General Travel Information
Make sure that you have two clear pages left in your passport. I am told that they are very strict about this and it would be a crazy way to be refused entry.
There is nowhere in South Africa that would make a 4-wheel drive a necessity.
Dirt roads and flat tyres
The one thing to remember on dirt roads is to take it carefully. These roads often become furrowed and it's easy to lose control if you hit a deep patch of gravel. Flat tyres are not unknown. Make sure you check the spare tyre on your hire car before you leave in case you need it (as I did) when, inevitably, you're in the middle of nowhere. Get the flat tyre repaired at a tyre centre in the nearest town (even the smallest towns seem to have them). It takes just a few minutes and will cost you much less than having the hire company do it when you return the car.
Although all the usual suspects such as Avis and Hertz are of course available in South Africa, we highly recommend Comet Car Rental, owned and run by Dave Halley and Cathy Heyburgh, on 021-386-2411 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They are very friendly and helpful and we always use them ourselves. Airport pick-ups and drop-offs are no problem and prices compare very favourably with the bigger operators. They have offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth (and a reciprocal arrangement with another company for hiring in Durban) and are small enough to offer a friendly and efficient service where you are treated as a person not just a computer file. Dave and Cathy are also very experienced with over 20 years in the car rental industry and offer a professional service with no hidden costs like most of their larger competitors.
Also they are offering all GG travellers a discount of 10% on their car hire. Just mention that you are travelling with the Greenwood Guide if you decide to use Comet.
Whoever you decide to use, make sure that you have considered the amount of daily mileage your car hire company gives you. 100km or even 200km a day is virtually nothing and the final cost can be far higher than you estimated. Try and work out roughly what distances you will be covering and ask for the correct daily allowance. Or ask for unlimited mileage. There is usually a surcharge for taking your car across the border from SA into other countries.
N.B. Also make sure you are insured to drive the car on dirt roads.
Airports all have shops that provide mobile phones. They are invaluable and we recommend that you get one. You can buy a cheap handset or just rent one for the duration of your stay and then pay for calls as you go with recharge cards.
The numbers printed for entries in SA in the book are all from within South Africa. To call South Africa from the UK dial 0027 then drop the 0 from the local code. To call the UK from South Africa you now dial 0044 - it used to be 0944 but this changed recently. Another change is when dialling a local number you now always have to dial the full number including the area code.
Look out for tortoises. They are slow, but seem to spend a lot of time, completely against the tide of advice put forward for their benefit, crossing roads.
In restaurants we tend to give 15%.
At a petrol station my policy is to give no tip for just filling up, 3 rand for cleaning the windows, and 5 rand for cleaning the windows and checking oil and water. If you really don't want the attendant to clean your windows you need to make this a statement when you ask for the petrol… or they will often do it anyway.
At a guest-house I would typically give R30 per person staying for up to two nights. If you are staying longer than two nights then you might feel like adding more. If there is obviously one maid to whom the tip will go then give it to her direct. If there are many staff members who will be sharing the tip then give it to your host.
Tipping game rangers at game lodges: often these highly-qualified people are the main reason why you have such a great stay at a particular lodge. I suggest around R100 per guest per day depending on the quality of service you receive.
The Garden Route
Many people imagine, not unreasonably, that the Garden Route is a bit like a wine route where you can go from garden to garden, smelling roses and admiring pergolas and rockeries. Not so. The Garden Route is so named for its lushness and greenery. The area is covered in forests and rivers which spill into the sea. And, although many people there surely do have lovely gardens, the name is a little misleading. A fantastic area for walking though.
When to Go
There is no one prime time to visit South Africa and each season provides a particular highlight in some part of the country. Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are, naturally, the reverse of what you'll find in Europe. It seems to me that most Europeans come to South Africa in January, February and March to avoid their own miserable weather and write taunting postcards home from a sunny Cape.
A good time of year to visit the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West Province, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Karoo, i.e. the whole country except the southern Cape, is from May to October. The air is dry and warm, there are fewer tourists keeping the prices higher and game viewing at its best: sparse vegetation lets you see the animals better and low water levels coerce them out to congregate and drink at larger waterholes and lakes.
If you are heading out to the Cape at this time, as do the GG team annually in August, you'll find these winter months generally mild. There isn't really a norm but days are more often sunny than not and pretty warm too, only cooling off (occasionally to below zero) as the sun sets and darkness falls.
From mid-August to mid-September spectacular carpets of wild flowers bloom in the Western Cape colouring vast swathes of ground, particularly around Namaqualand. It would be a real mistake to pass up the opportunity to see these ephemeral flowers during the two weeks before they die.
Spring sees the arrival of migrating Southern Right Whales along the Cape coast. They are usually around from July to October and can be seen right from the shore or even better, from a boat. They can even be listened to at night if you have a bedroom window near the ocean.
If you missed out on Namaqualand's flowers, try to catch Pretoria's jacaranda blossoms instead. Purple tree-lined streets abound in the capital from October to November, and they do a fine job of brightening suburbia in Jo'burg at this time too.
From December through to February, summer brings hot and humid weather to most parts of the country. With it come rain, the occasional thunderstorm and patches of mist on the mountains. The coast along the Garden Route is best enjoyed now and it is probably the only season that taking a dip in the cold (really, really cold) waters around Cape Town is a reasonable proposition. Unless you're a surfer that is, but then what's a bit of a chill when there are all those sharks to keep you ill at ease... Speaking of which, there is only one place in the world where Great White Sharks are known to breach out of the water, and that's in False Bay around Seal Island. This phenomenon happens for a brief period in late August.
Bear in mind that South Africans are on holiday for much of their summer (generally from Christmas through to the end January), so you'd be very well advised to book accommodation and car hire well before you arrive.
The prices quoted are per person sharing per night, unless specifically stated otherwise. Every now and then complications have meant we quote the full room rate. Single rates are also given.
We have usually put in a range within which the actual price will fall. This may be because of fluctuating prices at different times of year, but also we have tried to predict the anticipated rise in prices over the book's shelf life. Obviously we cannot know what will happen to the value of the rand and prices might fall outside the quoted range.
Most game lodges quote an all-in package including meals and game activities.
Although South Africa has become substantially more expensive since the first edition of this guide came out 6 years ago, it is still great value on the whole. The value-for-money increases significantly the more off-the-beaten-track you wander.
Most places have some form of cancellation charge. Do make sure that you are aware what this is if you book in advance. Owners need to protect themselves against no-shows and will often demand a deposit for advance booking.
We have only given the child-friendly symbol to those places that are unconditionally accepting of the little fellows. This does not necessarily mean that if there is no symbol children are barred. But it may mean chatting with your hosts about their ages, their temperaments and how suitable a time and place it will be. Most owners are concerned about how their other guests will take to kids running wild when they are trying to relax on a long-anticipated holiday. from their own children.
Some have complained that it is hard to find detailed road maps of South Africa in the UK, so I suggest you buy one at the airport when you arrive in SA. Or try Stanfords in London on Long Acre in Covent Garden, 020-7836-1321.
Don't try and do too much. Please.
It is the most common way to spoil your own holiday. South Africa is a huge country and you cannot expect to see too much of it on one trip. Don't over-extend yourself. Stay everywhere for at least two nights and make sure that you aren't spending your hard-earned holiday fiddling with the radio and admiring the dashboard of your hire car.
Some Afrikaans words translated for you by me in no particular order and probably of little practical value:
Bakkie = small pick-up truck or van, lekker = niiiice!, lanie = posh, dagga = pot (not the ornamental or water-carrying type), dorp = village, klein = small, groot = big, kop = head, kloof = ravine or valley, vlei = a snappy translation is "hollow in which rain collects during the rainy season", weg = way, straat = street, kerk = church, krans = cliff, kruis = circle, baai = bay, oos = east, noord = north, suid = south, hoek = corner, poort = pass through a mountain range, rivier = steak-knife (not really, it means 'river' really), stein = stone, fontein = spring (as in river), berg = mountain, burg = town, gat = hole, klip = stone, koppie = small rocky hill, veld = uncultivated land or The Bush, as in "it's out there somewhere in the bush", laager = a temporary camp formed by a circle of wagons used by the Voortrekkers (but not just by the Voortrekkers... I imagine you could create one yourself without needing a licence) to protect themselves from attack, -tjie. Anything ending in -tjie is smaller than it would be if -tjie had not been thusly suffixed. -tjie is pronounced '-key' so that Annetjie (little Anna) is pronounced 'annekey'.
I don't know much more (oh yes "gans" means goose as in Gansbaai) but I hope that this small offering (offer-tjie?) helps at some point on your travels. If not, as Boris Becker once said on losing Wimbledon, nobody died.
For my last linguistic trick, I am now going to demonstrate how to do the clicks that characterize Xhosa and Zulu. Put your tongue onto your palette. there. that's it, and now make a clicking sound in the back of your throat. no, that's not quite right. anyway have a practice at home and you'll soon get the hang of it. as I did.
Distances chart (Km)