I went on an incredibly amazing safari in Tanzania in East Africa before I met Keith. So intensely magical was that experience that it overshadowed my euphoria from successfully summiting Mount Kilimanjaro during the same trip. I had a safari fever and was looking forward to share the same great safari experience with Keith. So when we planned our travel to South Africa, there was no question that a safari adventure was going to be the main highlight in our itinerary. South Africa after all is considered one of the premier safari destinations in the world. We visited two of its prime game reserves – Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park.
Did our South African safari measured up to my East African safari experience? Did it become the high point of our time in South Africa?
Kruger National Park
Kruger is the flagship among more then 20 game parks in South Africa. About the size of the state of Connecticut or Israel, it also the largest. It boasts a rich variety of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and trees. It is said to deliver the best Big 5 (lion, rhino, elephant, leopard & bufallo) game viewing in South Africa.We arrived for our morning game drive very early. The best times for game spotting are early morning and late afternoon. We visited in June. It is said that the winter period of April to August is a better time to go for safari here as the vegetation withers around this time, making it easier to spot the animals.
We were watching these three graceful long necks peacefully mingling with one another when all of a sudden the bigger two got into a fight. They were hitting their necks against each other so hard that we thought they were about to break. After about a couple of minutes, the neck wrestling suddenly stopped and they calmly walked away from each other as if nothing had happened. We wished we knew what the fight was about
We enjoyed a bonfire on our last evening of safari in Kruger at our lodge. We were also treated to traditional dance and music performances by talented local youths from an orphanage in the area. They raise funds to support themselves and their institution through their performance.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi ParkThe oldest proclaimed national park in South Africa, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is only twentieth of the size of Kruger but boasts rich wildlife and impressive conservation efforts. The park is world renowed for its conservation of almost extinct white rhinoceros. Due to the success of its program, the population of white rhinos grew from less than 20 in the mid-1900’s to more than 10,000 today.
Thump thump thump…Here comes a huge elephant claiming his territory. He was walking into the direction of our jeep that we had to back up. I guess after being satisfied with having enough space between him and our jeep, he turned on the roadside and started munching on the greens. He probably didn’t want to share his meal.
A bird atop a dead tree.
So how was our South African safari experience? We saw four of the Big 5 at both parks; the leopard was elusive as always. We saw more wildlife at both parks than we were able to photograph; it was either they were very far high up on a hill or were partly covered by thick bushes. Even in the winter we found the vegetation very lush.
Overall, it was a delightful experience. It is always fascinating to see the wildlife in their natural habitat and to observe and learn about their behavior. However, we both didn’t feel the kind of overwhelming amazement I had during my safari in Tanzania.
South African vs. East African Safari
I found the wildlife sighting in East Africa much more abundant. Being surrounded by myriad of grazing wildlife in the savannah of Tanzania was astonishing, It made me feel like I stepped into a National Geographic documentary film.
Sighting in South Africa was sparse in comparison. It was far and few in between. However, this doesn’t mean that there is less number of wildlife in South Africa. The big disparity in sighting lies in the difference in topography.
East African game parks have an advantage of being situated in savannahs or plains dotted only with occasional acacia and baobab tree and offer panoramic view as far as the eye can see. This landscape certainly afford easier viewing of plethora of wildlife. The landscape in South African game parks, on the other hand, is far from flat and open. They are situated in bushvelds characterized by very lush vegetations, craggy hills and valleys making it harder to see the wildlife in the open. We could sometimes hear them but not see them.
The biggest draw for me in East African safari is the marvel of the great migration. Seeing a staggering number of wildlife in one location is an incredible sight to behold. This ecosystem phenomena does not occur in South Africa.
One thing that surprised us in South Africa was that the roads were paved in the game parks for the most part. We felt that it took away from the rawness of the surrounding and somehow made us feel that we were in giant theme parks rather than in the wilderness. However, it makes the game drive more comfortable and you don’t run the risk on being stuck in muddy areas. If you prefer a more comfortable and more sanitized game drive then South African safari is for you. This being said, South African safari is more suitable for family with young children. There are also some game parks in South Africa that are malaria-free zone and ideal for families.
IF your main goal for traveling to Africa is to go on a great safari and intend to make it a trip of a lifetime as well as to see Africa in its raw form, I suggest that you head to East Africa (Tanzania or Kenya – or both!). To make it much more memorable, time your trip during the great migration.
But if you prefer multi-faceted activities with a safari being just one of them, then I suggest that you consider South Africa. It is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country with so much to offer. Other than going on safari adventure, you can soak in the charm and sophistication of its world class city of Cape Town, go vineyard hopping in its gorgeous wine country, beach bumming in Durban, hiking in the soaring Drankensberg range, whale watching, cage diving to see the great white sharks, take a scenic road trips along the Panoramic Route and Garden Route, trace the footsteps of one of the greatest heroes of our modern time – Mandela, and many more.
So what became the highlights of our trip in South Africa if not the safari? They were the unexpected. For Keith, it was the visit to Mandela’s house in Soweto and his cottage in Paarl where he stayed during his house arrest. Those places seemed to vibrate with his powerful presence. It was touching just to be there. The highlight for me, being a history buff, was witnessing for myself how far South Africa had come along since the era of apartheid. It was very heartening.