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With an extensive range of excellent game reserves and safari lodges, South Africa is the ideal destination for special wildlife encounters

South Africa is a country of great natural and cultural diversity, five times the size of Great Britain, located on the southern tip of the African continent, bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and fully encompassing the independent kingdom of Lesotho and most of Eswatini (Swaziland). South Africa is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean, fuelled by the chilly Benguela current on the west and the warm Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean on the east. The mixing of these currents off the Cape of Good Hope causes eddies and upwelling of nutrients, leading to a richly productive marine ecosystem. On land, the varied landscapes and habitats, globally-renowned flora and fauna, fascinating distant and recent history, friendly populace, exceptional lodges, service levels and value for money make South Africa a world-class destination.

There is a bewildering choice of high quality wildlife reserves to choose from, all offering a subtly different experience, many containing Africa’s ‘Big Five’ (Leopard, Lion, Buffalo, Elephant and Rhinoceros – animals which are considered dangerous to approach on foot) with lodges from rustic to five star. Other attractions add great variety to a holiday, including beautiful Cape Town and surrounds, with the classic ‘Garden Route’, wildflowers and whale watching; the spectacular Drakensberg mountains for hiking, and historic Zulu Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal; and the deserts of the Karoo and Kalahari. Although some areas are malarial zones, it is also entirely possible to arrange a malaria-free holiday to South Africa.

REMEMBER!

We offer combination tours to SOUTH AFRICA & MADAGASCAR for a mindblowing mix of wildlife worlds – with lemurs, wildlife walks and other-worldly adventure in Madagascar to the ‘Big Five’ and out-of-this-world safari lodges of South Africa! Please find some sample itineraries below and contact us for endless other possibilities!

Self-Driving in South Africa vs Chauffeured Tours

South African itineraries tend to lend themselves to self-drive arrangements since the roads and signage are good and this allows more flexibility and value for money. It can also be a great benefit for keen photographers. Self-drive safari is permitted in some areas of the Kruger National Park and other public reserves (or one can simply drive to the lodge and be taken out on dedicated safari vehicles with a qualified ranger). Hire cars are modern, usually with power-steering and air conditioning and British drivers will be pleased to learn that driving is on the left.

However, if you would prefer chauffeured transfers this can be arranged for most itineraries as well as scheduled and charter flight hops between locations. Some of our sample itineraries include a private driver, but please ask for details if you’d like to add the services of a driver to any itinerary.

Highlights

What To See

Makuleke Private Concession

In Northern Kruger, the 24,000 hectare Makuleke Private Concession or ‘Pafuri Triangle’ is an area of land at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers, with the Limpopo River defining the border with Zimbabwe, and the more powerful Luvuvhu River carving its way through the sandstone escarpment, creating the impressive Lanner Gorge. The wildlife here in the northern Kruger is not as dense as in the centre and south of the National Park, but the ‘Big Five’ are present and excellent sightings are still possible. Large herds of elephant congregate in the drier months and the rivers attract species such as eland, nyala, warthog, bushbuck, zebra and other game. The area is particularly noted for its exceptional birdlife (including species such as three-banded courser, Pel’s fishing owl, Böhm’s and mottled spinetails, racket-tailed roller, black-throated wattle-eye …) and stunning scenery. The variety of landscape ranges from baobab forests, fever tree forests, gorges with dramatic cliffs and peaceful rivers edged with riverine forest. It is also an important area for both ancient and more recent human civilisations with interesting sites showing signs of early Stone Age and Thulamela civilisations as well as recent Makuleke villages. The area is best explored on game drives and on foot.

Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve

The 35,000 hectare Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve (also known as the Makalali Conservancy) is ultimately intended to recreate the wildlife migration corridor linking the Kruger National Park to the Drakensburg Mountains in the west. The Makhutswi River flows through the reserve of lowveld acacia bush and open savanna grassland interspersed with occasional marula, knobthorn and jackalberry trees. It lies an hour’s drive westward from the Phalaborwa Gate of the Kruger National Park. The Shangaan translation of Makalali is ‘place of rest’ and the concept of the luxurious lodge retreats is to experience the African bush in an unhurried manner. Game drives and walks are on offer, but also outdoor candlelit bush baths and sleep outs – a very special experience where one is left with a bed under the African Sky, with only a net between you and the sounds of the night.

Surrounding Lowveld

The area to the west of Kruger National Park includes the popular town of Hazyview – a base from which to explore the Kruger and also to visit the nearby Elephant Whispers sanctuary and explore the stunning 156km Panorama Route along the Drakensberg Escarpment to encounter the spectacular Blyde River Canyon, Gods Window and numerous waterfalls. Visit the gold-mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest for a chance to pan for gold and learn about the early gold prospectors’ stories. For the adventurous, white water rafting, hot air ballooning, rock climbing, bungee jumping, and caving are all possibilities – as is freefalling 68 metres at 180km per hour on a ‘Big Swing’…if you so wish!

Manyeleti Private Game Reserve

Manyeleti, meaning ‘’Place of the Stars’’ in Shangaan language and managed for the community’s benefit by the local Mnisi tribe, shares fenceless borders with Kruger, Timbavati and Sabi Sands reserves so that elephant, lion, cheetah, leopard and other wildlife can roam freely. The 23,000 hectare reserve is easily accessible, but away from major tourist areas and hosts the ‘Big Five’ and a great diversity of other wildlife in a landscape of open grasslands and rocky outcrops. Accommodation ranges from rustic to luxury and so can cater for various budgets. Enthusiastic rangers, great food and service will leave you with unforgettable experiences of your stay in the bush under the glorious African sky.

Balule Private Game Reserve

Balule Private Game Reserve is a 40,000 hectare nature reserve straddling a 20 km stretch of the perennial Olifants River. Balule was created when farm owners decided to eliminate the game fences between their properties and more landowners are constantly joining the scheme, increasing the Greater Kruger National Park Management Area. The ‘Big Five’, abundant plains animals and bird life inhabit the reserve and high quality lodges ensure a great African bush experience.

Klaserie Private Game Reserve

Klaserie, unfenced from Kruger National Park so animals can roam freely between the two as part of the Greater Kruger Park, is situated to the northwest of Timbavati. General game is less plentiful than some other areas but Klaserie is noteworthy for its undulating scenery, winding river beds and herds of elephants who enjoy grazing by the Klaserie River and where rhino, warthog and lions are also seen. The reserve covers 60,000 hectares spanning either side of the river and accommodation ranges from simple self-catering rondawels to five star all-inclusive luxury.

Soutpansberg Mountains

The Soutpansberg Mountains (Afrikaans for Salt Pan Mountains) are dramatic outcrops of pink quartzite rock which rise over 1700m extending from the town of Vivo in the west to Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park in the east. Moist sea air from the Indian Ocean precipitates on the southern slopes and, due to the terrain, varied microclimates range from verdent areas with over 2,000mm rainfall to semi-desert. In turn this has encouraged high species diversity and endemicity and the Soutpansberg is proposed to become part of the Vhembe UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is no ‘Big Five’ experience (although rhino and leopard are present) – it is an area to enjoy scenic hiking through rocky gorges and forests with giant cabbage trees, proteas, yellowwood trees, forest fever trees, ancient tree ferns. It is also a fascinating area for the indigenous culture with rich archaeology, diverse rock art and also for the important history of European settlement in the region. Horse riding for experienced riders is also possible.

Waterberg Savanna UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

The malaria-free Waterberg Savanna Biosphere Reserve was designated by UNESCO in 2001 and an area marrying conservation with the benefits of tourism. It includes the Lapalala Wilderness Area, Marakele National Park – both offering simple accommodation – and Welgevonden Reserve with more luxurious options. The extensive Waterberg Massif reveals deep valleys, grassy hills, majestic mountains, open plains, rivers and bushveld. The varied habitats are ideal for wildlife.

The Waterberg is fascinating for its archaeology, with finds dating back to the Stone Age. Skeletons and from primitive man (Australopithecus africanus and Homo erectus) have been found nearby which suggest early humans could have lived in the Waterberg as early as three million years ago, perhaps using the overhanging cliffs as natural shelters. San (bushmen) hunted in the Waterberg around 2000 years ago, leaving rock at Lapalala depicting antelope and rhino. In the Iron Age around 1300AD, Nguni people left defensive dry stone walls, some of which can be seen today.

As well as game drives, the area offers great bush hiking, mountain biking and excellent horse-riding through the wilderness

Thornybush Private Game Reserve

The 11,500 hectare Thornybush Private Game Reserve is fenced off from Kruger but still has the ‘Big Five’ plus a high density of other African wildlife. The setting is mainly undulating open lowveld with a delightful backdrop vista of the Drakensberg mountains.

Timbavati Private Game Reserve

The 53,400-hectare Timbavati Private Game Reserve shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park, ensuring a great diversity of free roaming wildlife. The ground is more undulating and the bush thicker than Sabi Sands but sightings are still excellent from the accommodation, open vehicles or foot safaris. This is the area noted for its white lions (a recessive genetic trait) – though none has been seen for many years. Accommodation choices range in style from luxury tented safari camps, traditional thatched bush lodges and colonial style game lodges.

Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve

The 65,000 hectare Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve has some of the most exclusive lodges in Southern Africa and is probably the best place anywhere for sighting leopard and lion. As there are no fences between this reserve and the Kruger National Park wildlife is free to roam over a vast area. Viewing is assisted by rangers being able to drive off road to approach the animals (unlike in public parks such as Kruger), which also has the secondary effect of opening up the bush for greater lines of sight. Sabi Sands comprises several smaller private game reserves: Singita, Djuma, Mala Mala, Londolozi, Lion Sands, Exeter, Sabi Sabi, Savanna and Ulusaba and there is a comprehensive range of accommodation to suit individual requirements (at a price). The lodges pride themselves on superb service, food and general experience.

Northern Kruger

The remote Northern Kruger is the driest and least visited area of the park with fewer tarmac roads than elsewhere and more dramatic scenery. Wildlife is more sparse and skittish than in the south, but tend to congregate around the rivers and water holes especially in the drier winter months. Wild dogs sightings are more common in the far north, the dogs using termite mounds as dens when they produce their pups from May to July. This region is dominated by mopane trees with baobabs becoming a feature towards the north. Roan, nyala and sable antelope, Liechtenstein’s hartebeest and eland may be spotted in this region. The Luvuvhu River in the far north provides outstanding bird watching including Pel’s fishing owls, silvery-cheeked hornbills, narina trogons, broad-billed rollers and swallow-tailed bee-eaters. Three-banded coursers are likely to be spotted between Pafuri Gate and Punda Maria Camp. The Northern Kruger is also important historically with various San art as well as sites with stone- and iron age artefacts.

Best Time To Visit South Africa

A pleasant climate throughout most of the year is a major asset of South Africa. Seasons are the reverse of ours in the Northern hemisphere with midsummer falling in December and January and midwinter June and July.

The coastal lowlands of the south around Cape Town enjoy a Mediterranean climate of hot summers and warm rainy winters. Peak southern right whale-watching season along this coastline falls between July and October.

The lowveld of KwaZulu-Natal – Durban and the eastern coastlands – have a subtropical climate with most rainfall in summer between October and April coinciding with highest temperature and humidity. Leatherback and loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in this region in summer.

The northeast lowveld areas (Kruger and surrounds) have a tropical climate of high temperature and humidity with rainy summers (with impressive electrical storms) and dry winters (note – the opposite of the west!). Game viewing is generally good throughout the year. Animals may be a little easier to spot during the winter months from May to September when the grass is lower and the bush less dense, but the thick bush of the summer encourages animals to use roads as walkways, sighting can be outstanding and colours vivid.

The western interior has a hot sunny climate and is mostly desert or semi-desert with any rain falling in summer between November and April.

In Johannesburg and Pretoria in the highveld or eastern interior the summers tend to be rainy and warm and winter days are mild with the chance of a dramatic drop in temperature at night. However, the high sunshine hours and low humidity produce a year-round pleasant climate.

South Africa Travel

Getting There

Flight Time

12 hours

Time Zone

GMT +2

Language

Afrikaans & English

Population

52.98 million

Featured

Wildlife Holidays

Accommodation

Featured Places To Stay

Marataba Safari Lodge

A luxury safari lodge in the only private concession within Marakele National Pa...

Madikwe Safari Lodge

An attractive safari lodge within the vast Madikwe Private Game Reserve...

Misty Mountain

Set on a 280 hectare South African Natural Heritage Site situated on the spectac...

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Destination Map

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South Africa: -26.037042, 26.191406

Your Very Own

South Africa Specialist

Alan Godwin

Area Specialist

If you have any questions regarding travel to South Africa, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)1803 866965

We thoroughly enjoyed the holiday. Leopard View was fantastic. The guide did his upmost for us and the rest of the game viewing was great. We saw everything that we wanted to see.

Mr RA - Basingstoke