Going on safari was easily the best part of my South African adventure, but choosing where to go on safari was no easy task. Here are 7 things that you should know before going on safari.
- The difference between a national park and a private game reserve
Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest game reserves and it boasts excellent Big Five viewings. There is Kruger Park proper and Greater Kruger, a network of private game reserves that serves as an extension of the national park itself. There are no fences carving up the land and the animals are free to roam wherever they like. Staying in Kruger National Park can often be more affordable and more flexible, as you can organise drives yourself and you determine the itinerary. The downside is that the restrictions in the national park mean that you cannot go off-road and have to stick to the tracks.
For me, the opportunity to go off-road on a private game reserve made my safari experience. I chose a safari lodge in Sabi Sands, and I saw more of the wildlife and got a lot closer to them than if I had been in the national park. And really, isn’t that what going on safari is all about?
- A brilliant tracker is your best friend
Lady Luck plays her part, but what kind of wildlife you see on safari is largely determined by how skilful your tracker is. Without knowing where to look, you could just be driving around aimlessly. I had an incredible tracker and he took us to some incredible sightings. We saw a group of leopards dozing high up in a tree after having dragged their kill up there. We could sit in the jeep under the tree and watch the leopards slipping in and out of their food comas. It was quite an unforgettable scene.
And while there were plenty of leopards in Sabi Sands, lion sightings were more difficult while we were there. Our tracker did not give up until he found a lioness wandering around, and he also found us the rest of the Big Five. Read the reviews of the safari lodge online to try to gauge how good your potential trackers are.
- Size is everything when it comes to safari vehicles
Unless you are going on a super luxe safari with your own private 4×4, chances are that you will be sharing your game drive will a small group of people. It’s important to know how many people will be with you because a big group means that there will be some people sitting in the middle seats with an obstructed view of the wildlife. As on planes, you do not want to be stuck in these seats. My game drives at Elephant Plains were limited to 6 guests plus a tracker and a ranger. There were two people in each row of seats, and this was perfect because everyone had a “window” seat.
- It isn’t just about the Big Five
In Africa, the Big Five animals are lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos. Some areas are better than others for Big Five viewings but this can change quickly depending on a whole host of factors, such as the weather that year and whether the animals have thrived. It can be disappointing if you do not get to see all of the Big Five during your safari, but it’s best not to get fixated on that. There’s so much to see and beauty in so-called common sightings, such as impalas, and ticking the Big Five off should not be a top priority. I saw so much on safari – hippos frolicking around in a pool, cheeky baby elephants dousing themselves with water, curious giraffes towering over us and ginormous rhinos rocking right past me. I loved the variety of wildlife, and the safari surpassed any expectations I might have had, Big Five or otherwise.
- There’s more to safaris than the game drives
The bush walks were also immense fun, giving me the chance to learn about the smaller creatures that were in the area. I had no idea that you could also spot turtles on safari! There was a thrill to walking about without the safety of the massive 4x4s. When sitting in these robust vehicles, predators see us as one unit and our sheer collective size deters them from even contemplating an attack. But this wasn’t the case when we were walking around on our own two feet, and it made the bush walks slightly nerve-wracking.
- Game drives in the evenings offer great sightings
At the end of each day, the rangers would take us to a water hole to watch the sunset and sip on our sundowner drinks. The light at this time of the day was beautiful and the African sun did not disappoint us. On the drive back to the lodge, we would often spot the notoriously shy hippos come out of the water or a herd of elephants marching peacefully across the land. I couldn’t capture these special sightings on camera because the light was so low, but they will always remain with me. It was just magical.
- Pack the right gear
If you have been thinking about investing in new camera equipment but have been umming and ahhing, make sure you make the purchase before your safari. You won’t regret it. I bought a powerful zoom lens for the safari trip and I was so glad I bit the bullet and forked out for the new gear. Even though my tracker got me close to the animals, having a decent zoom really made a real difference and I was able to take great close-ups of the wildlife. A good binocular, a wide-brim sunhat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and light, long-sleeve tops are ideal to have.