Who would have guessed driving at slow speeds while staring out the windows looking for African game animals for hours on end would be enjoyable? Certainly not Jacquelyn or I. Turns out, safari driving is a lot of fun! We spent about a week and a half in two different South African national parks watching the big game animals like lions, elephants, water buffalo and so on. It was a really cool experience and we really enjoyed our time; South Africa is an incredible place to boot with super friendly people, amazing scenery, great food, some very strange practices, and a great value overall. We have left South Africa for the time being, but we will be returning in a handful of days to explore the Cape Colony area – we really look forward to our return!
When we first set out on our trip, we didn’t really think we’d be going on safari. Neither Jacquelyn nor I are really animal people and we’ve never spent the time to look at animals we encounter in nature. We knew we’d be going to Africa so we started planning the places we wanted to visit. I read about “self driving safaris” where we wouldn’t have to go with a tour agency and we could go on our own pace. We have come to deeply detest guided group travel so this was a huge plus. We then learned we could stay within the national parks at different camps that had all the amenities we enjoy like running water, beds, cooking facilities, and surrounded in natural beauty. After researching where to visit, we settled on two national parks figuring at the very least we would be able to enjoy nature.
We sought out a lot of advice for South Africa since we had heard stories about danger and how people need to be very careful. All the recommendations boiled down to two items: don’t drive at night and treat stop signs like a yield sign to prevent theft/carjacking. Pretty easy advice to follow but we later learned the recommendation to drive during daylight was partially due to all the potholes in the roads. Apparently, there’s a pretty big problem with people popping tires or rolling vehicles when avoiding potholes so it’s recommended tourists simply drive during the day to be safe. That said, the roads were in good shape, we’ve driven in much worse conditions and didn’t feel as though the potholes inconvenienced us in the slightest.
We saw a lot of animals and it was really fun. Some animals, like giraffes, have really odd behaviors that make this rather majestic animal look completely ridiculous. There’s the big five game animals, rhino, elephant, leopard, lion, and water buffalo, that everyone strives to see when safari driving. It was easy enough to spot rhinos, water buffalo, and elephants since they are kind of hard to miss, but it was very difficult to spot lions and leopards. We almost went the entire trip without spotting a leopard because they are uncommon so it became our mission to spot a silly leopard only because that was the last of our big five sightings. We asked rangers, we looked at the sighting boards, and we asked other tourists just so we could see a leopard in the wild. Luckily, we saw one on our last day as we were headed out of the park. For people who don’t really care about animals in nature, we really put a lot of effort into seeing animals during our safari drives :).
So South Africa has some peculiarities, but I’ll just mention two. First: whenever we parked a vehicle in a public place there was always some random people who would “watch our car” to make sure no one messed with it while we were running errands, eating, or whatever. These people did not work for the places we were visiting, they were car watching entrepreneurs. We’ve been a lot of places where people demanded tips or wanted money for doing nothing so at first I just thanked the watchers and then left. After asking some locals whether this was legitimate I was told “Well, yeah, they watched your car for you”. It turns out these guys really did their job and didn’t just collect tips. We saw three car watchers forcefully remove a guy from the parking lot. Until I visited South Africa, I never thought car watching could be a dangerous or violent occupation. Second: people really take animal watching super serious. It was common to see $12,000 camera lenses, super expensive binoculars, and I even saw a vehicle mount system for someone’s zoom lens. We drove all over the national parks and from time to time would find some serious safariers hiding away from the crowds. We would chat with them and often times found they looked down on the casual safarier. There’s a stark difference between the regular folks and these super safariers – Jacquelyn and I would have the radio blaring while going as fast as we legally could looking for whatever animals were out in the open and these serious folks would be driving extremely slow, be very quiet, and they would be inspecting every nook and cranny. We quickly learned to spot those folks and then ask them what they saw – we saw a lot of cool wildlife that way!
We loved our time in South Africa and we’re really excited to return!
Enjoy the photos!
PS: there are a lot of birds in the album below.