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Planning a visit from the US


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I am currently exploring the possibility of visiting South Africa from the US sometime in May with my family (three adults). We are interested in flying in through Johannesburg and exploring the area around Kruger and Mapungubwe National Parks.


My first question: looking online, I see no shortage of companies offering guided tours complete with lodging, transportation, meals, and guides. Although we usually like to set out on our own and explore, since this will be our first visit we're more inclined to hire a guide to organize the trip (plus I understand this would be safer). Even with a weak US dollar, many of them seem pretty affordable for what they advertise. Is this the recommended way to go, or should we be careful about what group we go with? Are there any reputable local tour companies which are better than others (feel free to PM me)? Being fairly physically active, we don't just want to sit in the back of a bus taking pictures through the glass for a week; I see that many tours offer hikes, river trips, and other activities that we would be interested in (or, in other words, I want to get out of the car and find a few caches).


My second question is, is winter a good time to visit this region? It looks like the weather will be ideal, and dry, this time of year. We generally like to travel during the off season since tourist areas are less crowded and prices are cheaper. Does tourism drop off in winter months, does it get busier, or is it fairly steady throughout the year?


Thanks in advance.

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We considered setting out on our own, but since this will be our first visit, the family is a little reluctant to do so. We're not yet familiar with the region and it's geography, and I think they are a little concerned about safety (I've read a few of the threads farther down in this forum). I've seen a couple groups which advertise individual family tours for about R15,000 per week (including lodging, transportation, conservation fees, etc), which is well within our budget. Would these be worthwhile, would it be a good way to see the country, or do the locals generally recommend against them? It sounds like if we hired our own driver/guide, they'd even be interested in letting us stop to find a few caches along the way.

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Hi DavidMac,


You specifically mentioned two areas - the Kruger National Park and Mapungubwe. We live close to the Kruger Park, know it intimately, and can advise you about travelling in our area (Mpumalanga), and all the other sights to see around here. It's a very scenic area with lots of mountains and waterfalls. I recommend hiring a car and doing a self-drive tour which is so much nicer if you know the basic precautions to take. Drop me an email via my profile and let's talk.....


Regarding Mapungubwe, I suggest you contact cacher "Pipit Patrol" - they know the area very well.

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I do agree that it would be better to get a guided tour/driver for South Africa as the security aspect is important. A guide would know of the areas to avoid and he would also be able to guard the vehicle while you look around. It has not yet come to my attention to be on the lookout for guided tour operators with dubious intentions, although they may exist.


One of the biggest magazines about travel in Africa would be - http://www.getaway.co.za - and it would help to browse their site. Here is another link to a Tour operator - http://www.outlookafrica.co.za/ -


My advice would be to stay out of Zimbabwe, and Soweto; I won't take my family to either. Keep a walking pole like MSR, Leki, Black Diamond etc. with you to fend off baboons when walking in the National Parks Rest Camps and to impose a more formidable appearance. The "Guide" is the best defence - I support it.


Surely other Geocachers will give their input, and I will also inform you of other options if possible.


Please don't be alarmed about South Africa, it is beautiful, and some thought to security will go a long way...


Geocaches to seek is what we would love to inform you about. My favourite for the Kruger National Park area, near to the Blyde River Canyon would be "Lowveld View - GC11H2Z" one of Fish Eagle's caches.





Edited by LeonW
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I recommend hiring a car and doing a self-drive tour which is so much nicer if you know the basic precautions to take. Drop me an email via my profile and let's talk.....


I'll send you an email. DIY seems to be the consensus here. I'll get some info and talk to the family to see what they want to do.

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Hi DavidMac


According to your Avatar, I assume you enjoy scuba diving.

While you are traveling our beautiful country, don't miss out on some great diving opportunities:



Umkomaas - S30 12.371 E30 47.854 (Kwazulu Natal South Coast)


Sodwana - S27 32.490 E32 40.615 (Kwazulu Natal North Coast)


Punto Malongane / Ponta Do Ouro - S26 50.551 E32 53.239 (Southern Mozambique - need off-road vehicle)


Enjoy your planning



PS: If you need contact info drop me a PM.

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According to your Avatar, I assume you enjoy scuba diving.

While you are traveling our beautiful country, don't miss out on some great diving opportunities:


You know, that's something I hadn't even considered. Do you have any idea what the temperature is like this time of year? I've been in many lakes that were 4-10 degrees C, but it means that I'd have to carry more gear. I'm the only one in the family who dives, though.


I really appreciate all the helpful responses I've received so far. I would definitely enjoy meeting up with a few people, so I'll be in touch. The parents are relieved to have a few local contacts while traveling, especially since we'll be in an unfamiliar area. Unfortunately our cell (er, mobile) phones do not work outside of the US, so once we arrive contact may be difficult. We may have one phone that works on the network, but even on the slight chance that it does we'll probably keep use to a minimum because of cost.


We're probably going to get airfare and a few lodging reservations worked out by the end of the week. Most likely, we will be landing in Johannesburg around 4 PM, picking up a car, and checking in to a hotel. Our alternate flight gets in at 9 PM, which is a disadvantage (but it means that we'd get an extra night in Amsterdam). The only question is whether we stay in a hotel closer to the airport on the first night, or whether we drive north and stop somewhere along the N-1. We then hope to make a clockwise loop heading north, then turning south through Kruger and to Nelspruit. If there is interest and time, we may head farther south toward the coast for a day or two. We hope to spend 1-3 nights in a given location, and will be staying for 7-8 nights total.


I'll try to pick up a copy of City Navigator to load onto the GPS. We didn't originally set out to make this a caching trip, but I've found the geocaching website to be one of the most useful resources we've consulted with so far, both because of the caches and the people. Of course, I've planned many trips around caching in the past, but nothing quite on this scale. We've pretty much decided to explore on our own using the gc website as a primary guide (geo-tourism at it's finest); I'll forward some information on to the family and see what they think.

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And also - please keep posting - it would be great to meet up with you and show you and your family a little SA hospitality while you're here.


Hey Carbon Hunter - why don't you arrange an Event while DavidMac is in JNB? Something like "The Inspector comes to Town" only this time it could read "The MASTER comes to Town"! How often will South Africans meet up with a cacher with 4,000+ finds!!?? ;) If I was in the region I would certainly attend.


Happy caching



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Hi DavidMac


I've been following this thread with interest. ;) I've been wanting to reply or make suggestions too, but I was sure (as you would agree) that other cachers will make well worth suggestions anyhow.


About the scuba diving - I'm an active diver too. I've just returned from Ponta Malongane on Monday and had fantastic dives: 20m+ viz; 26 degrees Celsius at 22m and no current whatsoever. It was great indeed.

Ponta Malongane is in Mozambique, 11km from the border to SA. The road on the Moz side is not driveable without a 4x4. IMO it is the best diving on the eastern coastline, but like I said, it's maybe not the most comfortable location for your intended trip.

You will also have to consider preventative medication for Malaria (but you will do it to visit the Kruger also - so it isn't a problem).


Sodwana is great for diving too - and the most popular dive location in SA with tar roads almost all the way. I can give you details on a great camp site with log cabins etc. if you would be interested as well as something a little more upmarket.


I've dived Aliwal Shoal too (Umkomaas south of Durban) - be ready though for rough seas with strong current dives. It is great though in Raggy season (Ragged tooth sharks in numbers) but May is too early for that.

(Malongane's deep dive to Pinnacles is in any case an almost guaranteed dive for shark sightings).


Hope you'll enjoy Kruger Park - I love going to the Kruger and take a trip there at least once every 2 years myself. There are quite a few caches in the park too - so you would be able to do some caching even if it isn't really part of the planning. :-)


The Magoebaskloof with the Debegeni Falls and the "Houtbos" Route is also spectacular IMO and well worth visiting.


The area around Pilgrim's Rest and Hazyview is also beautiful with places to visit like the Potholes and God's Window and other falls (eish can't remember the name - help).

When I go on holiday and have decided on a destination, I often visit www.wheretostay.co.za that helps me select a place to stay and it often mentions site seeing possibilities too.


I'd love to join in to meet up with you if you're up to it when you are in Joburg... Maybe Carbon Hunter and I should liase... :-)


Are you not planning on going further south in SA? I'll not make any more suggestions then. hehe

The Drakensberg, the Garden Route, Kango Caves etc. OK I'll stop now ;-)


Enjoy your planning!

Edited by Team Ginger
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Hi DavidMac


So much to see and do in eight days! Rather stay the night at the Airport Hotel if you land at 9pm. Driving at night, is the one thing that all will agree is not safe for a foreigner. Get a rental cellphone at the Airport to cover your needs in South Africa, or just buy some Pay as you Go Airtime with the SIM card - local cellphone number. Enquire about that from Vodacom ( http://www.vodacom.co.za/welcome.do ) or MTN ( http://www.mtn.co.za/ ) service providers.


Remember that the distances are very long and that a reasonable stop-over if departing from Johannesburg in the morning would be the town "Sabie" - S25 05.847 E30 46.845 - Next night could be the town Phalaborwa - S23 56.306 E31 08.431 - so that you could enter the Kruger National Park from there and proceed downwards. The best areas for game viewing would be between Letaba - Olifants Camp - Satara - Skukuza - Lower Sabie - and Berg en Dal. You will then be on the doorstep of "Fish Eagle" in Nelspruit.


You should get the current Southern African Topo & Rec. Version 1,5 by ordering the "African Series2007 DVD" with the maps from AVNIC - and install that to your GPS'r in the meantime - it would be so much more useful than the Basemap and useful for geocaching. (As the map is to be replaced by a newer the price of the old has been reduced. Link: http://www.garmap.co.za/default.asp )


Their contact details are: Avnic Trading (North Riding HQ) +27 11 704 6147

Corner Minis No 2, Northlands Business Park,

Newmarket Road, North Riding S26.03565 E27.95392


I am sure that "Fish Eagle" would have a real treat for you!


These suggestions are only that, and your preparation and planning is half the fun. ;)

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Hey Carbon Hunter - why don't you arrange an Event while DavidMac is in JNB? Something like "The Inspector comes to Town" only this time it could read "The MASTER comes to Town"! How often will South Africans meet up with a cacher with 4,000+ finds!!?? :D If I was in the region I would certainly attend.


Happy caching




Well, you know what us numbers people are always quick to say... it's not about the numbers :D . But seriously, we'll probably be staying near the airport over the first and last nights of the trip, so an event on either of these days would be more than welcome. Unfortunately I think we'll have to skip any dives on this trip, but thanks for the advice.


LeonW, good idea regarding the rental phone. I did a little looking and rentals are pretty affordable. Unfortunately most US phones do not work on the GSM network (none of the phones offered by our carrier do; I've tried), or we'd just use them and pay the international roaming rate. I was amazed to see that phone coverage is very good in the eastern half of the country.


I managed to get a copy of City Navigator South Africa, which means we get street level maps and routing on the GPS.


Fish Eagle has given me some extremely helpful itinerary suggestions over the last two days. I think for the last two days we'd like to swing through St. Lucia for the night to see the Indian Ocean (we're still deciding). It looks like we would face a long drive back along the N2, though. In the US, we don't think anything about driving 500mi/800km in a single day, but I know that it would be naive of me to blindly assume that we could reasonably put in this kind of mileage on SA roads (looking at the map, it would be about 550km).


I'll post some dates as soon as we secure airline arrangements. It's looking like we'll be on the ground for 8 days/7 nights, or 9 days/8 nights.

Edited by DavidMac
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Hi DavidMac,


From St. Lucia to Johannesburg Airport is 604km along the N2 - so that should not be a problem for a group of younger people. Remember also that the speed limit here on the N2 (and National roads in usual) is 120km/h , so that should be exciting for you guys used to 100km/h.


The Kruger National Park speed limit is 50km/h on the main roads and 40km/h on the gravel roads. But it would be wise to calculate the effective speed there at a formula of 20km/h for stopping to view animals is a reality that breaks all well laid plans. :D

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DavidMac, you'll have a great time in South Africa. I returned just two weeks ago from a two week vacation and wish I were still there.


The scenery is superb, the people are wonderful, the food is great, the caches are first rate: I have nothing but positive things to say about the country and it's geocachers. I probably didn't meet anyone who wasn't a geocacher, so my visit perhaps wasn't an ordinary one. It was certainly an extraordinary one though!


Have fun and do try to hook up with some of the local geocachers or at least get their recommendations for caches to hunt. Or look at my geocaching finds in South Africa and Swaziland as I had some excellent geocaching guides select them. :laughing:


The only thing I seemed to miss out on was dining on mopane worms, so be sure to do that for me.




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And also - please keep posting - it would be great to meet up with you and show you and your family a little SA hospitality while you're here.


Hey Carbon Hunter - why don't you arrange an Event while DavidMac is in JNB? Something like "The Inspector comes to Town" only this time it could read "The MASTER comes to Town"! How often will South Africans meet up with a cacher with 4,000+ finds!!?? :o If I was in the region I would certainly attend.


Happy caching




Hey - I'm keen for that. I'll arrange an event for you with pleasure.


I reckon Moyo's at Zoo Lake would be great. A cup of coffee or meal - or just meeting the guys next to the lake are all in order.


Let's just get the dates and I'll get it going.

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..and if we're lucky on the particular day, we can eat Mopani Worms @ Moyo... :P

Moyo is some distance from the airport area... another suggestion, CH could be to go to one of the restaurants @ Emperors Palace (but not quite the 'African' experience).

Lekgotla in the Nelson Mandela Square could also be an option? ..but that's even further from the airport, I think.. than Moyo. :D


One can drive from St. Lucia to Joburg in one day - but it is one full day... and the first section is maybe not really on a standard of driving at 120 km/h all the way.


Pity you can't visit the Indian Ocean at depth this time... :-) but don't mind me, I get all excited wjen I hear the words 'dive' or 'cache'. :D

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It's been a couple of days, so here's an update.


I've been trying to coordinate plans between three, possibly four family members, which has proven to be a challenge. We're currently spread out across four different states, and I've had a tough time coordinating plans over the phone. I've been trying to establish a set of dates that works for all four of us, but there are many factors (some work related) that need to be figured out first.


I hope to get in touch with the rest of the family and get a definite answer from everybody by tomorrow night (eastern timezone) at the latest. When I find out more, I'll let everybody here know. In the meantime, I've received no shortage of helpful advice and feedback, and really appreciate everyone who's taken the time to respond. Fish Eagle in particular has been incredibly helpful; you guys are lucky to have such a great new reviewer.


I would welcome an event if all works out on our end. Sorry for keeping everybody waiting.


Team Ginger, I've been warned about the Mopani worms. I might have to pass, unless I'm feeling really adventurous... :)

Edited by DavidMac
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I sent an email to several people who have contacted me by email. I didn't mean to keep everybody waiting for so long without an update, but I've been trying to work out logistical issues with the family and didn't have a chance to sit down with them and discuss our plans until this weekend.


Unfortunately, it looks like our plans to visit South Africa next month have fallen through. I talked to the rest of the family at length, and found that there were too many issues on our end that we were unable to resolve. Mostly, it's work related- we were unable to find a time when four people could take off for 10 days. I won't bore you with details, but my father has been dealing with some pretty major changes at his workplace that have demanded much of his time lately, and it doesn't look like things will be slowing down for at least another few months. He can't really travel in the meantime, because he needs to be constantly available.


I really do appreciate all of the emails, as well as the helpful advice. We didn't have any reservations that couldn't be cancelled, so we're only out the cost of a few books and maps (since I collect maps as a hobby, that isn't a problem). I was really looking forward to the trip so it was a big disappointment, but everyone did express interest in postponing the trip until a future year (I wanted to move the trip to the week after Christmas, but we may have to wait until next winter instead). I'll keep all of my notes, and keep my eye on several caches, in hopes that the trip will still be on at a later date. I'm also sorry that I won't get a chance to meet anybody, but there's always next year.


Once again, thanks to everybody who took the time to give me advice on caches, travel plans, or who helped answer my many questions. I know it was probably no small investment in time on your part.

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