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Safari South Africa

February 1st 2016  |   South Africa  |  by   Richard Smith
Safari South Africa

The South Africa tourist board’s strapline is that it’s ‘A World In One Country’. It’s an excellent summary of somewhere whose wildlife includes penguins and lions, and where your holiday could include breakfast in a vineyard with dinner overlooking a Zulu battlefield.

In a world of blogs proclaiming “10 photos of [insert country name]” I’m going to need many more to truly show off why your first safari holiday should be in South Africa.

Wildlife From Whales To Leopards

Let’s start with wildlife. Africa is synonymous with safari holidays and while South Africa has so much more to offer, it’s often the reason people start their holiday research. It’s a country unlikely to be beaten for variety of animals.

leopard - south african safari Abundance of wildlife at Tanda Tula, Timbavati

Abundance of wildlife at Timbavati Private Game Reserve image credit Lucinda Rome

The safari areas of Kruger National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve, Phinda, Kwandwe, Tswalu and many more, offer the chance to see the ‘safari Big 5’ of lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, alongside other classics such as zebra, giraffe, crocodile and hippo. Examples such as the leopard above in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve and the black-maned Kalahari lion below at Tswalu are commonplace and can be virtually guaranteed for anyone spending a few nights on safari.

A black maned lion and cub, Tswalu, Kalahari

A black-maned lion and cub, Tswalu, Kalahari

Away from the bush, penguins and whales are found in the cold Atlantic Ocean water around Cape Point and Hermanus. Africa and penguins feels like a contradiction of terms, but despite the bright sunshine the frigid water off Boulders Bay is the perfect home for these jackass penguins.

Colony of jackass penguins, Grootbos

Colony of jackass penguins, Grootbos

Hermanus offers some of the world’s best land and boat-based whale watching, particularly in the breeding season for Southern Right whales between June and October. This photographer on holiday at Grootbos Lodge didn’t need a long lens for a whale close up, complete with barnacles!

Whalewatching boats at Grootbos

Whalewatching boats at Grootbos

Lodges to Simple Tents

Service levels are high wherever you stay on holiday in South Africa, as working in hospitality is seen as a profession. In many cases you’ll genuinely find ‘nothing is too much trouble’ for those looking after you.

In the safari reserves most properties are luxury lodges, the majority with swimming pools and often a plunge pool for every air-conditioned suite. These are perfect for those on their first safari holiday as wildlife feels further away than it might do when staying under canvas.

Singita’s Boulders Lodge is a great example of the high quality reached, with big glass windows bringing light into the bathroom and allowing a view from the bath of the verandah and private pool.

Luxury bathroom suite with views, Singita Boulders Lodge, Sabi Sands

Luxury bathroom suite with views, Singita Boulders Lodge, Sabi Sands

Those on a family safari might like to look at a private safari house. There are plenty of choices such as Morukuru River House in the Madikwe Game Reserve. With four bedrooms it’s big enough for a multi-generational family holiday and a private guide and vehicle ensures the flexibility sometimes required when on safari with younger children.

Tranquil pool at Morukuru River House, Madikwe

Tranquil pool at Morukuru River House, Madikwe

If you do want the authentic feeling of being under canvas, there are tented safari camps in South Africa. Some of the more luxurious almost feel like hotel rooms that happen to be made of canvas, while Tanda Tula’s Field Camp in Kruger’s Sabi Sands harks back to a bygone era with traditional A-frame tents, comfortable camp beds, and lanterns as darkness falls.

A typical safari camp site, Tanda Tula Field Camp, Kruger Park

A typical safari camp site, Tanda Tula Field Camp, Kruger Park

If you have a real appetite for adventure, how about a night in a treehouse, such as this one at Lion Sands.

Lion sands' Chalkley's treehouse candlelit star bed, Sabi Sands

Lion Sands’ Chalkley’s Treehouse candlelit star bed, Sabi Sands

City to Vineyard

Holidays in Cape Town often make it into the top ten lists of magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller and with good reason. The city sits in the shadow of the breath-taking Table Mountain and has a cool urban vibe. There’s a renovated waterfront and beaches and nature reserves within easy reach. My colleague Charlotte went for a week with her family, only to return a year later to finish off doing the things they’d not had time to do on their first visit.

The Cape Grace is just one of a number of Waterfront properties, but there are also options among the boutique hotels just off Kloof Street as it climbs towards Table Mountain’s cablecar station.

Cape Grace overlooking historical V&A waterfront

Cape Grace overlooking historical V&A waterfront

Heading inland and you’ll fairly quickly get into the Winelands around the three famous towns, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl. The whitewashed farmhouses of the vineyards in this area have distinctive architecture, and many are open for tastings and meals. Some, like Babylonstoren below, also offer holiday accommodation.

Farm geese and dutch architecture, Babylonstoren, Cape region

Farm geese and classic colonial Dutch architecture, Babylonstoren, Cape region

Beaches to Battlefields

While many might be tempted to jet off to an Indian Ocean island after their first safari holiday in South Africa, there’s plenty of beaches to enjoy without leaving the country. If you’re not intending to go in the sea, or you have a hardy constitution, then the Atlantic coast around the Cape peninsular or a clifftop property such as Birkenhead House would suit you.

Breathtaking sea views at Birkenhead House, Cape region

Breathtaking sea views at Birkenhead House, Cape region

Those looking for the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean need to head further east, and almost at the border with Mozambique is the Maputaland Marine Reserve. Here you’ll find Rocktail Beach Camp which the Aardvark Safaris’ team describe as ‘safari meets sand’ and where, between October and March, turtles first come ashore to lay and then the little ones hatch and head back to the ocean.

Diving with turtles at Rocktail, KwaZulu-Natal coast

Diving with turtles at Rocktail, KwaZulu-Natal coast

In a complete change of subject, South Africa is also home to the historic battlefields of the Anglo-Boer and Anglo-Zulu wars. The stories of epic battles such as Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana are brought alive by being in the landscapes where they took place.

Fugitives Drift battlefield, KwaZulu Natal

Fugitives Drift battlefield, KwaZulu Natal

Bikes to 4WD

Many on their first safari holiday will be expecting wildlife drives in 4wd safari vehicles, like this one at Singita.

Watching a leopard at Ebony Lodge Singita, Sabi Sands

Watching a leopard at Ebony Lodge Singita, Sabi Sands

Getting out on foot whether on a walking safari, or away from a reserve allows you to experience the country from ground level, but at a greater depth. Things you miss from a vehicle are part of your experience when on foot.

Walking safari at Jembisa, Waterburg

Walking safari at Jembisa, Waterburg

At properties like Ant’s Nest there’s also the chance to explore by mountain bike, perfect for covering a bit more ground than on foot, but still feeling like a participant rather than just a spectator.

Mountain biking alongside rhino, Ants Collection, South Africa

Mountain biking alongside rhino, Ants Collection, South Africa

There’s all of the above and more at Leobo where quad bikes and helicopter flights are also on the safari activities’ menu.

Quadbiking and helicopter safaris, at Leobo Observatory, Waterberg

Quadbiking and helicopter safaris, at Leobo Observatory, Waterberg

South Africa is also famous for its luxury trains and in some cases it’s a desire to experience the Blue Train or Rovos Rail that encourages people to travel to South Africa for their first safari. With routes both within the country, and travelling into neighbouring countries, a journey on these trains can be part of a longer holiday or the whole trip in themselves.

Bar car, Rovos rail

Bar car, Rovos rail

Picnics to Fine Dining and Everything in Between

South Africa offers gastronomic delights which in their simplest for might be fresh ingredients combined for a picnic to enjoy in the Babylonstoren Estate.

Off for a picnic at Babylonstoren, Cape region, South Africa

Off for a picnic at Babylonstoren, Cape region, South Africa

People on their first safari are often thrilled by the quality of food, which starts at Phinda with fresh fruit, pastries, yoghurt and pancakes for breakfast.

Dining at Phinda Forest Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal

Dining at Phinda Forest Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal

Lunch might be lighter fare, but before an afternoon safari drive tea and cakes are served somewhere comfortable like the deck at Kwandwe’s Ecca Lodge.

Alfresco tea break, Kwandwe Ecca Lodge, Cape region

Alfresco tea break, Kwandwe Ecca Lodge, Cape region

Dinner at Phinda’s Rock Lodge may look more formal, but meals on safari are always comfortable affairs with great food and wine flowing freely. You’ll go home from your safari using a belt hole a couple away from where you started your holiday.

Cosy dining at Phinda Rock Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal

Cosy dining at Phinda Rock Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal

No Jabs, No Tabs

If you don’t want to have to think about vaccinations or anti-malarials on your first safari holiday it’s easy in South Africa to visit malaria free reserves such as Tswalu and Madikwe, home of the excellent Madikwe Safari Lodge.

Fine dining at Madikwe safari lodge, Madikwe safari south africa

Fine dining at Madikwe safari lodge, Madikwe

Any Questions?

Let us know in the comments of you’ve read this far and not found an answer you were looking for, or you think we’ve left something out. We’ve got our own opinions about what’s great about a South African holiday, but love to hear what others think or get people’s questions. We can let you know the answer and maybe update the article.

What Next?

If you’re inspired you to visit South Africa please give us a call or email us. Our African experts can take your ideas and help you plan a holiday.

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