21-day Best of South Africa Family Self Drive Holiday (Self-drive)
This is a loop-the-loop flavoured jaunt. A rather super round trip Jo'burg to Jo'burg. You’ll see sea, city and Eswatini. That’s the old Swaziland. You’ll sleep in a tent, a treehouse and a game reserve. And you’ll travel at your own pace. Three weeks of freedom, enjoying the best of South Africa. We’re done with the curly descriptions, you are safe to read on.
|Price||from USD 6,141 per family|
|Highlights||Kruger National Park, Swaziland (Kingdom of Eswatini), Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal|
So, get ready for a hefty chunk of sassy South Africa - the southern most country in Africa. That's your first fact for the kids. Here's another: scientists have discovered modern humans began here. Deep in limestone caves, 50km northwest of Johannesburg. Which just happens to be your first stop. Here, bones were found. Fossilised bones. Tell the children they were Mrs Ples's. "Mrs Ples's?! Who's she and what's she doing here?" It's no joke, that is her nickname and she's the most complete skull of an hominid ever found in South Africa. She's an old girl too. Obviously. Old by several million years. And she thought this part of Planet Earth was rather splendid. It was, and is. Even all these years later.
All in all you'll visit eight places starting and ending in the country's biggest city. From Johannesburg you'll head to the bush, explore Big Five territory, visit some of the oldest mountains in the world and then see the mighty, mighty Indian Ocean.
From nature trails to wetland parks. From antelopes to whales. Drive the Panorama Route and see one of the biggest canyons in the world. This is the big guy. The best of South Africa. In a family shaped circle. Everyone hold hands, the journey is about to begin.
Land. Transfer. Settle. Time to channel Johannesburg...
It’s also known as Jozi, Jo’burg or Egoli, the city of gold, and it’s big. Gold was discovered in 1886, which was lucky for some.
Oh how this town has evolved, from a place of splendour, to a place of squalor, and now it finds itself somewhere in between. Emerging from the shadows of apartheid, a new generation of South Africans are growing, creating a city defined by them. Some say it isn’t as beautiful as Cape Town, but Johannesburg has a different kind of beauty. There are striking buildings a plenty: Victorian, Edwardian and a touch of Arts and Crafts. It’s also one of the greenest cities in the world. Deep purple too. With Jacaranda trees going full carnival in late spring - blooming blankets of magenta blossom all over the joint.
And there’s a painted beauty. Graffiti. Lots of graffiti. Your children may well find this place seriously cool. Local and international artists have tagged walls and spray-painted murals. In startling ways. The inner city, especially the Maboneng precinct, have seen Johannesburg crowned the street art capital of South Africa. It’s a colourful place. And humans love colour. It rules us. Our choices. Everything. From the food we eat to the clothes we wear and even the cars we buy. Ever thought about that before? Look around your room now. Colour. Unless you’re in a ditch. But it’s a brown one hey?
On the way: Land at OR Tambo Airport where you’ll be met by our driver and taken to your accommodation. Don’t snuggle down for a snooze though as it’s FIVE minutes away. Yup, that’s five minutes. So no “are we there yets” because you are. Hey, stop struggling to click your seat belt buddy you’ve arrived. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Safari Club.
Introduce the family to the delights of the swimming pool, have some shut eye in the garden, or just prop up the pub and braai area. There are 16 rooms, free wifi and they’ve only gone and CURATED a selection of board games. Yes, curated! Unbelievably marvellous. Argue over the best ones ever. Then play. And argue over who’s winning and who’s cheating. There’s a designated media room with books, DVD’s, wildlife documentaries, couches and a work station. Bleugh. No to work. You’re on holiday now for goodness sake, although it is very considerate of them.
When you're there: Wakey wakey, it’s morning time and you’re off to Soweto. For a half day cycling tour with a guide. High five, free wheel. Let the children kick a ball around with some local kiddos. Soweto is a township south west of Johannesburg and life is still tough in parts but there are also paved streets, shops, restaurants and more than a million residents.
It is though, a place forever synonymous with 16th June 1976. A day when local schoolchildren demonstrated against being taught in Afrikaans, and the police responded by shooting them. It sent shockwaves around the world and led to condemnation of the apartheid regime from the UN.
Clearly, there’s a lot of history here. You’ll see Nelson Mandela’s House and try traditional African food. Fat cakes anyone? They are rather exceptional. Hot, deep fried doughnuts. Have you ever read a more perfect sentence? Hot, deep fried doughnuts. It is essential that you eat one now. And stuff ten in your bag for later.Standard Accommodation
Your rental car will be delivered and today’s the day your road trip gets revving. Woohoo! You’re on the road. Sort out your tunes and blast them loudly. Travel north to the Kruger National Park. You’re staying at the Sefapane Lodge which is just 1km from the reserve. You’ll have your own safari house. They’re big, big, big brother. 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a veranda, braii and a view of the dam where you can fish. Damn, that sounds good. See what we did there? Ok, we’ll zip it. You’re here for 4 nights so unpack and settle in.
On the way: You’re heading to the town of two summers. Drive for 470km, approx 5-6 hours. Phalaborwa gets its nickname because the hot weather just keeps on coming. Officially established in the 1950s to mine the iron and copper ore, there’s evidence that metalworking communities have been chipping away here since the 8th century.
Have you bored the children to sleep yet? Well, wake them up because look what’s beside you... The famous, spectacular, Kruger National Park. And when we say beside you, we mean it. The gate is 800m from the town.
When you're there: The Kruger is one of the most popular game parks in the world. There are loads of animals. Loads. It’s packed. And there are hundreds of different species; 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians. But hey who’s counting? Actually tell the children to start. A tally. Everyone loves a tally. You need one.
You can enjoy a full day safari in an open safari car. See the big five close up (optional extra). Lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino (zebra, optional extra). (Ignore that last bit).
Next day, take a river safari on the Olifants River. Watch crocodile, hippo, water buck. It’s one of the largest rivers in the Kruger National Park and just cruising along is splendid, splendid. Elephant and buffalo agree.
Head back to the lodge and go swimming in the pool. Later it’s time for an evening out. In the bush, evening safaris are bound to excite the little ones, especially if it’s past bedtime. Hungry? Indulge in a bush braai. Or, as your accommodation is self catering, put the babes to bed and eat on your veranda, watching the water birds. Jacanas, green-backed herons, weavers, coots. Woah... look... African fish eagle. Where’s the tally? Pass the tally. Write African fish eagle.Standard Accommodation
If the children are sad to leave the safari house tell them to snap out of it. Tonight they’ll be sleeping in a treehouse... in the Guernsey Nature Reserve. Quick as a flash, 1-2 hours, 115km. You’re there.
On the way: Travel south and stop off at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. This place focuses on the conservation of rare, vulnerable and endangered animals. And cheetah conservation is one of their biggest passions. They research and educate. They are working on establishing captive bred cheetahs in the wild and they rehabilitate those in need. Not you you doughnut, the cheetahs. Talking of which, are they still stuffed in your bag? Time for one now. Er... who sat on the bag? Ok, see that bum shaped one? Pass it to mum.
When you're there: Guernsey Private Nature Reserve is the Kruger’s neighbour and Pezulu Tree House is a tenant. By the way, you’re in the Limpopo province and, quite frankly, the word lush must have been invented for this place. Breathe it all in. Here’s another useless fact for the children - Pezulu means ‘high’, ask them to guess why... Well done, it’s a high old treehouse. First prize? The bum doughnut. Mum knew. Mum knew. Mum’s always know.
Guernsey is home to all the Kruger crew but being a private reserve you get closer. You also get the chance to go on early morning and late afternoon drives.
Your base is the lodge which is intentionally small. Each treehouse is built around the canopy of growing trees. Children love treehouses, and fingers crossed yours will too. Tree House Lodge can accommodate 37 people. Ideal if you have 36 children.
So, what to do apart from shout JOY! Fancy Baobab planting? These trees can live for thousands of years, and you can plant one here and leave your legacy. You’ll get the tree’s GPS coordinates as well as a certificate – and you’ll also be contributing towards conservation efforts. Win win.
The lodge offers a range of activities including guided bush walks, night drives and even a Junior Ranger Course. This hurls your offspring into the bush for 2 hours. They’ll learn about local animals and plants and may even hear about Jessica The Hippo. She lives nearby and is wild but likes to interact with humans. Jolly nice Jessica.
And guess what cat? Your mice are away so you get to play cat, play! There’s a panoramic lookout point at the lodge, get drunk and watch the sun set over the Drakensberg mountains.Standard Accommodation
Did you like the panoramic view? Good cos you’re gonna get a whole lot more today. You’re off to Hazyview, the gateway to the Panorama Route. Mountains, forests, lakes. Stunning.
On the way: This isn’t a long drive, it will take about 1-2 hours to travel the 105km. Hazyview is a town on a crossroads, where six major roads converge. And it gets its name from having... a hazy view. It has a big banana scene too so could easily have been called Banana-view or even Macadamia-view because they have a lotta little nuts too.
When you're there: Ok. There’s a lot to do in this area. It’s all outdoor, ruddy cheeked fun.
Finish your banana and if you want more Kruger - Numbi, Phabeni and Paul gates are not far. The Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world, is half an hour away, as is God's Window, a sweeping view over the Lowveld from high up on the escarpment. Then there’s Mac Mac Falls, Lisbon Falls and Bourke's Luck Potholes - which are great rock formations where the Blyde and Treur rivers meet. Also check out Pilgrims Rest the restored gold rush town and home of Jock of the Bushveld.
The nearby towns of Graskop and Sabie are chipper too. The Graskop Gorge Lift Company is very popular. You get a high five view and can hike, horse ride, quad bike and take guided tours. Sabie is on the banks of er... the Sabie River. The children will like this next bit - the name is derived from the Tsonga word ‘Ulusaba’ which means ‘fearful river’... ooh, scary. Indeed. This river was once teeming with Nile crocodile. And one thing’s for certain they did not have time for small talk.
Now, there are a lot of hippopotamus. And this next fact is a gem. In fact it’s so good we guarantee your children will love it. If they don’t we’ll shout you a bag of macadamias. Ok. So. Tell the children - shout if you see a hippo poo. Why? Hippo poo fact coming up. That’s why. Here it comes. Hippos eat a lot of grass. And when that grass reappears rear end, it gets flung back into the river. And this, my friend, is an ecosystem marvel. The rivers swell with huge amounts of nutrients which the fish just love. And the locals just love munching on those healthy fish. So it’s excellent work all round. Those hippos nourished the Nile in much the same way hundreds of years ago and ended up the stars of the ancient Egyptian art world. What a way to go! Bottoms up kids. Ok, move along please. Move along.
To your accommodation. It’s called AfriCamps at Mackers and is on the banks of the Sabie River. It’s few minutes drive from Hazyview so it’s a good base. And it’s camping time. Don’t panic though, this is luxury boutique glamping. The tents all face the river and are surrounded by grass and forest. Yours has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and veranda. There’s a large swimming pool and nearby waterfalls and wild rapids. Best of all, each morning you’ll receive a breakfast basket. A breakfast basket! What manna that sentence is! And this little joy will be packed with fresh products so you can make your own breakfast. Definitely a tradition to be continued at home, “son, chuck us the breakfast basket, there’s a good lad.”Standard Accommodation
Time now for another country. Swaziland or Eswatini as it is now called. In 2018, during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence from British rule, the king announced a name change. Swaziland would henceforth be called eSwatini. A move critics said was made without consultation. But this is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies and the king rules by decree. It’s not big, just over seventeen thousand square miles, but it’s home to a wide range of landscapes, from bushveld to forested ravines. And, for a landlocked country, it’s green as a green eyed monster. It’s also one of the few countries in the world where both black and white rhinos can be found.
On the way: So, cross the border and you’re there. Travel south through the mountainous areas past the town of Piggs Peak and the Malolotja Nature Reserve - definitely stop and do a canopy tour. The children will do it with ease with a smile on their face. You my friend, well, you may find it a psychological challenge. Your legs may shake, your heart may thump and you may well scream. Monkey like. Embarrassing. Back in the car. Stop at the arts and crafts markets and forget the fool you just made of yourself.
When you're there: You’ll arrive at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Hazyview to Eswatini is 105km and will take approximately 1-2 hours.
Your challenge for the next couple of days is to spot a rhino. Eswatini offers some of the best rhino encounters on the entire continent and prides itself on its rhino conservation work. They’ve lost just three this century compared with two to three a day in South Africa. Ouch. The country is also home to 132 species of mammal, 500 species of bird, 111 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 3,500 indigenous species of plants.
And the world’s second largest rock. Sibebe Rock. A monolith in the runner up position to Australia’s Uluru. The Makhonjwa Mountains are there too. The sweet, old dears. They date back 3.6 billion years and are thought to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Zeeesh.
You’ll spend two nights at the Mlilwane Rest Camp in the game reserve. Oh, and boy do you have a joy of an accommodation treat up your sleeve now. This will more than make up for your canopy tour fiasco. You’ll be staying in a BEEHIVE! Silence. Is everyone staring at you? In horror? Everyone? Ok, well, it just looks like a beehive, it’s a hut with a bedroom and bathroom. As an added bonus there are no dangerous animals in this reserve so you can hike, mountain bike and horse ride with wild abandon. To top it all, there’s a hippo pool in front of the restaurant which gives you a ring size seat to watch these massive mammals. Just watch out for flinging poo. Not such an ecosystem marvel if it makes out with your soup.Standard Accommodation
Bucket and spade time, red alert, red alert, bucket and space time. You’re going to the seaside, woohoo! Sayonara Eswatini you’re off to St Lucia. St Lucia is part of the iSimangaliso Wetlands and a UNESCO protected area. It’s a coastal town that borders on Lake St Lucia so this is a good place to enjoy boat rides and watch crocs and hippos.
On the way: A longer drive today so plump up your cushions and channel some African eye spy. It’s 325km and will take about 4 hours. Ooh, here’s another hippo titbit, this tale will kill some time. And there are hippos in St Lucia so it is relevant. Ok, listening? Good, good. Strange things happen after dark in St Lucia. It’s a kinda horticultural magic. When you wake check outside - neat hey? Someone’s been mowing. All over the shop. Yup, it’s hippos. Basically 1200 water beasts emerge to eat grass... and they’re not shy about it, they nibble away at the parks, even front lawns. But remember what happens when they eat grass... time to get outta there.
When you're there: iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder in Zulu, which pretty much says it all. There’s a casual wildness here. A chilled collection of lakes, forest, savannah and coast. There’s well over half of South Africa’s 800-odd bird species, plus mammals a plenty, including the Big Five again.
Definitely head to Cape Vidal for a day trip. A stunning beach. And, depending on the weather and tide, you can go snorkelling. Keep a look out for the remains of the ship called Dorothea which was lost in 1898. The wreck has never been found. You can also swim behind the protecting reef, explore rock pools and, depending on the time of year, you may see nesting turtles.
Between June and November, the Southern Right Whales move alone the coast. Book an ocean cruise to see them up close. Humpbacks migrate too - up the East coast on their way to Mozambique to give birth, and in summer it’s turtle time. Leatherbacks and loggerheads come ashore to lay their eggs.
If you miss safari already and want a cheeky dose head to the oldest game reserve in South Africa - the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. It was founded in 1895 and is a half hours drive from St Lucia. During the Sixties the southern white rhino was brought back from the brink of extinction thanks largely to the efforts in this park. It’s now home to a couple of thousand white rhino and a couple of hundred black.
Your base here is a new one. It’s called Forest Villas and has a swimming pool and free WiFi. Let your kids instagram away. They’ll have loads of goods photos by now. Each room has a patio overlooking the forest too and remember it’s a tropical one which is so unique to Zululand. Quick, another picture, wait for it, smile, NOW.Standard Accommodation
So how do you meander? Do you zigzag, wind, twist, turn, curve or curl? Perhaps you’re more of a snaker, twister, coiler? However you like to wander sort it out because you are off to the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, Midlands Meander.
On the way: St Lucia to the Midlands Meander will take approximately 4-5 hours, a 350km drive. It’s a collection of arranged routes that stretches from just beyond Mooi River in the north, Hilton in the south, Karkloof in the east and the foothills of the Drakensberg in the west. Make your way to the town of Rosetta. It’s surrounded by modern smallholdings and has a small shopping centre. And look at the view... Those dramatic views of the Drakensberg draw people here.
When you're there: There are historic landmarks to visit - the Nelson Mandela Capture site is here and there are opportunities for more outdoor activities and adrenaline sports. Shop in the arts and crafts places, go cheese or wine tasting and go and look at the local art in the local galleries. Or just find a good cafe or restaurant and while away the afternoon.
Your bed and breakfast is Waterford Manor which is a 10-hectare haven on the Mooi River. Indigenous forest, trees and wildlife. And animals wander freely. Go on a walking trail and lookout for buck, mongoose, porcupine, jackal and otter. Bird watching is good too.
Home is Jasmine cottage. A thatched beauty with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a separate toilet. The main bedroom has a king-size bed and the second bedroom has two 3/4 beds. Fridge, kettle and microwave. Under floor heating and views from the main bedroom and quart yard.Standard Accommodation
Drakensberg. The mountains. If you take a wrong turn tell the children, “You know, people say, ‘Not all those who wander are lost.’ And we are not lost, sweet children, merely wandering. Tolkien said it first. So they say. And he should know. He is Lord of Lord of the Rings. He saw what we see but he called it Middle Earth. And these colossal mountains, these gods, he called Misty Mountains.”
They’ll either be super impressed or asleep. Either way, win win.
On the way: Travel to the Northern Drakensberg Mountains, close to the Royal Natal National Park with the Tugela Falls and Amphitheatre. It will take about 2-3 hours to drive the 170km. The Drakensberg is the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau. It also happens to be the largest mountain range in South Africa.
When you're there: Artists have always loved it here. There are 35 000 San rock paintings strewn around the place. It must been a helluva weekend when they churned all them out. That’s if they did them in a weekend, they probably didn’t. Anyway, it’s a 200km escarpment with 3000m peaks. All valleys, streams, cliffs and hiking trails. Lots of protected plant and animal species hang out too.
Home is Montusi Mountain Lodge. The whole place stares directly at the Drakensberg's Amphitheatre escarpment. In fact you can stare from your own private garden suite. It a 1000 hectare estate and there’s lots to do. Not your garden, the whole place. Our suggestion - send everyone off to do lots of things and enjoy the peace.
The lodge is surrounded by indigenous trees and manmade forests which have brought back an abundance of birdlife. Animals too. The mountain reedbuck, bushbuck and eland have returned to an area once inhabited by Bushmen.
You’ll have dinner here and the restaurant has under-floor heating and a log fireplace. In summer you can eat outside on the Phumleni and carry on staring at the Amphitheatre.
In the morning you can hike the estate with a guide who provides tea, coffee and cookies free of charge. Free of charge?! Yup. See you there. Explore the top of Montusi Mountain, Bushman Cave complete with paintings and Waterfall Cave. There are also various streams and rock pools which you can swim in in the summer.
The lodge can organise day hikes to the top of the Amphitheatre if you fancy doing that. Don’t bother if you don’t like heights, that would be a bad idea. Particularly as the last ascent is via metal chain ladders. Eek.
You can go horse riding, play golf or swim in the lodge’s swimming pool. You can fish too. There are two dams on the property stocked with trout, although you do need to bring your own rod and flies.
Mountain biking is popular, for obvious reasons. The lodge is on a 100km network of Northern Drakensberg Mountain Bike Trails. These are purpose built trails for riders of all abilities.
There’s also a full on Adventure Centre 10 minutes drive from the Lodge. Do a Cable Tour, a Free Fall King Swing, a Flying Trapeze or have a Bungee Bounce. Seriously. This place has kids written all over it. Get them to report back. Giant Foofy Slide? What is that? Forest paintball we get. Quad bike tours we get. But Giant Foofy?
The other option is to stay lodge bound: play tennis, swim or have a massage. After 3 weeks of driving, you deserve it.Standard Accommodation
Can you believe it? You did it. You total dude. You looped the loop. Circled the circle and ran rings round this tour. In three sweet weeks. Three weeks you will talk about all your life. Three weeks of fine quality family time. Are you still talking? High five kids. Today you drive back to OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. 350km, 4-5 hours. Hand back your car, check in for your flight, take a last look. What a ride.
|2 adults + 1 child||Standard||Low Season||USD 6,141|
|2 adults + 1 child||Standard||High Season||USD 6,644|
|2 adults + 2 children||Standard||Low Season||USD 7,066|
|2 adults + 2 children||Standard||High Season||USD 7,693|
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