Heading to Africa on your first time safari? Of all the holidays you take in your lifetime, this magical experience is the one that’s likely to stay with you more than any other. But if you’ve never been before, here are a few things you should know:
1. Get the terminology right: Yes, you’re going on safari, but every time you head out to (hopefully!) spot animals it’s actually called a game drive.
2. In most places you’ll board an open-top Land Cruiser (or something similar), accompanied by two people: the guide, who will point out the animals and tell you interesting facts as they drive you around, and the tracker.
The tracker sits on a special seat that juts out from the very front of the vehicle, affording them clear views of any animal tracks. They’ll raise their hand when they spot anything interesting and sometimes jump off their seat to take a closer look or even a bit of a stroll (do NOT join them!). It’s incredible to see them point out a few vague marks on the sand and then locate a wild animal a few minutes later.
“You might drive up very close to the animals on a game drive, but don’t be alarmed”
3. You might drive up very close to the animals on a game drive, but don’t be alarmed – as long as you stay inside your vehicle you’ll be fine. Because it’s so large the animals will leave it well alone (but don’t expect the same courtesy if you get out and walk – you’re a lot smaller than a Land Cruiser!). There’s also a rifle on most game drive vehicles, just in case.
4. If this is your first time safari, be prepared to get up very early for game drives – the animals are at their most active in mornings before it gets too hot, so you need to be on the move bright and early to ensure the best sightings. It is totally worth sacrificing a sleep-in!
“Our biggest tip? Go. On. Every. Game. Drive. Possible”
5. The other time that animals are active is in the late afternoon, so there are usually two game drives each day: early morning and then another one from about 3pm. Our biggest tip? Go. On. Every. Game. Drive. Possible. Seriously, make the most of every single opportunity to see the wildlife. After all, it’s why you came on safari in the first place.
6. Regardless of the time of year, when you’re on a game drive you’ll need sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses – do not forget!
“Forget any notions of chic and glamorous Out of Africa safari attire – you’ll just want to be warm!”
7. On the flip side, because morning game drives start while it’s still dark, and evening game drives will bring you back once the sun’s gone down, you’ll need to wear layers and take some warm clothes. Be warned: when the sun’s not in the sky it can get really chilly, and in the winter it’s positively freezing. Forget any notions of chic and glamorous Out of Africa safari attire – you’ll just want to be warm!
“Be sure to pack drinks and snacks for your little ones”.
8. If you’re taking young children with you on your first time safari and a game drive, make sure they are prepared – and genuinely old enough – for the experience. If you’re sharing a vehicle with other people this is especially important. It’s fine if you’re on a private drive and need to cut it short because your child’s bored/tired/ cranky etc, but if it means your fellow guests also have to miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime animal viewing, they won’t be happy! Be sure to pack drinks and snacks for your little ones, as well as some “distractions” such as books, colouring-in materials and even, dare we say it, an iPad (with earplugs, obviously). That way, you can really settle them down and keep them occupied with Baby Shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo doo) while you and all the adults ogle a baby rhino or something equally breathtaking.
“If at all possible, when you’re photographing the animals you encounter, shoot low”
9. If at all possible, when you’re photographing the animals you encounter, shoot low. Of course you can’t get out of your vehicle, but sometimes it’s possible to hold a camera on a gimbal or selfie stick down by the side of the vehicle and get a cracking shot of nearby wildlife. The lower position of the camera will give a much better angle and make you seem a lot more present than from high above. Always check that it’s okay with your guide or tracker – sometimes they will be able to get an amazing shot for you, too.
10. Pack extra batteries/power packs/whatever you use to charge your camera/GoPro/smartphone etc. Recharge everything every night, and then be sure to take your back-up equipment on every game drive. Trust us: there’s nothing worse than coming across an incredible sight and then realising your battery’s dead!
“Don’t forget to put your camera down and enjoy the moment as well”
11. Of course you’re going to want to take lots of photos and videos of the animals you encounter, but don’t forget to put your camera down and enjoy the moment as well. Looking through a lens adds a barrier between you and the incredible wildlife you’ll be witnessing, so to be fully connected to the moment PUT THE CAMERA/PHONE DOWN!
12. Even if you don’t see a single animal (which is extremely unlikely), just being out in the African wilderness is reward enough. There’s something so special about its vastness, its remoteness and its rugged beauty. And when your guide turns off the engine and all you can hear is the sound of birdcall and perhaps a gentle breeze, you’ll be enveloped by a stillness and silence that will remind you just how small we are, and just how enormous and wonderful our world is.
13. “Sundowners” are a very civilised part of a game drive.
Basically, your guide and tracker will stop at a scenic location in the late afternoon and magic up a feast from the depths of the safari vehicle.
Tasty treats will spill forth from picnic baskets or tiffin tins, to be washed down with – what else – gin and tonic, as you marvel at a glorious African sunset. Sigh.
14. There are no ATMs on safari, so remember to take cash with you! You’ll need it in order to leave tips for your guide and tracker at the end of your stay. While Australians are a little, ahem, “relaxed” about tipping in many places and situations, this is one time when you really should tip. And if your guide and tracker do find the animals you’ve been waiting a lifetime to see, trust us – you’ll want to reward them.
15. A safari is an extraordinary, life-enhancing experience – there’s nothing else like it on this planet. Now you just need to experience one for yourself! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️