It’s a warm African afternoon and your guide welcomes you on your first 4×4 safari outing, after reminding you about the rules of a game drive, you set off to find your first wildlife sighting.
Game drives are the best way to truly experience the African bushveld. Armed with a professional guide and tracker in an open game vehicle, the feeling of becoming one with nature has never been so attainable. But knowing the rules of how to behave and how to get the best out of this experience is so important in making your safari drive a safe and successful one.
Imagine this: You’re bumbling along taking in the majestic scenery of the Thornybush reserve, spotting a weaver making its nest or a warthog barrelling out sight when all of a sudden you hear an intake of breath and the words, “Ingwe” ushered from your tracker’s mouth. Hiding in the bush metres from the game vehicle is one of Africa’s most majestic cats, a leopard.
In order to absorb this experience, you’re reminded of the rules of driving into a sighting.
Let’s explore why game drives are so important, what role you play in making them an amazing experience and remind you of some of the “do’s and don’ts” so that the next time you visit us at Thornybush, you’re fully prepared and ready to experience Africa in all her glory.
What is a game drive?
If this is your first time visiting Africa, knowing what to expect when you get here can help you plan and prepare.
A game drive is an excursion through the wildest areas of the reserve to help you observe Africa’s most iconic wildlife up close. It’s generally driven by a certified wildlife ranger and at Thornybush, a tracker who sits at the front of the vehicle, who is able to read the natural signs of the bush – through footprints, disturbances in the fauna, as well as reading animals’ body language – all in an effort to find the big five.
At Thornybush you get two game drives a day, one at the crack of dawn when the animals are most alert and one in the late afternoon, as temperatures begin to cool and the bigger wildlife is out hunting for dinner. These drives normally last 3-4 hours but that is dependent on what you see and how long you stop to observe these world-class animal interactions. Most afternoon game drives return in the dark allowing you to search for any nocturnal animals that could be out and about during your evening drives.
Each 4×4 vehicle is set up to carry nine passengers in tiered rows of three. This allows you to have an uninterrupted view of the bush without having to peer over another guest’s head. Here at Thornybush our vehicles are roofless, so you feel more exposed to the bush and this makes sightings that much easier to view.
Keeping you safe and giving you a memorable experience is our first priority, so when driving in these open-air safari vehicles, it is vital to always listen out for the rules applied by your ranger and tracker – after all, they are there to keep you safe.
What should I bring on a game drive?
Just yourself and your preened bush eyes. However, capturing moments of your safari experience is something you’ll want to do, so feel free to bring along your camera or cell phone (just keep it kept on silent). If you have a pair of binoculars to spot that wildlife in the distance – we highly recommend you bring those along!. And if you are into birds, or just starting out as a Twitcher bring along a bird book; most often our ranger will have theirs on hand to pass around in case you don’t have one yet.
Particularly with open roof game vehicles, there isn’t much to protect you from the African sun. Lather up on sunscreen and pop it into the pocket of your game drive seat.
Bottled water is served on the departure of every drive, which is important to drink during hot summer days to keep yourself hydrated.
What should I wear?
Feeling comfortable on long drives, especially in summer is key to maximising the enjoyment of the bush.
Loose-fitted, light-coloured clothing is best. Feel free to layer on a linen shirt and light jerseys for early morning departures that are able to be peeled off as the sun rises. Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin from the morning rays.
In winter the morning can be very fresh, so closed shoes, a beanie, and a heavier jacket is advised to keep you warm and snug. Although there are blankets on every vehicle, layering up on morning drives is advised. Even though the winter morning can feel bitterly cold, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll warm up and want to peel off your layers.
The rules of a game drive
By now we’re sure you’ve figured out that there are a lot of “dos and don’ts when it comes to your game drive, listed below are the most important points to remember to make this an experience to remember.
- Always stay seated unless given permission to do otherwise.
- Keep your voice down. That means inside voices at all times.
- Keep your cell phone on silent at all times. Even better to switch it to aeroplane mode during a drive.
- Don’t attempt to distract or reach out to any wild animal.
- Unless given permission, don’t eat or drink while moving.
- Take as many pictures as your heart desires but respect endangered animals, especially if you’re planning to load them onto social media.
- Ask lots of questions, but get your rangers attention first before shouting it out.
- Always obey your rangers commands, they are professionals and know best.
- If you feel uncomfortable, let your ranger know. However, your ranger will always ask you on your first drive if any encounters make you nervous and will keep that in mind when driving into sightings.
- Dress appropriately, try to keep bright flashy colours for a different holiday.
- Respect all sightings, even for wildlife you’re not interested in. You’re part of a group that will always have interests that differ from yours.
- During night drives keep flash photography to a minimum. Your ranger will help you set up a shot using his spotlight.
And the most important rule of all?
Enjoy your private safari game drive at Thornybush!