As we climbed off the Land Rover, looking forward to some hot coffee to ward off the late autumn morning chill in the Madikwe Game Reserve, our guide said: “Not so fast!”
Even though he had parked in an open area and he and his tracker both had rifles, we were wary of lions and elephants and started glancing around nervously. “Bol drol spoeg kompetisie! (Buck turd spitting competition) And if you don’t do it, no coffee!”
He assured us that putting kudu pellets in our mouths wouldn’t harm us – but don’t touch any droppings from a carnivore, because they contain parasites which could kill you.
Then we had to spit them as far as we could. The American couple thought he was crazy, but they were good sports and took part – no doubt so they could take another great African bush story back home.
Having a good, and entertaining, guide like that is what makes game drives at private lodges, or even private drives in national parks, the best way to experience the bush … if you can afford it, of course.
I’ve been privileged to have been able to do many such drives as part of my job, over the years. But, at the same time, as a family we’ve also done plenty of self-drive trips through reserves and parks across southern Africa. And it can be equally rewarding.
Picture: Brendan Seery
Under the Level 3 eased lockdown, you are supposedly able to embark on a self-drive within private or public parks.
I say supposedly because the government hasn’t yet clarified how you get to these parks – because they have not lifted the ban on leisure travel. Any time I want to go on a self-drive excursion, it has to be for leisure, I would have thought …
Assuming sense will prevail soon on the issue, here are some of my tips to get the most out of a self-drive game park experience.
Calculate how long you want to be out. Look at where you want to go and the maximum speeds there and calculate the time needed. Then double it.
If you want to rush from waterhole to waterhole, just to get ticks against your wildlife list, then why bother? Get a video and watch it at home.
We once sat at a waterhole near Namutoni in Namibia’s Etosha National Park while at least six other cars came, had a quick glance and saw nothing, and then left.
We just enjoyed the peace of the morning, sipping coffee. As we sat there, slowly, a tiny, beautiful Damara dik-dik came into view. It had kept out of sight while the other cars and the roaring engines disrupted the quiet.
This little animal is rare – in that it frequents a small area close to Namutoni camp and part of the Namibian Waterberg reserve. Chasing ticks on a guide book would have meant we missed it.
I cynically believe the best way to spot lions in the Kruger National Park is to look for brake lights. We once got stuck in a traffic jam on the road to Lower Sabie for 20 minutes because all “the manne” in their huge 4x4s wanted to get a glimpse of a pride of lions.
To get away, I took a small dirt road and was rewarded with a wonderful sighting of an old “dagga boy” buffalo being cleaned by a tick-hunting red-billed oxpecker.
When we finally get back to the bush, let’s take it easy and ponder on how fortunate we are if we are able to take our own car on a game drive.
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