I believe only Kruger allows self drive safaris in the various countries of Africa. This is how we did it.
We had four nights in Kruger (we lost our 5th night at the Zurich airport), and stayed in three different camps. One of the first things we did was buy a booklet with a map of the park, sold in each camp’s store. Then the next morning we would get up at 5 or 6 AM and do a self-drive safari, usually as part of our drive to the next camp.
We thought we’d only be out two or three hours at a time, but we enjoyed ourselves so much, we easily toured for five. Each day we saw an amazing number of animals.
Self-guided Versus A Guided Safari
We could have signed up to do a ranger-led jeep or bus tour but we quickly saw it was best to be on our own. Driving our own car on the well maintained asphalt or hard-packed dirt roads, we could stop at a sighting and watch for as long as we wanted. The guided-safari groups only stayed about five minutes at each stop before driving on. They missed a lot of great animal behavior, not to mention the other animals that would turn up after they left! And it was thrilling to be able to spot animals on our own.
The best speed for sightings was between 20 and 35 kph. You weren’t allowed to go faster than 50 kph, although we noticed cars and trucks full of local workers ignoring this rule. Unfortunately, each year in Kruger animals are killed from speeding cars so we tried to be very careful.
Most of the animals we sighted on our own, but whenever we saw cars pulled over, we pulled over too. Usually it was something big. We drove with our windows down (recommended by the park experts), and of course didn’t play any music. It is not allowed. Passengers should also speak in soft voices and refrain from loud exclamations. Believe me, when you are gazing at a herd of elephants crossing the road or at a rhinoceros sleeping near your car, you will want to whisper! Signs throughout the park warn people to stay in their cars: “Humans Are Food!” We took this very seriously.
Don’t Get Out Of Your Car
Speaking of being food, we brought snacks and water and NEVER GOT OUT OF THE CAR unless we were at a designated (protected) picnic/bathroom spot.
DIY Wildlife Safari
While we toured, we each had a “job” to do. My son handled the zoom lens, I had the wide angle, my daughter filmed using an iPhone, and my husband drove. It seemed I was constantly saying, “stop, stop!” Then my husband would stop, sometimes having to back up first, and we would watch, and photograph, and sit there in amazement. We had two pairs of excellent binoculars to share, but half the time we were so close we didn’t need them.
Touring South Africa in the Winter
It was great touring in the South African winter. There were hardly any other cars on the road, the camps were less crowded and the air was dry–cool in the morning/evening and warm in the afternoon. There was less vegetation, so animals were easier to spot. Also, a greater number of animals would gather at the smaller water holes. I felt plenty warm in the afternoon sun; I don’t know how anyone can stand touring in the African summer when the temperature goes through the roof!
The only drawbacks to touring in the winter is that the vegetation is brown, and most of the birds migrate away. But there were still plenty of birds to see, and the terrain was beautiful.
In my next blog, you can read about the nationally run camps in Kruger. They were very good.