Some people say, South Africa is the most beautiful country in the world, because it has it all: The Cape, the mountains and the wildlife.
In this post I will focus on the parts of the country I’m most passionate about. You guessed it: They all evolve around wildlife 😉
Let’s explore what South Africa has in store for wildlife-lovers…
Self-Drive in South Africa.
Tourists from all over the world have been driving comfortably and perfectly safe in South Africa for decades. Especially the region around the famous Garden Route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is well established. Roads are in a very good condition. Just be aware that they drive on the left-hand side of the road, and the cars – rental cars included – are right-hand drive vehicles. So: Keep to the left and pass right. An International Driver’s Permit carried in conjunction with your national driving license is recommended.
My tip: when driving in the National Parks, one can never be too careful. You need to be especially respectful towards elephants and always keep your distance. They are bigger and therefore always get right of passage.
Upon entering the Kruger National Park (as well as any other National Park ) you will receive a leaflet with the rules and guidelines on what to do when you encounter wildlife. READ THIS. Knowing what and what not to do when an elephant bull in musth approaches you can not only define the outcome of your holiday, but your life.
After scaring you first, I would like to add that secondly that self-driving the Kruger Nationalpark is a fantastic experience. Make sure to spend a few days here and overnight at one of the rest camps (I prefer Olifants). The Kruger Nationalpark is the size of Israel… you will need some time there. Also, make sure you plan to be back at the rest camp in time. If you are late, they will fine you – OR catch you speeding 😉
A good option to get around are private road transfer companies. Some have scheduled departures every day, with multiple stops all over the country, but most of them can also be booked privately at the exact time and date you need them. Franks team over at safariFRANK has all the info for you, if you’r interested in booking one of these. They are definitely the best and safest option to get around.
Just a quick note on the Baz- bus, if you’ve never heard of it before: I have actually never used the Baz, but wanted to point put that these busses exist. They stop all over the country at backpacker hostels and pick up the young crowd, driving them from A too B. To my knowledge, they are very well established along the Garden Route and are safe to use. However, being an introverted extrovert, I have always preferred driving myself and singing to my favourite songs from the top of my lungs.
The towns Nelspruit and Hoedspruit are closest to the private game reserves and the Greater Kruger National Park and both have commercial airports to where the major South African airlines have daily flights scheduled. Nelspruit Kruger Mpumalanga airport for safaris in the South; Hoedspruit Eastgate for safaris on the Western side of the Kruger, like the Timbavati.
Probably not the most affordable option to get around, but still worth the mention that most safari lodges has a private airstrip close-by, so you could technically fly in straight to the bush and be right where the action is! We have done so in the past when we were on safari in the far North in Makuleke (see more below) and it’s a fun experience. But yeah. Probably not for everybody.
Ooookay, I’ve been looking forward to this so much: Let’s talk about my favourite safari lodges and places to stay in South Africa for wildlife-lovers.
Greater Kruger National Park:
Klaserie Drift Safari Camps. Newly renovated, Klaserie Drift is the perfect place for honeymooners as well as small groups. They have two camps: Armani safari camp which is for exclusive groups and families (you basically have this entire mansion to yourself, guide and game drive vehicle, pool and lush gardens with waterhole included) – or Misava Safari Camp with spectacular views over the Klaserie River and an infinity pool that will make it hard for you toe even go on game drives! But you most definitely should. To me, the Klaserie Drift is the most scenic area in the Timbavati and the wildlife also never disappoints! (The header-photo with he two lion cubs fighting was taken here!)
Another great one with very good value for money is Bateleur Eco Camp. I believe they have quite some good deals available if you stay multiple days – just inquire with Frank! Personally, I love the chilled and spacious tents nestled in the bushes. There are always some interesting birds flying around and bush buck feeding right next to your tent. The camp is excellent for bush walks, too!
The North of Kruger Nationalpark.
Return Africa Pafuri Lodge is my favourite up North. It’s great for watching elephants from your spacious tent built on stilts. I made a whole Safari Sundays episode on this lodge. Check it out here.
Kruger Nationalpark – the rest camps.
I would be lying if I said that I’m ma big fan of the rest camps. I much prefer the private setting of the camps and lodges in the Greater Kruger. However, after a full day driving through the Kruger, the little chalets or even just a campsite can be absolute heaven and will have all you need ( even zircon in the chalets! Wow!) My favourite rest camp is Olifants. My best wildlife sightings happened around Satara (but this is clearly highly subjective and might just have been luck…)
The Drakensberg Escarpment.
Wildlife doesn’t always have to mean the big hairy-scaries – there is wilderness to be found all over the country ( and may I say – the world…). The birdlife in the Drakensberg escarpment is fantastic, so is the peace and quiet you will experience here. I saw a beautiful (yet, dangerous…) Rinkhals snake from a distance here once (Actually, that might be a reason not to go 🙂 )
Favourite campsite here for us was “Garden Castle.” Very remote, very quiet. Bring all your food and drinks and stay for two nights to explore. (You have to drive through a resort to get there. We went without a booking – was fine!) Watch the Safari Sundays episode here for some inspiration.
Knysna & The Garden Route.
Just a quick one on the Garden Route, just because I absolutely LOVED this place: Under Milkwood Resort with direct beach access. During low tide you can walk forever out into the bay and find little crabs and birdies. So nice!
All-time favourite part of town to live is the cliff line in Fish Hoek. You will find plenty of great places tos tay here on airbnb. Your own vehicle will be needed here to explore the Cape (how about some penguins?!) and the climb up to your accommodation can be quite steep. But during the right time of year, you might very well get lucky to spot the whales from your balcony, or some seals, dolphins… sharks!?
For the adventurous kind I highly recommend a multi-day-wilderness-trail. Sleeping out in the wild, carrying all your belongings on your back, living amongst the wild animals with excellent guides who will not only keep you safe, but will give you an unforgettable experience and an understanding about the African bush that will change the way you see the world. Guaranteed.
Hiking in the Drakensberg Escarpment.
I haven’t actually done multi-day-hikes in the escarpment myself, but it’s so big on my list! Check out these routes to get started!
The cozy coastal town of Hermanus becomes THE place for whale watching each year roughly between June and December.
Safari Guide Training.
You don’t have to change careers and move to Africa to learn more about the animals, Nature and all its wonders. You can just join the training school for a while and have your mind blown by all the things you will learn. Click on this link to find out more!
My tip: If you do decide to do a training course like I did – take what you have learnt back home and find ways to incorporate your newfound love for the Natural World and all things wild into your life. Be mindful and consider this before getting your hopes up to start a new life in another country : Unemployment in South Africa is at an all-time high and guiding-jobs are preferably given to locals – as they should. Four years have gone by since my own training began and today I’m so glad that I get to spent so much time in Africa, but at the same time I still get to be in Germany with my family. Roots and wings – you do need both in life.
No question that South Africa is meat-country with the best game steaks and KFC on every corner. But let’s go crazy and talk VEGAN here for a moment 😉 Yes, it is entirely possible to be vegan in South Africa. Cape Town will cater to all your needs. Downloading one of these vegan apps could be a good idea to make your search easier. Apart from that, Woolworth’s supermarket will become your best friend. So many veggies and vegan options here! Love that supermarket! Why don’t we have it in Germany??
In the tiny town of Hoedspruit, sadly they don’t have a Woolworths just yet, but the main supermarket Pick’n Pay has a few vegan delights. My guess is that they order the vegan cheeses upon request from the nearby lodges that need to cater for vegans on a regular basis – and whenever I’m in town I totally just raid the aisles, taking everything vegan I can get my hands on and freeze it in Ellie The Defenders freezer (Yes, she has one of those, because she is badass.) I actually can’t believe I’m telling you all my vegan shopping secrets now. But oh well. The more people buy those products, hopefully the more they will order in the future 🙂
On a side note: Avocados grow in South Africa like crazy! Yes, yes, and yesssssss….
Best food in any South African lodge I have ever stayed at has to be Bateleur Eco Camp. Damn, that stuff is good. Wholesome, hearty, vegan… prepared in the open kitchen… Oh so good.
Don’t cut your safari time short.
I honestly don’t know why people would spend any time in the big cities of South Africa – at least not during the first time in the country. But that’s just me. I’m a sucker for wildlife and wild places and have no interest spending much time within concrete walls when on African soil. But seriously, friends: Do not cut your safari time short. This might be the one chance for you to get away from it all and experience the wild Nature that once formed all your instincts, limbs and senses. You owe this place some respect. And you will find that – even though you didn’t know this prior to your trip – that this peace and quiet is exactly what your soul has been longing for.
“I wish I had spent less time on safari!”
– Said no-one. Ever.
Go on safari with a professional guide.
Although self-driving can be fun and is the perfect way to explore South Africa, consider booking a stay in a lodge or camp or even just a game drive with a professional guide first. These people are trained to find, explain and approach the wild animals safely and will enrich your experience by a hundredfold. Rather save up more money first and then get this safari-thing right. There will never be a second first time.
Please don’t volunteer.
I am very sceptical when in comes to volunteering. And yet, it is the single most email subject I find in my inbox. And I get it: young people who don’t have that much money yet but still want to travel to exotic places are total believers in volunteering. I get it. I’ve been there myself. But in so many countries, volunteering is nothing more than a huge scam. Your volunteering services are simply not needed for the most part. I know, there are exceptions to this rule, but trust me: They are far and few between all the people who just steal your money. I will write a full blog post about volunteering in Africa soon. But for now: Let me just advice you to rather work in your home country and save up money to just travel.