What is a game drive and why go with a guide?
Let's look at the following...
Self drive on the way to Kruger Park.
Yes, sure you are allowed to drive with your own vehicle or rental vehicle in Kruger National Park and you are welcome to do so! But just consider the following couple of things if you are a first time visitor or even just new to a different area in the park. Driving the wrong side of the road. Driving a stick or manual vehicle for the first time in a long time. Not familiar with the traffic situations and some place bad road surfaces (potholes) roads. Also timing on how it takes to get from A to B and please don't just rely on the Internet to get you there as some places you don't have signal etc.
Wrong side of the road!
You get off the plane in Johannesburg you either board another one and fly to Nelspruit or Skukuza or you drive from JHB airport to Kruger Park. Getting use to driving on the other side of the road might be your first challenge. You will get use to it after a couple of hours but initially it might be a shock to your system in Johannesburg traffic.
So if you take a shuttle service that is most probably the safest option to take and also very affordable. You can hop on a shuttle and reach Skukuza within a couple of hours so keep that in mind. You can enjoy the view and get some time to nap before your adventure begins in the bush.
Now you arrive in the bush.
You can hire a vehicle from Skukuza airport and you can do the self drive. I can promise you the first elephant you see will be amazing and various other animals as well. So firstly you will need to buy a map book to search of animals and bird names as you go along. So I my view yes it is relaxing etc .but you loose valuable time search to get info on these critters all around you. So just ask your self what will you do when this beautiful elephant bull suddenly charge you and you can't find reverse in the stick geared vehicle that you hired... It might be an issue.
Or you get picked up by your friendly tour guide in an open vehicle, which is much higher than a normal vehicle to begin with, he/she would have most probable not go so close to the animals and could see the signs that the animals was in must from a distance and left it in peace.
Whispers in the shop...
Yes you might got lucky on your own with your trusted rental car, here and there with a couple of mammals and even predators but when you walk into the shop or at the restaurant you hear voices... Have you seen the Leopard in the tree? Did you see the Lions walking over the road just in front of the camp? Did you hear about the elephant that just had a calf this morning close by the river? You might have missed all these sightings because you were somewhere els and by not knowing the area you might have been in the completely wrong spot for the time of day.
Animals have legs they walk!
Now there is two ways to get to where the action is, firstly that is to stay for a week in the same camp and patrol every road every day constantly and you hope to driving into a sighting or you can just get a guide. If your guide is worth his salt he/she will have a couple of years experience in the bush and will know the area and animals movements well. How does this help you, as animals have legs and they walk? Yes but being in the bush daily guides pick up a lot more than just good area's to drive but they pick up when for instance a Leopard female does have a cub and of day she might likely appear to feed the cub and where the lions have been for the last week.
Your guide will explore the most common area's certain animals have been seen in lately and obviously he/she does have contact with other guides and groups as far as sightings are concerned. So the moment something happens you will know about it and you can make a decision if you want to keep searching for the Leopard or go for the Lions close by so your guide can give you options and take in consideration your views and needs.
As you can see the above photo was taken of a lioness walking in the middle of the day in blazing sun.
This does not really make sense as normally Lions sleep in the day and move at night right?
Exactly why you need a guide because this sighing was made possiable because the lions had a kill just out of sight and by looking a vultures going down to the ground it meant that they where most likely moving in to a carcass.
That in return means the predator is leaving the carcass, either for a drink of water or it had it's full and looking for a shady spot to relax and sleep off the meal.
Luckily for us is was the water calling and the whole pride followed this female and walked right passed us on the way to the river for a refreshing drink.
Drive for miles and not seeing anything?
As the size of Kruger Park is as large as a small country you can drive around all day from gates opening to gate closing times and yes is some cases see nothing.
There is a couple of factors you have to consider planning a route for the day. Where will you get breakfast, lunch or toilet stops? On a map a road looks very easy and the time to get there driving at 50km per hour can be easily calculated. But in fact true game drive speed with out stops can go as low as 20km per hour plus time spend at a sightings.
So eventually when the water is finish in the vehicle and your last snacks is gone then you need to make a comfort stop and you are still an hour away from the next camp so you put the needle on 50 km/p and go.
This can cost you dearly as you don't spot as well at these speeds as at half the speed. And also hitting an animals that just appears from the long grass in the middle of no where wont be good for your rental car. If you take a road where all waterholes have dried up already it might end up in a very boring road.
So you end up driving half day in one direction and back again the same day. Tired and frustrated you get back to camp just to hear of the Lions that killed a Buffalo just outside the camp.
So a word of advice pick you camps well and do small game drives around the area and search well. This is much more relaxing than to put Kilometres on the clock and trying to drive into sightings.
Normally a guided tour when not moving camp will be broken down into these drives.
Early morning game drive until breakfast and then continue until lunch. After lunch you can get back to your unit and relax until it is time for the afternoon drive until the gates close. This means that in the hottest part of the day you, when nothing really happens, and animal movements are slowed down to save energy you are also in a state of relaxing.
Last thoughts on self drive and guided tours
Remember you are on holiday take the stress out of the logistics and enjoy the African bush. Let a provisional do all the bookings and running around for you. It's make life simple and organised we offer private tailor made safaris in Kruger National Park to do just that enjoy the bush.
I would say that you can consider the following maybe take a 6 day trip to Kruger Park and the first 3 let a guide take you around and show you the ropes, after that you can explore on your own perhaps. that is the best of both worlds.
So give us a try it might not be so expensive as you think and go back with a much better experience than you every dreamt off.
Remember we are provisional holiday makers.
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