Topping the bucket-list of many travellers, no-one forgets their first safari.
That moment when you meet the gaze of a majestic animal for the very first-time is instantly snapped into a life-long memory.
And the best way to observe wildlife is against the backdrop of their natural environment, in a land where the rugged landscapes and hypnotic golden sunsets conspire with one another to create a magical scene that only Africa can produce.
Here is a guide to where you can find creatures big and small, on one of the planet’s most fascinating continents.
What is the ‘Big 5’?
The primary reason for an African safari, is to spot the “Big 5”. Elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros, lions and leopards, can be found in large numbers by watering holes and across dusty prairies.
The leopard is the most elusive of this bunch, blending into their environments as they stalk their prey, but a keen-eyed safari spotter will be able to track them down.
Aside the Big 5, there are many other creatures in the hood that can be found year-round. Impala and kudu are not only the primary food source of the cunning carnivore, but one of the most popular animals you will find in the bush.
Hippopotamus, crocodile, giraffe, the tiny mongoose and meerkat, zebras, a large variety of monkeys, baboons, bird life, hyenas and wildebeest are all easily spotted as your all-terrain land vehicle moves through the bush or jungle.
Beware of the cheeky monkey though at resorts and lodges, they are notorious kleptomaniacs.
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Where to safari?
Africa is a big place filled with all sorts of terrain from lush jungles to desert sand dunes and wide-open plains. All these landscapes make for the perfect safari.
The largest, and perhaps most popular place to safari, is South Africa’s Kruger National Park. For a first-time safari, Kruger has many game reserves and resorts to suit all budgets, with an abundance of the Big 5, and those classic African sweeping plain landscapes.
Primarily a desert landscape with wide-open sandy plains, Namibia is in stark contrast to Kruger. But this doesn’t mean the wildlife is scarce. Most resorts in Namibia are perched near watering holes, so instead of setting out in search for them, the animals come to you.
Kenya and Tanzania
If the great migration is your primary interest, then Kenya and Tanzania is where you need to be. But the land here is vast, and lodges are remote, often only accessible by air. But the hefty price tag is worth the investment, with an abundance of wildlife and scenes straight out of a David Attenborough documentary on your doorstep. The great migration is during the winter months of June to September, but animals are readily found all year.
With spectacular wildlife visible year-round, Botswana is big cat country with leopards, lions and cheetahs in good numbers. Lodges are government owned and accommodation may be basic, but like Namibia, most are built on or near watering holes so you can relax in the resort with the animals coming to you.
Rwanda and Uganda
For a safari of a different kind, Rwanda and Uganda are known for their deep-jungle gorilla treks. But seeing one in the wild is a privilege due to their dwindling population, with estimates of only 800 to 900 remaining in their natural habitat.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are where majority of the gorilla population can be found. Located on the border confluence of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gorilla safaris require a keen sense of adventure and reasonable physical ability.
Zimbabwe is best known as home to one of the seven wonders of the world – the raging Victoria Falls, spilling 625 million litres of water per minute over its rugged edge. But not far from the famous falls are safari lodges that treat guests to a daily parade of wildlife that drink at one of many surrounding watering holes.
Take a late afternoon boat journey along the mighty Zambezi River and be treated to a hippo encounter both above and below the water’s surface.
How to get there
South African Airways flies daily between Perth and Johannesburg, with onward connections to much of Africa. Virgin Australia has daily connecting code-share flights from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide to Perth.
Qantas offers direct service between Sydney and Johannesburg six days a week, with connections from much of the eastern seaboard.
Winter, while cool, is the best animal spotting time as the grass is low, making it easy to seek out and spot the animals.
Summer is birthing season and when you will most likely spot cubs and babies of all kinds, when the grass and bush is at its most verdant.
Many companies offer guided tours and safaris – here’s our pick.
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