The Big 10 of South Africa
Visit Kruger National Park, South Africa’s premier game viewing reserve, and enjoy unforgettable interactions with the resident Big 5 land mammals. Travel south to Cape Town and the Western Cape for a magical experience with the so called marine Big 5; the whale, dolphin, shark, African penguin and the cape fur seal.
Prices: On request
Duration: 10 nights
Availability: June – November
Destinations: Kruger National Park, Cape Town and the Western Cape
i) Enjoy a Big 5 safari in the famous Kruger National Park
ii) Whale watching on land and by boat on the Western Cape’s whale coast
iii) Explore the under-water world in search of the great white shark on a shark cage diving expedition
iv) Snorkel with the cape fur seal and visit their mega-colony at Seal Island
v) Get up close and personal with endangered penguins on Boulders Beach
Embark on an amazing wildlife-focused itinerary taking in a tremendous diversity of Africa’s most iconic land and marine species. Elephant, lion, leopard, black rhinoceros and Cape buffalo, amongst many other mammal, bird and reptile species await guests in the Kruger National Park. Head south to Cape Town and the Western Cape in search of the so-called Marine Big 5, the dolphin, several species of whale, great white shark, African penguin, and the Cape fur seal. The uniqueness of this itinerary ensures it is suitable for first-timers and experienced safari-goers alike.
Best time to visit?
So when is the best time of year to take this trip to maximise your overall experience? Without knowing you yet this is a difficult question to answer. With so many variables to consider we need to know what is important to you before we advise on the preferable time for you.
There are many variables to consider when attempting to recommend the best time to visit. Specific considerations include the whereabouts of migratory animals, the effect the density of the vegetation and height of the grass has on wildlife viewing, special wildlife moments such as the birth of baby animals, and the effect weather patterns has on wildlife behaviour. Other factors to consider are the variation in prices at different times of the year, visitor traffic, whether you prefer a lush or relatively arid environment and of course the annual climate, namely temperature and rainfall values.
For this reason we present detailed information for each individual destination in the locations section to help you understand what may work best for you. We will of course have an in-depth discussion with you prior to making a booking so you are completely happy with the time of year you decide to travel.
- Game drives (including off road driving)
- Night drives
- Walking safari
- Shark cage diving
- Whale watching
- Penguin encounters on Boulders Beach
- Seal snorkelling
- Table Mountain hike or cable car ascent
- Robben Island
- Outdoor adrenaline activities
- Other activities of choice around Cape Town and the surrounding area.
- Domestic flights as described in the daily itinerary
- All airport transfers in South Africa
- 10 nights accommodation as described in the daily itinerary
- Meals and drinks as stated
- Game activities as described in Kruger National Park
- Whale watching activities
- Shark cage diving fees
- Seal snorkelling and Seal Island fees
- All relevant taxes and surcharges
- International flight to and from South Africa
- Airport transfers in home country
- Meals not stated in the daily itinerary
- Drinks in Cape Town and the Western Cape
- Boulders beach admission fee (small local fee)
- Applicable VISAS
- Tips and gratuities
- Health innoculations and medications
- Day 1 Your Ultimate Wildlife Adventure Begins
Board your overnight flight bound for Johannesburg.
- Day 2 Jackalberry Lodge, Thornybush Game Reserve, Greater Kruger, South Africa
Today you will arrive at O.R Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg and be met by one of our representatives who will assist you with your onward flight to the Greater Kruger. On arrival at the airstrip you will be greeted by one of the guides who will drive you slowly back to your lodge, stopping for any interesting wildlife sightings en route. Enjoy a much deserved meal before embarking on your first adventure in this huge wildlife sanctuary.
- Day 3-5 Jackalberry Lodge, Thornybush Game Reserve, Greater Kruger, South Africa
These next 3 days are entirely dedicated to exploring the vast wilderness of the greater Kruger ecosystem. Game drives in traditional safari vehicles and walking safaris complement each other to offer guests as much wildlife abundance and diversity as possible. The Kruger ecosystem is one of the best destinations in Africa for Big 5 sightings but with 147 mammal species recorded within its boundaries it is also one of the most diverse. The lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and black rhinoceros are complimented by more unusual sightings such as the aardwolf, brown hyena, caracal, pangolin and Cape porcupine. Visitors are also often treated to sightings of beautiful but more inconspicuous large antelope species such as roan, sable, and nyala. The national park and indeed the greater ecosystem is one of the last strongholds for the endangered African wild dog.
- Day 6 TBC, Hermanus
Today is marked with a glint of sadness as your safari in the Kruger National Park comes to an end. However, after undoubtedly seeing so much wildlife your excitement builds with the anticipation you are heading to the Western Cape for another equally fascinating wildlife adventure.
Transfer to the airport in time for your direct flight down to Cape Town. On arrival one of our representatives will meet you at the airport and aid you with your car hire and logistics for this self-drive part of your holiday. Your first stop will be Hermanus, one of the best places to view whales by land.
- Days 7-9 TBC, Hermanus
These next three days are dedicated to witnessing the migratory whales that pass through the whale coast in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months. Southern right whales, humpback whales, and bryde’s whales frolic in groups numbering up to 50 at a time just metres from the shore. If you are extremely lucky you may see whales breaching, a truly magnificent experience. We recommend devoting 2 days to the whales. This will allow one day exploring on land and another by boat. The third day in this area is devoted to interactions with sharks, namely the great white sharks. Head over to Gaansbai, the shark capital of the world, to embark on your shark cage diving excursion. The trip out to sea is a wildlife experience in itself with you likely seeing African penguins, cape fur seals and hopefully dolphins on the way.
- Day 10 The Twelve Apostles Hotel, Cape Town (B)
Today you will wake to enjoy an early breakfast before heading out early to Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula, the location of your African penguin interaction. Head straight to boulders beach to visit the colony of African penguins that have called this beach home since 1982. Your chances of up close land and sea interactions with this endangered penguin stand at 100%. They are extremely inquisitive and habituated and will happily approach to within a metre of human beings. Don’t forget to take a dip in the water for the chance of underwater interactions.
- Day 11 The Twelve Apostles Hotel, Cape Town (B)
Today is a slightly quieter day but actually no less thrilling. You will embark on your final wildlife experience, snorkelling with cape fur seals. Drive the short distance of 8 miles around the bay to Hout Bay and meet your boat for the excursion. The experience is relatively intimate with only 10 people maximum sharing the boat. The experience is relaxed and the seals are extremely inquisitive and playful offering a wonderful experience for snorkelers.
- Day 12 The End Of Your Ultimate Wildlife Adventure (B)
Today marks the end of your holiday and although I am sure you would love the adventure to continue you will no doubt leave with satisfaction and amazement that you have interacted with so many iconic wildlife species in such a short space of time.
Thornybush Game Reserve
Overview: Jackalberry Lodge, in Thornybush Game Reserve, gets the balance right, by combining down-to-earth hospitality with all those little extras. Enthusiastic attention to detail, genuine African hospitality, and a pristine location on the edge of the Kruger National Park, make this exclusive lodge the ideal destination for honeymooners, couples and families.
Accommodation: The lodge is small and intimate with only 7 suites, one of these being a family suite, one a honeymoon suite and the remaining five standard suites. All are equipped with en suite facilities with a bath and shower with hot and cold running water. All suites are equipped with air conditioning.
Facilities & amenities: Swimming pool, curio shop, library, internet and satellite TV, open-air dining area and fire pit.
Power & communication: The lodge is powered by mains electricity. Internet access is available. Mobile phone network coverage is available but may be unreliable at times due to the wilderness nature of the lodge.
Activities: Game drives, bush walks, Hlokomela Community Project and hot air balloon safari.
Children: Children from the age of 2 are permitted to stay at the lodge. However, please note only those aged 6 or above are allowed on game drives.
The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa
Cape Town, South Africa
Overview: Dramatically located above the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by the majestic Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain, the award-winning Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa offers luxurious rooms and exquisite dining experiences. The beaches of beautiful Camps Bay are only a stone’s throw away as are the many attractions of Cape Town and the nearby Cape Peninsula.
Accommodation: 55 deluxe guest rooms and 15 luxurious suites all with uninterrupted views of the sea or mountains. All rooms are equipped as expected of a 5 star international standard hotel.
Facilities & Amenities: Spa. Award-winning restaurants. Selection of bars. Infinity pool, rock pool and jacuzzi. Indigenous gardens. Private 16 seat cinema and free in-room movies. Babysitting facilities.
Power & communication: The hotel is fully equipped with mains electricity. WiFi comes as standard and mobile phone network coverage is very reliable.
Activities: Enjoy activities in and around Cape Town. These activities are provided by 3rd party operators.
Children: Guests of all ages are welcome. Children under the ages of 12 are free of charge when sharing with two adults.
- Special Status: UNESCO International Man and Biosphere Reserve
- Location: North-East South Africa
- Land mass: Total 21,000 km² (Kruger National Park 19,485 km²/ Greater Kruger Reserves 1500 km²)
- Mammal species: 147
- Bird species: 517
- Big 5 reserve: Yes
- Game drives
- Off-road driving (private reserves only)
- Night drives (private reserves only)
- Walking safaris
- Exclusive safari experience in the private reserves
- Exceptional safari properties
- Big 5 game viewing
- Huge wildlife abundance and biodiversity
- Largest mammal count of anywhere in Africa
- Night game drives in the private reserves
Kruger National Park and the adjacent private reserves are located in the far north-east of the country on the borders of Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. Undoubtedly the most famous game reserve in South Africa, it is renowned throughout the entire African continent and for good reason. The national park occupies 19,485 km² of pristine wilderness, extended to 21,000 km² when combined with the adjacent private reserves to the west of the park. It is larger than the entire country of Israel and only slightly smaller than Ireland. Even more impressive is its involvement in a huge cross-border wildlife corridor that provides a sanctuary for wildlife in a 35,000 km² protected area. This peace park is known as the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and combines Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and Kruger National Park.
The Greater Kruger ecosystem includes the national park itself, the private conservancies within the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and the Greater Kruger Reserves. The majority of the area is one huge continuous ecosystem without any physical barriers preventing wildlife movement across the national park and individual reserves. We only recommend reserves that are authentic and unfenced. The Greater Kruger Reserves we feel meet our standards and promises are Makalali Game Reserve, Balule Game Reserve, Kapama Game Reserve, Karongwe Game Reserve, Klaserie Game Reserve, Thornybush Game Reserve and Timbavati Game Reserve.
Kruger National Park and its greater ecosystem is a special wildlife sanctuary. It is also a place of immense biodiversity. It is home to an astounding 147 species of mammals, more than anywhere else in Africa. This diversity is supported by an impressive abundance of game. Elephant populations continue to grow since controlled culling ceased in 1994. There were an estimated 16900 individuals at the last count with numbers expected to exceed 20,000 at the time of writing. Predators are found in healthy numbers with the three big cats, lions (1600), leopard (1000) and cheetah (120) being well represented. Hyena occur in impressive numbers of approximately 3500 animals, whilst 240 of South Africa’s endangered African wild dog population occur in the Kruger and greater ecosystem.
Both black and white rhinoceros, so poorly represented in most of Africa’s parks and even extinct in Uganda and Zambia, occur in relative healthy populations here. The more numerous white rhinoceros has been estimated to number 10,500 individuals whilst the more inconspicuous black rhinoceros numbers 660 maximum. Large herds of buffalo occur in the park, not surprising considering the area supports an estimated 37,500 individuals. Giraffe are conspicuous in the park, as are hippopotamus. Antelope species are plentiful and the park supports specials such as roan, sable, eland and greater kudu, all stunning animals.
Bird species have been recorded at 517 species of which 253 are resident, 117 non-breeding migrants, and 147 nomads. Look out for the so called ‘Big Six Birds’ of which are the lappet-faced vulture, martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, kori bustard, ground hornbill and the reclusive Pel’s fishing owl. If this is not enough to keep you occupied Kruger is inhabited by 114 species of reptile, 33 amphibians, and 50 fish species.
With such exceptional wildlife viewing and the immensity of the national park you would be forgiven for thinking Kruger must be the premium safari destination on the continent. Sadly, this is not the case. Kruger’s secret got out a long time ago and now it seems everybody is aware of her strengths. Great wildlife, lots of huge lodges and campsites and relatively easy accessibility has lead to Kruger becoming one of the most commercialised parks in Africa. It is the home of self-drivers taking their saloon cars on the tarmac roads, its wilderness appeal diminished by traffic queues at interesting wildlife sightings.
However, all is not lost. There are a small handful of properties within the main national park that are geographically removed from the maddening crowds and can still offer an authentic safari. However, we overwhelmingly recommend staying in the private reserves to the west of the reserve. This offers a much more exclusive and high-quality experience. The wildlife abundance and variety remains the same as the national park but with a fraction of the visitors as safari in these reserves is limited to guests staying at one of the few lodges.
Travellers destined for the Kruger National Park and Greater Kruger ecosystem usually land at O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Although the reserves can be reached by road from here our guests often connect to the area by a short domestic flight. Nelspruit Airport/Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport serves the south of the park, Hoedspruit the central and northern sectors and use Phalaborwa for the northern sector also. Alternatively, it is possible to access the southern sector by arriving at Skukuza Airport inside the park or directly to upmarket lodge airstrips if you elect to stay at one of those.
Best Time To Visit
The Kruger National Park and Greater Kruger Reserves are a year-round destination. However, seasons can be divided into the cool, dry winter and the hot and wet summer. Each season, and indeed the months within each season, offers you a different experience. There is no time of year that offers you the best of everything so we provide you with a balanced account throughout the year so you are able to make an informed decision on the best time to visit based on your preferences.
As South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere winter and summer months oppose those of our Northern Hemisphere. Down here summer is December to February with the winter months being June to August.
The dry season is characterised by minimal to no rainfall and cooler temperatures. June and July are the coolest months as the mercury can dip as low as 8 degrees Celsius overnight and in the early morning. It is recommended to bring warm clothes at this time of year to avoid the chill on early morning game drives. Temperatures recover to an average 24 degrees Celsius by midday which makes for a pleasant time out on safari.
The wet season is wet, hot and humid by comparison. However, temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius so are not deemed overbearing like in the reserves to the north such as Zambia and Zimbabwe. Having said that you may be unlucky and occasionally experience temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. The more luxurious lodges both inside the park boundary and in the private reserves are able to offset this by offering air-conditioning in their suites. Rainfall is usually in the form of afternoon thunderstorms so game viewing activities are rarely disrupted.
Wildlife viewing is exceptional year round thanks to the permanent water sources within the park and reserves supporting a large abundance of resident animal species. This assurance of water ensures wildlife is therefore not forced to immigrate and emigrate to and from the area as is the case at many other wildlife sanctuaries.
As is the case with almost all other wildlife reserves throughout East and Southern Africa, the abundance and variety of bird species is at its greatest during the wetter months. The reliable water sources and thicker vegetation at this time of year encourage herbivores to give birth to their young. These vulnerable newly-born animals encourage large congregations of carnivores looking for an easy meal.
Many safari specialists would advise the dry season from July to mid-October as being the best time to travel to any area within the Greater Kruger ecosystem. The reasons being the dry and cool days make safari more comfortable and the less dense foliage lends itself to slightly better game viewing as the animals are more conspicuous. Unusually for Africa this is deemed the low season around here when prices are significantly cheaper. Excellent value can be obtained during these months.
Tourist volume can be a problem in the national park and care has to be taken to avoid the quality of a safari quickly deteriorating as you find yourself in queues of traffic around sightings. The main high seasons to consider are December and January, especially around the festive period and July and August, as well as school holidays. This problem can be eradicated by staying in one of the private reserves to the west of the national park. Only guests staying within the reserve are allowed to safari here meaning there is significantly less congestion and your experience is more pure and authentic.
The Kruger safari area is often combined with Cape Town, the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route, all of which are located in the Western Cape. Frustratingly, these areas have opposite seasons to the Kruger and most of the northern game reserves. Summer here is hot and dry, whilst winter is cold, cloudy and rainy. This can cause a headache for those wanting to visit in winter.
- Location: South-west South Africa
- Land mass: Cape Town 400 km²/ Western Cape 129,449 km²
- Points of interest:
- Cape Town
- Table Mountain National Park
- Cape Winelands
- Whale Coast
- Cape Point
- Robben Island
- Boulders Beach
- Shark diving
- Whale watching
- Dolphin watching
- Swimming with endangered penguins
- Cultural tours
- Wine farm tours
- Outdoor adventure activities
- Exhilarating interactions with Great White Sharks
- Whale and dolphin watching by boat and on land
- Share your beach space and swim with the endangered African penguin
- Hike up or take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for unrivalled views of The Mother City.
- Spend time in the Cape Winelands and experience the best wine the Cape has to offer.
Cape Town, what can we say about Cape Town except it is quite truly spectacular. The inclusion of a city in our itineraries may at first appear at odds with our promise of offering the best wildlife experiences on the planet. However, under further scrutiny Cape Town and its surrounding areas in the Western Cape offer so much more than the typical city break.
Unique wildlife interactions, spectacular beaches, unbelievable hiking trails, fascinating cultural history and world-class wine tasting, Cape Town offers clients the perfect complement to their authentic African safari, either within South Africa or neighbouring countries.
Nestled in the south-western part of Africa, Cape Town is a bustling city with a population greater than 4.5 million people, larger than the sprawling U.S city of Los Angeles. However, its comparison with Los Angeles and other large cities ends there. Its geographical location with the mighty Table Mountain as its centrepiece provides the most beautiful of settings. Cape Town has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any equivalent area in the world. There are an estimated 2200 species of plants confined to Table Mountain alone with many being endemic to the mountain and being found nowhere else on earth. To gain perspective, the United Kingdom only has 1200 species of plants throughout the entire country. Such is Cape Town’s biodiversity it reached first place in two of the three categories in the 2019 iNaturalist City Nature Challenge. This floral biodiversity naturally encourages a diverse fauna to the area.
Cape Town and its surrounding areas along the Western Cape are exceptional destinations for wildlife lovers. Indeed, this part of the world is recognised as offering wildlife interactions with the so called marine Big 5. This term was coined in South Africa and includes the whale, shark, dolphin, seal and penguin. Access to all these marine species are within driving distance of Cape Town.
South Africa, specifically Gaansbai and False Bay in the Western Cape, is the location of some of the best shark interactions in the world. Divers are submerged in a metal cage into the shark’s natural environment and have the opportunity to observe and photograph these misunderstood predators at extremely close quarters. It is an extremely exhilarating experience.
The African penguin, formely known as the jackass penguin, is listed as endangered by the IUCN as their numbers continue to dramatically decline. With only about 55,000 individuals remaining in the wild, down from 200,000 in 2000 and 4 million at the turn of the 19th century their existence as a species is critical. Despite this they are astonishingly easy to interact with down at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town on the Cape Peninsula. The penguins happily allow visitors to get within a metre of them on land and fun can be had swimming alongside them in the sea.
Cape Fur Seals are also easily observed frolicking in the waters off of the coast. They are a spectacle at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town but can quite easily be observed from the shoreline at most places. For those interested in seeing a huge abundance of seals a visit to Seal Island and the huge colony of 64,000 cape fur seals is highly recommended.
The Cape Whale Coast, just outside Cape Town and occupying the coastline of the Western Cape, is an extraordinary stretch of land that in whale season comes to life with these huge marine mammals dominating the ocean and nature lovers dotting the coastline. The towns of Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford and Gansbaai are the main towns people flock to witness this migration of humpback whales, southern right whales and bryde’s whale. Outdoorsy guests may elect to embark on the whale trail which is a 55 km walking trail traversing the De Hoop Nature Reserve with 5 night’s stay in unique accommodation positioned along the trail.
Of course a visit to the Western Cape isn’t all about wildlife viewing as there are plenty of opportunities for adrenaline activities, relaxing on pristine beaches, sampling the best wine the region has to offer and taking time to understand the culture and history of the area.
Cape Town itself has some spectacular beaches including Camps Bay, Clifton beaches 1-4, Llandudno, and Oudekraal to offer only a few suggestions. However, the sea is notoriously cold here so for those who like to enjoy a dip in the ocean head down the Cape Peninsula to False Bay where sea temperatures can be up to 10 degrees higher. Notably, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, and the beaches at Simon’s Town are good options.
Foodies and wine lovers should not miss the opportunity to explore the Cape Winelands, notably Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Somerset West. With 2000 wineries to explore this is a perfect destination to slow the pace after a busy safari schedule.
Visit the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his 27 years imprisoned or visit the District 6 Museum to gain a better understanding of the apartheid era. Those seeking more adventure can enjoy hiking on Table Mountain or within Table Mountain National Park, take a helicopter tour from the V&A Waterfront or paraglide from the lion’s head overlooking Camps Bay.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Cape Town & the Western Cape is extremely dependent on the reasons for your visit. It is true it is a year-round destination offering the visitor a spectacular experience at all times of the year. However, if you intend on visiting for a particular reason then it is important to gain an understanding of the best time for that particular activity or experience.
As South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere its seasons oppose those of the Northern Hemisphere regions of Europe and North America. When we are fighting off the cold in deep winter Cape Town is basking in summer sunshine. Likewise our warmer summer months correspond with the time of year Capetonians wrap up for their relative cold snap.
Summer in Cape Town is from December to March. This time of year is characterised by high temperatures and long, dry days. Average highs are 27-29 degrees Celsius with average lows being a balmy 17 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is minimal with precipitation only occurring 2-3 days per month on average. The driest months are January and February with only 22 mm of rain in an entire month, with March and December being only negligibly wetter. There is no surprise that this is the time of year that works best for those looking for excellent beach weather. The summer climate is perfect for beach goers looking to relax after a busy safari schedule.
April and May are somewhat of a shoulder season or transitional months between summer and winter. Temperatures, although extremely pleasant, drop to highs of 25 degrees Celsius and lows of 15 degrees Celsius in April and 22 degrees Celsius and 13 degrees Celsius respectively in May. There is also a sharp increase in rainfall to 66 mm over 6 days in April and 113 mm over 9 days in May.
Winter sets in from June and lasts through August and into September. This season is characterised by cool and relatively wet days with 10 days of rain per month. Average temperatures rarely exceed 20 degrees Celsius and drop to an average low of 12 degrees Celsius. June is the wettest month with an average rainfall of 145 mm, with 133 mm falling over the course of July and 107 mm in August.
September marks the start of the temperature recovery and reduction in precipitation. Temperatures return to average highs of 25 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees Celsius in October and November. Rainfall averages only 48 mm in October and 28 mm in November.
Whale watching is best between the months of June to November with July and August being the calving season. As whale viewing is dependent on migratory behaviour the exact timings at either end of the season can’t be guaranteed. One certainty we can promise is if you visit the Western Cape between the months of December and May inclusive then your chances of observing whales in their natural environment will be pretty slim to non-existent. Cape fur seals and the endangered African penguins are easily accessible all year and there is no particular time of year that is preferable to another.