One of my most treasured “jobs” as the first mate of Nine of Cups is travel planning. I collect the literature, read the guide books, do research on line and then come up with a plan. In South Africa, especially where we are in KwaZulu-Natal (KNZ) province, there's so much to see and do, it boggles the mind. There are game parks, game reserves, marine reserves, Zulu culture and historical sites, and of course, the world-famous Kruger National Park. First things first, I headed to the tourist info office in downtown Durban and collected as many tourist brochures about the region as possible.
Now, the hard part … perusing all the brochures, reading the guide books and deciding what to see and what to give a miss. It's a challenge to be sure. I usually set up criteria based on the amount of time we have available, what there is to see and how much $$ we want to spend. Whetted by our recent visit to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, we agreed that we'd take 7-10 days for land touring in this area and still have 7-10 days for boat chores/repairs. Sounded pretty fair to me and I went to work planning the details. We plan to leave South Africa by the end of February, so that would still give us 5-6 weeks to get to Cape Town and head out.
For our upcoming trip, we'd need to rent a car; plan the route; reserve accommodations in advance if we wanted to stay in the game parks or national parks, since it's high season; determine the ancillary things to see and do beyond the game parks such as craft markets, cultural exhibits, museums, etc. Several cruisers had already done some land travel plus the locals are happy to share information, so I checked with them first. They each had a nugget or two of wisdom to offer, but none offered the perfect Nine of Cups itinerary. My job was cut out for me.
Renting a car is easy enough; getting a good deal is another matter. After much research, I found an economy car with unlimited mileage, A/C, in-town pickup, and a small enough excess (deductible in case of accident or theft) that we could swallow, just in case. I got it down to ~$22/day including insurance. Now to set the itinerary.
Since animal encounters were tops on our list, I narrowed down the game parks and reserves that seemed to offer the most animal viewing options, but tried to choose those that were a bit off the beaten track. It's summer season here and there are scads of tourists (like us) that we are hoping to avoid. I checked what other attractions were nearby the parks that would be of interest, as well as in-park accommodations, nearby hotels, restaurants, etc. For hotels, wifi and A/C are two amenities high on the wish-list along with free parking and free breakfast. We usually like to wing it as far as hotels go, but since it's the tourist season, I wanted to at least book a couple of nights in advance.
After devoting an entire, frustrating day to internet and travel research interrupted frequently by everyday life aboard, I managed to figure out a rather ambitious and adventurous itinerary. It's a big territory to explore, but I think we'll make the most of our time and money. We're booked in a combination of hotels and backpacker hostels, inside game parks and out. Our route will include at least three major game reserves/wildlife sanctuaries plus multiple nature reserves; a few days in Swaziland, a tiny kingdom to the north; opportunities to visit several craft and local markets, museums and cultural centers plus exposure to Zulu, Swati and Ndebele people.
We're quite excited about this trip, but, of course, we have to get our chores done first, so it'll be a few more days before we can leave. We hope you'll come along. We always enjoy your company.