Sunday, 15 April 2012

Safari Planning - What is the big five?

What is the Big Five?
The term ‘Big Five’ refers to lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. Although it is a term that is now synonymous with tourism it was actually coined by big game hunters. It originally referred to the five species that were deemed dangerous to hunt; thankfully it now has a different connotation.
My view is that the hype surrounding the name is just a marketing ploy or to boast that your guide found the big five on one game drive (hoping for a big tip).
We find that most safari guests when asked what they want to see while on safari will quite rightly say “EVERYTHING”.
Imagine a game drive where you spend some quality time watching a herd of Elephant, understanding more about their behavior and the herd dynamics. Then later on you come across two Giraffe bulls necking (territorial fighting not kissing). You stop to watch a couple of red oxpeckers on the back of a loan Wildebeast and then enjoy a sundowner by a dam seeing and listening to a pod of Hippo as they prepare for their nights grazing. What a wonderful African experience, and you only saw one of the big five. But importantly you didn’t charge around trying to find the other four. After all there is always tomorrow. However, you did connect with the bush and wildlife and did get to understand a lot more. What a wonderful experience.
If you come across the big five every day, that’s great, but see it as a bonus. My advice is don’t come on safari with a tick list of animals you must see at all costs, rather enjoy every opportunity you have to be in the company of whatever wild animals your guide finds for you. There will be a lot of them.

Written by Will Fox

Safari Planning - What is a day like on safari?

What happens on Safari?
What type of safari you choose will alter how the safari unfolds but it is important to remember you are there for a holiday, so try and balance activities with time for some R&R.
In our case we intersperse big five game viewing with opportunities for you to be hands on (if you wish), learning the art of tracking animals, or developing your bush senses, linking up with our leopard research team to shadow them when they monitor leopards, that sort of thing. The idea is to give you an overall immersive bush and wildlife experience.
Of-course the serenity of just being in the bush, away from it all, together with the relaxed atmosphere of bush lodges and camps makes relaxing very easy.

The most usual way to see wildlife is from the back of a game drive vehicle. These tend to be an open landrover or similar 4 x 4 vehicles that have been modified with comfortable seats for guests, allowing you to see a lot more than from a conventional car.
Your guide will help you spot the wildlife and will be able to explain what is happening on your sighting.

There are broadly three types of game drive. Early morning, afternoon and night drive. Depending on your location one may be better than another but there are no firm rules for success. It is the bush and nature calls the tunes. The contrast is greatest on the night drive where it may be possible, with the aid of a strong spotlight, to see animals that only come out at night or certain activities that usually only take place at night. Often the afternoon game drives are extended into the early evening when darkness falls, allowing you to enjoy a night drive on your way back to your lodge for dinner.

Game drive times vary as the seasons change but tend to start at around 06:00 with a coffee taken in the lodge before departing for the drive. Your guide will often be accompanied by a tracker, sitting up front on a bonnet mounted seat to spot spoor (tracks) left from the night before, to help lead you to animals. On most reserves your guide will also be communicating with any other guides in the area via radio to check what they have seen and co-ordinate their efforts to cover as much of the reserve as possible. The more eyes on the ground the better as there are normally huge areas to cover.
At around 08:00 you will probably stop in the bush for a ten minute break and your guide will set up a table to serve coffee tea and biscuits, that sort of thing.

Then you’ll set off again arriving back at your lodge for breakfast somewhere around 09:30, but that could be later, dependent on what you find on your game drive. Brunch is then served on your return to the lodge.
There is often the option of a guided bush walk in the late morning.
During the heat of the day there is time to relax and enjoy the serenity of your surroundings before the afternoon game drive.
The afternoon game drive will normally start with high tea before setting out on game drive at around 16:00.
At around 18:00 you’ll again stop in the bush for a fifteen-minute sundowner (a drink of your choice accompanied by snacks). Then it’s off again and as the sun sets your guide/tracker team will use a spot lamp to find any nocturnal animals as you return through the reserve back to your lodge for dinner. 
No trip is ever the same and we will work with you to come up with a sequence of places and activities that addresses your requirements, to create that exceptional journey.

Safari Planning - How to keep the costs down

How can I keep the cost of my safari down?
I have to be honest and say that this the first question that I would ask. But I am from Yorkshire and the inhabitants of that fine county do have a certain reputation for lets say ‘finding the best value’.
However there are ways that you can make your safari cheaper without cheapening your safari.
You could opt to visit in the off-season (Feb – May). Conventional safari wisdom says that the dry season is the best time to go on safari. It's when the animals congregate around waterholes and the grass is short, i.e. better game viewing opportunities. But go on a small safari tour to private game reserves with a great guide and you will be have an incredible safari in any ‘off –season’, and that is when you can find some discounted safaris.
Go with a friend or a group. You can really cut the costs of a safari and retain all the benefits, if you travel with friends. We always offer discounts to groups.
Forego the extra luxuries - You can get a great safari experience with a good guide and good accommodations for much less money, if you cut down on some of the ultra luxurious perks. These would include a private plunge pool, a spa, personal staff, gourmet meals cooked to order, a large selection of wines, etc.

Find a good safari operator.  A good safari operator will take the time to listen to what you want out of a safari and will get you the best value based upon your personal preferences. African safari specialists will know when a regional flight makes more sense than driving, or whether it's worth spending your first night at a hotel rather than game reserve, where you could miss out on a game drive due to a late afternoon arrival. They understand that if you wish to go on a walking safari and want to do night drives, that you have to safari in a private reserve.
In the end, it pays to book your safari with an expert to get the safari you want, at the price you can afford. 
We'll tailor our safaris to suit you pocket.

Written by Will Fox

Safari Planning - What's the best time of year for safari?

When is the best time to go on Safari?
This is probably the most frequently asked question. My advice is to focus on the reason that you are going on safari i.e. to see wildlife. 
Different seasons offer different game viewing opportunities.
It’s important to remember that if you live in the Northern hemisphere you’ll be used to summer being between June – August and hopefully being warm and dry. Whereas those are the winter months in Southern Africa and tend to be pleasantly cooler and dry.  
Summers in Southern Africa are Dec – Feb and are warmer (often very hot if you are not used to it) and rainstorms can occur.
The dry season is the most optimal season to see animals.  With less standing water around, the water holes attract a wide variety of animals. This makes it easy for you to find and view wildlife. The dry season also means the vegetation has thinned out.
The prime safari areas in South Africa around Kruger National Park are best visited from June through October when the weather is cooler and dry, and moreover the bush isn’t so dense allowing you to see further. Having said that, a good guide will take into account the weather, availability of water and a number of other natural factors to find you great game sightings. So if you would prefer to visit at other times, then ensure you have an experienced guide.
If I were to pick a time of year not to visit (and its only a personal choice) it would be during the Christmas period i.e. late December and early January. That is when the temperatures can often reach 40+ and it is also the South African holiday time, which means the game lodges are very busy and prices are at a premium.
Book an On Track Safari before June 2012 and qualify for our safari discounts.

Written by Will Fox

Safari Planning - Where to go for the best safari experience

Scene from Tangala, where you can relax in the midday heat and watch animals that come down to their waterhole, all from the comfort of the main lounge 

Where should I go for the best Safari experience?
This is a very difficult question to answer and one that could be a book in itself. There are literally hundreds of great locations throughout Africa, many of which are located in South Africa. 
In my view, if it is a South African wildlife safari that your looking for, then my advice is to find a tour that includes at least some time in the Low Veld i.e. the area around the Kruger National Park, where you will also find the Sabi Sands Reserve, Thorny Bush Reserve and a number of other wildlife reserves. 
It is often advisable to look for tours or venues that include cultural and conservation elements as well as game viewing. In that way the overall experience is more fulfilling.
If you have a choice, it’s definitely worth going for some venues that have tents, simply because you’ll hear and see more. And if you think ‘tent’ means ‘sleeping bag on the ground don’t worry, safari tents are usually what one can only describe as luxurious.
South Africa also has plenty of small, private wildlife reserves where you can see a lot of animals in a short amount of time. These private game reserves normally have comfortable, even luxurious accommodation with lodges that also have swimming pools and provide an All Inclusive daily itinerary. 
We have chosen a variety of reserves and lodges that form part of our safari packages. Each unique in its own right but nevertheless in line with our ethos.
Have a look at our itineraries

Written by Will Fox

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Jewel in the crown - Tangala

Click here to find out more
We added a new lodge (Tangala) to our safari itineraries for 2012, which has proved a great success. Tangala is everything we believe in, great personal service, lovely carbon neutral accommodation and fantastic game viewing on the Thorny Bush Reserve.
My personal favourite part of our stay at Tangala has been seeing the illusive and rare Black Rhino. They are not always easy to find but Hendrick (pictured above on the right) is a very experienced and knowledgeable guide, who has never let us down. Its not unusual to see the big five in one game drive, but with Hendrick there is also time to enjoy being in the bush and getting closer to nature.

We've  received some wonderful reviews from our guests. You can read more on our the Responsible Travel page.
Click here to see our safari guest reviews

If you are looking for an African safari with a difference then we have a range of safari packages available, or we can usually tailor something to meet your needs and importantly your pocket. Check our website or email me and together we'll create memories that will last a lifetime.

Written by
Carol Fox
OTS Manager