15-day Ultimate Wildlife & Sightseeing South Africa Safari (Self-drive)
Got a fortnight spare? Fancy Joburg-Joburg? This is a round-the-block 15-day self-drive special. We like to call it the ultimate, baby. Get gas. Go.
|Highlights||Kruger National Park, Swaziland (Kingdom of Eswatini), Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga|
You’ll start your jaunt on a city break. Ladies and gentlemen make some noise it’s South Africa’s biggest city, Johannesburg. Then you leave the city behind and head to the mountains. Of Mpumalanga. That’s such a great name you may want to say it out loud a few times. Or make a rap with it? That could be your first carpool, karaoke challenge.
Then, hold tight, as you’re about to road trip the mighty Panorama Route before heading to the Greater Kruger National Park.
Seaside please, ok, how about gorgeous St Lucia? It’s part of the even more gorgeous iSimangaliso Wetlands. Dry off, meander through the Midlands, marvel at the Drakensberg before getting your coat and going back. To Joburg. Back home. Job done.
Johannesburg, City of Gold, eGoli, so called as it began life as a gold mining town. Locals call it Jozi now. It’s had it’s fair share of reputations over the years but all that history and culture give it an edge. Street art blossoms and is a stunning modern means of expression, not dissimilar to the messages in the ancient rock art you’ll come across on this tour. This graffiti ain’t no aimless tagging, marking of territory bore but impressive art. Seriously impressive.
On the way: Arrive at OR Tambo Airport and collect your rental car. You’ll be staying at the Parkwood Boutique Hotel in Rosebank so, head there and settle in. It’s 35km away and should take about half an hour.
When you're there: You have two days. And you’re in suburbia. Leave your car and have a day of public transport via Rosebank Gautrain Station. Hop on a sightseeing bus and be a proper tourist. It’s actually a good option, sit upstairs and survey those busy streets.
Get off at Constitution Hill for a bit of history. It was a military fort that became a notorious prison. It’s now home to a museum, a restaurant and SA’s highest court. So don’t nick the cutlery.
Back on the bus you could visit Braamfontein next. There are art galleries, including Stevenson Gallery and the Wits Art Museum and hip clothing shops which are ideal if you’re already mourning your travelling companion’s paltry garb. Once they look excellent, spend a few hours in Maboneng where artists’ studios, shops, cafes and theatres have transformed abandoned warehouses. This is where the amazing graffiti is too. It’s an outdoor urban, art extravaganza.
Before you leave do visit the Apartheid Museum and South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto. Do a guided cycling tour, meet locals, try local food. By the way, if you’re insane, apologies, if you’re an adrenaline junkie, hurl yourself off Orlando Towers. They’re a colourful and prominent Soweto landmark and have a 100m bungee jump and climbing walls.
Had enough? Want to relax? Go back to your hotel. It’s one of those marvellously named ‘boutique’ types. They describe themselves as ‘an urban sanctuary’. They’re also close to Johannesburg’s best African craft market, art galleries, shopping malls and restaurants.Standard Accommodation
You’re going to experience the Panorama Route today. And that, my friend, is never a bad idea. There’s the Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, God’s Windows and the Mac Mac and Lisbon Falls. First stop, White River, a small farming town just north of Mbombela in Mpumalanga.
On the way: Leave Johannesburg behind and travel to the mountains. Take the Long Tom Pass and drive through the towns of Sabie and Graskop. It’s a longish drive of 360km which will take 4 to 5 hours. Stop in a bakery before you leave Johannesburg and buy something delicious to munch on. Now, let’s talk roads. Most of Mpumalanga’s main roads are in good condition but some back roads are pothole heavy. So, if you go off piste, best drive like a granny. Or grandpa. Take it slow. Seat forward, squinting face. Suck sherbet lemon.
When you're there: The farms in the region produce tropical fruits, vegetables, flowers and timber. If you get stuck behind a timber truck, well, that’s life. Rural, farming life.
White River is just north of Nelspruit. There’s plenty to explore. Either by car, bike or foot. There are excellent cycling and hiking trails. There are also game reserves, just 25 minutes away.
Your accommodation is Oliver’s Lodge & Restaurant. It’s on the secure White River Country Estate and overlooks the first green of the 18-hole championship White River Golf Course. There are forests all around and you’ll 6 kms from White River town.
It’s a country style lodge with both Austrian and African influences. There’s a verandah, a log fire in the lounge and a swimming pool. All rooms are en-suite with balconies overlooking the golf course.
So, what to do. Well, whatever takes your fancy on the Panorama Route. Canyon, waterfalls, crazy rock formations. Head to Gods Window and deep breathe the immense view of the Lowveld. Drive close to the Blyde River Canyon and get some pretty crazy escarpment views too.
If you want some action, head to your room. Seriously, you can go quad biking, horse riding, gorge swinging, rafting or brave a canopy tour.
At the lodge you’ll get member rates for the golf course and use of the tennis and squash courts too. There’s also an in house Wellness and Beauty Clinic if you feel like some pampering.
Bed and breakfast is included and try out their restaurant for dinner. It’s regularly rated in the ‘Top 100 Restaurants of SA’ by Wine Magazine. Definitely go for a fondue dinner in the wine cellar one night. And please, we beg you, try the Austrian apple strudel. With the homemade vanilla custard. Eat it. Both days. And for breakfast.Luxury Accommodation
You’re off to the Kruger! You’ve heard about it all your life, hey? It’s world famous. The Greater Kruger actually refers to over twenty private reserves to the west of the Kruger National Park. That makes 20 million hectares of unfenced, wild, wild, life. Jolly good. Drive on.
On the way: You’re aiming for Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Your lodge is Elephant Plains Game Lodge which is in the northern part of the reserve. Right, map out. You need to find Gowrie Gate. It’s the only entrance gate to the northern part. It’s open between 5am and 11pm but aim to arrive between 12 noon and 2pm and you’ll be in time for lunch and the afternoon game drive. White River to Sabi Sands is 120km which will take approximately 2 hours.
When you're there: Sabi Sands was pioneered by local landowners in the 1950s. The Sabi and the Sand Rivers run through it, which add to the bio-diversity. It’s a place where you can get lucky and have some pretty close encounters. It’s Big 5 land and you may even see an elusive leopard.
There are also more than 300 bird species. Waterholes provide a year round supply (seasonal influences are not much of a factor) so Sabi Sands is loved by large herds of animals. Lovely for you and lovely for large predators. Oh. Eeek. Nature, darling, nature.
Now. Point to note. You are not allowed to drive around the reserve on your own. This guarantees the park's exclusivity. One of the other major advantages is that when you’re on safari the rangers are allowed to drive off road (something that is strictly prohibited in Kruger National Park). So, if you spot a leopard, you ranger is allowed to follow it in the bush.
You’ll be staying in marvellous African chalets. There’s a watering hole for the animals and a swimming pool for you. Actually there are two, which is a bit greedy. There’s also a spa, gym, library and games room. Morning and afternoon game drives are included. As are all your meals and a daily bush walk. It’s not a vast place but can accommodate 24 people.
You’ll have a good a chance of seeing the Big 5 and may also see wild dog and cheetah. The Big 5 is a term originally used by hunters to refer to the 5 most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt in Africa. Today it’s associated with the chance to see 5 of the most magnificent animals on the planet. They are the African elephant, the lion, the buffalo, the rhinoceros and the leopard. The lodge is on a dry riverbed, which leopards rather like so you may get lucky. You can never tell.Luxury Accommodation
Now, there are not many people in the world who are able to change the name of a nation but King Mswati can. He’s one of the world's few absolute monarchs. And that’s what he did in 2018. Forget Swaziland, he said, henceforth this is "the Kingdom of eSwatini". And there you have it.
Welcome to eSwatini.
Incidentally, it means ‘land of the Swazis’. In case you’re wondering. The King has actually been referring to Swaziland as eSwatini for years. Basically he’s sick of all the confusion. He says, “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland." Oh.
On the way: Have your last game drive at Sabi Sands, scoff breakfast and drive south. It’s 350km and will take about 4-5 hours. Cross the border into eSwatini. You’re staying at Foresters Arms which is in the countryside, south of the capital Mbabane. Driving is easy, roads are excellent. It’s all undulating hills and rural homesteads.
When you're there: eSwatini is the last traditional kingdom in Africa. In rural areas, life hasn’t changed much over the years.
You can visit the arts and crafts markets in the Ezilwini Valley and Malkerns, there’s a glassworks at a place called Ngwenga and dancing and singing displays every day at Mantenga Village. Which is a living museum of nineteenth century traditions.
If you want to stretch your legs - climb Sibebe Rock. The world’s second largest rock. If you can name the world’s largest rock you win a prize of a swim at the Cuddle Puddle Hot Springs... actually you don’t but have a guess anyway. And a swim.
There are also options to go white water rafting, quad biking, caving, horse riding or do a canopy tree top tour. If you want some peace, and don’t we all, go and look at the ancient Nsangweni Bushman paintings.
Your base is the Foresters Arms Hotel. It’s a short drive from the capital and dates from colonial times. There are some excellent entertainment options here. Boules? Croquet on the lawn? Definitely play the giant outdoor chess followed by a game of table tennis. Then have a swim, sauna and tea on the terrace. In that order.
Dinner is included and boy, what a dinner. Firstly, it’s by candlelight. Which is always good when you realise your hair’s an almighty thatch today. Secondly, it’s seven courses. Napkin on...
Interesting fact. The word ‘iNdhlovukazi’ is the the traditional title of the Queen Mother. It means ‘Great She Elephant’. Do not try this at home with your mother. Or mother-in-law. We repeat, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
Same to you.
Sawubona. Hello. You reply, Yebo. That’s it. Locals the world over love it when you make an effort. They love it even more when you say ‘get out you evil bastard’ instead of ‘which way’s the supermarket please’. We digress. So, have breakfast and get ready for more safari.
On the way: Drive back to South Africa. You’re heading for the Zululand Game Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal. It’s 280km and will take approximately 3 to 4 hours. Your lodge is on the 56,000 acre Manyoni Private Game Reserve. When you see the Msunduze River and the distant Lebombo Mountains, stop. You’re there.
When you're there: You’re here for one night and your bed is at the award winning Leopard Mountain Lodge. It’s a Big 5 family-run place. Not massive, there are only 8 chalets but they’re air conditioned and have large, open showers with views over the valley below. You’ll also have your own hammock and private plunge pool. Plus a private balcony to watch the moon rise and a million stars shine. It’s a fully inclusive stay so enjoy all your meals plus guided game drives in the afternoon and morning.
At midday the guide can take you to a secluded hide by a waterhole too. After lunch head to the spa or have high tea on the main deck. Then it’s afternoon drive time. Watch the sunset before dinner in the boma under all those stars.
In bed, listen to the sound of lions roaring, hyenas whooping, and baboons being, well, noisy old baboons.Luxury Accommodation
Done the Big 5? Ticked them all off? Ok. Get a new sheet of paper. Your mission for days 10 and 11 is the Big OCEAN 5. No, no, no, not those weird personality traits attributed to er, us. Us humans. The ones psychologist Lewis Goldberg was on about - conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience. Does anyone have any idea what he was going on about? Nope. Thank goodness you say. Exactly we say. No, we’re talking the MARINE Big 5. Get to your feet, let’s hear some noise! The African penguin, the Cape fur seal, southern right whale, great white shark and do-whopper-doodle-dooooo, the dolphin.
On the way: Enjoy the morning game drive and have breakfast. Pack up the car and drive south for 115km. After about 2 hours you’ll arrive at the coastal town of St Lucia. It’s part of the iSimangaliso Wetlands and a UNESCO protected area.
When you're there: What a place. You’re be thanking us over and over for putting this on the itinerary. Super, sandy, beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, summer all year round, sigh. Park the car, get your snorkel, go.
Dry off and go for a walk in the dune forest or down the Estuary. Look out for red duiker, bushbuck, mongoose... Wander down to the lake as well and watch the hippos and crocodiles. Here’s a good dare for you. Go kayaking on the lake BETWEEN the hippos and crocs. No kidding, you can.
Depending on the time of year, your lodge can help you book a ‘night drive turtle tour’. These happen from November to February. You start off looking for nocturnal creatures including leopards, bush babies, hyenas, genets, hippos, rhinos and chameleons. Then you head to the beach. Searching for a loggerhead or leatherback turtle about to lay its eggs.
Whale watching is between July and December. Humpbacks head here to calf. Incidentally, they’re massive. Not the babies, the mums. Although the babies aren’t exactly petite but the mums can be as big as six elephants. That’s one big mama. You can watch them from the dunes at Cape Vidal or go on a special whale watching boat tour.
Or do your own game drive in the Wetland Park or at Hluhluwe/Imfolozi. The latter is best known for spotting lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, whilst Isimangaliso Park is best for spotting leopard, rhino and buffalo.
You’ll be staying at Lidiko Lodge. It’s above the Great St Lucia Lake, on a coastal dune. There are 16 garden lodges and it’s bed and breakfast here. The main building of the lodge was one of St Lucia’s first buildings. Built in the 1930s it still has a colonial vibe.
The gardens and outdoor lounge are good for bird watching. There’s a swimming pool, art gallery and free WiFi.
It’s also only a 5 minutes walk to restaurants, craft markets, walking trails and the main attractions of St Lucia.
Best fact of the tour so far? Hippos roam the streets at night here. See that jogger? The large one in a grey tracksuit, yes, that one, pink sweatband, yellow headphones? That’s a hippo. Oh no hang on, no it’s not. Sorry. But that one over there is. The one eating the lawn. Definitely. Wow. A hippo out on the town. On the razz. This is not the moment to nip out for a smoke or a cheeky star gaze.Standard Accommodation
Knowing you’re going to the Mouse House next might have you thinking we’ve gone all Disney on you. Fear not Daffy, this house belongs to Granny not Mickey. And you’re off to the Midlands Meander.
On the way: From St Lucia follow the coastline and turn inland, by-passing Durban. The Midlands Meander 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. 350km from St Lucia, it will take 4-5 hours.
When you're there: To meander means to wander at random. It’s often the best way.
The Midlands Meander is basically a collection of arranged routes with more than 160 places to eat, drink, sleep, shop and play. It began in 1985 after local artists, potters and weavers decided to join forces to create an arts and crafts route. Six studios opened and the Midlands Meander was born.
Today there are weavers, potters, woodcrafters, leather workers, artists, metalworkers, box makers, herb growers, cheese makers, beer brewers and more.
The scenery’s pretty stunning too. It’s all hills, forests, meadows and pastures. Throw in the odd dam like the Midmar one and the odd mountain like the Drakensberg one.
And at the foot of the Drakensberg is Granny herself. Your accommodation. Granny Mouse Country Lodge. 32 rooms and a big garden over looking Lions River. Each room has a private balcony and a fire place. Which makes it rather romantic in the winter.
Lots of wildlife hang around. Including more than 200 bird species.
You’ve only got the day here so choose wisely. You could visit a cheese farm, go wine tasting or visit some of the artists’ studios. You could also go fly fishing, horse riding or even hot air ballooning if you fancy it.
Alternatively, chill in Granny’s spa.Luxury Accommodation
Eerie. Atmospheric. The Drakensberg Mountain Range has inspired many a legend in Zulu, Afrikaans and English. Towering up 3400 meters, the jutting peaks are known as uKhahlamba or Barrier of Spears in Zulu and Dragon Mountain in Afrikaans.
On the way: Leave the Midlands behind and head to the mountains close to the Royal Natal Reserve. This isn’t going to take long as it’s only 170km away, so no more than a 2-3 hour drive. You’ll be staying at Montusi Mountain Lodge which is on a 1000 hectare conservation estate.
When you're there: There are streams, a waterfall, three dams, pockets of indigenous forest, two caves and bushman paintings - and that’s just at the accommodation. Within the grounds you can hike, horse ride, mountain bike, fly fish and bird watch. There’s also a tennis court and a swimming pool.
The Northern Berg is an impressive beast. And the Montusi Mountain Lodge is the only luxury accommodation with a full and uninterrupted view of the Drakensberg's most famous part, the Amphitheatre escarpment. You can literally see it from your private individual garden suites. The Amphitheatre is one of the most enormous cliff faces on earth. It’s also part of the Royal Natal National Park. There are excellent hikes here which suit all abilities.
Above the Amphitheatre is one of the highest peaks of the Drakensberg, the Mont-Aux-Sources. This is where several rivers originate. From the Sentinel car park above Witsieshoek you can do a one-day hike to the summit with chain ladders at the end. Not for anyone with jelly legs.
At the top of the Amphitheatre, the second highest waterfall in the world tumbles over the cliffs in five drops. It’s called the Tugela Falls. You can hike to the foot up the Tugela Gorge or if you’re hard core, continue from the summit of Mont-Aux-Sources.
Wanna shop? Then head to Bergville. It’s a mountain town and the main entry to the Northern Drakensberg. There’s a Zulu handicraft centre called Thandanani where you can buy traditional beadwork, woodwork and baskets.
Your lodge provides a daily, guided morning walk on the estate. The guide is your best friend (forever) because they provide tea, coffee and cookies free of charge. We love the guide. Everyone loves the guide. Walk to the top of Montusi Mountain, visit a Bushman Cave with paintings as well as Waterfall Cave. There are also various streams and rock pools for swimming.
Or hike the estate on your own using the Montusi Hiking Guide.
There’s an Adventure Centre 10 minutes drive from the Lodge. Here you’ll find bungee jumping, flying trapeze, you name it. There’s paintball and quad bikes and the brilliantly named Giant Foofy Slide.
The lodge provides homemade chocolates. We repeat the lodge provides homemade chocolates. Say no more.Standard Accommodation
And there you have it. Told you it was the ultimate. Head to OR Tambo Airport, take back your rental car and check in for your flight.
We’re leave you to mull over some ultimate facts. An elephant is strong enough to push a two-ton truck. A lion can hear a lion's roar 30 miles away. And a rhinoceros has skin that sweats blood. Don’t fancy your Bloody Mary on the plane now do you? Sorry about that.
No prices for this itinerary. Please contact us for a personalised quote.
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