If you are about to go on your first trip to the bush, be it an independent trip or on an organised safari, you may wonder what to expect. You’ve seen the Nat Geo Wild documentaries of lion kills and a cheetah at great speed hunting a gazelle. You’ve seen elephant herds and wildebeest migrations with great crocodiles lying in wait on river crossings. And you’ve probably seen film stars and models looking quite the part on their safari vehicles.
So does this mean you need a new wardrobe of clothes? Can you expect to see something dramatic in the wild?
Wear “quiet” clothes that blend with nature, take some closed shoes or takkies for getting in and out of your vehicle (where you are allowed to) or for taking a walk with a guide and keep comfort and coolness (temperature-wise cool, not fashion-wise cool) as the key words. Travel light. This is not a fashion parade and if your safari has flights between camps, then you will be very weight restricted. You will also need to take something warm – a jacket or windcheater, as temperatures can drop in the early mornings and in the evenings. A fold up rain jacket that’s easy to carry is also handy, as well as binoculars and definitely your camera, as well as sunglasses and a sun hat.
“Quiet” is the key word when you go into the bush. Turn cell phones to silent and edit your photos on your camera when you get back to your lodge. Pings and chirps and ringing phones are really annoying to others and will disturb the wildlife.
I’m afraid to tell you that those Nat Geo Wild doccies took weeks and sometimes months to make and all the footage got condensed to a half hour programme. On a single 3 hour game drive, feel pleased if you see wildlife in any form, large or small. Everything has its fascinations. Remember that this is not a zoo or park and animals can roam for kilometers in their natural habitat. If the bush is thick, it can also be easy to miss an elephant standing 20 meters from the road! Keep your eyes peeled for the slightest motion and watch the silhouettes in the trees for birds or leopards. Remember, lots of animals are nocturnal – that pride of lions will sleep all day long before they set out at night to hunt.
Make the exploration of the bush itself part of the experience and ask about the different trees and bushes, as well as familiarising yourself with which animals are grazers and which browsers. There’s been many a game drive we’ve been on and have declared “this is the empty quarter” as nothing has stirred and we have not even seen an impala (usually plentiful). So drink in the smells, sights and sounds, the scenery, the trees, the grasslands.
You will encounter lots of little things, like lizards and geckos and sometimes beautiful huge moths or even see bats at night. There may well be mozzies, too. We were at a reserve and someone had written in the visitors book “Do something about the insects!” The only way is to manage the lights so that bright lights are preferably outside, away from where you are sitting. Put the ceiling fan on if there is one, so that mosquitoes cannot fly – burn citronella candles and put insect repellent on exposed skin in the evenings. Try to take things in your stride! Even if spiders creep you out, take a deep breath and look carefully at how amazing they are, like the golden orb spider below – check her golden web!
And most importantly, relax. Get back to your lodgings and eat, drink, read and sleep. Let your body get into the rhythms of nature.
Where do you go? You can choose to drive through the Kruger Park and stay in the camps there (self drive through the park) or go to a private reserve where you will go out with a driver and tracker. South Africa is renowned for its private concessions and reserves, where lodges only sleep 10 or 12 people and where your wildlife experience is very exclusive.
There are also self catering options available at some private reserves as well and at Royal Jozini, in southern Swaziland, you can be totally independent, stay in a self-catering or catered privately owned bush lodge home and go out onto Lake Jozini to do some tiger fishing (Big number 6).
You can self-drive throughout the reserve which is 110 sq.kms. in extent and as there are no predators at the moment, it is also safe to take a walk or ride around on your mountain bikes (pedal power only).
Fall in love with the natural world, gaze at the stars, watch the sun set and the moon rise, sit around a boma fire and chat to friends and family, unwind, de-stress. It will be the first of many trips into the bush, guaranteed.