This tour is an extensive private expedition accompanied by an expert guide who will significantly enhance your understanding and insight into one of the world's most remarkable countries.
Our most comprehensive South African adventure will leave you with memories for a lifetime. This private tour visits some of the most exciting parts of South Africa and will expose guests to the vast diversity of landscapes, cultures, and wildlife in this corner of Africa.
Once you've arrived in Johannesburg and have cleared customs and immigration, you'll find your African Sky guide waiting for you as you enter the arrivals hall. First, we'll take care of a few formalities. The tour then travels east through the coal-rich Highveld and the rolling hills of Mpumalanga to the village of Dullstroom. The area surrounding Dullstroom is a windswept grassland, dominated by the 2 332m high "Die Berg" (the mountain), the highest point between the Limpopo and Vaal Rivers.
We visit the Dullstroom Bird Of Prey & Rehabilitation Center, established in 1997, to promote awareness of the raptor species and their growing plight as endangered species. Then it's on to the overnight destination of Mount Sheba. This secluded country hotel is situated in an indigenous forest in the hills above the mining town of Pilgrims Rest. You can relax for the remainder of the day or take one or more short walks into the surrounding forest, home to some unique animals such as the samango monkey and red duiker.
The 'Panoramic Route' is the focus of the morning excursion. Visits are made to the 'Three Rondavels' overlooking the Blyderivierpoort Dam and 'Bourke's Luck', where the unique geological features of the potholes are admired. 'Gods Window' is then reached, a cleft along the edge of the escarpment from where magnificent views over the Lowveld may be enjoyed. God's Window is situated in a patch of indigenous forest where many flowering and aromatic plants flourish.
The tour then travels to the Kruger National Park, South Africa's premier conservation area. Within a few minutes, you should spot some animals en route to Lower Sabie on the banks of one of the two largest rivers flowing through southern Kruger. Leopards are seen almost daily as they go to the water for a late afternoon drink. On arrival at Lower Sabie, you'll check in to your lodgings. If time allows, you'll enjoy a late afternoon game drive.
You'll enjoy daily guided game drives in the southern Kruger National Park. Kruger has over 2,500 kilometers of roads from which the park may be explored. Typically your guide will also travel several gravel roads, often taking you into an area with a low vehicle density. Some time may be devoted to relaxing at a waterhole or one of the many lookout points or bird hides. This tactic often delivers spectacular sightings, particularly during the dry season when many animals are attracted to a limited number of water sources.
Southern Kruger is characterized by wooded savanna and is well-watered by the Sabie and Crocodile river systems. These ideal circumstances make for exceptional lion and leopard sighting opportunities, as these predators occur in significant numbers in this part of the Kruger National Park. There is, of course, a wealth of other mammal and bird species that can also be seen while on safari in the region. During the late afternoon of the second day, you'll embark on a night safari with a Kruger Park ranger. The night safari makes possible sightings of creatures like spotted genets, serval, and aardvarks, animals rarely seen during the day. Large predators are nocturnal hunters and are more active during the evening.
The early morning hours are devoted to a last-game drive in Kruger. After exiting the park, we'll travel south towards Jeppe's Reef. Located at the border with South Africa and the tiny kingdom of Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in Africa, Matsamo Cultural Village was established as a community effort to showcase Swazi customs, tradition, and language. Participants from surrounding villages, all part of the Shongwe clan, offer visitors the opportunity of experiencing a touch of their ancestry, first by enjoying a guided tour of the working village and later ending with a truly impressive traditional dancing display as their drums echo through the surrounding valley.
The tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland is one of the smallest self-contained sovereign states in the world. After clearing customs and immigration, the tour traverses the scenic Komati River pass en route to the country's capital, Mbabane. A mid-afternoon stop is made at a famous local candle factory and curio market before traveling to our overnight accommodations, set in a renovated colonial house and built on a koppie in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. The lodge grounds are a haven to several tiny antelope, including suni and blue duiker.
Your morning starts with breakfast, served on the veranda of this old colonial house overlooking the Ezulwini Valley. The garden attracts many birds and often a few small inquisitive antelope, which will pay close attention as you enjoy your meal. Later the tour departs Mlilwane and heads off southeasterly towards Golela. En route, you'll see typical rural Swazi villages, a touch of the 'real Africa' you won't readily see in adjacent South Africa.
After customs and immigration formalities, the tour enters northern Zululand and joins the N2 route to the nearby village of Mkuze and your overnight accommodations. After lunch and some time for relaxation, you'll enjoy an afternoon boat cruise on Lake Jozini. The lake is located along the Lebombo Mountains, which makes for dramatic backdrops. Along its western edge, it's possible to see elephants, often taking a refreshing swim, as well as hippos, crocodiles, and sometimes even rhinos.
The day is devoted to morning and afternoon game viewing and bird-watching excursions in uMKuze Game Reserve. The reserve boasts many habitats, including acacia savannah, woodlands, swamps, and riverine forests. The eastern slopes of the Lebombo Mountains are also notable. The reserve is home to a large concentration of black and white rhinos and offers the opportunity to view the other members of the Big Five. On the game drives, you will also see many plains game species. uMkuze is especially noteworthy for its rich bird life and is generally regarded as one of South Africa's finest birding destinations. During the day, some time is devoted to viewing the rich birdlife from one of the hides in the area.
On departure from Ghost Mountain, we'll continue southwards to the seaside village of St Lucia. iSimangaliso, previously known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, is South Africa's third-largest protected area today, conserving a stretch of coastline some 280 km (about 173 miles) long, from the southern Mozambican border to Mapalane near St. Lucia. The park is home to 1,200 crocodiles and about 800 hippos, many of which roam the streets of St. Lucia at night. On arrival, we'll enjoy a cruise on the estuary, which will last about an hour. On completion, some time is devoted to a short driving tour of the village, after which your tour travels inland to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. An afternoon drive is conducted en route to our accommodation at Hilltop Camp.
Your day is devoted to game drives in this stunning wilderness, guided by your experienced African Sky guide. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi reserve is a stronghold for both black and white rhinos, where they were brought back from the brink of extinction through the efforts of the Ian Player Foundation's 'Operation Rhino' in the 1950s. Now, as the scourge of poaching once again threatens the existence of these magnificent giants, the park is as dedicated as ever to the conservation of the species. The 96-000-hectare wilderness area is home to the other members of the Big Five – elephant, Cape buffalo, lion, and leopard – along with the highly-endangered cheetah.
After a last morning game drive, we say goodbye to the wilderness of Zululand and head off towards the coast, passing through the Zululand district of Babanango before reaching Melmoth, named after Sir Melmoth Osborn, the first British Chief Native Commissioner for Zululand. On arrival in Balito, you'll be assisted with check-in. The Boat House overlooks the Indian Ocean on this part known as the Dolphin Coast, for the large number of these marine mammals that can often be spotted from shore. The late afternoon is spent at leisure.
After breakfast, guests are transferred to Durban's King Shaka Airport for a short flight to Johannesburg and an onward connection to George in the heart of the Garden Route. The area is known for its pristine natural beauty and abundant land- and water-based activities. Guests are met upon arrival at George Airport, from where a short drive leads to the overnight destination in the coastal town of Wilderness. Wilderness is nestled between a long stretch of sandy beach and forested hills with inland waterways and lagoons dotting the landscape - magnificent natural surroundings.
During the morning, we visit Knysna. The town is primarily built on the northern shore of a large warm water estuary fed by the Knysna River. The estuary opens to the ocean after passing between "The Heads" and has become infamous due to the loss of boats and fishermen passing through their treacherous and unpredictable waters. During the morning, you will board a ferry crossing the lagoon to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. The Featherbed Nature Reserve is a prime example of sustainable eco-tourism, with limited visitor numbers. During the afternoon, the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary will offer guests a closer look at the African elephant by providing the opportunity to touch and feed these gentle giants. After the elephant encounter, we return to the overnight destination.
After an early breakfast, guests will travel to George and turn off to Oudtshoorn by crossing the Outeniqua Mountains. The Outeniqua mountain range is characterized by gentle southern slopes and steep drops on the north side down to the low valley of the Little Karoo. Oudtshoorn is a large modern town that relies mainly on farming and the ever-present ostrich industry. Guests will visit a local ostrich farm and, during their visit, will learn more about the world's largest bird. After an opportunity to take part in an ostrich ride race, you make your way to the Cango Caves. The extensive cave system of tunnels and chambers goes on for over 4 km, of which only about a quarter is open to visitors. A visit to the Cango Wildlife Ranch follows the cave exploration. The ranch is one of the leading cheetah breeders in South Africa, and guests are permitted to enter a fenced area to interact with a tame cheetah.
Today we'll travel to the coastal city of Mossel Bay. During the boom years of ostrich farming, Mossel Bay was a major exporter of ostrich products to Europe and the USA. We'll visit the Dias Museum, named after Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, which marks his historical landing point on our coast in 1488 and where the 500-yr old 'post office tree' is located. The Maritime Museum houses a replica of the caravel on which he traveled. The vessel arrived in Mossel Bay in 1987, a gift from the government of Portugal to commemorate the event. Another highlight is a map of Mossel Bay, produced by early Dutch sailor Cornelius de Houtman in 1595. Then it's on to Swellendam, set in a well-watered valley at the foot of the Langeberge. We'll make a quick foray into the village to appreciate the architecture and visit the Drostdy Museum, built in 1747 in the Cape Dutch architectural style by the Dutch East India Company. Later a trip through rolling wheat fields brings us to Arniston. The town takes its name from the East Indiaman of the same name, wrecked during a storm on these shores in 1815. The coastline surrounding Arniston is notable for its bizarre marine erosions, the most significant of which is the Waenhuiskrans, an enormous cavern eroded from the cliffs and an easy walk from the hotel. We'll walk along the beach in the afternoon to the Waenhuiskrans before retiring for the evening.
On this day, you'll enjoy a full-day excursion to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the African continent. Cape Agulhas, or the Cape of Needles, was so named because of the many rocks and reefs in the area. The Portuguese named the headland Cabo das Agulhas around the year 1500. It is the official meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The region is a veritable paradise of nature in all her glory, a delight to even the most discerning botanist, hiker, photographer, historian, bird watcher, or angler. Fragrances of fynbos merge with mountain and sea air. Our visit includes a stop at the museum and lighthouse. We'll return to Arniston during the middle to late afternoon.
Your tour travels via the scenic Overberg countryside along country back-roads and passes Napier and Stanford's small towns before reaching Hermanus's - a popular seaside village. The village is generally accepted as one of the best places in the world to enjoy land-based whale watching and has since August 1992 had the world's only 'whale crier', who sounds his kelp horn to announce when whales have been sighted. Zakes Mda wrote the novel The Whale Caller, in which the 'whale crier' of Hermanus is the main character, a man who becomes enthralled by a Southern Right Whale he names Sharisha. From Hermanus, the tour follows the coastal route via Betty's Bay to the Strand and then to the Cape Winelands.
The day is devoted to exploring the town of Franschhoek and visiting three of the finest wine estates in the area. The magnificent Franschhoek Valley lies between two towering mountains in the beautiful Cape Winelands. The valley was initially settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees in a valley called Olifantshoek, so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The area's name soon changed to Franschhoek, with many settlers naming their new farms after the places in France they came from. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine. These farms retained their original farmhouses and have grown into renowned wineries. Guests will sample wines at some of these wine estates. Franschhoek is known for some of the country's top restaurants. This, together with the strong wine culture and pristine natural and architectural beauty, has made Franschhoek into what many describe as the "food and wine capital" of South Africa.
Nearby Stellenbosch is the oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and is also one of the most historically well-preserved. Water furrows along oak-lined streets complement the fine examples of elegant Cape Dutch, Victorian, and Georgian architecture, all part of this unique 'Town of Oaks.' The Stellenbosch wine route incorporates the wine farms surrounding this historic university town. The country's oldest wine route was founded in 1971 and is divided into five sub-routes. Skirting through the scenic beauty of the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, the route offers far more than just gastronomic gratification. Though known for its fine white wine offerings, more quality red bouquets have been sprouting from the vines recently, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most popular. More than 200 wine and grape producers fall within the wine route's classification perimeters, ensuring visitors stay hydrated on a tasting tour. From Lanzerac to Tokara, the flavors will entice even the most discerning connoisseur. During the late afternoon, your tour meanders its way to Cape Town.
Today is spent exploring one of the world's most beautiful cities. Table Mountain, arguably Africa's most famous natural landmark, is first on the agenda. Views from Table Mountain are indeed impressive, with the Indian Ocean to the east, the deep blue waters of the Atlantic to the west, and the Cape Peninsula as it sinks away to the south where these two great oceans meet. During the cooler part of the day, we'll stroll through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens under Skeleton Gorge. Established in 1913 on land donated by philanthropist Cecil John Rhodes, these gardens attempt to display the region's indigenous flora comprehensively and include an impressive Baobab Tree in the new greenhouse. The recently completed 'Boomslang' treetop canopy walkway in the Enchanted Forest now allows folks to experience life in the treetops.
Breakfast is followed by a drive over the spectacular Chapman's Peak pass, cut into the 650m high Chapman's Peak, leading the tour through the town of Noordhoek to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. A botanical and scenic delight, the reserve is home to several antelope species and a great diversity of flowering plants and birds. A highlight is sure to be the walk to the edge of Cape Point, where the calming influence of the Indian Ocean meets the stormy waters of the Atlantic. This Cape has played a central role in the tales and legends of the ocean and remains an important landmark at the South Western Edge of Africa. It was said this was where the two halves of the world, east and west, met. The tour traces the Indian Ocean on the way back to Cape Town, stopping at Boulders Beach, an attractive secluded beach comprising a tumble of huge round rocks on a sandy shore. We then make our way back to Cape Town.
The morning will be spent at leisure before guests are transferred to Cape Town International for a flight back to their country of origin after a memorable South African tour.