Nancy Vandermey, Author
South Africa/Botswana Trip October/November 2007
Planning for this trip occurred over several months. We knew we wanted to visit our 2003 hangout, the Jwana Game Park, and our friends at Cheetah Conservation Botswana, but this would be a tourist trip, not a volunteer one. Eric had never done many of the things I did on my previous trips to South Africa (1999, 2000, 2001), and neither of us got to experience the Okavango Delta on our 2003 trip, despite driving to Maun and Gumare. The weather in November in Botswana had been fine and worked well for being away from home a month, so the dates were set. The first thing I did was contact the KZN Parks about the extended short wilderness trail in Umfolozi Park. I booked that for October 23-25, added on Mpila Camp on Oct 22 and Hilltop Camp on Oct 26, and went from there. For flights I booked through the South Africa Airways website directly, depart LAX Oct 20 arrive JNB Oct 21, depart JNB Nov 23 arrive LAX Nov 24, connecting through Dulles both ways. The price was about $1600 each, which did not rise significantly for the next several months, but I reserved bulkhead seats (61A & 61C) which meant a lot to us tall people. The rest of the South Africa itinerary I knew where I wanted to go, and had Jeremy of Far & Wild Safaris book for me (so I would only have to make one payment, not 6 separate ones). It was great to have Jeremy checking with the SA Parks to get the Kruger camps I wanted (they were booked, but opened up one month beforehand). The Botswana portion I booked myself, thanks to information from the Lonely Planet and Fodor's online forums. The last week was left open, to possibly spend more time with CCB, or add on more safari activities. It turned out that the CCB folks were busy with workshops, so only the last 2 nights of our stay were spent visiting them. Our other extra days, we would try to book a last-minute Delta camp in Maun, or we would just drive to Kasane and visit the Chobe riverfront and do a day trip to Victoria Falls.
I researched rental cars and decided a small SUV was the best; we wanted to be comfortable, might need the 4WD occasionally, and the higher clearance and seating would be nice. We ended up with a Suburu Forester, very comfortable and good gas economy. I used autoeurope.com, they were competitive in price and had good reviews. Since we were not arriving at JNB until 2:30 pm, I booked a room near the airport at the Airport Grand as we had several errands at the airport (ATM for rand, exchange bureau for pula, SIM card for cell phone, rental car) and I knew it was best not to drive after dark.
The flights over were uneventful, after some last-second repacking at the airport due to an overweight bag. The errands went well, except that the first exchange bureau didn't have much pula, and the second was abysmally slow (I wanted to get pula here as we were crossing into Botswana at a small border post and would not encounter a bank for some ways in). Finding the airport hotel was easy enough, only one missed turn due to direction signs being located AT the place you turn, not BEFORE them. The web site and hotel brochures said breakfast (included in the room rate) was available at 5 am, so we were down there ready to go - but no breakfast! The manager quickly got us some boxed lunches, and we were on our way, for our first African sunrise.