocodiles. Sugerloaf Campsite, with 92 sites within walking distance of the estuary, has barbecue facilities and plug points, as well as a swimming pool. Eden Park, with 20 sites, is set in a small forest.
|Long necks at the waterhole
For hikers, no visit to the region is complete without a trip to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. The 200km-long Drakensberg (“Dragons’s Mountain”) ranges, snow-capped in winter, separate the province from neighbouring Lesotho. If you’re keen to trace the footsteps of the region’s early hunter-gatherer inhabitants, here’s your chance to overnight in a cave. Just remember, those with rock art are off limits and you’re not allowed to make fires in any of them. Bring your own sleeping and cooking equipment, and take your refuse with you. For creature comforts such as satellite television and cosy fireplaces, head instead to the luxurious Didima resort at Cathedral Peak. Here, romantics can wallow in the honeymoon suite and take advantage of the wedding chapel with a glass wall framing the famous peak. Another option in the central region of the Drakensberg is the Giant’s Castle Camp with fully equipped chalets offering from two to six beds, honeymoon suite, restaurant, bar, vulture hide and caves museum.
Private Game Reserves
On the Kruger National Park’s western border lie a number of world-famous luxury private game reserves, many of which regularly host international celebrities. Most of the private lodges have their own airstrips and swimming pools. More exclusive game viewing is on offer in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape Province and increasingly so in other provinces.
Mpumalanga, South African safaris and luxury lodges
All the Mpumalanga private game lodges are in the vicinity of the Kruger National Park, about 500km (five hours by car) from Johannesburg. You can also arrange to be flown directly to your lodge or to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport nearby.
|Stunning view from Rock Lodge, Ulusaba
MalaMala, at over 45,000 acres, is the largest privately owned South African game reserve that is home to the Big Five. Herds of animals migrate freely between MalaMala and the adjacent Kruger National Park along the 19km unfenced boundary. Famous for its leopard populations, MalaMala, which is acclaimed for its “eco-tourism” approach, has three luxurious camps with air-conditioned chalets. MalaMala Main Camp features eight luxury suites and 10 luxury rooms, as well as a disabled suite.
Family rooms are available on request. Each of the air-conditioned rooms enjoys views of the surrounding bush and is equipped with "his" and "her" en-suite bathrooms and insect-proof screens. There is also a supervised “junior ranger” programme for children aged four to 12, including animal tracking and game walks. The more intimate Sable Camp accommodates a maximum of 14 people (no children under 12), while the ultra-exclusive Rattray’s on MalaMala has a library with rare books and art works, among other splendours (no kids under 16).
Five-star, family-run 30,000-acre Londolozi is a member of the prestigious Relais et Chateaux hotels. All four camps and the private Granite Suites look out over the Sabie River. There is something to suit every taste: small and intimate or bigger and more social. As at other luxury lodges, you will be treated to day and night game drives, bush-walks, and meals in a bush setting, but other activities include full moon walks, bush running, tracking adventures, overnight bush sleep-outs and fishing.
Back at the camp, massages and yoga beckon. In addition to the usual game drives, meals and drinks, children’s programmes, emergency evacuation insurance, daily yoga and other perks are included in rates.
|Phinda pool/ photo: hotel
Inyati (the name means “buffalo” in the Shangaan language), set within the 65,000-acre Sabi Sand Game Reserve next to the Kruger Park, has 10 thatched, air-conditioned luxury and executive chalets with luxurious en-suite bathrooms. The camp also has a small conference centre, swimming pool, gym and river deck for relaxing and game viewing. Inyati residents include a cute warthog family that helps trim the camp lawns. As at other private game reserves, you will have a ranger at your service throughout your stay.
Sabi Sabi, the winner of many prestigious environment and tourism awards, has four luxurious lodges, all unfenced, on the banks of the Sabie River. In “Out of Africa” style, Selati Camp was originally built without electricity, but now features overhead fans, airconditioning and other mod cons. Flagship Bush Lodge has 25 luxurious thatched suites and huge viewing decks, while Sabi Sabi’s newest addition, Little Bush Camp, caters for small groups and now features brand-new spa baths on each secluded suite deck. Environmentally sensitive Earth Lodge offers ultra-luxurious accommodation, including the huge Amber Suite. Sabi Sabi also caters for conferences, incentive breakaways, weddings and honeymoons.
If you have money to burn, the expanded Singita Reserves boast five lodges, from a whopping R10,950 per person per night. Ebony and Boulders, and the private Castleton Camp villa sleeping groups of up to 12, are within the Sabi Sand Reserve. Lebombo and Sweni camps are on the Kruger National Park’s eastern border with Mozambique, a region known for its large prides of lions. Singita, which also has lodges in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, has won a number of prestigious international travel and hotel awards.
|What's for dinner/ photo: &BEYOND
For an exclusive game experience (and if you don’t mind paying a small fortune for the privilege), Richard Branson’s Ulusaba is set in more than 10,000 acres of unspoilt African bush, housing the Big Five and many more. There are 21 rooms and suites spread over two lodges, Rock Lodge and Safari Lodge (where guests cross swing bridges between the tree house-style rooms). Luxury safari drives and guided game-walks are the order of the day. When not communing with nature, there’s a gym or beauty treatments at the Aroma Boma.
North West Province
The 75,000-hectare Madikwe Game Reserve, situated against the Botswana border, is a three-hour drive from Johannesburg. It is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa, housing the Big Five among its 66 mammal species, as well as about 300 bird species. It’s also famous for being home to rare African wild dogs. There are three main stakeholders involved in the reserve: the North West Parks Board, the private sector and local communities. The reserve has a large range of lodges and bush camps, including the upmarket Jaci’s Lodges, Tuningi Safari Lodge, The Bush House and new Jamala Madikwe Royal Safari Lodge.
The malaria-free Pilanesberg Game Reserve, 150km northwest of the metropolis of Gauteng (which includes Johannesburg) and near the sprawling Sun City resort, is the fourth largest in southern Africa. It covers about 55,000 hectares, and is located in the crater of an ecologically important long-extinct volcano. You can fly straight to the Pilanesberg airport from Johannesburg. The 200km of roads in the park are not tarred, but well maintained and perfectly accessible by sedan car. The park is managed by the North West Parks and Tourism Board and run as a three-way partnership between the Board, the private sector and local communities. It is set in what in South Africa is known as the “Bushveld”, a transition zone between dry Kalahari and wetter “Lowveld” vegetation.
|Stay in style at Singita Ebony photo: hotel
The reserve houses all of the Big Five, and virtually every mammal in southern Africa, including springbok and brown hyena. Accommodation ranges from camping (at Manyane and Bakgatla camps, which also have thatched African-style chalets and “executive” tents set on wooden decks) to upmarket lodges, including the luxury Bakubung Bush Lodge, with 76 air-conditioned rooms with thatched roofs and 66 chalets, all with satellite TV, IDD phones and other mod-cons.
Phinda private game reserve on the northern KwaZulu-Natal coast with views of the majestic Lebombo mountains and bordering iSimangaliso Wetland Park, offers wide-ranging game-viewing. Apart from big game, it is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with 380 species. The reserve has six luxurious lodges, including the Forest Lodge with air-conditioned, glass-encased bedroom suites built on stilts and Mountain Lodge, boasting 25 suites with viewing decks. Zuka Lodge, for the sole use of small groups, has four bush cottages, a personal game ranger, kitchen with dedicated chef, butler, Internet access, swimming pool and even a private watering hole for game watching. Phinda is a three to four-hour drive from Durban and six hours from Johannesburg. Or fly directly to the Phinda airstrip.
Bonamanzi Game Park, a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive from the coastal tourist city of Durban (which can be reached by direct flight from Johannesburg), is a Natural Heritage site and one of the largest private wildlife and birding parks in Zululand with over 4,000 hectares of pristine bush to explore. (Bonamanzi means “Look! Water!” in Zulu.) The park has some of the most endangered and rare South African bird species.
|Sabi Sabi: Selati Camp Ivory Suite
Do not miss the bird cruises down the Hluhluwe river to see flamingo, hippos, crocodiles, pelicans and other river birds. Visits are possible year-round as the weather is almost always warm. Winter months are mild and dry, while brief rain showers can be expected in the summer months from November to February. The accommodation is not luxurious, but adequate, and would suit the pocket of the more budget-conscious.
Award-winning Thanda Private Game Reserve, 23km north of the town of Hluhluwe, is a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World. The main lodge has a viewing deck, library and wine cellar, as well as a business centre. The non-electrified luxury tented camp is built in colonial safari style. Tents have viewing decks and en-suite bathrooms. The extravagant 1,000sq m Royal Suite with private boma, business room, heated pool and game-viewing deck can accommodate 10 guests.
The spa’s signature treatments draw inspiration from Zulu culture (Thanda means “love” in Zulu.) Get there by flying to regional airport Richards Bay, from where the lodge will provide the one-and-a-half-hour land transfer. Or splash out on the charter flight service from Johannesburg to Kkuze, a short hop from Thanda. The reserve has recently been expanded to 14,000 hectares after merging with adjoining wilderness tracts, and several black rhino have been successfully introduced.
Eastern Cape game reserves
The number of quality game reserves in South Africa’s the Eastern Cape region has grown markedly in recent years – there are now a number of upmarket options. A big selling point is that the region is completely malaria-free.
|Imbali pool/ photo: hotel
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, a two-hour drive from the Eastern Cape city of Port Elizabeth, lies near the historic Eastern Cape university town of Grahamstown, on a 20,000-hectare area that has been restored and restocked with African wildlife and now houses thousands of animals including lion, black and white rhino, buffalo and elephant. Kwandwe means “Place of the Blue Crane” in the Xhosa language, and it is home to this endangered national bird. There are two lodges, the Kwandwe Main Lodge with thatched guest areas and viewing decks overlooking the Great Fish River, and the stylish Kwandwe Ecca Lodge, as well as the restored Uplands Homestead for families and sole-use Melton Manor.
The luxurious, 20,000-hectare private Shamwari Game Reserve is about a 45-minute drive from Port Elizabeth. Family-friendly Shamwari has received numerous international awards, including the World's Leading Conservation Company and Game Reserve and has seven five-star lodges. The reserve boasts five eco-systems supporting many forms of plant, animal and bird life, including the Big Five.
The 7,500-hectare Lalibela Game Reserve also spans five ecosystems. The easiest way to get there is to fly to Port Elizabeth and then drive the 90km to the reserve (about an hour’s drive) – or Lalibela will arrange your transfer from Port Elizabeth. There is also a landing strip for small aircraft. It is home to the Big Five, as well as some African wild dogs. Lalibela is also home to cheetah, hyena, hippo, giraffe, zebra, warthog and numerous species of antelope. On night drives, you may spot the elusive bat-eared fox, aardvark, black-backed jackal or aardwolf. Lalibela has three thatched game lodges, Lentaba, Mark’s Camp and Tree Tops with indigenous gardens merging into the surrounding bush. Units have private observation decks. If you want to take your business to the bush, there’s a 110-seat state-of-the-art conference venue and 18-seat boardroom, as well as executive getaway packages.
|Bonamanzi River ride
The Western Cape is not a traditional Big Five game viewing destination, but with the recent opening of the private Gondwana Game Reserve, within easy access of the famous Garden Route, you can now combine your safari with surf – not to mention some of the best golfing to be had in the country. Located about 15km from the seaside town of Mossel Bay (and about a four-hour scenic drive from Cape Town), Gondwana, which sells itself as the “first natural Big Five safari destination in the Western Cape”, is set on about 10,000 hectares of grass plains with indigenous “fynbos” vegetation and valleys surrounded by the Outeniqua Mountains.
Malaria-free and with a year-round moderate climate, Gondwana is the result of a major rehabilitation programme. Lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo, and many species of buck, including the endangered Cape mountain zebra and kudu, were re-introduced in the two years ahead of its opening. Fynbos Camp features 10 deluxe and 10 superior rooms appointed in “African chic” style, with the 50sq m Royal Kraal suites, in traditional Khoi San style and with 180-degree views. Think star-gazing through the glass ceiling from your bed, and rooms overlooking waterholes. Also opening in the first half of 2010 are 14 luxurious Kwena Huts, with similarly spectacular views. A new offering is a three-night walking safari package, which includes full board, two game drives and a private in-suite massage. Hikers are accompanied by an experienced field guide.
Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve, in a wilderness area three hours’ drive from Cape Town, features dramatic rock formations and hundreds of Bushman rock paintings of up to 6,000 years old. No Big Five here, but plenty of animals, birds and views to be seen. Take a guided quad bike safari to some remote, inaccessible parts of the reserve, or relax at the spa. Bushmen Lodge offers five large en-suite thatched “rondavels” and 10 “cave suites” with private terraces.
The South African game parks and reserves mentioned here constitute just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless more, as well as many nature parks showcasing the country’s indigenous fauna and flora.
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|Upmarket Tuningi/ photo: hotel
The South African currency is the South African rand, and all prices are listed in rand. The currency tends to fluctuate, but at press time the exchange rate was US$1= R7.60. Rates normally include 14 percent VAT.
Safari maps: We have a South Africa game parks map to help you get your bearing.
Game-viewing is possible throughout the year in South Africa, but the ideal time to visit most of the game areas (the Eastern Cape and Western Cape are exceptions) is from April to September, during the South African autumn and winter. Most of the game areas have summer rainfall, and the animals are more difficult to spot when the vegetation is denser (although spring is a great time to see baby animals). The best time of the day to see game is in the early morning or late afternoon through to dusk, when animals tend to be most active. Most animals rest (and are therefore not very visible) during the heat of the day.
Bring comfortable shoes and a warm jacket – winter nights are cold and you need to wrap up warmly for night and early morning game drives.
Although most of South Africa is malaria-free, the Kruger National Park and surrounding private reserves, as well as parts of KwaZulu-Natal, do fall in malaria-risk areas. Visit a travel clinic or doctor before your arrival to get a prescription for malaria prophylaxis, or call South African National Parks’ 24-hour malaria hotline (tel: [27-82] 234-1800) for advice. Try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by wearing long trousers and long-sleeve shirts and using insect repellents. Should you develop flu-like symptoms after having been in a malaria area, visit a doctor and asked to be tested for malaria.
South African roads are generally well maintained and signposted. Expect to pay from around R250 per day for a very basic saloon car and about R400 for something a little better. Car rental companies include Avis (book online at www.avis.co.za or tel: [27-11] 923-3660), Europcar (www.europcar.co.za) and Budget (tel: [27-11] 398-0123, www.budget.co.za).
South Africa National Parks Guide
Bookings for national parks managed by South African National Parks (SANParks) are centrally managed. You can check availability and book directly online. Daily entrance fees, known as “conservation fees” range from park to park, with a different fee structure for international visitors, South African citizens and citizens of other southern African countries. The standard (international) rates are given here. Children under 12 pay half. Under-twos get in for free.
The Wild Card smart card loyalty programme is a joint initiative by SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, CapeNature and other organisations, entitling members to a year’s free entry to game parks across the country. The card (R1,065 per person, R1,850 per couple, for international visitors, with different, cheaper options for locals) also brings car hire, leisure, dining, shopping and other “cash back” benefits from partners country-wide. Apply online (www.wildcard.co.za).
The national parks offer a wide range of accommodation, and the rates given below reflect just a small fraction of the options available. For more information, visit the websites below.
SANParks central reservations. Tel: [27-12] 428-9111, fax: 343-0905, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sanparks.org). Or book via the real-time online reservation system (www.sanparks.org/tourism/bookings).
Addo Elephant Park. Conservation fee, R130 (discounts for South Africans). Wide range of accommodation options include safari tents from R375, chalets from R580 and cottages from R810 (all accommodation sleeps two).
Karoo National Park. Conservation fee, R88 per adult (for foreign visitors). Chalets (sleeps three) from R735, with breakfast; camping (up to six people in group) from R150.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Conservation fee, R160. Family chalets from R855 (sleeps up to six), chalets (sleeps two to six) from R520.
Kruger National Park. Conservation fee, R160. Bungalows at Skukuza camp from R720 (sleeps two/three), family cottage, R1, 240 (sleeps four), safari tent from R330 (sleeps up to four). There’s a wide range of additional options at this and the other camps.
Mapungubwe National Park. Conservation fee, R88. Cottage from R745 per night (sleeps up to four).
!Xaus Lodge. From R2, 850 per person, sharing. Tel: [27-21] 701-7860 (office), [27-79] 771-1418 (mobile), (e-mail: email@example.com or www.xauslodge.co.za).
KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife Parks
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Central reservations for all accommodation run by the authority, including those listed below. Tel: [27-33] 845-1000, fax: 845-1001, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.kznwildlife.com). Or use the online booking form on the website.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Daily conservation levy R120 (R45, children between three and 12, and discounts for South African residents). Accommodation from R300 per adult per night, in a rudimentary two-bed “rondavel” (round thatched-roof hut). Self-catering chalets from R600 per adult per night. The eight-bed Mtwazi Lodge, from R650 per adult per night (minimum charge, R3,250).
iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Entry at most of the camps is R15 per vehicle and R20 per adult. Camping from R80 per adult per night.
The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Cathedral Peak and Nidima, day visitor park permit fee, R25 (adult), R13 (child). From R460 per adult, chalet accommodation; honeymoon suite, from R1,200 (double).
South Africa Private Reserves Directory
In addition to the contact details supplied below, all private game lodges have online booking facilities via their websites.
Inyati. Tel: [27-11] 880-5907, fax: 788-2406, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.inyati.co.za). Rates R3,100 (double), valid until August 31, 2010. Includes all meals, game drives, foot safaris, fishing, river cruises.
Londolozi. Tel: [27-11] 2280-6655, fax: 280-6656, (www.londolozi.com). Rates depend on length of stay. From 5,310 per person, per night sharing if you stay six nights or more.
MalaMala. Tel: [27-11] 442-2267, fax: 442-2318, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.malamala.com). Rates from US$575 (per person sharing, per night; children $325, including all meals, game drives and walks and ground transfers.
Sabi Sabi. Tel: [27-11] 447-7172, fax: 442-0728, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.sabisabi.com). Suites from R4,600 per person per night sharing. Includes game drives and walking safaris, all meals and other extras.
Singita. Tel: [27-21] 683-3424, fax: 671-6776, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.singita.com). Rates from R10,950 per person per night, including all meals and drinks (except champagne), safaris, surface transfers, laundry and valet services. Castleton Camp is only sold as a complete camp for groups, R34,100 per night (one to eight guests), R40,150 per night (9 to 12 guests).
Ulusaba. Tel: [27-11] 325-4405, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.ulusaba.virgin.com). Safari Room from R4,750 per person, double.
Bonamanzi. Tel: [27-35] 562-0181, fax: 562-0143, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.bonamanzi.co.za). From R890 per two-person unit per night, camping from R100 per person. Children between 4 and 12 pay half; children under four, free.
Phinda. Tel: [27-11] 809-4300, (www.phinda.com or online booking at www.phinda.com/contact-us). Rates from R3,460 per person sharing, includes meals, drinks and house wines, beers and local spirits, game drives and nature walks and emergency medical evacuation insurance.
Thanda Private Game Reserve. Tel: [27-11] 469-5082, fax: 469-5086, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.thanda.com). Low season rate from R5,490 per person (lodge accommodation); from R2,500 (tented camp).
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. Tel: [27-11] 809-4300, (www.kwandwereserve.com). From R3,695 per person sharing, low season, R6,935 peak times.
Lalibela Game Reserve. Tel: [27-41] 581-8170, fax: 581-2332, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lalibela.net). From R3,000 per adult sharing, per night, until September 30,2010 (including all meals, drinks and two game drives); children under 12, R1,650. Cheaper daily rates for longer stays.
Shamwari Game Reserve. Tel: [27-41] 407-1000, fax: 407-1001, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.shamwari.com). Low season, all-inclusive rates from R3,850.
Western Cape game reserves
Gondwana Game Reserve. Tel: [27-44] 697-7002 (e-mail: R3,950 per person includes three meals and two game drives a day, tea, coffee and local beverages, sundowners and 14 percent VAT.
Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve. Tel: [27-21] 872-4343, fax: 872-4524, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.kaggakamma.co.za). From R995 per person sharing.
North West Province
Madikwe Game Reserve. Tel: [27-18] 350-9931, fax: 350-9933, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.madikwe-game-reserve.co.za). Entry, adults, R50; children, R20.
Privately-run lodges within Madikwe
Jaci’s Lodges. Tel: [27-14] 778-9900, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.makikwe.com). From R2,995 per person, low season.
The Bush House. Tel: [27-83] 379-6912, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.bushhouse.co.za). From R3,150 per person sharing (October 2010 to April 2011); children under six stay free.
Tuningi Safari Lodge. Tel: [27-11] 805-9995, fax: 805-0687, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.tuningi.co.za). From R4,750 per person sharing.
Jamala Madikwe Royal Safari Lodge. Tel: [27-82] 929-3190, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.jamalamadikwe.com). From R5, 500 per person, sharing, including meals, game drives and all drinks except imported alcoholic beverages.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Tel: [27-14] 555-1600, fax: 555-5525, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com or www.pilanesberg-game-reserve.co.za). Entry, R45, adults; R20, children.
Pilanesberg accommodation by private operators
Bakubung Bush Lodge. Tel: [27-11] 806-6888, fax: 806-6899, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.legacyhotels.co.za). From R3,740, double, per room, per night.
Golden Leopard Resorts (Manyane and Bakgatla camps). Tel: [27-14] 555-1000, fax: 555-7555, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.goldenleopard.co.za).