Notes on Our Very First Safari

A modified Toyota Hilux: The safari vehicle of choice

A modified Toyota Hilux: The safari vehicle of choice

Our very first safari was organized through our delightful tent hotel called the Wild Olive Tree Camp just outside Kruger National Park. It was built and maintained by the local community as a source of jobs and revenue. It’s a simple affair, but they offer a nice dinner and breakfast and a variety of activities. I mean, who doesn’t want to stay in a fancy tent when going on safari?

We arrived in the afternoon and dropped our bags in our room and within the hour were seated in a converted Toyota Hilux, which turns out is the safari vehicle of choice in South Africa. Actually, this isn’t quite accurate. I ordered a coffee from the kitchen which I guzzled just before getting onto the truck. Safari Pro Tip: Don’t drink a lot of anything before setting out on a bumpy road with no bathroom breaks!

Our guide Patrick had asked us about our expectations before everybody else arrived. We explained that it was our first safari, so we wanted to see everything. All the animals. He laughed and said he liked a challenge. I didn’t expect much, but that’s not the reason I was so blown away by our safari.

If you aren’t familiar with a safari, let me sum it up for you: it’s you driving or being driven through a massive park looking for wild animals. In many ways it’s no more than a rich person’s zoo, where the animals are harder to find because they aren’t behind bars.

Not that we are rich. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But you don’t have to be rich to do a safari. We were staying in the Wild Olive Tree Camp because it’s much much less expensive than any luxury park in Kruger or the area. We are talking about hundreds of dollars per night for these luxury places. Our little glamping tent was about $100 and included dinner and breakfast. It had a pool, but it was too cold to get into. Ironically, the water in our shower was so hot we couldn’t use it. 

So we headed out into the waning sun in search of animals. And what did we see on our first safari? I would have to say we did see everything. The fates were smiling upon us that day and the next.

Some of the Animals We Saw on Our First Safari

We had been bumping around for about an hour and our path seemed entirely up to our guide Patrick. He would stop suddenly and point way in the distance at a grey lump on the horizon and then tell us it was an elephant. After a few minutes of looking, we could actually see it. I’m still not sure how he managed to watch the road AND scan the horizon at the same time. Or he would stop and point to a tree and show us a tiny bird, or to the ground to show us a strange beetle. But when we weren’t just driving around, the radio would crackle and he would listen and then give our coordinates and we would set off with purpose. This is how we found the sleeping lions and later communicated our find of the dead impala being set upon by vultures to the rest of the rangers.

The absolutely best thing any avid cat fan could see was a pride of lions all sleeping and cleaning one another. One by one they woke and stretched and walked off a bit from the main group and relieved themselves. One of them used a tree as a scratching post. We both really wanted to hop out and go lay down with them, but knew it would be the last thing we would ever do. Those nails aren’t just for show, as we would find out on our second safari the next morning.

Cooling off while they rest. We saw this pride of lions in the Manyaleti Game Reserve on our first safari.

We also saw warthogs and hippos and impala. Our guide Patrick was fantastic and hilarious. When we would approach a huge dip in the road, which happened quite often, he would say “bumpy” in this long drawn out song that was something like “BUUUUUMMMMMPPPPPIEEEEEE” and we all knew to grab the safari vehicle in any way or else get tossed to the ground.

The park we were in was shared with several other safari camps and they all communicated by radio so we took turns looking at the animals and it felt really respectful of each other and the animals, which weren’t afraid of us and barely noticed our presence. It didn’t feel predatory for the most part.

We left that to the vultures and the lions.