Gateway City: Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is one of Africa’s most beautiful and fascinating cities and there is plenty here to deserve a few days stay before or after heading off into the bush on safari.  This series on Cape Town and the Eastern Cape Province covers a trip we did back in April 2009.

GETTING TO CAPE TOWN

I have a post on getting to South Africa using airline miles with details of the best programs to use.  Cape Town is well served by international flights and most people like to fly here and leave from Johannesburg (or vv) so they can see as much of South Africa as possible.

STAR ALLIANCE

South African Airways is a Star Alliance member and the obvious choice to fly here and around South Africa.  You can also get here on Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines & Lufthansa.

ONEWORLD

Comair is part of British Airways and offer good value using Avios to get around South Africa but always check the YQ surcharges as these can be excessive.  Qatar Airways and British Airways also offer flights from the Middle East & Europe respectively.

SKYTEAM

Only Europe has direct flights to South Africa on KLM & Air France.

WHERE TO STAY ON HOTEL POINTS

As a world class destination, Cape Town is well supplied with hotels you can redeem with points for all budgets.

IHG REWARDS

Holiday Inn Express Cape Town City Centre –    15,000 points

SPG

Westin Cape Town (This is where we stayed) – 10,000 Starpoints

Since it was so long ago, I am not doing a full review as updated info can be found on Trip Advisor but I must say we LOVED the view!

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CLUB CARLSON

They have 4 options in Cape Town:

Radisson Blu Le Vendome – 38,000 points

Radisson Blu Waterfront – 70,000 points

Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Foreshore – 28,000 points

Park Inn by Radisson Newlands – 28,000 points

HILTON

Hilton Cape Town City Centre – 40,000 points

Doubletree Upper East Side – 20,000 points

MARRIOTT

Since Marriott partners with the South African chain Protea, they have a whopping 14 options in Cape Town ranging in price from 7500 – 20,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Or you can go indie and choose from many hotels on PointsHound or Rocketmiles to earn frequent flyer miles for them.

WHAT TO SEE IN CAPE TOWN

Here are a few suggestions for sight-seeing in Cape Town greater city area.  I will make a separate post for our day trip around the Cape of Good Hope.

VICTORIA & ALBERT WATERFRONT

Great for dining, shopping and soaking up the atmosphere.

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TABLE MOUNTAIN

Ride the cable car up and enjoy the view!

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BOTANICAL GARDENS

Nice place for a stroll around to enjoy the flowers.  We didn’t have time on this trip unfortunately but you might!

ROBBEN ISLAND DAY TRIP

The notorious prison island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years.  Book tickets online to save time and money.

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Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

The Secretarybird or Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a very large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey. Endemic to Africa, it is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah of the sub-Saharan region. Although a member of the order Accipitriformes, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, buzzards, vultures, and harriers, it is given its own family, Sagittariidae.

They are probably one of the coolest birds around with their head quills and they hunt snakes.  Anyone who helps rid the world of snakes is OK in my book!

IMG_6920 IMG_6922 IMG_6918 IMG_6914 IMG_6925Secretary birds have a huge range and can be seen in just about any of the popular national parks in Africa.  I have personally seen them in Kruger, Kgalagadi, Masai Mara, Serengeti and most recently in Ngorongoro near Ndutu.

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LEARN MORE ABOUT SECRETARY BIRDS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Siyabona

National Geographic

VIDEOS

Sort clip from a documentary.

Another snake bites the dust!

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)

The woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) is a tree kingfisher.  I was lucky enough to see this one at close range at the Rainforest Lodge near Kakum, Ghana.

IMG_5893 IMG_5888They have an extremely large range, basically two thirds of Africa so I am surprised I didn’t see them in more places.  I’ve found reliable reports that they can be seen in Kruger National Park, South Africa and several places in Uganda as well.

Red dot - Kakum, Ghana

Red dot – Kakum, Ghana

LEARN MORE ABOUT WOODLAND KINGFISHERS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Xeno-Canto

Beauty of Birds

VIDEO

Amazing close-up of a pair of Woodland Kingfishers having breakfast!

 

JNB Airport & Comair Flight To Mauritius

I have already blogged a bit about the facilities available in the domestic terminal and we were in business class so had access to a lounge.  In this case, we were simply in economy so no lounge access from the ticket.  I had planned to use Priority Pass to get us into the lounge but by the time we got through the security line, there was no time.  I changed what was left of the Rand to Mauritius Rupees, then wandered into a few shops to kill time.

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High fashion in the airport!

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It was Nov 8 but they already had Christmas decorations up.  I gave into temptation and bought that pink cushion cover and another similar one in black because the had birds on them.

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When we got to the gate, people were already in line so we let the line proceed and jumped in when it slowed down.  We had decent seats and only carry-on backpacks so I wasn’t very worried.

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Comair is a subsidiary of British Airways and has their livery.  Space is easily searchable on either BA.com or AA.com.

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I grabbed a quick shot of the “business class” cabin as we went to our seats.  Identical to economy (Euro-business) with a blocked middle seat.  Not worth wasting Avios on.  The flight wasn’t full and we got an empty middle seat anyway!  The 1908 mile flight falls into the 3rd band and costs 10,000 Avios economy and 20,000 business.

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A Few Cautions About Driving From Kruger To JNB

If you Google-map it, Kruger to Jo-burg doesn’t look like that big a drive, about 5 hours.

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What Google doesn’t tell you is just how slow the traffic can be!  We were lucky we left by 2pm and I was expecting to hit JNB by 7pm driving at a good speed.

We left through Malelane Gate and took advantage of the clean restrooms.  There is also a map here if you are just arriving and want to know where the latest sightings have been.

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The main highway passes through some pretty countryside, we even saw some birds but we were going too fast to stop.

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This is where it got fun (not).  The traffic was backed up over an hour with trucks coming from Mozambique heading to Jo-burg.  It may look benign for those people headed to Kruger but no such luck.  After we got past a small town, it was backed up even worse!  Remember, you have to be at your restcamp before curfew which varies around 6pm-6:30-ish so make allowances for bad traffic.  The jam was so bad I was wondering if some people would get there in time.  The yellow highlighting is where the traffic was backed up.

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The blazing sunset was awesome but knowing we would have to drive much of the road in the dark not so awesome.

IMG_4437 IMG_4438Expect to have to overtake lots of trucks any time of day or night.  It’s a good paved highway but usually one lane in each direction and trucks will NOT pull over and let you by.  You generally have to cross into the opposite lane to overtake and hope nothing comes out of a side road.  It was pretty nerve-wracking!   Petrol stations can be few and far between so fill up at the first one you see after leaving Kruger.  Some of them don’t take credit cards so be prepared to pay cash.

There are a few toll gates and you will need cash for the ones in the rural areas but once you get to the general Jo-burg/Pretoria area they will be electronic toll gates.  Your rental car will have a transponder and you should hear a beep as you go under them.  Don’t worry, they will be charged at cost a couple days after you return the car and most car hire companies don’t add an administrative fee.  Avis didn’t at least!

Lunch At Berg-en-Dal Restcamp

Even though we had only a short stay in Kruger this time, I wanted to check out one last restcamp because you never know when you may come back!  Berg-en-Dal is conveniently located near Malelane Gate and we got there around 1pm-ish.

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A Golden-tailed Woodpecker welcomed us in……………….and didn’t tell us to “G’waaaaayyy”!

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The restaurant has a beautiful setting overlooking a river.  The service was a bit slow but who cares when you have THIS to look at!  The food was good!

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Yummy milkshakes!

IMG_4425 IMG_4426 IMG_4428 IMG_4430This camp is supposed to be famous for Leopard so I wouldn’t mind a return visit here sometime!  After a quick wander around to see a few birds it was time to hit the road.  We needed to return the car by 8pm.

Final Game Drive – Pretoriuskop To Malelane Gate

We got a pretty late start since the birds were so engaging at Pretoriuskop restcamp, but luckily we didn’t have far to go.  In a pinch, we could have simply exited at Numbi Gate and driven back to JNB at normal speed.  But I didn’t want to miss one last chance to see more birds and animals in Kruger so we took the scenic route!  In the map below, a red road is paved and a yellow road is a dirt road but well-maintained.  Our route is in blue.

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We saw lots of Fork-tailed Drongos but not close to each other.  They seem to be pretty territorial.

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There are also a lot of these “Jock of the Bushveld” plaques.

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I really wanted to get a decent shot of a Lilac-breasted Roller in flight.  I had to wait a bit but this little guy finally obliged!

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European Bee-eaters come here to escape the cold in Europe.

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Vervet monkeys are always amusing.

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Combining this with the map, you can see distances aren’t that great.

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G’waaaayyyyyyy!

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Greater Blue-eared Starling

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Weaver birds are also everywhere.

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This Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill was at a picnic spot.

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An elegant Pin-tailed Whydah.

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The quintessential African photo.

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Red-breasted Swallow

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Red-billed Ox-pecker, apparently near-sighted as he is pecking a giraffe!

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Jacobin Cuckoo

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Books For Planning A Trip To Kruger

I realize that the search engines will bring all kinds of people researching South Africa to this page, not just birders but people who are more interested in mammals.  While the routes I have chosen were selected due to my interest in birds, there are other resources to help you decide which part of Kruger National Park to visit.  It’s always good to have a mammal field guide on hand if that is your interest as you will see a lot more besides lions and elephants!

I’d go with the Kindle versions to keep your baggage weight down.  You can always take a photo and look the critter up later!  These affiliate links provide me a small commission and I do appreciate you using them for these or any purchases you make at Amazon.com

Purple-crested Turaco (Tauraco porphyreolophus)

The Purple-crested Turaco (Tauraco porphyreolophus) is a species of bird in the Musophagidae family.   It is the National Bird of the Kingdom of Swaziland.  According to Wikipedia, sadly the crimson flight feathers of this and related turaco species are important in the ceremonial regalia of the Swazi royal family.  I really hate when birds are killed so their feathers can provide decoration.  Especially when the bird is as stunning as this one!

IMG_4350 IMG_4349 IMG_4254 IMG_4260 IMG_4128aThey have a very large range which is great news for African safari enthusiasts!  They can be found in It is found in Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Their southernmost occurrence is at the Mtamvuna River on the KwaZulu-Natal-Eastern Cape border.

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I found them easily in the Pretoriuskop Restcamp in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

LEARN MORE ABOUT PURPLE-CRESTED TURACOS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Biodiversity Explorer

Swaziland National Trust Commission

VIDEO

Not live action but a great sound clip of this bird’s call.

I can’t tell if this is filmed in a bird park or in a restcamp but it’s excellent quality.

Lodge Review: Pretoriuskop Restcamp, Kruger National Park

Pretoriuskop Restcamp has it all!  It’s one of the easiest Kruger Restcamps to get to if you can only spare a few days from a Jo-burg business trip.  They have accommodation to suit all budgets from tent campers to fully furnished cabins.  But from my point of view, this is what really attracted me!

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Brown-headed Parrots!  But more about them tomorrow in the Birds of Pretoriuskop post.  Let’s focus on the facilities for now.

It’s about a 4-5 hour drive from Jo-burg if you enter at the nearest gate which is Numbi Gate, then you have at least 20 minutes more to reach the camp.  If you are coming from elsewhere inside Kruger then make sure you leave enough time considering the 50 kph speed limit and the fact that you will be stopping to watch birds and animals frequently.

IMG_4101 IMG_4102On the camp map below, I highlighted the location of our cabin #103, the ablution blocks (showers & toilets), retaurant, laundry and areas I found good for birding as we walked around the camp.