The Ultimate two-week Safari in South Africa
The ultimate two week safari in South Africa
©karelnoppe Photography_The ultimate two week safari in South Africa.


Discover the ultimate big 5 safaris in South Africa.

In This Post:

Why should you consider doing a safari in South Africa?

South Africa is one of the top 3 most visited African countries and one of the best choices to experience a true African Adventure travel.

With more than 20 National Parks, 451 Game & Nature Reserves, and numerous amount of private Game reserves it is a tough decision to decide what route to take and which parks to visit.

South Africa is world-renowned for its sunny weather and has made the rankings of one of the top 10 countries with the best climate. From Mediterranean weather in the Cape province, savannah in the north, and subtropical on the Indian ocean coast.

When should you travel to South Africa? If you’re planning on a one-week Safari only you should probably consider June to August.

Some experts recommend that the winter months with less vegetation, more animal migration, and less intense heat are the best time for viewing wildlife. Plan your trip from August to October if you’re after the Humpback Whales on their southern migration route.

In my opinion, summer has much more to offer and my favorite travel period is definitely NOT during the South African winter.

Almost all our Safari trips have been during the summer months and we’ve spotted the big five almost every time.

©karelnoppe_Two hot air balloons riding over African landscape with mountains in background at sunrise.

The first thing to avoid is the typical “Tourist Traps” where most tour operators book their clients. Being a South African I have privilege information on where to experience the most unique South African Safari.

My cousin Johan Noppe at Sunrise Africa  is one of my best local tour operators with tons of experience and personal information on where to go. 

Johan has a chauffeur-driven car rental service offering a 15 passenger Mercedes sprinter for guests preferring not to self-drive on their vacation. Having Johan as a personal guide on your Safari is another good option to consider.

High-end Game lodges like “The Outpost” with full board service and game drives offer more exclusive accommodation and personal attention, but at a price.

This post is one of many options for a two-week visit. Our trip started on the 23rd of December to the 5th of January. Combining both Safari trips with cultural, natural wonders and of course, local gastronomy is my ideal travel plan.

We normally mix accommodation between Guest Houses, Self Catering Bungalows, and Private Game Lodges. Meat lovers would go wild enjoying a real South African Barbecue not to mention the endless variety of wine to taste.

South African  marinated t-bone steak char-grilled
©karelnoppe_South African marinated T-bone steak char-grilled.


Organization of our adventure travel:

Organization starts many months in advance. There is literally a Safari to suit every budget. One of the main factors that determine the final cost of your trip is the accommodation.

Air-fairs may also differ depending on the season. Booking tickets directly at Qatar Airways, Emirates Airlines or any other Online agency like Jetcost or E-dreams about 6 months in advance assures a seat for specific departure date and a good fair.

Paying careful attention to distances between destinations can help to decide on where to overnight. South Africa is a huge country with long extensions and it doesn’t make any sense to spend half of your vacation on the road.

My recommendation is to visit only 2 or max 3 areas to get the best experience and time value. The total cost per person for this trip was 2.625€.

That included the Air fair, 4×4 Vehicle hire, fuel, accommodation, meals, and some shopping.

A quick 2 week itinerary summmery: Fly to JNB Oliver Thambo Airport – Drive to Kwazulu Natal Province – Josini Lake Houseboat in Pongola Game Reserve- Indian Ocean Isimangaliso World Heritage Park – Drive through Kingdom of Eswatini (former Swaziland) – Visit Kruger National Park- Visit Karongwe Private Game Reserve- Fly back to Europe.


Day 1:

After a long international flight, I’m in no rush to drive directly the same day of arrival to my first destination in Kwazulu Natal which would take some 5 hours to complete. Passing customs control, collecting luggage, and picking up our 4×4 Toyota Hilux could take some time.

My first choice for our two-week self-drive holiday is a 4×4 vehicle. These vehicles are a better option for traveling on gravel roads and avoiding potholes.

Luckily there’s no jet lag flying from Europe and with the 20º+ temperature shift I’d rather overnight in a Guest House like Opikopi Guest House

 in Constantia Park near Pretoria with an appetizing swimming pool and to enjoy a dinner in the fantastic “A la Carte” restaurant. Helen de Beer’s Restaurant is the perfect opportunity for an introduction to South African Cuisine.

©karelnoppe_Appetising barbecue grilled sirloin steak with aromatic rosemary.

Day 2 & 3:

After a delicious early morning continental breakfast, we departed around 07:15 AM. The 460 km road trip on the N4 highway east to our first destination at Lake Josini took us about 5 hours.

We booked a 3 day / 2 night onboard accommodation on the Shayamanzi House Boat.

This exclusive 5-star boat offers a full board catering stay with 6 private cabin suites a Captain and 2 stewards. Four of the big 5 (Including Lion ) Hippopotamus, crocodiles, and more than 350 bird species can be seen directly from aboard. At midday when most animals hide from the heat, we enjoyed the Jacuzzi with some cocktails on the lower deck.

Lake Jozini is the only water in South Africa where you find the ferocious fighting Tiger Fish, an African game fish, which thrills you as it jumps out the water, throwing its head from side to side trying to get off your line”.

The Houseboat experience is a uniquely different approach to a Jeep Safari and offers constant game viewing opportunities and a totally relaxed atmosphere.

With a single company operating on lake Josini, the only “other visible tourist” were some local fishermen trying to catch some of the 42 fresh water fish species.

Day 4 & 5:

At 11:40 AM we had the vehicles packed and ready to travel 94 km south on the N2 Highway to our second destination.

We made a technical but very important stop at Allen’s Butchery in Hluhluwe town to buy some matured meat for our evening barbecues.

We entered the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve at the northern Memorial Gate and within the first 5 minutes, we spotted our first giraffes, antelopes, and a young male lion. Call it luck!!

The 4-bed self-catering chalet with included breakfast at the Hilltop rest camp was our accommodation for the next 2 nights. Being inside the park granted us quick access to the gate opening at 05:00 AM ready to start our Safari.

The 96.000 hectares of the wilderness of the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve offers magnificent big 5 game viewing. Our 4×4 pickup could handle any of the many dusty roads leading to riverbeds, water holes, and lush Zululand bushveld.

Driving a normal vehicle you only had access to tar roads and some of the dirt roads with fewer opportunities to encounter wild animals.

After 3 hours of game viewing, we head back to the rest camp for breakfast. The rest of the day we chilled at the swimming pool.

At 15:00 it was time for our late afternoon Safari before the rest camp gates closing at 18:00. Just outside the gate, we were amazed by these “tamed” zebra’s surrounding us.

©karelnoppe_Mountain zebra in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Nature Reserve

Back at the camp, we were just in time for a Sundowner at the Camp’s restaurant overlooking the spectacular Savannah sunset.

Finally, it was time to lit up the fire and prepare our African barbecue to complete our evening. On the last day of our stay at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, we could proudly confirm to have viewed the big 5, some wild dogs, and a variety of other animals.

Day 6 & 7:

Our next destination to Thonga Beach Lodge on the shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) was a mere 2-hour drive.

This premier beach destination with white sandy beaches situated deep in the wilderness is the perfect hideaway.
The lodge has 24-bed luxury bungalows connected with elevated wooden paths, an excellent restaurant, and a relaxing spa service.

Numerous activities like Turtle tracking, bird watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, boat cruises and kayaking on lake Sibaya…ect can be done.

For the early birds, a walk along the Indian Ocean shore avoiding hundreds of little nervous crabs is a good way to start your day.
We enjoyed the endless golden sandy beach with rough braking waves and no other human construction in miles. Our stay at Thonga was all about being part of a unique untouched natural environment.

Food lovers won’t be disappointed with the ” al la carte” restaurant and if you’re lucky you might see some of the Loggerhead or Leatherback turtles as they come ashore to lay their eggs.

These tours are normally organized at night with a drive along the beach. Taking photos is allowed but at a prudent distance.

Day 8 & 9:

Searching for the ultimate elephant encounter with some of Africas largest elephants Tembe Elephant Park was next on our list.

This nature reserve is one of the best spots for viewing elephants in South Africa and is situated about 60km north of Thonga Beach Lodge.
The Tembe tribe owns and manages Tembe Elephant Lodge on their ancestral land.

The Lodge employs only local people from the Kwazulu Natal area. We experienced more unique elephant viewing in this 30 000 hectare reserve than in any other we’ve visited so far.

Our accommodation election was at the 4* Royal Thonga Safari Lodge.
The indoor and outdoor private showers of their 14 cabin suites along with the African Thonga building design style creates a true Safari feel at an affordable price.

Don’t miss the early morning and late afternoon game drives on their 9 seater Jeeps inside the reserve. The local guides are well trained and with great experience to track down the tuskers.

Most of these lodges have outdoor swimming pools to hide from the intense African heat.

NOTE: If we had an extra night I would have considered to overnight in the Kingdom of Eswatini (former Swaziland). Driving via Eswatini is the shortest way from Tembe Elephant Park to Skukuza rest camp in the Kruger National Park. Entering the Kingdom of Eswatini you’ll immediately notice the rare road infrastructure and lack of maintenance that will slack down your trip dramatically. You’ll need 5 1/2 hours ( 342km ) to arrive at the Kruger National Park’s Southern Malelane Entrance Gate. Once inside the park, with a 40km/h limit and some game viewing you’ll need another 2 hours to travel 65km to your accommodation at Skukuza Rest Camp. Ahh..add another 30-60 min stop at the Eswatini border to get your visa.

Day 10 & 11:

You may wonder why we’re visiting so many game parks and reserves and why not just do a week safari in one reserve alone? Well, every game reserve offers a different and unique experience.

The animals are always on the move and viewing them sometimes depends on being at the right time at the right place. Besides enjoying the various accommodation styles, gastronomy, and diverse fauna and flora adds value to your trip.

My recommendation to get the most out of your South African Safari is NOT to miss the famous Kruger National park. Its 2 000 000 hectares is roughly the size of The State of Massachusetts and it has more variety of animal life than any other nature reserve in Africa.

The collection of Private Safari Lodges in the Greater Kruger Park are located in the best private game reserves bordering Kruger National Park, sharing an unfenced border allowing wildlife to move freely.

Numerous other accommodation types like self-catering rest camps, bush camps, river Lodges, and tree camps can be found. 

This time we booked a 4-bed self-catering Bungalow at the Skukuza rest camp with barbecue facilities to enjoy sundowners around the cozy fire. 

An alternative luxury accommodation is the fabulous Rhino Post Safari Lodge near Skukuza.

With such a huge area to investigate and examine one of the best options is to do a self-drive in Kruger park. With no rush, you can spend as many hours as needed at river beds, waterholes, and trying luck on every little dirt road.

The next two days we dedicated several hours driving more than 100km inside the park viewing animals. Most rest camps have information panels indicating where animals have been spotted recently and also offer Souvenir shops, supermarkets, and restaurants.

Day 12 & 13:


Our choice for the last 2 nights was at the Chisomo Safari Camp located in the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, overlooking the majestic Drakensberg mountain range in the Limpopo Province.

It’s a 3-hour drive from Skukuza Rest Camp to Karongwe, but we made a stop for lunch at the renowned Hat and Creek Restaurant in Hoedspruit to enjoy the superb South African meat.

Arriving at Chisomo we were welcomed with a cold drink and just in time for our first open vehicle game drive.

The majority of these private lodges offer full board accommodation with early morning and late afternoon game drives on their 4×4 vehicles.

To overnight in these luxury tented suites tucked away deep in the big 5 territories is a true African Safari experience.

Sam, our personal driver& guide along with her experienced tracker colleague made every game drive worthwhile, and getting real close to the animals ( within the safety measures ) was our number one mission.

Back at the rest camp, we relaxed at the pool during the day sipping wine and playing games. Every evening we had a romantic dinner around the bonfire at dusk with wild animal sounds and at the same time able to hear the “intense silence” of being in the middle of the African bush.

Day 14:

Although it was our last day we could still take advantage of the last early morning game drive. The shortest route to JNB Oliver Tambo International Airport is roughly a 5-hour drive via the NI highway, but I decided to take an alternative route especially to include the town of Graskop and Pilgrim’s Rest for last souvenir shopping.

The entire historic town of Pilgrim’s rest situated on the magnificent panorama route was declared a National Monument in 1986 as a living memory of the early gold rush days in South Africa during the late 1800s / early 1900s and totally worth paying a visit.

The Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces have much more to offer to the visitor and many sightings could not be included in this trip.

For instance, visiting the famous Panorama route with its extraordinary nature scenes, organized guided game walks, Blyde river canyon boat trips, shopping at cultural flea markets and much more can be done.

At 20:25 our flight left for Europe from JNB Oliver Tambo International Airport.

Notes: The budget of this same itinerary could vary quite a lot by choosing alternative accommodations or even flying between provinces and Lodges.

Camera gear I used in this post

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 7d mark II, Fuji x100V and Samsung Smartphone. Some good quality lenses like Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 STMandthe Canon EF 16-35 mm f/2,8L III USM.

For more travel experiences read my posts on “10 tips to visit Spain’s unique Costa Brava” or “The best route to visit Magical Rajasthan”

You may also like