By Jenna Berndt
Early morning game drives, post-lunch naps or cooling off next to the pool and toasting the day with a G&T and stories around a crackling campfire. That is the magic of a day in the African bushveld. Every South African should experience a safari at least once. If you’re embarking on your first, here’s what a typical day involves, plus everything else you need to know.
Sleepyheads will need to brace themselves for this one. Days in the bush start before sunrise, as wildlife are most active in the cooler hours of the early morning. You’ll soon wake up after a quick snack of some tea, coffee and rusks and, if not, the anticipation of game spotting or the jostling of the 4X4 safari vehicle is likely to shake you awake.
The early start is well worth it and, chances are, you’ll be rewarded with some excellent sightings.
Head back to the lodge around 9 am or so to tuck into a hearty breakfast. You’ll then have free time to relax until lunch, to do as you please. For some, that means heading back to bed for a snooze or relaxing poolside or around the lodge.
You can also choose to use the time for optional activities offered by the lodge, such as bush walks, kids’ activities, a spa treatment or, even, at some lodges, abseiling or hot air ballooning.
Undoubtedly, one of the best things about a bush break is that your day is organised around mealtimes. After a relaxing or active morning (of your choice) it’s time for lunch. Lunch is usually included in safari packages and will probably feature a buffet spread that won’t leave you hungry. After lunch, you’ll have more time to kill until the early-afternoon game drive.
Many guests choose to embrace the tradition of a siesta during the hottest part of the day or join in other activities. The lodge pool is also the favoured ‘watering hole’ for safarigoers. Even in winter, the warm temperatures of the Kruger National Park, Limpopo and the North West (day time winter temperatures hover around 27°C) make the pool an attractive spot for an afternoon wallow.
Afternoon game drives usually leave the lodge around 16:00.
Prepare for some amazing sightings of the Big Five, the Little Five and birdlife as you watch the landscape around you get ready for their nocturnal activities (usually, that’s hunting).
Your game ranger and driver will usually park somewhere to offer you a sundowner while you watch the sunset with nothing around you but the sights and sounds of the African bush. Then climb back into the vehicle for the entirely different experience of a night-time game drive. You’ll return to the lodge for dinner once it is dark.
While predators go about stalking their evening meal, finding your dinner is a lot less strenuous. Upon returning to the lodge, you’ll enjoy a feast fit for even the king of the jungle. Some lodges offer open-air dining experiences, where you can dine out in a boma around the campfire. Sated after a full day of fun and feasting, it’s usually early to bed to prepare for another magical day in the African bush.
5 FAQs about going on safari
What do bush break packages typically include?
A bush break package usually includes accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner with selected drinks and two game drives daily (early morning and late afternoon).
What do I need to know?
Know the opening times of the game reserve or national park you’re visiting. Gates usually close just before sunset. Fill up with petrol before entering, as it’s unlikely there will be places to fill up within the park. Adhere to speed restrictions and safety precautions within any park.
Some game reserves are situated within malaria zones, so consult with a travel healthcare clinic before your visit. Also, ensure you have travel insurance to cover you before and after your trip.
What do I pack?
Cool, comfortable and light-coloured clothing (you don’t want to wear your neon pink jacket. The animals (and even the insects) will spot you from a mile away!) a hat, mosquito repellent and sunscreen. Even if it’s sweltering during the day, it gets chilly when the sun goes down, so pack a warm jacket for the early morning and night-time game drives. Don’t underestimate the chill!
Don’t forget your camera and binoculars!
When’s the best time to go on safari in South Africa?
A bush break is a year-round activity although winter and early spring (May to September) are the most popular times. The dry season makes it easier to spot game, as they often cluster around waterholes and the vegetation is sparse.
Where should I go?
It depends what you want from your break. There is a game lodge to suit every type of traveller, from family-friendly to utter luxury and something for those who want to rough it and get even closer to nature on a walking or overnight safari.
The Kruger National Park is the number one choice so, understandably, in the peak season especially, certain parts of the park can get busy. If you want to experience game viewing with fewer crowds, opt to stay at one of the private concessions within the Kruger. These offer exclusive access to certain areas.
In the North West, visit the Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves, while Limpopo has the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO site. There are a variety of lodges scattered throughout these reserves, so be sure to ask your Flight Centre travel expert to recommend one that most suits your holiday style.