Monday, March 09, 2009

Self drive safari

Our fellow follower, Trin is planning a self-drive safari in South Africa for some time in the future, Legion of Fans (LOF) and she has emailed me a couple of questions.

Fortunately, she also suggested that I might make some tips for self drive holidays the subject of a new blog post. I say fortunately, because I couldn't think what to post next.

I'm often asked for travel tips - almost as often as I'm asked where I get the inspiration for the sex scenes in my books. "No comment" is the answer to the second line of questioning, so here goes with some responses to the first:

Trin: Is it safe for two females, (ages deleted), to be travelling in a car on the roads (in South Africa) on their own?

Mr Blog: Trin, this depends very much on what you're drinking in the car, and how much of it you've had prior to lunch. Far be it for me to be a scare mongerer, but Johannesburg has a justifiable reputation for high levels of violent crime and car jackings.

Unless you have a pressing need to drive around downtown Joburg with an upside down travel atlas perched on your lap while looking for Nelson Mandela's house, I'd suggest spending as little time there as possible. Crime aside, I find it quite a daunting city to drive around because of the amount of traffic (especially the minibus taxis whose interpretation of the rules of the road is at best 'creative') and the speed at which it travels.

As a general pointer about road safety one thing that astounded me as an Australian on my first visit was how fast people travel in SA. The roads are, generally speaking, very good, and 120kph is a common speed limit (or, if you're a local, a recommended minimum speed).

If you're heading to the Kruger National Park (as I strongly suggest you do) then the good news is that Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport is on the eastern side of the city (the same side as Kruger), so it's quite easy to pick up a rental car and exit from the car park virtually straight onto the main road network. You can tour South Africa by road and not even see Joburg. (What do you think, Jozi-ites? Should Trin venture downtown?).

One thing I would add here is that if you have to (for whatever reason) venture into Johannesburg itself that you rent a GPS. It's not the sort of city in which you want to be pulling over and asking strangers for directions - unless you're armed.

Trin: Are the parks safe as far as animals of the human variety go?

Mr Blog: Very much so, Trin. Kruger, in particular, remains a very safe destination and in the event that something did go wrong there is even a police station at Skukuza.

Trin: If we were not part of a tour group, are there opportunities to join one, say, for the day, when they go out viewing? If not, how would we go about this – do the parks provide guided day trips or the like?

Mr Blog: The attraction of a self-drive Safari in Kruger or one of South Africa's other national parks is viewing game on your own. It's incredibly exciting going out and not having any idea where you're going or what you're going to see. Trust me - I'm addicted to this sort of thing.

I doubt you'd be able to get onto a private tour that's already in the park (unless you flirt outrageously with the tour guide). Seriously - probably not.

In Kruger, the national parks staff run guided morning and night drives, and morning walks, if you decide you want to go out with someone else.

Honestly, I wouldn't bother with a morning drive (you can do that yourself any day), but a night drive can be fun. Self-drive tourists aren't allowed out of the camps on the park roads after sunset, so a guided national parks night drive is the best way to see nocturnal animals.

Morning walks are also lots of fun. A group of up to eight tourists goes out with two armed guides walking for about three-four hours. Pretoriuskop Camp in the south of Kruger is my favourite place to do a walk as you're virtually guaranteed to see rhino during the walk (as exciting, but not as dangerous as it sounds).

Trin: Are people who camp in the parks friendly ie. would we feel welcome to but in on their evening’s festivities?

Mr Blog: I have found South African locals to be some of the friendliest people in the world. If I may be so bold as to indulge in a bit of racial/cultural stereotyping I would add here that Afrikaans speaking people can sometimes seem a little reserved and formal at first, but once you break the ice with them they are the most generous bunch of party animals you'll come across.

Trin: Would two weeks be enough without feeling like we’d rushed it, or would more time be better? We are both early risers and like to pack as much into the day as possible, but also have time to chill out.

Mr Blog: I could live in the bush, and I spend six months of the year mostly camping in national parks. It's not unusual for Mrs B and I spend three months in Kruger alone.

Having said that, I understand not everyone can skive off like me (I mean, work very hard writing books). I'd recommmend you allow at least a week for Kruger.

The gates of the rest camps where you'll be staying open around dawn (the time varies on the time of the year). Mrs B and I like to go out for a three hour-ish drive, then come back and veg out (I mean work) for the rest of the day. There a swimming pools in many of the camps and lots of shady trees to chill out under. Even if you want to spend the whole day out driving there are picnic sites where you can stop for a break and a light meal.

If you're thinking of seeing a bit more of South Africa apart from Kruger that will very much depend on the total time you have. Internal airfares in South South Africa are pretty good value (especially if you book online) so you could maybe drive out to Kruger and then back to Joburg Airport, then fly down to Cape Town, pick up another hire car, and spend a few days poodling around there.

What do you think, LOF? If you're an Aussie who's been to SA why not share your tips, or if you're a lekker local, tell us how you'd spend a couple of weeks in the Rainbow Nation...


Les said...

smTrin you should have no need to go to the city centre of Jo'burg,and keep as far away from Hillbrow as possible,although it used to be a terrific tourist destination.I never go there but if I have to I drive through there with my revolver on my lap.

In the south of Jo'burg there is Gold Reef City a replica of an old Johannesburg mining town in the 1800's I recommend you take a tour there, otherwise you play dodgems with taxis.

On the whole you should be safe and enjoy youself

tonypark said...

Thanks for your comment Les.

Just when I start to wonder if I'm being too harsh on Joburg you talk about driving around with your six-shooter!

Nice to hear from the locals.

Trin said...

Thanks Les - firstly, nice to see you put a profile up, even though content dubious. Secondly, what does "sm" stand for? Thanks for news re Jo'berg and mining taown sounds good.

As the time gets closer, I will definitely be asking more questions.

TP, thanks for answers and for being gentleman (ages deleted)! On the subject of driving, my friend is always the designated driver. I make a better navigator and have been known on more than one occasion to do this with one eye closed (for focussing purposes). That being said, it would appear that Jo'berg is not an option, no matter how much of whatever is consumed before lunch (or breakfast for that matter). I am happy to learn that airport is on outskirts and city can be skirted. On the subjefct of game viewing: you will all have to pardon my ignorance, which is borne from reading maybe not enough of the right sort of books and maybe watching too many Hollywood movies; if one is not in one of your beloved Landrovers are there still opportunities to see animals? And what are the chances of getting in a jam (of the non musical variety) with a wild animal if one is travelling in something like a corolla? The walk sounds great and the evening drive sounds great too. More comments please, TP's LOF's. And please, remember we are talking about two green females without the protection of some hunk (or other) to hide behind.

Oh, and Ali G, have you gone into sulk mode again because that naughty Miss Smarty Pants said you couldn't even be part of her draws?

ali g said...

Trin, will give lots of advice and responses tomorrow as have to race off now and watch 'Underbelly'

Les said...

Trin, sm means nothing , it was an error when I put in word verification and I saw it too late.My profile is genuine I promise.

Tony, I only carry six-shooter when I go to certain places ,I don't carry it all the time and I travel to work in Jo'burg daily.I think maybe we are all being too harsh.

tonypark said...

Hey Ali G. Just finished watching underbelly.

How about those kiwis? Choice, eh bro.

Just goes to show those south africans don't have a monopoly on bad dudes.

dozycow said...

Trin - sounds like a fun trip, would love to do it myself. Have a great time.
PS: Call me Dozy, or Cow, whatever you like, I will answer to anything (reasonable) - alternatively, just call me Bob.....

ali g said...

We did 2 weeks in Kruger Oct 2007. Was just brilliant. Difference we had a v good guide to meet us there [TP] after the drive up from Jo'burg.
We were 2 couples though so had 2 blokes in the car as well as the ladies.
You would probably be OK just 2 ladies on the drive up but I would be very nervous for you regardless.
The worry of a flat tyre or breakdown en route would be of concern and was something that kept going through my head when we were getting to & from Kruger.
I had some scary experiences on PNG roads in the past which has made me wary and aware of things that can go wrong and turn nasty.
Know PNG is not Africa but there are similarities.
If going would definitely take a GPS system for ease of mind.
We're planning on another trip hopefully later this year [just the 2 of us] if can save up enough and will do the same drive up from Jo'burg so there you go...once bitten...
Probably best advice I could offer would be maybe sign up for the TP safari and hang the expense.
That would be just superb!
Now to more serious matters.
UNDERBELLY yep those Kiwis can be bad dudes that's for sure. And what about his very naughty girlfriends? Now there's some girls that really need a good spanking.
I was actually involved in the whole biz back in the seventies. A long story . They've changed a lot of the facts to suit the story line so you never know I'll just keep watching as they may introduce me as a character and fix me up with that very naughty blonde...
Sorry Miss Smarty Pants
I've moved on...

Trin said...

Thanks Ali G, you've put the wind up me good and proper. Safari out of the question, at least for this millenium and next - maybe when I know I'm due to croak and can leave a fat credit card debt behind. Or maybe joining up with one of the tours filled with the beaded and bearded would be a better option. Or maybe - here's a possibility for you Tony, you could start up a little meet, greet and transfer-to-Kruger-then-you're-on-your-own-business. You/or a trusted other could tack each one on the end of a trip to Jo'berg for supplies if that's where you go for them - delegate the return trip to a trusted employee so you dont have to think about. Charge an exhorbitant fee for each leg of the journey etc etc

Will be pleased to hear later this year how you go on your travels Ali G - maybe ask your good lady wife for her opinion if she was travelling with another female versus you.

On the subject of Underbelly, if you have pressing priorities on a Monday night, such as posting a comment on this blog or finding some chook raffle to enter versus watching the show (or some inconsiderate person rings and you miss some of it), it replays on Sunday night. I missed most of last night's episode so I will rewatch on Sunday, then follow up Monday.

Dozy (sounds like Daisy if said right) - won't be going before at least the latter part of next year - considering options at moment.

TW said...

Hi Trin,

Don't be put off your trip. As Tony says, getting out of Jo'burg is easy. There are a number of options:
1. Get a connecting flight to Nelspruit(Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport) and pick up a hire car. Very close to the park
2. Get a connecting flight to Phalaborwa and get a hire car from there. The airport is right on the boundary of Kruger. The Kruger gate is a couple of k's from the airport, with shops right there. As safe as it gets.
3. Hire a car from Jo'burg and drive to the southern Kruger gates. The road is busy, with Ultra Citys(big fuel stations with shops/restaurants etc) to stop at.
On the drive to Kruger, do not stop for souvenir's along the side of the road, do not stop to help others(it's a common ploy by the SA crooks) and use the main Ultra City's for petrol/toilet stops.

Travelling in the Kruger in a Corolla is fine - you do not need a big 4x4 as most roads are tarred and in excellent condition. The corolla will even be fine on the dirt roads.

Or, you could just conveniently plan your trip to coincide with Tony's next Kruger venture :-)

tonypark said...

Ali G I could tell you to cowboy the f-up, but that would be very rude of me and not in the spirit of my recent comments advising people against calling each other wusses, wooses, etc.

Mrs B and I had friends join us from Australia on the last safari - a mum with her 15 and 17 year old daughters, who braved the drive from joburg to Kruger and survived.

Follow the advice of others on here, Trin. Stop only at the major service stations and you'll be fine. Also, there is an emergency number well signposted at regular spots on the drive.

It's safer than St Kilda.

Trin said...

Thanks TW, that makes it sound a whole lot better! And for those of you who know what St. Kilda is like, that comment did the trick too - thanks TP.I obviously will do a lot of researching before making the decision, but I do prefer to spend my money on worthwhile things rather than on accommodation and bells and whistles - it's just a little harder when you are an unchaperoned female and have a healthy respect for the potential pickles one can get themselves into if not careful. Forewarned is forearmed so to speak. The daughter even suggested tonight that I enrol in a self defence course beforehand, which sounds like a good idea to me.

Viki said...

On the subject of self defence- if it makes you feel safer, I would reccommend looking if there are any "krav maga" instructors in your area, great self defence classes. Good luck with your trip, i'm sure you will be safe and have a fantastic time.

Les said...

This is going out of proportion Trin is going to another country not something out of a Mad Max movie or a war zone.
She is being scared sh1tless for nothing.

Trin said...

Thanks Les. So, back to Tony's original post - you obviously live there - how would YOU spend two weeks exploring, bearing in mind that it is the bush environment and animals on the agenda, rather than cities and towns.

PS: I've done Fiji a few times, some of those co-inciding with coup periods. Everyone said you shouldnt be going over there but there was no trouble whatsoever and not even any evidence of trouble/army etc. where we went,even though it was in the news a lot. I'm sure it's like TP says, act as you would at home - if it doesnt look or feel right, go the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

Les a bit confused..aren't you the one that drives around with a gun on their lap?

Les said...

Hi Trin I would go to Sun City It is out in the Pilansburg, you will want for nothing all you can think of is there and right next door is the Pilansburg game reserve not the Kruger Park but not too bad either,maybe you should check it out on the net.

There are lots of day tours around Joburg but they are best done in groups .

I only carry my gun in certain areas if I can't avoid going there.

Anon get a life

TIS said...

Hi Trin,

I’ve been back to Africa 8 times now (it got into my blood in a BIG way!!!), and I’ve always travelled by myself, albeit with a ‘tour’ of some type – mainly just me and a guide. Back in 2004 I travelled around SA for about 6 weeks – just me and my guide (2 females). We didn’t have any probs at all at any of the amazing places we went too. I was looking at doing a self drive, but thought it’d be safer (for the other road users and the animals!) if I didn’t. I would highly recommend going to Hluhluwe National Park – about 2hrs from Durban (tis one of my fav places in all of the countries I’ve been too!.....I’m actually going back there this June for a few weeks). Also, if you had the time, look at checking out God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Blyde River Canyon, St Lucia, Shakaland (tis a Zulu village – a bit tacky, but the singing and dancing were great), the Drakensburg Mountains (of course!!), and Golden Gate Nature Reserve - just to name a few places. Gold Reef City and the Cullinan Diamond Mine were great too. Oh and you might want to check out Pretoria – places like the Kruger House, Church Square, City Hall, Parliament House and the Voortrekker Monument.

Hope you have a fantastic adventure :)


tonypark said...


Hi TIS. Do I know you? Thanks for your comments and tips. I've been going to SA for 14 years and I haven't been to half those places (although I have been to Hluhluwe-imfolozi and that was nice).

Oh, I also got caught short of accommodation once night and stayed in Shakaland. I wasn;t mad about sleeping in the upturned laundry basket, but it was very cultural.

Thanks again for your post, and welcome.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trin

You might want to check out this website for ideas. It is the official South Africa National Park website www.sanparks.or/forums

The /forums takes you to the forums where there is heaps of good advice on your concerns and getting the best out of your wildlife adventure.

TIS said...

Hi Tony,

Nar you don’t know me…….. but I’m a huge fan. Have read all your books and regularly check out your blog (thanks for all the chuckles too!!!). I even entered your comp heaps of times…… but never won :(


Trin said...

Hi TIS - THANK YOU - nice to hear from a female that has done it solo. And thanks for your great tips. I'm sure SA will get right into my bloodstream too - it's already in my head.

Les,thank you for your comments as well, also, basically to everyone who contributed - all very informative with slightly different slants from all.

Hope we hear from you again Tis - I stayed in the background for a while until I spoke - now I'm trying very hard to shut up for a while.

All I have to do now is to try and work out a way to download all the comments from this post so I can read at leisre and keep for future use If anyone has any tips on that, please let me know. otherwise off I go to try.LOL to all