Having experienced a guided safari with a safari genius, or Jedi, as we referred to him, my boyfriend and I were inspired to try it for ourselves, and set out on a self-guided safari in our rental car. We quite fancied ourselves as game rangers, on the look-out for a list of rare animals that few people could imagine spotting in the space of one day.
In Kruger, you can buy a permit for the day, which costs around £20 (USD 26) per person, and you have the entire day to enjoy the park. We bought our permits online a few days before, because they only let in a certain number of visitors per day.
Up At The Crack Of Dawn
At 6 am we were at the gate. It is very normal to be up before the sun in Africa, as the animals like a snooze once the heat sets in. Take a coffee with you! Sometimes you can be queuing for an hour or so as people sort out their permits, so it is a good idea to be prepared. Once you are through the gates, you can go in any direction you want to!
‘Latest Game Sightings’ was an app that we downloaded; people can upload sightings of animals, where they had seen them, how many, which direction they were travelling in etc. This was very helpful to us as we were inexperienced and didn’t know a lot about where to look.
Another trick we learned was that if someone has stopped, it is likely they have seen something cool, so we stopped as well. However, this didn’t always work-as sometimes people just stop because they want a snack, or they thought they saw something, and it was nothing.
Stop And Look!
In fact, we found that we had spent about three hours of our day just stopping for no reason, so after lunch when we saw a line of cars parked and went to drive right past, until I looked out of the drivers’ side window to find myself making eye contact with an enormous male lion. Lesson learned. We stopped and looked every time after that incident!
As well as tracking down wildlife, there was another element to planning the self-guided safari, and that included making sure that your route passed a camp so that you can stop for toilet breaks and food etc. Our favourite camp, which was a 3-hour drive from the gate we entered from, was called Lower Sabie (that’s another thing-it may not look far on the map but you are limited to 20mph and often have to stop for wildlife, so don’t believe everything your GPS says – leave plenty of time!).
Lower Sabie had ample parking, an amazing restaurant which was on a huge terrace, that was right on the edge of the river. We ate lunch there and watched the elephants come down to drink. It was fabulous. Make sure you take a break at some point in the day, because although you are driving slowly, it takes a lot of concentration, and you can lose track of time and become tired very quickly. We ended up driving around for 12 hours with only a lunch break!
Losing Track Of Time In The Wilderness
Speaking of losing track of time, this is another thing that is very important: make sure you can get out in time! They lock the gates when they say they will, no exceptions. You WILL get locked in with the wild animals if you don’t get to the gate before it closes. We were told the gates locked at 6 pm, “12 hours?! That’s loads of time!”. Oh, how foolish. By 5:45 pm we were hurrying back to the gate as the sun went down, sweating. Being in the bush is such a time warp, you really do get lost in watching the animals and enjoying the peace. It goes by very quickly!
Just a few more golden nuggets of advice for those planning a self-guided safari:
- Switch your engine off when you are near elephants-it disturbs them;
- Take plenty of water to keep you safe from the heat;
- Charge your camera and phone; note down the emergency ranger number in case you break down;
- Take binoculars!
- At the entrance gate, they give you a leaflet of information as well as dos and don’ts in the park, and it is very important to read it to keep you and the animals safe.
A lot of the money they make from entrance fees goes towards conserving the animals and the park, so be respectful! Try the food at the camps, you will be so impressed! I still have DREAMS about the eggs benedict brunch I ate at The Mugg and Bean in Lower Sabie. If you fancy getting a safari gift for someone you didn’t love enough to take with you, there are great gift shops at the camps which are cheaper than the airport (money-saving tip right there).
Enjoy Kruger and all it has to offer, I could go on for days about how magical it is, but you need to experience it for yourself, and then write to me and tell me I was right. Because I am.