QVK Southern Africa

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TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Soweto township tour; Kruger Park safari; Kingdom of Swaziland: Switzerland of Africa; Famed 'Garden Route'; Ostrich farm tour; Table Mountain Cable Way

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrival in Johannesburg
Arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Johannesburg is South Africa's financial centre and largest city. This "Place of Gold", as the Sotho word for Gauteng Province suggests, harbours the gold fields of South Africa. No one could have imagined the repercussions when an unemployed miner found a stone bearing traces of gold in 1886. This seemingly insignificant event led to the discovery of the world's richest natural treasure trove. People flocked to the area from all ends of the earth and the open pastoral landscape changed almost overnight. Today in the "New South Africa," Johannesburg continues as the country's -- indeed the entire region's -- economic powerhouse and is evolving into a very vibrant cultural melting pot.

Overnight in Johannesburg (Sandton).
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Johannesburg - Soweto - Tshwane (Pretoria) - Johannesburg
This morning we have a tour of the city of Soweto.

Soweto unto itself is actually one of the largest cities in Africa with an estimated population of 2 million. It also has one of the most dubious histories of any city in Africa, as it was the site of some of the more infamous events during the struggle against apartheid. The name "Soweto" simply stands for South Western Township, due to its location outside Johannesburg. It was here that thousands of black workers were forced to live in order to provide labour for the gold mines.

We will see the good, the bad, and the ugly of Soweto -- from affluent neighbourhoods to shanty towns; the world's largest hospital, Baragwanath; and the former homes of Soweto's Nobel Laureates, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. We also visit the excellent new museum dedicated to the victims of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

En route to Pretoria we will visit the extraordinarily powerful Apartheid Museum, an obligatory stop for visitors and residents alike. The large blown-up photographs, metal cages and numerous monitors with continuous replays of apartheid scenes will make you feel that you were in the townships in the 70s and 80s, dodging police bullets or teargas canisters, or marching with thousands of school children. One can easily spend the better part of a day in this museum; however, for the sake of timing on a busy day, we will be taking in the highlights only.

We continue to Pretoria (recently renamed Tshwane*), the administrative capital of the Republic of South Africa. Surrounded by hilly countryside, this relaxed capital is known for its colourful gardens and lush green parks. We will see Church Square, dominated by its statue of the Boer Republic's first President, Paul Kruger, and lined with buildings of architectural and historical interest. From here we will proceed to a panoramic view of the city at the Union Buildings, the administrative headquarters of the Government of South Africa and scene of Nelson Mandela's inauguration as the New South Africa's first democratically elected State President in 1994.

* Tshwane is the name of a pre-colonial local chief and means "We Are the Same". In 2005 the city council approved the switch from Pretoria to Tshwane as part of an effort to make place names more African.

Overnight in Johannesburg (Sandton).
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Johannesburg - Kruger National Park
Today we travel by road to the vicinity of the Greater Kruger National Park region and Kapama River Lodge. Upon arrival we check in and have lunch at the lodge.

Kapama River Lodge is so named because it lies in a curve of the Kapama River, which is usually dry but floods from time to time and can reach the steps of the lodge swimming pool. A small permanent water source lies just beyond the perimeter fence attracting animals like antelopes, elephant and buffalo. Watch this truly African spectacle from the warm blue water of the big rim flow swimming pool, or relax in the shade of an umbrella on loungers around the pool.

This afternoon we enjoy a game drive in open safari vehicles.

Overnight in Kapama Private Reserve.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 4 Greater Kruger National Park
Today we enjoy morning and afternoon game drives.

Expect a wake up call at between 5am and 5.30am and gather for tea or coffee and rusks before heading out at first light. If you are lucky, the big cats will still be around after their night of hunting. This is Big 5 country (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) all of which are possible to see during a two-day safari in Kapama Game Reserve.

There are also many other species to be seen, large and small, as well as fascinating plants and colourful birds. Stop halfway through the morning game drive for hot drinks and rusks from the Landrover snack box and return at around 9am for breakfast. During the rest of the day, you are likely to see wildlife like nyala antelope and vervet monkeys around the lodges.

At about 3.30pm everybody convenes for high tea, before departing with the same ranger/tracker team for the day's second African bush safari.

Enjoy a sundowner drink along the way (not included), and get out of the vehicle to stretch your legs and watch the sun go down over the distant Drakensberg Mountains.

As darkness descends it's time to return to the safety of the Landrover and let the tracker scan the landscape with a spotlight picking out the glinting eyes of nocturnal animals. Return to the lodge at around 7pm, where there is time to freshen up before dinner.

Overnight in Kapama Private Reserve.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 5 Greater Kruger National Park
We have another full day of game viewing activities in the African bush.

Twice daily game drives in open 4x4 vehicles are led by highly trained and experienced rangers and trackers. Optional game walks are also offered, allowing guests a better chance to see some of the smaller creatures of the bush as well as an opportunity to learn more about the flora and fauna of the region and to have a chance to follow animal tracks in more detail.

Overnight in Kapama Private Reserve.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch,dinner

Day 6 Kruger Park, South Africa - Swaziland
This morning we cross the border into the Swazi Lowveld, an area of tiny villages and endless rolling hills planted in sugarcane.

Swaziland was founded by the Dlamini dynasty whose ancestors arrived from the area of present day Maputo. Swaziland remains one of the last kingdoms in Africa, a continent once dominated by colonialism. Today Swaziland covers an area roughly the size of Wales or Hawaii. Under the leadership of Dlamini III, settlement took place in 1750, along the Pongola River where it cuts through the Lobombo Mountains. The land they entered was neither vacant or sparsely
populated; it was teeming with game, rich in natural resources, a haven for crop raising and cattle rearing. From 1902 until 1968, when the Kingdom achieved its independence, Swaziland was a British protectorate.

Overnight near Mbabane.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Mbabane, Swaziland - St Lucia Wetlands, South Africa
This morning we depart our hotel and travel south, descending onto the Swazi Lowveld (lowlands), similar in climate and vegetation of the lowveld region we experienced in South Africa and Kruger Park in previous days. We'll travel through sugar cane plantations and the bustling commercial centre of Manzini, before crossing the border back into South Africa and the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Our destination today is the St Lucia Wetlands. Lake St Lucia and the Eastern Shores together comprise the largest estuarine system on the African continent. Lake St Lucia was declared a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO -- South Africa's first -- on December 1, 1999. The park features a variety of landforms including coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lake systems, swamps, and extensive reed and papyrus wetlands.

This afternoon we enjoy a boat safari on Lake St Lucia, with excellent opportunities to view hippo, crocodile, and myriad bird species for which the park is famous.

Overnight at St Lucia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 St Lucia - Durban - Port Elizabeth
This morning we participate in another nature / game viewing activity at St Lucia before travelling by road to Durban, the 'Garden City' of South Africa. This area was opened up to white settlement by the Voortrekkers in the early 19th century, though the Portuguese were navigating the coast here as early as the late 15th century. Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail along this coast, giving it the name Natal to commemorate his Christmas Day arrival. In 1899 the British and the Boers went to war, but under reconciliation in 1910 formed the Union of South Africa with an agreement signed in what is now Durban's modern-day Main Post Office.

This evening we fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth, the start of the famous "Garden Route." (As this will likely be an evening flight, we will not be including dinner this evening).

Overnight in Port Elizabeth.
Meal plan: breakfast

Day 9 Port Elizabeth - 'The Garden Route' - Knysna OR George
Port Elizabeth is South Africa's fifth largest city and the third largest port. This morning we will have a brief panoramic tour of this city seeing the Market Square and the beaches of Algoa Bay.

From Port Elizabeth we travel along the world-famous 'Garden Route' toward Knysna. This route is parallel to the ocean and features lakes, mountains, beaches, and steep cliffs. This part of the garden route reminds one of the Oregon Coast (USA) with its sand dunes and great surf beaches. We'll make a lunch stop at Storm's River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. You will have time to walk a short section of the famed Otter Trail, widely regarded as one of the finest in the world, stretching 41 km (25 mi - 5 days) from Storms River Mouth to Nature's Valley.

We continue to Knysna, a charming coastal town with tremendous water and mountain view and a laid-back lifestyle. The town was founded in 1817 by George Rex, reputed to be an illegitimate son of King George III. Known for its picturesque lagoon, the town was first established as a timber port. Today, Knysna is proud of its riviera atmosphere with many sidewalk cafes and shops.

Depending on limited accommodation availability in Knysna, we may overnight here in Knysna or continue a little further down the road to the town of George.

Overnight in Knysna or George.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Knysna OR George - Mossel Bay - Outdshoorn
This morning we travel down the coast to Mossel Bay. Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias arrived here on February 3, 1488, thus proving to his sponsors that Africa had a southern tip; making it theoretically possible to sail from Europe to India. Our destionation is the Dias Museum Complex, which marks the spot of the historical landing of Bartolomeu Dias. The 500 year old Post Office Tree, a national monument, can still be seen at the site, now harbouring a post box shaped as a shoe.

We then head inland and over the Outeniqua Mountains to the Little Karoo (Klein Karoo), a semi-arid yet fertile valley or depression surrounded by formidable mountian ranges. This is the ostrich capital of South Africa with thousands of these unusual birds dotting fields throughout the area. At the turn of the century ostrich feathers were in such demand that the fashion conscious paid a premium and feathered the nests of the barons who built magnificent mansions known as "Feather Palaces." This fine architecture can still be seen around the sedate and pleasant town of Outdshoorn (pronounced 'Oats-horn'), our final destination.

We will have lunch at one of the region's main ostrich show farms, followed by a tour thereof before continuing to Outdshoorn where we finish our day.

Overnight in Outdshoorn.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 Outdshoorn - Swellendam - Cape Town
From Oudtshoorn we travel through the Huis River Pass with its spectacular rock formations, and the little farming town of Ladysmith, named after the Spanish wife of British Cape Governor Sir Harry Smith. We cross our second mountain range of the day to arrive in the town of Swellendam, the third oldest colonial town in South Africa, established in 1745. Here you will have time to have lunch and visit several historic buildings built in the charming Cape Dutch style with characteristic whitewashed walls and black, thatched roofs.

We then pass through a vast wheat growing and sheep farming area on our way to Cape Town. In the late afternoon we cross the Hottentot's Holland Mountains (our third range for the day), the centre of South Africa's apple growing region, to arrive in Cape Town, one of the world's most isolated and beautiful cities.

Overnight in Cape Town.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 Cape Town: Robben Island & City Tour
This morning we travel by boat to Robben Island* for a guided tour of this historic site, formerly an infamous prison and today a museum. Our entire excursion will last about 3.5 hours and include a visit to the maximum security section where Apartheid era freedom fighters, including Nelson Mandela, were incarcerated. Robben Island provides a poignant reminder of how far South Africa has come since the dark days of apartheid and is a must-see for anyone heading to the Cape.

After our tour and a break for lunch, our city sightseeing continues; we see the seat of the Parliament, which holds a six-month session here each year, as well as the Malay Quarter with its narrow streets and minarets, and the Castle of Good Hope (exterior), South Africa's oldest building. We also pay a visit to the South African Museum and the National Botanical Gardens of Kirstenbosch, with over 4,000 species of indigenous plants (2,600 are endemic to the Cape Peninsula). The garden's history dates back to the 1660s, when the first Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape. Governor Jan van Riebeeck planted a barrier of Wild Almonds to protect settlers' cattle from the original inhabitants of the area -- and part of this hedge is still in the garden!

* Weather dependent; other sightseeing will substitute if needed.

Overnight in Cape Town.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 Departure
Departure from Cape Town.

BON VOYAGE!
Meal plan: breakfast


QVK TRIP DETAILS

DURATION13 days

TOUR STARTJohannesburg

TOUR ENDCape Town