There’s nothing like your first encounter with a dangerous wild animal on foot: the excitement, fear and thrill of this primal experience is much more memorable than a hundred game drives where you’ve ticked off the big five. Escaping the confines of your 4×4 and exploring the bush on foot opens a whole new world of the wild.
Here are 5 reasons to get out of the car and put your hiking boots on:
1. A new perspective on wildlife
Being on foot changes how you view animals. You may have previously dismissed impalas as boring when you see herds of them on game drives, but when you encounter them on a walking safari, you can’t help but marvel at their beauty, speed and grace. You realise how much work it is just to stay alive in the bush, and you can feel how vulnerable prey animals are: at any given moment they could be eaten, which endows you with a new sense of respect.
2. You learn more about the bush
You do find out about the behaviour of animals on game drives but you learn a whole lot more on foot, especially if you have a good guide. Delve into the stories behind a pile of old bones, learn about the place of animals, insects and plants in bewilderingly complex ecosystems, discover that trees are more interesting that you think and find out about seeds that are almost magical in their evolutionary adaptations.
3. Micro details
You don’t see as much big game on foot as you do on game drives, but you do get the chance to be immersed in a fascinating world of plants, seeds, insects, reptiles and small animals: all the things you don’t see on drives. You also become much more sensorially aware when you’re walking as opposed to driving: you’re constantly alert to the sounds of alarm calls and the smells of the bush, which means that you take in a lot more detail than you would in the car.
4. Learning tracking
On some walking safaris, you’ll have a tracker along with your guide, who will teach you some of the basics of this master skill. Learn to read tracks in the sand to follow animals through the bush, how to identify the smell of rhino wee or work out when ablution time was by poking through middens. Tracking is interesting and fun, and adds another dimension to your wildlife experience.
5. The chance to slow down
You can’t take cell phone calls or answer emails on your smartphone while on a walking safari. If you’re a technology addict, then this is the holiday for you: you’re forced to unplug, switch off and be totally connected to nature.
Many lodges offer guided walks, ranging from a few hours to a few days, and there are camps that only offer walking safaris. Kruger National Park’s affordable wilderness and backpacking trails are gaining in popularity and you can choose from catered trails, where you stay in rustic cabins or more rugged multi-day hikes, where you carry your own gear and sleep under the stars.