Game reserve advice in South Africa?
March 25, 2010 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Going to the World Cup in South Africa for a month (mid-June to mid-July) as a group of 6. Will primarily be in the Johannesburg area. What's the best game reserve/national park to visit, how long should I set aside to visit, and what's the best way to arrange and book a visit/stay there?
posted by lupefiasco to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
How much money and time do you have to spare?

I can't say enough good things about Mashatu, but it'll cost you a pretty penny.

It's about a six hour ride north of Johannesburg. About an hour by light plane.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:55 PM on March 25, 2010

Oh and on time: Any given Safari is good for three or four days. We were happy we had booked five at Mashatu because it meant we didn't feel rushed, and the waterhole at the main facility is a lovely place to pass the hours when you don't feel like bumping along in a jeep.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:57 PM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Looking for more of a "budget" option if you can recommend one. 6 is reasonable, but I'd also like to know if there are any options a bit closer than 6 hours. Thanks for your help.
posted by lupefiasco at 10:34 PM on March 25, 2010

FWIW, when I went to Johannesburg I looked at budget options too. And then decided that having come all this way that it was a once in a lifetime thing and worth blowing some budget on.

I went to the Kruger with Rhino Walking Safaris. They aren't cheap. And they are also either going to be a flight away or the best part of a day's drive to get to.

They run a three day safari that sees you spend one day in their eco lodge, one day in their luxury camp and one day in a more remote and much more basic tent. You do six expeditions - 3 on foot, tracking rhinos and 3 in a vehicle. Their luxury camp overlooks a water butt that elephants spend all day coming to drink from. It's a relaxing way to spend some time.

It's not strictly a private reserve in the way that some of the uber-premium places are, but they have a license for exclusive use of a part of the Kruger. This is where you would spend time tracking rhinos.

I didn't actually see a rhino, but became intimately acquainted with rhino poo and rhino scratching posts. But I did see leopards, a lion kill right in front of me and various assorted wildlife like elephants, giraffes, hyenas etc. At one point as we were watching a leopard in the main part of the park various tourists pulled up and then moved on as their vehicles were simply too low to see the action over the long grass and they had no idea what they were missing. This is, for me, one of the downsides of going it alone.

Similarly, when we saw the lion kill (which I'm told is pretty rare), the guide got on the radio and summoned a second vehicle from the same group so they could see it. Teamwork among the experienced guides make a big difference to how much wildlife you get to see.

I can't recommend them more highly. The eco-lodge can hold ~30 people. The other camps hold between 10 and 15 people so it's pretty intimate. The experience of walking through the bush (with an armed guide front and back) is a great way to spend time.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:46 AM on March 26, 2010

Beware of any budget options. My SO's parents (who are South African) recently went for a weekend at a game reserve somewhere near Nelspruit, but left after day or so as the place was deserted -- the only animals they saw were kudu, which get pretty boring after the hundredth one you see.

The fact of the matter is, if you're going to do it you should really do it right (ie Kruger, which is awesome, even if you only do it for a day). Otherwise you might as well just go to the zoo.
posted by macdara at 5:32 AM on March 26, 2010

I'd opt for Kruger, which is splendid and huge. As others have suggested, better to spend wisely than to pinch pennies foolishly.

If you are coming from the northern hemisphere, remember it will be late fall and early winter when you're there.
posted by justcorbly at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2010

Kruger or nothing! I also hope you realize that getting around in SA can be pretty dangerous, especially in Joburg.
posted by meepmeow at 4:46 PM on March 26, 2010

"SA can be pretty dangerous, especially in Joburg."

Just seconding this advise.

I did safari on the West side (Botswana) and cannot agree more with the posts that recommend not skimping and making sure to be with experienced guides. It made all the difference in the world on my trip.

Good luck, going to Africa is a life changing experience IMHO

posted by silsurf at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2010

SA can be pretty dangerous, especially in Joburg

As a multiple-time visitor, I'll just say that there is truth to this -- but it's mostly not THAT bad. Granted, I never went to the centre of Jo'burg (I was in Pretoria most times, near Loftus and the university) but I imagine you'll be staying in the 'posher' northern suburbs, which are more or less fine.

I certainly never felt really threatened. Just exercise the normal precautions: don't flash the cash, don't go out after dark if you can help it, etc.

I'm sure you're already aware it's a very car-centric country, like much of the US, so you likely won't be doing much walking around anyway.
posted by macdara at 11:32 AM on March 27, 2010

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