South Africa: Home of the ‘big 5’, dramatic landscapes and diverse cultures. A bucket list destination for many, this vast country offers such a multitude of sights, sounds and experiences that it can be hard to know where to begin. Without a doubt, though, it’s South Africa’s awe-inspiring wildlife that is the major draw for most of its visitors. For most, that involves a visit to one of the nation’s extraordinary National Parks, such as the world-famous Kruger reserve. Here are five exciting ways to get up close and personal with South Africa’s Wildlife:
Available right across South Africa, game drives are the most common way for visitors to get their very first taste of the African bush. Jump aboard an open-backed jeep and join your experienced guide or ‘bushman’ for an up-close and personal drive out into the scrub. Being able to cover large distances fairly quickly, this is a great way to cover some serious ground and gives you the best possible chance of seeing a huge range of wildlife. The Rangers have vast experience in tracking and spotting the various creatures that inhabit their parks, and will get you as close as they possibly can to the action! Lions, tigers, zebra and giraffe – to name a few- can usually all be seen on a two-to-three-hour trip. That said, it is important to remember that these are wild animals so it’s not possible to guarantee that you will see every animal on each drive. Fear not though, your guides are also extremely experienced in keeping their guests safe and make sure you never get too close. For an extra-exhilarating experience, sign up for a sunset or night time game drive to experience the magic of the bush at night!
If you’re lucky enough to be staying at one of the wilderness lodges or camps, there’s a good chance that you’ll have the option to join a guided walk out into the bush. Walks typically take place either early in the morning, or in the late afternoon to avoid the midday heat, and numbers are usually strictly limited. Your guide will take you out from the camp to areas where animals are known to congregate, where they will take you as close as safely possible. As you’re not in a noisy jeep, you have a much better chance of approaching wild animals unnoticed, allowing you to experience their natural behaviour up-close. Guided walks are also a great way of getting a taste of South African bush-craft from your experienced guide, who will share tips and tricks for staying safe in the bush. As ever, safety is top-priority on all bush-walks, so don’t be alarmed by the armed guards who will accompany your group – they’re there for your protection!
Mountain Bike Trails
Want to experience the South African bush at ground level, but without being in a noisy jeep or truck? Well, if you’re feeling fit, a mountain bike safari might just be for you! With a number of operators offering two-wheeled adventures across the country, there’s never been a better time to saddle up and hit the trail. From single day trips in the famous Kruger National Park to epic ten day journeys through the Mashatu wilderness, you can be sure to find a trip that suits your time frame, fitness level and budget. All organised trips into the bush are accompanied by fully trained, and often armed guards who will show you the very best spots to view nature at work while ensuring your safety in what can be a hostile environment for the inexperienced. For those who enjoy a touch of luxury after a hard day’s cycling, many reserves offer ultra-luxury lodges, complete with soft beds and hot-tubs – perfect for recovering from a hot day’s cycling!
Fancy yourself South Africa’s answer to Indiana Jones? Horseback safaris off all the long-range benefits of a game drive, without the physical exertion of a mountain bike tour! Be at one with the animals as your ride off into the sunset in search of herds of zebra, before spending the night at a remote bush camp, complete with cold beers and a traditional South African barbecue, or braai. Ant’s Riding Safaris, based out of Vaalwater, maintain a herd of over 90 horses and specialise in giving visitors an unforgettable horse riding experience. With itineraries ranging from short rides to multi-day adventures, regardless of your riding experience, you can be guaranteed to find a safari that suits you. Got your own ideas? The team are all too happy to tailor make expeditions to your own bespoke wishes, making this one of the most unique and flexible ways to experience the stunning South African wildlife!
Hot Air Balloon
Although perhaps not the best way to get close to South Africa’s wildlife, there’s no denying that sailing above vast plains and jagged mountains is a pretty mind-blowing experience. Climb into the basket of a giant hot air balloon and rise silently into the sky for a bird’s eye view of one of the world’s most magical landscapes. Drifting with the breeze, you will float serenely overhead as lion’s prowl through the undergrowth and majestic elephants make their way to the next waterhole. Although no replacement for a traditional safari, a balloon flight is the perfect way to round off a once-in-a-lifetime African adventure. Flights typically launch before sunrise when conditions are perfect, and last for up to one hour. Upon landing, your ground crew will serve a light breakfast, complete with a glass of bubble to celebrate your flight. Better still, your pilot will issue you with a personalised certificate confirming that you took part in a flight over the African plateaus – a truly unique memento from an incredible journey!