South Africa: 5 Amazing Wildlife Experiences

South Africa: 5 Amazing Wildlife Experiences

Your must-do bucket list for the Rainbow Nation

April 03 , 2017
08 Min Read

Under a bright yellow orb and blue skies, the grassland is aquiver with hushed silences and imminent wildlife action. This is South Africa, a land which engages all your primal senses as you traverse its wilderness–witness a majestic African lion with his pride, hear the laugh of a hyena in the dark or the chorus of thousands of cicada beetles in the middle of the day. Feel the ground vibrate as a herd of elephants cross the savannah in front of you.

Picturesque landscapes, magnificent wildlife, temperate climate and unique experiences–all of it comes in the package of one holiday destination. Home to many unique members of the animal kingdom, South Africa is a treasure chest of raw experiences for those willing to immerse themselves in its unpredictability and endlessness.

A pair of rhinos, seemingly undisturbed by the presence of tourists

One of the world’s top eco-tourism destinations, the country has 20 national parks and more than a thousand private reserves to choose from. Each game reserve offers its own specialities but there is one common factor that ties them all together: the ‘Big Five’ of the South African wild–Elephant, Leopard, Rhino, Lion and Buffalo. From a brief appearance on the endless savannah to a walk right up to your vehicle, these mighty animals always grace visitors with memorable sightings. Alternatively, a Magnificent-Seven safari itinerary includes thrilling sights of two protected species of marine creatures: the Southern Right Whale and the Great White Shark. The former migrates from Antarctica to South Africa’s warmer coastal waters every year to mate and calve, delighting whale watchers with playful antics. Adrenaline junkies can have close encounters with the great white shark by availing services of shark-cage diving operators.

Visitors can either opt for a self-drive tour or use the guided services offered by game reserves. For the adventure inclined, a guided walk through the bushveld offers an insightful journey. Night drives in private game reserves not only serve up a different range of animals but also give tourists a panoramic view of the beautiful starlit African sky. Safaris on horseback and elephants let you blend into the habitat of your subjects. You can also hop on to a quad-bike and go cruising through forests, valleys and over mountains to get a glimpse of the wildlife.

A leopard camouflages effortlessly with its habitat at Pilanesberg

Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Located in the crater of a long-extinct volcano, dating back 1,300 million years, Pilanesberg’s undulating landscape provides for an interesting mix of bushveld, grassland, rocky outcrops and hills. There are roughly 200km of tourist roads within this park, along with picnic sites and several bird hides, making it a comfortable site for self-driving visitors. Aside from the Big Five, visitors should also look out for cheetah and wild dogs here.

At the centre of Pilanesberg is the Mankwe Dam, a focal point for birdlife. There are safari tents, chalets and campsites available at the Bakgatla and Manyane resorts attached to the reserve, as well as several five-star lodges within the reserve. The landscape was formed over a billion years ago by overflowing magma. If geology is your thing, you’ll get to find red, white, green and Ledig foyaite, nepheline syenite, kimberlite, fluorite and uranium tuff in the area.

All the resorts in and around the Pilanesberg reserve offer guided game drives. Unique experiences include hot air balloon trips that take place at dawn at the Mankwe Dam, and elephant safaris. Contact Kwa maritane/Bakubung (; from R 2,190 per night, sharing).

Travel Trivia

Earlier a farmland, Pilanesberg was rehabilitated between 1969 and 1979. During Operation Genesis, 6,000 animals of 19 different species were introduced to the reserve, making it the largest game translocation in the world of that time.

Travel Tip

The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a two-hour drive away from Johannesburg. You can also undertake day trips from the nearby Sun City.

The southern part of Kruger is famous for plentiful lion sightings

Kruger National Park

Covering over 1.9 million hectares, Kruger National Park is a one-stop shop for all wildlife dreams, offering sights of leopards, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and more. The southern part of Kruger is popular for its plentiful game, including lions, while the north is known for large herds of elephant and buffalo, sites of archaeological interest and majestic baobab trees. The park has a well-developed infrastructure, including many main camps and several smaller bush-camp and lodge options, making it ideal for visitors wishing to go on self-drive safaris. Tourists can also book a walking safari that allows them to experience the bush on foot in the company of armed rangers. Contact Sabi Sabi (; from R 9,300 per night, sharing); Hoyo Hoyo (; prices start from R 3,690 per night, sharing).

Travel Trivia

The Kruger National Park covers an area roughly the size of Wales.

Travel Tip

Birding enthusiasts should look forward to checking the Big Birding Six off their list–Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Lappet- faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-billed Stork.

Madikwe Game Reserve: an idyllic getaway

Madikwe Game Reserve

Madikwe Game Reserve, in the North West Province, is one of South Africa’s hidden gems–currently the fifth largest game reserve, it is considered as one of the best conservation areas in the country, making it an ideal destination to spot the Big Five, besides the 66 other species of mammals. Madikwe is an idyllic getaway for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. With a variety of terrains from open grasslands to craggy rocks and thick forests, Madikwe also boasts of prolific bird life. Keep a keen eye out and your camera ready as you spot the ostrich, the majestic Kori bustard or the vivid crimson-breasted shrike, amongst many others.

Travel Trivia

A conservation corridor is envisaged, that will eventually join the Madikwe and Pilanesberg game reserves.

Travel Tip

For the best bird-watching experience, stay back in camp when others go off on game drives, especially if there’s a waterhole in the vicinity.

A hippopotamus frolics in the water at Sabi Sand Reserve

Sabi Sand Reserve

The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve borders the Kruger National Park and is renowned for its luxury game lodges. With the fences dropped, the wild animals cross back and forth with ease, along the Sabie River, making Sabi Sand a haven for the Big Five and an indulgent getaway for you. The fact that two perennial rivers (after which the reserve is named) flow through it means that the area offers excellent wildlife viewing all year round. If you’re lucky, you may come across a lioness watching over her cubs or a leopard moving in for the kill, and later at night, swathed in some of the finest linen, the sounds of the forest could lull you into a blissful slumber.

Travel Trivia

The Sabi Sand is the oldest private game reserve in South Africa, formally declared in 1948.

Travel Tip

Each season has its own delights. Early spring and summer (August to November) offer great game viewing, especially baby animals, because the grass is still low and the animals are concentrated around waterholes before the rains.

Expect close sightings of the Big Five at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

It was here that a game-capture technique was developed through Operation Rhino in the 1960s that helped in relocating these animals and thus saving them. The two areas, Hluhluwe and iMfolozi, were first protected in 1895 and consolidated into one reserve about a hundred years later. Hluhluwe lies to the north and enjoys a mountainous landscape while Imfolozi to the south is ideal for game viewing with its more open plains. Apart from the Big Five, the reserve is home to a variety of antelopes and nearly 300 species of birds. Other special species include cheetah and wild dogs. The park is famous for its wilderness trails, guided game drives and guided walks. A range of accommodation is available, from bush camps to luxury lodges. Contact KZN Wildlife (; prices starting from R 870 per night, sharing).

Travel Trivia

Before 1895, the area was a hunting ground for the Zulu kingdom. It’s the oldest declared natural reserve in the country.

Travel Tip

Visitors exploring the Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal have to book a minimum of two nights in this reserve.

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