Africa Pilanesberg elephants vicki fletcher

The Ultimate African Safari Experience

14 November 2017

Driving up a steep mountain track, peering at the view of the lush green valley below through the back window, you can momentarily forget you’re in Africa. That is until you round the corner and come face to face with two huge white rhinos. They’re so close you can see the wrinkles on their skin, where it folds over their legs, and hear the low grunt as they shuffle off the road to let you pass, eyes glued on you at all times.

An African safari truly is a sobering experience. Coming within metres of the world’s biggest, often most dangerous animals, witnessing them in their natural, undisturbed environment, is frightening, surprising and heart-warming all at once. This is one travel experience where you’ll be able to say you were 100% in the moment, because, well let’s face it, when there’s a pride of lions, or an elephant standing in front of you, where else could you possible want to be?
Keen to experience the safari animals for yourself? Check out our safari wildlife tours and get yourself to Africa ASAP.

Getting to Africa

Flying to Africa from Australia is fairly straight forward, and whether you’re heading for the national parks in South Africa, or further up the African continent, you’ll likely fly through Johannesburg. It’s a 14 hour flight from Sydney to Johannesburg, 11 hours from Perth. Most flights leave Australia in the morning so you fly through the day, which is perfect, because if you get yourself a window seat there’s a good chance you’ll have a view of the Antarctica landmass. Yep that’s right, sea ice, land ice and maybe even a seal or two!

Which game reserve?

From the magical Okavango Delta to the Wildebeest and zebra migrations in the Maasai Mara, the lion prides and cheetahs of the Kruger National Park to mighty elephant herds and hippos along the Zambezi River, whatever country you land in, you’ll be blown away by the safari experiences on offer.

In South Africa, the Kruger National Park is usually a first choice.  Covering over 19,000 square kilometres, it’s one of the largest game serves in all of Africa, and it’s home to a high density of wild animals including the Big 5. The Kruger is about four and a half hours drive from Johannesburg.

An excellent alternative to the Kruger is the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, less than a three hour drive from the capital. In an extinct volcanic crater, its wooded valleys, open grassland and rocky mountain peaks, all within just 572 square kilometres mean your chances of seeing a variety of wildlife are very high here.

Don’t forget the private game reserves too. Across the continent you’ll find smaller game farms run privately, some with big cats, elephants and all of the other animals you’d expect. Others however, offer a more intimate camping or glamping experience, with zebras, giraffe, wildebeest, kudu and more, but importantly, without the danger of lions and leopards.

To lodge or not to lodge

Whether in a big game park or small private reserve, accommodation options are plentiful. What’s more, with the favourable exchange rate from the Aussie dollar, you can splurge on something nicer than you could ever afford back home. If you’re looking for the quintessential safari experience, a game lodge is definitely the way to go. Many lodges have a watering hole and hide, where guests can sit and watch animals come to drink, feed and cool off. If you’re lucky, there might even be a resident hippopotamus.

The price of your room also often includes a game drive with an experienced ranger. Ranger-led drives are the best way to get your bearings around the park, but also to garner an understanding of the animals, where they can be found in the park, and how to spot them. If you choose to stay outside of the park, you can still organise ranger-led game drives for an extra cost. Of course organised adventure tours also include game drives for the full experience.

Safety first

Animals are wild. African animals are wild and huge. There’s a reason the Africans never really successfully domesticated or farmed their animals like the Europeans did sheep and cattle. So there are a few basic rules to remember when in the parks:

  1. Stay inside the vehicle. Whether you’re on a ranger-led game drive or driving in your own car, the number one rule is don’t break the shape of the vehicle. The animals know you’re there, but often, rhinos and elephants in particular, they have bad eyesight, so the vehicle is just a big blob to them, and they’re not worried about it. If you pop your head out the sun roof, or climb out the side of the truck, they become aware of you as a smaller human – signalling threat, or prey.
  2. Know your escape route. You could well find yourself on a road cutting across a field when a herd of elephants suddenly starts to cross your path in front. Make sure you have a clear exit point if the herd suddenly gets a little close for comfort. It’s not uncommon for solo male elephants to do damage to small vehicles – even if just by accident.
  3. Stay quiet. As with any wild animal, if you make loud noises you risk scaring them off. Stay chill and let them do the talking.

The big five

Before going to Africa I honestly had no idea which animals were the Big 5. So, for your benefit, they are lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. They are not the be all and end all though. Cheetahs, giraffe, hippos, wildebeest, kudu, impala, zebra, and the myriad other antelope, birds and other animals are just as impressive when you see them in the flesh.

Darling downs

Vicki Fletcher

An Australian travel writer and photographer, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, following locals to the best food in town and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's obsessed with colours, stops to admire flowers and dreams of one day restoring a chateau in France. Her top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram at @vickijanefletcher