Dream Safari to Plan – Spectacular South Africa
Holiday in South Africa and you will find an extraordinary range of things to enjoy, from whale watching to wine-tasting, battlefield tours to bungee-jumping, and safaris to city sightseeing. It’s the perfect place to plan a spectacular, and diverse, dream safari holiday.
The safari areas of Kruger National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve, Phinda, Kwandwe, and Tswalu, along with a plethora of smaller options, offer the chance to see the safari ‘Big 5’ of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, alongside other classics such as zebra, giraffe, crocodile and hippo.
Aquatic wildlife abounds too, with penguins and whales cruising the waters near the convergence of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean along which coastal towns like Hermanus offer some of the world’s best land and boat-based whale watching between June and October.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the bests spots for planning your dream safari in South Africa:
Kruger National Park
The vast Kruger ‘lowveld’ ecosystem spans more than 7,000 square miles and stretches for over two hundred miles from south to north, getting ever quieter and more remote until it reaches the little-visited tracts of Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and Mozambique’s Limpopo national parks to combine into the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Peace Park. With habitats ranging from open grassland through woodland savannah, riparian forest, acacia forest, and mopane scrub to rocky hills, and the Lebombo mountains, it’s one of the most fertile and productive wildlife refuges in Africa.
The best sightings are probably in the Sabi Sands area, especially if rhino are on your list, but there is, if anything, even more wildlife further north in Timbavati. These are also the two regions where you’ll find some of South Africa’s finest and most luxurious safari lodges. Safari experiences are wonderfully varied with daily wildlife drives, walking trails, night drives with spotlights and birdwatching sessions, backed by hospitality of the highest standard. Cuisine is superb, and the lodges are elegantly sophisticated with guest rooms combining the ultimate in luxury with picture-windows overlooking untrammelled bush.
Phinda Game Reserve
Seven distinct habitats make Phinda one of South Africa’s most rewarding wildlife reserves, and something of a conservation success story. Set near the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, the protected area contains woodland, grassland, mountain ranges, river courses, wetlands and – most unusually – sand forest.
Twenty years ago, Phinda’s wildlife was somewhat depleted, but thanks to a pioneering programme of large mammal relocation it has become one of Africa’s greatest biodiversity hotspots. Wildlife drives and walks introduce the region’s wildlife at your own pace: there are 415 bird species to spot as well. Visitor numbers are strictly limited, with just a handful of lodges offering accommodation of the highest standard.
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe has excellent wildlife, with a good population of lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard, wild dog, giraffe and so much more. The terrain is characterised by plains, hills and ridges, with plenty of grassland rather than thick bush, which makes the wildlife viewing better too. Madikwe has a number of USPs, including easy access from Johannesburg and Gaborone, and malaria-free status.
The reserve can be split into east and west, with a range of hills forming a bit of a natural barrier in the middle, and the two zones have a different flavour as a result. Although the east is nearer to Johannesburg, the west is easier to get to thanks to the main road to Gaborone running past the entrance. With more lodges in the west, we prefer the eastern side where there are fewer visitors. With the opportunities to walk, sleep out, do night drives, and bush meals, a few days in Madikwe adds so much to a wonderful safari for a family or friends travelling together.
You know you’re heading to the middle of nowhere when the only feasible way to get to a reserve is by private plane. While South Africa is one of the more developed safari countries in Africa, there are still huge tracts of land with very few people, and Tswalu is one of the biggest. The current guardians of Tswalu are the Oppenheimer family who took responsibility for restoring this part of the Kalahari to its natural state in 1998. Since then, remnants of its history as a farmed area and non-native species have been removed, and indigenous species and natural processes restored.
This model of conservation is supported by ecotourism with just two lodges on the 460 square mile reserve. It’s a little diffrent; guests come here for walks, rides or drives across the silent red dunes, together with bird-watching, star-gazing, rhino tracking and visits to the habituated meerkat dens, but a perfect addition to a dream South Africa safari.
Another conservation success story, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve comprises over 50,000 acres of pristine wilderness in the Eastern Cape. This wildlife rich reserve is home to a remarkable variety of predators and general plains game. It’s a paradise for bird watchers too and also boasts some of the rarer nocturnal species with good chances of spotting aardwolf, aardvark and porcupine.
Just 30 rooms split across six safari lodges, villas and camp provide a wonderfully unpopulated experience. This super reserve is also malaria free and connects beautifully with the Garden Route or the Cape area.
The Cape Region
Away from the obvious joys of the wildlife, the Cape region is quite simply staggeringly beautiful. Cape Town’s setting is jaw-dropping, and you’re spoiled for choice with accommodation, from simple guesthouses to some of the greatest hotels on earth, most of them with views of the ocean or the iconic Table Mountain. There is an amazing amount to do as well, with the V&A Waterfront, Cape Point, seals, penguins, Robben Island, Kirstenbosch Gardens, and Table Mountain itself.
The nearby Winelands offer numerous reasons to linger, to enjoy walking, bike rides, motor museums, wine tasting, history, visits to cheese and charcuterie makers, and long, lazy lunches among orchards and vineyards.
Not far from here, around the wide expanse of Walker Bay, Cape Agulhas, and De Hoop Nature Reserve, is some of the finest whale watching country on earth, with southern right whales giving birth in the shallow coastal waters between July and October. The Fynbos vegetation ecosystem is also unique, unbelievably diverse and pretty much completely endemic, found nowhere else on earth.
How to enjoy a dream safari in South Africa
`THE ‘SAFARI AND BEACH’
Perfect for honeymooners looking for relaxation as well as adventure, and for families whose children will enjoy letting off steam after a safari, it’s a tried and tested combination and always a winner. For the safari part, malaria-free Madikwe Reserve has excellent year-round wildlife viewing with great lion and cheetah sightings, along with interesting species like caracal and serval. It combines easily with Mauritius, where swimming, snorkelling, diving, tennis, sailing and some lovely spas perfectly complement the safari element of the holiday. Have a look at Madikwe Safari Lodge, Jaci’s Tree Lodge and Jamala Madikwe for the wildlife portion. Families will enjoy Dinarobin Beachcomber Golf Resort and Spa and Paradis Beachcomber Golf Resort and Spa in Mauritius while honeymooners might consider adult-only Paradise Cove, or for real luxury will head straight to the Prince Maurice.
THE ‘CAPE TOWN AND KRUGER’
Bursting with creativity and enterprise, the ‘mother city’ is where top chefs and restauranteurs vie for position amongst the galleries, museums and shops. Our top tip is to splash out on a private tour – your guide will be an expert, handpicked based on your interests, and will take you to places only locals know. It’s a perfect way to gain an in-depth insight into the city. Hotel-wise, we love Welgelegen, Cape Cadogan and The Cape Grace. A two-and-a-half hour flight takes you up to the Kruger National Park where you’ll see lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and more in the company of excellent guides. Choosing a lodge away from the crowds is key here and we love Chitwa Chitwa, Notten’s Bush Camp and Tanda Tula.
THE ‘SECRET SAFARI’
These are the places you won’t read about on the mass market websites that will allow you to enjoy your dream safari in South Africa in peace and quiet. It’s all about having the space to explore exceptionally beautiful landscapes at a slower, more thoughtful pace. Phinda Private Reserve’s varied landscapes – you’ll traverse open grass plains, wetlands, mountains, rivers, forests and pans – are home to a wealth of wildlife. Marataba Mountain Lodge in the northern Limpopo Province is tucked away in a forgotten corner with dizzyingly beautiful views. Tswalu offers a ‘beyond the usual’ safari with black-maned Kalahari lions, bat eared foxes, aardvarks, brown hyena, caracal, serval and pangolin in addition to the ‘usual suspects’. Lastly, in Makuleke Community Concession in the northern tip of the Kruger (76% of Kruger’s biodiversity is found here, in a region which makes up only 1% of the park), you’ll find Samuel Japane – one of Africa’s top birding guides – and the stunning Lanner Gorge, the most beautiful sight in the Kruger. Pafuri Camp and The Outpost would be lovely choices here.
THE ‘WESTERN CAPE’
Also known as ‘winelands and whales’, this itinerary acknowledges that many trips to Cape Town include popping over to the winelands with an empty suitcase and a chauffeur for inter-vineyard transfers. From June to November you’ll also find excellent land-based whale watching as the southern right whales migrate from Antarctica to give birth to their young. Add time at beautiful De Hoop for a seaside safari and continue to Knysna or Plettenberg Bay for beachside exploration. Have a look at Boschendal in the winelands, Birkenhead House in Hermanus, Morukuru Beach Lodge in De Hoop, and Kurland near Plettenberg Bay.
THE ‘NEXT LEVEL’
There’s plenty to attract South Africa’s many return visitors, and for those who have been on a safari, perhaps visited Cape Town, and want to look beyond the surface, we’d suggest adding one of the following to the wish list: Bushmans Kloof in the Cedarberg Mountains of the western cape where ancient bushman art dates back 10,000 years; Kwa-Zulu Natal, home to the Anglo-Zulu battlefields and stories of Louis Botha, Winston Churchill and Ghandi; and Samara in the Great Karoo where an extraordinary re-wilding project has achieved spectacular success. Each reveals a different insight into the South African people, their character, culture and heritage, and will give you a better understanding of the ‘rainbow nation’.
We would be delighted to help you plan a dream safari in South Africa. Our team of experts has travelled widely throughout Africa and the Indian Ocean and can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. Do get in touch – chatting to people by phone or email is what we do best. We listen, we explain, we answer all sorts of questions even those you didn’t know to ask, and finally we make suggestions. If this is your first time to Africa or your twenty first, we have a team standing by to help make the planning easy and the journey the best ever. Please get in touch whatever stage you’re at.