Answering the Call of the Wild: The Top African Safaris
Since its emergence as a democratic state, South Africa has become a popular destination for safari adventuring. Its expansive wildlands harbor large and vast herds of game and its parks have not suffered the heavy tourism that has plagued parts of Kenya and Tanzania.
South Africa is a land mass of remarkable diversity. The country boasts a range of distinct ecosystems that span subtropical forests to arid desert to temperate grasslands, wehre the large herds roam.
The lands preserved within South Africa's 17 national parks are also widely varied. In the northeast sector lies Kruger National Park. One of the continent's largest and most diverse wildlife preserves, Kruger boasts more mammal species than any other park in Africa. It is also home to countless birds, reptiles, and amphibeans. Established in 1926, Kruger is ranked internationally as a model of wildlife management.
You'll find plenty to do at this park. Kruger has an excellent trail network. You can hike on your own, or join a ranger-guided bush walk. If a self-drive excursion appeals, this is a good place to do it. maps are available at park entrances and the roads are well posted. Among the wildlife you can expect to see here are Cape buffalo, elephants, leopards, giraffes, lions, rhino, impala, and antelope.
Twenty-one camps are located within the park. Accomodations range from camping to luxuery-style, air-conditioned guest lodges, complete with restaurants, shops, and swimming pools.
Walking safaris and nighttime game drives are popular in many private reserves adjacent to Kruger, including Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala, and Londolozi. The wildlife viewing on these private tracts is as good as you'll find at Kruger, so be sure to include them in your safari itinerary.
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, an untamed wilderness region in the north, is another popular safari destination. Here you'll find rugged, semidesert dominated by vast, red-sand dunes, grassy plains, and a scattering of acacia trees.
The park shares an unfenced boundary with an equally rugged sanctuary in Botswana, which facilitates seasonal game migration. Resident wildlife includes the Kalahari lion, blue wildebeest, eland, springbok, red hartebeest, leopards, and cheetah.
Roads in Kalahari park run along dry riverbeds and across relatively open terrain, present excellent opportunities for wildlife observation and photography.
The best time to visit this region are between March and May, when temperatures are moderate, or in September and October. During this time, you'll see the largest herd of animals.
Accommodations at three main camps consist of rustic cabins and campgrounds with bathroom facilities and camp stores. Cars are available for rent but should be reserved well in advance.
To the east near the Indian Ocean, Phinda Resource Reserve (Conservation Corporation Reservations Office, Sunninghill Park, 011.27.11.803.8421) is one of South Africa's biggest success stories. Owned and operated by the Conservation Corp., Phinda Resources Reserve exemplifies what can be accomplished with enlightened wildlife-management policies. The reserve boasts high-quality lodges and unique scenery.
When it comes to book a trip to South Africa, on eo fthe finest tour agencies is David Anderson Safari (30 W. Mission, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. 800.927.4647. www.davideanderson.com). An experienced safari leader in East and southern Africa, director David Anderson knows all the game parks and he visits South Africa regularly to review safari camps.
A two-week customized safari that includes Kruger National Park, private game reserves, and Capt Town, ranges from $4,000 to $6,250 per person, excluding airfare.
A smaller, but also excellent agency is Fish Eagle Safaris (11191 Westheimer, No. 349, Houston, TX 77042. 800.513.5222. www.fisheaglesafaris.com). Run by South African Bert du Plessis, Fish Eagle offers a variety of trips. The daily cost starts at about $200 per person.
Multi-destination combo safaris are also a specialty of African Travel (1100 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. 800.421.8907. www.africantravelinc.com/MainIndex/MainIndex.html). This company represents many of South Africa's top private parks, plus Gametrackers luxury safari camps in Botswana.
To make reservations at one of South Africa's parks, contact South African National Parks (01127.12.343.19914. www.parks-sa.co.za). General tourist information regarding travel in South Africa is available at www.southafrica.net.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication