Safari was such a big part of our South Africa Trip that I felt it warranted a separate post. It was also the part that I stressed out about the most. There seemed to be so much choice of where to stay and it was so much money that I really wanted to get it right, aside from the fact that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type activity. I’ve ended up writing 2 posts, this one about all the planning, decisions and tips I have and the second tomorrow with my actual experience. I hope you enjoy them and as always please do get involved and share your thoughts.
Planning a Safari holiday
When we decided to go on Safari, I had a mental image of what that would entail. Like I said, we planned an all out luxury holiday – who knew when we would have chance to do this again and I wanted our accommodation to reflect that. I also wanted it to feel authentically African – this is a slight misnomer and it’s hard to describe what I mean, but I wanted somewhere with African decor, preferably modern but without loud green and orange prints and a private plunge pool wouldn’t go amiss either. To be honest, a lot of Safari accommodation is expensive, we’re talking ££££ for three or even two nights, but on the plus side it’s all inclusive once you’re there and all game drives are included too.
Location was another factor. We didn’t want to take Malaria tablets for the sake of 4 days Safari. There’s nothing wrong with them of course, but I found out you could Safari in the Eastern Cape, towards the end of the Garden Route and it also meant we didn’t waste much time travelling – it took us 3.5h from Plettenberg Bay to drive there rather than flying north to Kruger.
One brief thing to consider and I’ll touch on this later, is that the drive times (and early starts) depend on the sunrise – so if you’re terrible at early mornings or can think of nothing worse, don’t plan a trip for the middle of the South African Summer – you’ll be up at 4am.
Choosing your accommodation
I narrowed down our choice to three quite different lodges and I have included them here for comparison.
Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo Elephant Reserve.
Closest to Port Elizabeth, this was a real traditional (although still luxe) lodge with colonial, ‘Out of Africa’ style. We were promised the big five there but I’ve been told since that they don’t actually have the big five. Who knows, but it’s a 184 thousand hectare reserve with a lot of elephants obviously.
Gondwana Game Reserve
Next up was Gondwana – a relatively new lodge that I spotted via the team at Rockett St George posting photos on Instagram. This was exactly the style I was looking for and also the best price (I think due to their relative newness to the market) and the location was perfect, 25 minutes inland from Mossell Bay on the Garden Route.
Bayethe, Shamwari Game Reserve
From the Trailfinders selection, we selected Bayethe lodge on Shamwari Reserve. Shamwari had been recommended by a reader, was just a little further on from Addo and has deck plunge pools etc.
In the end we stayed at Eagles Crag – another Shamwari lodge. Bayethe and Gondwana had been booked up and so I had used the Shamwari website to search their other lodges and even scouted out a bit of a discount in exchange for a local wildlife conservation donation of R150 (about £15) each.
Also worth mentioning is that if you’re on a large reserve, try to find out where your lodge is on the reserve. Eagles Crag was actually better in the end as it was centrally located meaning we could travel north or south on the reserve without difficulty to see the animals wherever they were. Those staying in the south however had 3+ hour drives to get to the north area of the reserve.
Don’t despair if you don’t have a huge budget however. If you’re prepared to get up early there are plenty of reserves that allow you to do a self-drive day safari in your own car, and far more budget accommodation, off the reserves. Try Travel Butlers.
What to take with you
You can find a million and one guides on what to do and take on safari, but these are the things I’m glad I did or wish someone had told me.
It’s all about the pictures you want to take home so invest in or borrow a great SLR camera, learn how to use it and make sure you have a zoom lens. We borrowed a lens from a friend and were thrilled with the pictures. You will often get very close to the animals, but some are too skittish or too dangerous to get too close to, so you’ll be grateful for the zoom to get in close. Having 2 batteries is also a plus in case you run one dead and make sure you have a few SD cards, or that you have something to download the pictures onto. I downloaded daily onto my laptop.
Layers. Everyone says you need layers and I did underestimate this, but it’s not the temperature that’s the issue (at least I didn’t think so,) but the fact you’re in an open moving vehicle so the wind really enhances the lower temperatures. Early mornings are worst and coldest, but even dipping into a valley can tap into pockets of freezing air. I just wore multiple jersey layers and the rangers carry blankets but I’d go so far as to say a couple of technical layers would be best – a thermal, a fleece, and a windbreaker. Hat, scarf and gloves take up no space and should cover the rest. You might be asked to walk to see animals from your car, so wear trainers and you might prefer long pants. Ladies, I also can’t emphasize enough, if you have anything more than a modest bust, pack a sports bra – those roads are REALLY bumpy
I imagined Safari would be quite glamourous at night, not loads of bling and make-up but perhaps understated safari chic dresses. In fact everyone is very relaxed. We went straight from a game drive one night to dinner around a fire in the Boma and didn’t change.
Hard-core insect repellent. Even if there aren’t many mosquitoes around the camp you may find yourself stopped by a waterhole at dusk, or if you just get bitten a lot like me, you’ll need it.
I can’t speak for other places but you eat with your Guide and the people in your car – I don’t think this is compulsory but if you all get on it’s great, perhaps not for a honeymoon! Our guide was a 28 year old South African called Jan who was brilliantly enthusiastic about finding the animals and fun to chat to, plus we lucked out with an American couple too in our car. It was a great way of finding out what’s in store (they had been there a couple of days already) and it’s fun too talking to and hearing from the rangers, both about the Animals and life in South Africa.
Bring your brave boots! I had no idea how scared I would be of the animals. I’m not too scared of animals in general and I think my fear came more from a healthy respect. These are wild animals don’t forget and you are on their territory. We had a male elephant mock charge us because he was in season and sexually frustrated, and walked on foot to observe 2 male cheetahs very close. The guides are very good however, they know their stuff, how to read the animals and if all else fails they carry guns. I was told they had only had 1 animal shot to protect the guests in the history of the reserve, thankfully.
I wasn’t expecting much from the food – for no particular reason. I thought there would be plenty, but perhaps not gourmet quality. We hadn’t eaten at many fancy places on our trip so far but we’d had some great food, yet the food at Shamwari was the best and most inventive.
The Schedule is grueling. I’m not good on little sleep, but for three nights of game viewing I was happy to suck it up. Bear in mind that your start time varies according to the time of year and consequent sunrise/sunset times. We went out at 6.30am and 3.30pm (sunset was about 6.20pm) but in the summer (our winter don’t forget) drives could start up to 2 hours earlier and later. There’s plenty of down time in the day to catch up on sleep, but it’s pretty exhausting. Breakfast is after the morning drive, as is dinner, so take snacks if you need them or dependent on the reserve your ranger may bring them along.
That’s it for tips folks – please do leave a coment if you have any questions or if you have any tips to share from your own experiences too. I can’t wait to share my pictures of the animals tomorrow!