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10 tips for your self-drive safari

We are spoilt for choice in Southern Africa when it comes to picking safari destinations that offer visitors the opportunity to self drive in national parks.

There’s the thrill of being the one behind the wheel when you find that leopard hiding behind a bush or a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of you. However, many people find the idea of being behind the wheel daunting and fear that they won’t see any animals. Here are a few tips that I have learned along the way that I hope will help you in finding and spotting animals for yourself.

Elephant
1. Get a decent pair of binoculars

A good pair of binoculars can make or break a sighting. With a bit of practice they can also be used to take photos or videos with your phone if you don’t have a zoom lens.

lilac breasted roller
2. Get up at the crack of dawn

Be the first car out of the gate when it opens. Most animals, especially predators, are more active at dusk and dawn. Many people are still sleeping, so any sightings you get you will often have to yourself.

leopard
3. Drive slowly

It is much easier to spot animals when you drive slowly and animals are less likely to run away from your vehicle. In the rain keep an extra eye out for tortoises and snakes coming to drink from puddles on the road.

lion giraffe
4. Listen

In parks that allow you to have your windows open it is a good idea to roll them down. Turn off the radio and awaken your senses to the sounds of the African bush. If you hear the birds frantically calling or other animals alarm calling, there’s a good chance that there’s a predator in the area. Maybe you can hear the elephant around the corner trumpeting.

serval
5. Watch the herbivores

A herd of impala, wildebeest or a giraffe all staring intently in one direction means one thing – there is a predator. Sit tight and scan where they are looking with a pair of binoculars and see if you too can spot the danger.

giraffe
6. Be patient, don’t rush

Sitting at a watering hole often pays off, especially in drier months when animals are forced to come to larger water sources. If you have an interest in birds you can never get bored sitting by the water. If birds are not for you, park up in the shade with a good book, just make sure you look up every now and then!

buffalo

If there is an elephant walking down the road or feeding on a tree next to the road remember it has right of way. Move out of it’s way or wait for it to finish feeding instead of trying to push it out of the way. This is how accidents happen.

7. Switch off your lights and engine in a sighting

Lights and vehicle noise can disturb animals, causing them to move away. It may be the middle of the day and forty degrees Celsius outside but if you sacrifice your air-con for a little bit you won’t regret it (you are in Africa after all).

wild dog
8. Respect the animals

Don’t ever drive off the road towards an animal because you can’t see it properly. You will disturb it and damage vegetation. Instead be patient and use a pair of binoculars.

Respect the animal’s comfort zone. Don’t park on top of a lion, just because it chose to lie next to the road.

wild dogs

If you are trying to get an animal to look at you for a photo be patient. Do not beep your horn or whistle at it. This is not fair on the animal and will most likely scare it.

9. Talk to other people

Chat to other people you pass or at camp and find out what sightings they’ve had. This exchange of information is often very helpful.

giraffe elephant
10. Take water and snacks with you

Extra water is always a good idea to have onboard in case you have any vehicle difficulties or there is a sighting that is just too good to leave. Some snacks and drinks in the car also prevent grumpy passengers so you can keep looking for animals. Just be sure to keep all rubbish with you.

Michelle Sole

Michelle Sole is a safari guide and wildlife photographer in South Africa. Michelle was born in England and raised between England and Andorra and as a result she was educated in English, Spanish, Catalan and French. Michelle competed for Great Britain as an alpine ski racer for ten years, chasing winters around the world. As a child Michelle always had a love and respect for nature and animals and after a family holiday to Africa in 2008 she fell in love with elephants and found her calling (and summer!). In 2011 she moved to South Africa and completed her studies to be a field guide. She currently works as a field guide within the Marakele National Park in the Waterberg mountains, South Africa. In Michelle’s time off she explores the wilds of Southern Africa, camera in tow. Her thrill for adventure, the outdoors and adrenaline are at the core of her photography and writing. Follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

  • RightOn

    Nicely done. Although I never will likely go on a safari this was interesting.

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