Do you want to be amazed by a leopard dragging its prey high into a tree? Elephants crossing the road in front of you? Listen at night to the faraway sound of Hippo’s or the roar of a lion in the bush? See a meerkat stand watch for an eagle or penguins scampering up the beach? A safari in South Africa has got to be part of most African dreams. True, South Africa does not have the immense herds you see on TV, that is only in East Africa, but it has more different species than almost any other country – on land, birds or in the water. Whether you go looking for the Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo), the Small Five (elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, lion ant and rhino beetle) or even the Big Six (adding whales), a safari in South Africa is bound to be unforgettable. To make sure your experience IS indeed unforgettable we take you mostly to private reserves outside the main parks. Why? So you avoid the large accommodations, large number of visitors and large number of vehicles at a lion sighting. Instead you get game-drives in open vehicles, conducted by professional rangers who know where to go and what to look for, with just a couple of vehicles at each sighting. You get night-drives so you can see nocturnal animals – and the big cats hunt mostly at night too. And they take you out on guided walks for a completely new wildlife experience. You sleep in small sized accommodations, in tented camps or in chalets, to give you the real bush experience. Sometimes you even get a shower without a roof – showering under the African night sky is a memory to be treasured!
Note: a private reserve is NOT a zoo. The difference is in ownership of the land, not in wildlife. The ones we take you to are huge wildlife areas where the animals roam free and where hunting is not allowed.
How does a safari work?
The best safaris follow the rhythm of the bush. In a private lodge or camp you are woken before sunrise with a cup of tea or coffee and some rusks. At dawn you go out in an open game viewing vehicle or on foot, both under the guidance of an experienced ranger who’ll tell you about big ánd small animals and birds you see. With the rising temperatures most animals go in hiding, so you return mid-morning for a late breakfast. Mid-day is spend at the pool or, if the reserve has its own waterhole, you can spot wildlife coming for a drink. When the temperature starts to go down the animals become active again, so at 3 or 4 o’clock you go out on your second game drive looking for wild animals. When going out with the vehicle of the reserve, usually you end the day with sundowners in the bush. Sometimes the game drive turns into a night drive with spotlights for spotting the nocturnal animals or big cats on the hunt. You return for a latish dinner and strong stories at the bar or around the camp fire. You often fall asleep with the sound of the bush in the background – hippo’s harrumphing, hyena’s laughing or lions roaring…
Where to go?
Kruger has the name, the size and the numbers. Its extensive savannahs, bush-covered hills and forests make for a large variation in habitats – and for corresponding variety in animals and birds. Greater Kruger is the size of state of Massachusetts or the county of Wales. Roughly one third of this is private reserves – with no fences between the reserves and the national park so the animals roam freely.
Its fame overshadows (undeservedly!) the equally good Hluhluwe- and Umfolozi reserves in Kwazulu-Natal and Hlane in Swaziland. Also Addo, the only Big Five reserve in the south, belongs to this list. Private reserves surround most of these parks as well.
But we’ve only just begun – there are parks protecting marine and coastal areas, wetlands, endangered species, forests, deserts and mountains. Most have a wide variety of animals, birds, insects, reptiles or marine mammals. Prepare to be swamped with choices:
- There is a whole range of smaller reserves with their own species, like Mountain Zebra NP near Craddock and Karoo N.P. near Beaufort-West.
- Whale watching is best along the Western Cape coast and the Garden Route.
- At Tsitsikamma you find ancient Fynbos forests and stunning cliffs along the ocean.
- St. Lucia’s waterways are home to hundreds of hippo’s and crocs as well as South Africa’s latest World Heritage Site: iSimangalisa Wetland Reserve. Besides Rhino’s, Buffaloes and various Antilopes it is home to over 520 species of birds.
- For an epic mountain landscape the sheer wall of the Drakensbergen along the frontier between South Africa and Lesotho is unbeatable.
- In the north, the Kalahari Desert harbors Augrabies and Kgaligadi, home to desert animals like meerkats, oryx and the Kalahari lions, with their dark flowing manes Africa’s most impressive lions.
Finally, wherever you go, it is a safari – not a trip to a zoo. Sometimes you see a lot, sometimes not. Always remember that you’re dealing with wild animals, that you’re in their territory and that they have right of way. Whether you are driving yourself or have a guided drive, get a good map of the reserve, take binoculars, camera, spare batteries, water, hat, sunblock, animal and bird field guides with you – and a shawl and jacket for early morning or night drives. So, get a good dose of patience, add some spotting skill and sprinkle it with a good measure of luck, and you’ll be in for an amazing time!