Activities & Special Interest
Special interest & Safari activities in South Africa
Most big-game viewing in South Africa occurs on game drives in open 4×4 vehicles. The premier region for seeing big game is the Kruger National Park (and the adjacent private reserves of Sabi Sands, Manyeleti, Timbavati and Thornybush), though many other areas are also excellent, including Madikwe Game Reserve, Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, Phinda Resource Reserve, Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserves, Kwandwe Game Reserve, Shamwari Game Reserve and several other parks and private reserves. Some regions are malaria-fee. Please view our regions page for more information on all these areas.
Night drives are possible from various National Park restcamps and from most safari lodges located in private game reserves. South Africa is one of the best countries to enjoy night drives and view Africa’s nocturnal species such as leopard.
Whilst walking is widely available in South Africa, it tends not to be the focus for most safari lodges, who tend to concentrate on game drives (and only offer ‘token’ walks during the heat of the day – once the morning drive has finished). This is a pity as the standard of guiding within the country is generally very good and has improved dramatically in recent years, and walking guides, in particular, are highly qualified.
There are a few luxury properties located within the Kruger, Timbavati and Mashatu (Botswana) which specialise in walking, either from the property itself or on trails.
The National Parks Board offer a number of small group 3 night walking trails within the Kruger National Park, based out of a single trails camp, whilst in Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve, it is possible to do multi-day walking trails using basic fly-camps during the winter months.
Walking and Trekking
South Africa offers a wide range of walking opportunities, including hiking and trekking through various mountain ranges such as the Drakensberg and Cederberg. There are also many wonderful coastal walks, including guided multi-day trails, notably in the Eastern Cape and along the Garden Route.
Horse-riding is available in South Africa and there are several excellent operations. Aside from one operation in the ‘lowveld’ (near Kruger), most of these operate in the Waterberg region of northern South Africa, including Ant’s Nest and Horizon who offer rides for mixed capabilities within game country. We can advise which is best suited for you.
Further north, just over the Botswana border in the Tuli Block (which is accessed from South Africa), Limpopo Horse Safaris offer the most adventurous horse-riding trails in the region, combining fantastic scenery and wilderness with excellent game encounters. This operation is however suited to experienced riders only.
With around 900 species recorded, South Africa is an excellent birding destination. The sheer size of the country and variety of different habitats means that any birder could be kept busy for months if needed. We do not specifically arrange birding group tours, but many of our customers are keen birders and putting together an individually designed itinerary is very easy. Specialist guides are available for the more serious birder, as are pelagic tours from Cape Town.
In addition to the wildlife regions, which always offer superb birding, there are many key birding spots throughout the country. KwaZulu/Natal alone has recorded around 690 species, whilst the Drakensberg Mountains, Karoo Desert, coastal forests of the Garden Route, fynbos habitat and coastal environs of the Western Cape, and the scrub bush of the Kalahari Desert will all offer superb birding opportunities with local specialities to seek out. From October to March, many intra-African and European migrants are resident.
Species specific interests
In terms of the big game, the private game reserves around the Kruger are especially productive for leopard viewing and South Africa has for a long time been a real stronghold for both black and white rhino. In the Timbavati region bordering the Kruger, a ‘white lion’ gene exists and it is possible to see ‘white lions’ in the wild. Elephants are widespread in the traditional big game areas but Addo (Elephant) National Park in particular offers really amazing elephant-viewing experiences.
Southern Right whales are a major attraction off the south coast from late June through to November, whilst Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles lay their eggs from October to December along the beaches of northern KwaZulu Natal (and hatching takes place from December to March). African penguins (previously Jackass), great white sharks and Cape fur seals can be seen around the Western Cape, whilst ragged tooth sharks, whale sharks and humpback whales can be seen off the KwaZulu/Natal coast. Dolphins are prominent along the whole South African coastline.
Meerkats can be seen in the Kalahari and Karoo deserts, and in a couple of places have been habituated to human presence. If you are looking for somewhere where you can see an elusive aardvark, then these desert regions boast properties which regularly sight these shy creatures.
South Africa offers a huge variety of cultural experiences, from rural villages, township tours and school visits to Robben Island tours and visits to the Anglo/Zulu and Anglo/Boer battlefields. There are also many galleries, museums, restaurants and concerts that show off South Africa’s rich cultural diversity and heritage.
Most people who head out on safari plan to take a few photographs. However, in depth photographic safaris are growing in popularity, whether in the form of small group trips (please see the ‘Groups’ section for links to specialist photographic tours) or individually tailored holidays.
We are probably best equipped to arrange individually tailored photographic holidays. The flexibility and service we offer allows you to carefully plan your safari to meet your exact requirements, whilst our specialist knowledge is crucial, not just in terms of knowing where to photograph particular species, but also in terms of being able to provide suitable vehicles and guides. Your itinerary in South Africa will depend on your interests and priorities, however some of the possible highlights would be leopards and other big game in the best wildlife regions, marine life such as whales, turtles, dolphins, white sharks, penguins and seals, and meerkats in the Karoo and Kalahari. Wild flowers of the western Cape are a major attraction in August, whilst birds and people can be viewed throughout the country. The scenery is splendid and varied, from dry arid plains to the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu/Natal and Mpumalanga.
South Africa’s coastline offers a wide range of ocean activities, including scuba diving, surfing, sailing, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing and boat cruises to view penguins, seals, white sharks, whales, dolphins and pelagic bird species. Away from the coast, water-based activities are more limited although there are rafting, kayaking, canoeing and boat cruise options available.
Much off South Africa’s coastline is ‘deepwater’ and is not protected by reef, making scuba diving a little limited considering the amount of coastline available and the diversity of marine life that exists. The best scuba diving is off the KwaZulu/Natal coast, particularly in the north towards the border with Mozambique, where it can be spectacular.
Wild Flowers & Botany
The fynbos flower kingdom of the Western Cape is one of our planet’s most interesting botanical destinations. In addition, the daisies of Namaqualand are a spectacular sight in August and September each year, whilst the Karoo Desert is home to huge range of succulents. Other regions of particular interest include the Drakensberg Mountains, coastal forests of the Garden Route and KwaZulu/Natal and the Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo Province. The Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town are world famous and well worth a day’s exploration for anyone keen on botany.
The Anglo/Boer and Anglo/Zulu battlefields in KwaZulu/Natal can all be visited on guided tours. Most famous are the Zulu battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, the Boer war battles including Spioenkop, and from Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, the frontier battles. Specialist guides will enigmatically talk you through almost every detail of the famous battles, and for anyone remotely interested in colonial history, these should not be missed.
There are a number of places where elephant-back safaris are offered to tourists, from the Kruger region to the malaria-free Waterberg region and Eastern Cape. In addition to riding the elephants, you are able to get to know the individual elephants and learn about them as a species.
Fly-fishing is available at various spots throughout the country, but especially in KwaZulu/Natal and Mpumalanga where rivers and streams tumble down from the Drakensberg Mountains. The considerable oceanic coastline of South Africa provides shore-based and offshore sea fishing.
South Africa boasts three private rail companies which offer more than just a journey between two places. The exclusive Rovos Rail and The Blue Train hotel-trains are both renown for their high quality service and luxurious accommodation, and rank amongst the best services in the world. They cover a number of routes around South Africa, and in the case of Rovos, further afield. The most common route is that between Pretoria and Cape Town (or v/v) which is undertaken overnight by the Blue Train, and over two nights by Rovos.
The Shongololo Express runs on a slightly different concept which allows you to undertake an extensive tour of the region (three different itineraries) with regular off-train excursions included.
Other activities available on a limited basis include golf, quad-biking, mountain biking, helicopter flights, and hot-air ballooning. We can also cater for very specific interests such as dendrology, Lepidoptera, archaeology etc.