A First-Timer’s Guide To A South African Safari

24 September 2017

Up there with the likes of conquering Machu Picchu, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and diving with great white sharks is a South African safari.

lions at aquila game reserve The lion is one of the most difficult African animal species to track on foot.

Being in the presence of any one of the members of the Big 5 (that’s rhino, lion, buffalo, elephant and leopard for the uninitiated) in the middle of a sun-bathed savannah is an assault on your emotions. It’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s intense and it’s jaw dropping – often all at the same time. And it’s something Greer from the 48 Hour Destination experienced during her recent stay at Aquila Game Reserve located two hours outside of Cape Town

Knowing how best to prepare for this truly phenomenal experience – with our tips – will ensure your first safari or game drive is elevated to new heights of wow. Lions and elephants and giraffes, oh my!

Aquila Game Reserve stretches over 10,000 hectares across a valley between the Langeberg and the Outeniqua Mountains in the Karoo.

Visit At The Right Time

South Africa is considered a year-round destination, such is the diversity of landscapes and climate. As a general rule for safaris, however, May to October is the best time to travel, as this dry season is when animals are often found congregated around watering holes and riverbanks. That means you’re likely to see a greater range of animals in the one area at the one time.

Pick Your Travel Style

Do you want a grassroots camping escape, an overland adventure or the luxury of coming home of an evening to gourmet meals, turndown service and a petal-filled bath? Narrowing down the type of experience you seek will help ensure your holiday is as special as it is memorable, without any surprises.

bird-eye's view of aquila game reserve Binoculars are another handy accessory to have in your day pack

Get Your Trip Admin In Order

Do you have more than six months’ validity on your passport? Do you have comprehensive travel insurance coverage? Have you been to you doctor to discuss medication needs? Do you have currency sorted? It’s all well and good to throw caution to the wind before an adventure, but getting caught out in the wilderness, unorganised, isn’t the best time to test your patience in the unlikely event something goes awry.

Understand That You Might Not See Everything…

The animals are wild and untrained, so they don’t appear at scheduled times no matter which park or reserve you choose. Game rangers and trackers are experienced in understanding their movements, and will seek out known areas in which they roam for your viewing pleasure.

While it’s likely you will see most of the Big 5, don’t despair if you don’t tick them all off (the leopard is particularly elusive). There’s a whole animal kingdom to encounter, and you may even find a new favourite. Warthogs are particularly adorable as they scamper off with their babies in tow, as are zebras.

rhino at aquila game reserve Greer and Janice-Lynn get up close with a rhino at Aquila Game Reserve

Invest In The Best Camera You Can Afford

Even if you don’t consider yourself a photographer, it’s worthwhile purchasing a quality camera for those happy snaps – as far as your budget will allow, of course. (You can even rent them.)

Smartphones have some fantastic hardware these days, but if you can nab a point-and-shoot or even a DSLR with a wide angle and optical zoom (so you can catch the finer details from afar), you’ll be able to capture a moment worth framing – the ultimate travel souvenir.

…In the same vein, don’t spend too much time behind the lens: you don’t need 400 photos of those giraffes when you could be admiring their movements and interactions with your own two eyes.

Look The Part

For this kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’ll want to look your khaki/Instagram best. Safari chic is more than just a trend when it comes to the African savannah, serving as both function and fashion.

Complementary colours like olive, tan, black, navy and white photographic wonderfully against with the dusty earth and bottle green tones of landscapes, and linen, cotton and silk garments are breathable, lightweight and are perfect for layering. A wide-brimmed hat is also a must. African days can be scorching hot (especially in summer), while temperatures can turn frigid the moment the sun sets. Bring a big scarf and jacket for those night drives.

It wouldn't be an early morning game drive without a stop for tea, coffee and rusks.

Never Miss A Game Drive

Of course, you’re on holidays, so you can relax as you see fit (especially with facilities like a pool and spa at hand), but as Murphy’s Law often dictates, that one morning drive you sleep through (or spa session you choose instead of the afternoon drive), will be the drive where everyone sees that elusive leopard or a pack of lions chasing after their prey.

Show Off Your Animal Knowledge

There are plenty of quirky facts you can learn about animals, but one thing that will get everyone oddly excited is discussing the collective nouns of animals while on a game drive. Certainly, we all know a group of lions is known as a pride, and elephants travel in a ‘herd’, but here are some of the more interesting collective nouns of animals you’re likely to see in South Africa:

- A coalition of cheetahs

- A flamboyance of flamingos

- A tower of giraffes

- A bloat of hippopotamuses

- A cackle of hyenas

- A forkl of kudu

- A leap of leopards

- A crash (or stubbornness) of rhinos

- A venue of vultures

- A dazzle of zebras

Anna Howard

Give me street food over Michelin stars, cellar doors over wine bars and small towns and wide open spaces over big cities any day. Travel for me means ticking off the 'to eat and drink' list one regional flavour and wine bottle at a time.