South Africa is widely regarded as being one of the finest places on Earth to spot wildlife.
This beautiful country is rightly famous for the presence of its Big Five of lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard. If you want to get up to close to some of these magnificent beasts in their natural habitat then where should you go and how should you do it?
1. Kruger National Park
If you have only ever heard of one national park in the country then it is probably this one. Kruger National Park is one of the biggest animal reserves in all of Africa, measuring a mighty 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 square miles). Also check out the Big 5 safaris in Sabi Sands Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with Kruger Park.
The government first started protecting parts of the region in the late 19th century, before it became the first national park in South Africa. It is also now part of a UNESCO Biosphere reserve due to its huge importance.
All 5 members of the Big Five are present in this huge, sprawling park, together with many other species. There are 4 main areas and 9 entrance gates so planning your visit in advance is well worth doing.
This is the ideal spot for a luxury break in one of the safari lodges dotted throughout the park. Camping in one of the rest camps has also become popular with travellers looking for a cheaper way of seeing the delights of Kruger.
2. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
While it might not be as world famous as Kruger, this park provides another fantastic place for seeing the spectacular South African wildlife. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park straddles the border between this country and Botswana.
It is an especially interesting place for seeing big predators and for witnessing the thrilling seasonal movements of animals such as springbok and wildebeest. The total area covered is some 38,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles), with about a quarter of that area lying in South African territory.
The name translates as “place of thirst” and this pays testament to the fact that most of it lies in the dry and dusty Kalahari Desert, where dry riverbeds and sand dunes form the dramatic backdrop.
If you are lucky you will see lions, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas here. The weather can get stiflingly hot during the day and cold at night.
There are 3 big rest camps with plenty of services in the park, while the 6 wilderness camps are far more basic for staying in.
3. Addo Elephant National Park
As the name suggests, this is the perfect place to see elephants, although there is a lot more to it than that. Addo Elephant National Park is also very conveniently situated, as it is only about an hour’s drive away from Port Elizabeth.
More than 500 glorious African elephants live here, in the third biggest South African national park. It was set up in 1931 to save 11 elephants and now contains the likes of zebra, antelope, lions, buffalo, and rhinos as well.
The accommodation choices here range from luxury lodges to more basic camps as well. While it is close enough to make a day trip seem possible, there is simply too much to see in the park for a one day trip to be the best choice.
This popular park in the Limpopo Province sprawls over some 28,000 hectares and includes the fascinating historic site of Mapungubwe Hill, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe long ago.
These days, it is considered as being one of the most scenic national parks in the country, with woodlands, forest and sandstone outcrops all forming a wonderful setting. It is also famed for being one of the very few places where both Nile crocodiles and meerkats live together naturally.
You can stay in budget accommodation in a camping site or else try out luxury accommodation close to both the Limpopo River and Mapungubwe Hill.
5 Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park
This well-established national park is home to the planet’s biggest population of white rhinos. In fact it was originally set up to save this animal from extinction.
There are now close to 2,000 of these animals here, with many thousands more being sent out to other parks in the country.
The fact that it is only 2 and a half hours drive from Durban means that it is also pretty easy to get to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park. This is a wonderful spot to look for the Big Five and it gets very busy during the holidays.
Finding somewhere to stay here is easy and it makes for a terrific multi-destination trip when combined with tropical Durban and maybe somewhere else in South Africa.
What to take on a safari
The gear and clothing that you take away will vary according to which national park you go to, although there are some classic items you will want to take wherever you go to.
For example, a pair of sturdy and high quality binoculars will give you the chance to spot wildlife from afar. Take a look at the video below, to see how much benefit a wide field of view and incredible sharpness will give you.
The Nikon Monarch HG shown is one of the best models of binoculars on the market now, as they are portable and robust enough to handle your trip to South Africa easily. Sleekly designed, lightweight, and compact, its magnesium alloy body and scratch-resistant lens coating make it durable enough for all outdoor activities, plus it’s waterproof and fog-free too.
We love this binoculars and we have been using Nikon equipment for years for our safaris.
You will also want to take sun-glasses, a wide brimmed hat, and an emergency flashlight wherever you go to.
You can expect hot, sunny days whichever of these parks that you go to, while you will need to take into account whether it is the rainy season or not. Light, cotton clothes in neutral colours are generally recommended.
If you are thinking of travelling to a high altitude destination or to a desert location such as Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park then you will want to pack some heavier clothes for the colder nights. Wherever you go, it is a good idea to take some long sleeved shirts to keep the mosquitoes at bay in the evening.
Those visitors who are staying in a luxury lodge will also want to take away at least one set of smart clothes.
Of course, for many of us this is also a once in a lifetime to take astonishing photos. This means that you will want to have a good camera with you, ideally one that has a quality lens and a steady tripod that make it easy to get amazing photos.
Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, as the sun gets incredibly powerful here. You should also find out whether to take anti-malarial tablets before you leave home.