The Best Ways To Spot The Big Five
How to Guide: Safariing in South Africa
“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba, sithi uhm ingonyama”. Oh, the nostalgia of those opening lines. The Zulu ingrained within memories of a childhood spent transfixed by the magic of Disney’s The Lion King. Ok, who are we kidding. It’s still your go-to cathartic watch for any Sundays spent curled up on the sofa. A guaranteed tear-jerker and a homely classic that hasn’t ever, and will never be beaten. And it’s back with this film beginnings, in 1994, that the world’s love affair with the animal kingdom was reignited – it certainly set our sights on a safari from a tender age anyway.
Seeing a real life Mufasa is the goal. After all, there are few things cooler than observing wild animals in their natural habitat. But no matter how many times you’ve seen the cartoon, or been engrossed in hypnotic qualities of Attenborough’s commentary on Planet Earth, nothing will prepare you for the first time that you come face to face with the king of the jungle – or, in this case, king of the South African wilderness.
Swahili for ‘journey’, a safari will certainly be one of those trips that will change you forever. For most, the Big Five – think lumbering elephants, hulking rhinos, beefy buffalo, elusive leopards and, of course, handsome lions – make the bucket-list, but these sought-after animals are just the poster children for a whole plethora of wild species that call the plains of South Africa their home. And it’s for this reason that a game drive is an experience that simply can’t be replicated away from its home turf in the wilds of Africa. Your existence, from this moment on, will forevermore be defined as pre-safari and post-safari. And so life’s greatest journey begins.
Behold the true meaning of the ‘circle of life’. A beautiful, beguiling fantasy world. A wild utopia where lions still rule the roost and the natural world exists as if man had never been. This is a South African safari.
Choosing your destination: national parks vs private game reserves
So, it’s decided that you’re off to South Africa and a safari is number one on your to-do list – alongside Cape Town’s myriad highlights, of course. Now the only question that remains is where to tick it off.
Kruger National Park
Kruger is a big name in the world of safaris. One of the continent’s (yes, we’re talking the whole of Africa) largest wild game national parks, you most definitely won’t be short of things to see here. And we’re not just talking Big Five, the near 150 supporting acts make for quite the spectacle too. Not to mention the wide array of incredible birdlife that can be heard rustling in the trees. It really does have it all going on.
Select our Classic base itinerary and you’ll be off to Kruger, but you can also add it on as an additional location to the Garden Route base itinerary if it’s a scenic road trip that tickles your fancy. Playing host to some of the world’s most majestic fauna, Kruger is a site where all your lifelong safari dreams come true.
The Eastern Cape’s Private Game Reserves
Lesser known than its national park counterpart, an Eastern Cape safari is often underrated. But with its impressive big-five game viewing potential, dramatic euphorbia and aloe tree dotted landscapes and no malaria risk, it should definitely be on your radar. Here, although not quite as diverse an offering, you’ll catch all the headline acts without Kruger’s crowds. After all, size isn’t everything.
If the Eastern Cape’s private game reserves sound like the safari experience for you, just hit our ‘Eastern Cape’ button to add it as a location to your Garden Route base itinerary.
Go for more than just a game drive
Today, there are more ways to ‘safari’ than ever before. Obviously, a game drive or two is top priority, this is how you’ll see the wonders of nature’s best offerings at large. But get out and about with your lodges other twists on a safari experience and your time in the South African bush will just get more and more memorable.
Whether coffee drunk after an early morning rise, or feeling the affects of the afternoon heat, clambering into the back of an open safari vehicle will be sure to sharpen your senses. A game drive will no doubt signal the beginnings of your expedition. You’ve seen what safariing looks like a million times – one google and the ads chase you around the internet for weeks – and the authentically bumpy ride will not disappoint. Before you’ve even spotted anything, the cut of the engine will signal that your driver’s keen eye has detected a sight worth stopping for. An ear flick gives away a cheetah lounging in the long grass, only a few meters away. And now that your eyes have had time to focus, it all starts to feel like one of those “pinch me, I must be dreaming moments”. You see, the beauty of a game drive is that you really can get up close and personal with these mesmerising beasts – sometimes even a little too close for comfort, but what’s life without a sprinkling of danger?
To really be at one with nature, it doesn’t get much more real than a guided bush walk – this really is one for the adrenaline junkies. With no fences between you and the most formidable of the animal kingdom’s creatures (this is no zoo remember, you’re on their turf now), your walk through the bush is about more than just admiring the unique flora of the South African wilderness. In the hands of an expert guide, who is well-equipped to protect you, this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just remember, the rule of thumb is: shout at an elephant, stare out a lion but never ever make eye contact with a leopard. We’re 99.9% sure that you’ll live to tell the tale. Sort of.
There’s nothing quite like taking to the water that winds through land ruled by the Big Five in your very own canoe. And it may sound mad, but as the animals go about their daily business around you, this is set to be one of those serene, life affirming moments in which everything feels right with the world.
Hot Air Balloon Rides
A hot air balloon ride is probably the most breathtaking way to experience the rolling beauty of the South African bush and all that it offers. From the sky, you’ll get an aerial view of animal dotted plains that will stay with you forever.
What to bring
Unlike a more generic sun, sea and sand holiday, a safari takes some planning, so it’s worth being prepared for what you’ll need to pack. A camera, walking shoes, binoculars and your best khaki get-up are top of the list. And, no we’re not trying to make you look a fool. It really is advisable to wear neutral toned clothes as anything too brash could cause animals to shy away – the aim of this game is to be as unassuming as possible, duh. Oh and bring layers because early mornings in the bush can get chilly.
If you’re a hayfever sufferer, antihistamines may be a good idea as you may not be very popular if your allergies are the cause of many an animal slipping out of the vehicle’s sight. The secret to a good safari is of course stealth, and, well, sneezing is hardly very stealthy.
And then there are your eyes, ears and, last but not least, a whole heap of patience. Being a safari pro requires attention to detail which means being alert at all times. And like the good old saying goes, “patience is a virtue” – it may take a while to tick off your wildlife must-sees, but that just makes it all the more rewarding when you do.