A Typical Day on an African Safari

Oliver Greenfield

02 Jul 2015

The wake-up call

My deep sleep is interrupted by a gentle knock on the door and the call of “Morning, wake-up call”. In a state of confusion I scrabble around trying to find the time, it’s 5.30.am “what’s going on?!”. Then it dawns on me, it’s time for the morning safari and all thoughts of sleep in the nice warm bed are forgotten as I hastily jump out of bed, dress and gather my camera and binoculars.

I open the door and the crisp African winter air hits me full on (yes, it does get cold in Africa so bring plenty of layers during winter). I make my way to the main lodge building where my guide Jeffery is there to greet me with a steaming mug of coffee and some tasty homemade rusks. The rest of the group gather and our guide talks us through his plan for the morning, we are off in search of lions! Apparently they were heard roaring during the night not too far from camp, but due to the comfy bed and a day of travel before I was in an almost comatose state for the whole night.

Everyone is eager to set off and so we head to the waiting vehicle and are met by our ever smiling and eagle-eyed tracker Joel, who, once we have all clambered on the vehicle, makes sure we are all wrapped up under the thick blankets he has provided. 

As we pull away - with the sun yet to makes its appearance on the horizon - the full force of the chill is felt by everyone and we all hunker down, yet still with the biggest smiles on our faces, eagerly scanning the bush, heads turning side to side as though we were watching a Wimbledon final. 

Safari Highlights: 

  • Experiencing the art of tracking
  • A close encounter with lions feeding
  • Learning bush folklore
  • Elephants at play

Tracking Lions

Jeffery and Joel are in their element and this is where the magic happens, with a lift of the hand from Joel the vehicle slows and he is off the jeep in an instant studying the road ahead - he says it’s his morning newspaper telling him exactly what happened during the night. He invites us to get down and shows us the tracks he has been studying, several sets of huge paw prints. “We are on the trail of the noisy neighbours” he states. After a brief conversation in Shangaan between tracker and guide we set off in pursuit once again, every so often briefly stopping to check the direction of the tracks. We were soon informed that it appeared the lions had been hunting and the tracks are fresh. We all crossed our fingers in the hope we might get to see them feeding! But the lions don’t like to make it easy and they seemed to have been playing tricks, with lots of doubling back and changes of direction. After circling round one particular area, and having seen tracks going in but none coming out, our guide was determined we were close on their heels and they were not too far into the bush. However, looking at this dense wall of foliage our hopes of finding our quarry fell. Undeterred, Joel jumped off the front of the vehicle and to all of our amazement started walking off into the bush. With some reassurance from Jeffery that Joel knew exactly what he was doing our heart rates began to settle a little.  

A short while later and to much relief, Joel re-emerged from the bush with the widest of smiles on his face - he had found them! We now needed to get through the aforementioned wall of foliage. Jeffery explained that we would be going off road so we should keep an eye out for overhanging branches. He also explained that he would be looking for a route through which would limit the damage to the vegetation. Excitement levels were now palpable and after some skilled driving (and ducking and diving from us) we emerged out into a small clearing and there in front of us was a whole pride of lions busy vying for their share of the night’s bounty, which in this case was a fully grown male giraffe. Lost for words we all sat there in stunned silence each with an ear-to-ear grin on our faces, including Jeffery and Joel. Everyone’s cameras were working hard to capture the impressive scene in front of us, and after giving us some time to take it all in Jeffery began explaining the lives of these big cats. 

After what seemed like mere minutes - in actual fact, it was almost an hour - the lions having gorged themselves to maximum capacity, decided it was time to find a shady spot to start digesting their gourmet meal. All the excitement and anticipation had also made us quite hungry and Jeffery suggested it was time for our morning coffee break. We all jumped at the idea! We stopped beside a river underneath a stunning canopy of sycamore fig trees and within moments there was a table, complete with white tablecloth, setup with an array of tea, coffee and hot chocolate to choose from and some lovely homemade muffins to satisfy our grumbling stomachs. We enjoyed our hot drinks and basked in the warming sun, finally pushing the last chill from our bones. 

On our way back to the lodge we were greeted with plentiful sights of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and the odd warthog dashing through the undergrowth with their tail held high like a radio antenna. As we pulled up to the lodge we were greeted with warm refreshing facecloths and our own opportunity to gorge ourselves on a scrumptious breakfast.

Time To Relax

The rest of the morning was then our own to enjoy, whether to relax by the pool with a good book or just have a siesta and catch up on some sleep. Alternatively, if you were after a bit of pampering then there was a range of spa treatments on offer too. 

As 3pm approached the levels of anticipation once again started to rise, we all gathered, this time for high tea. You will definitely not go hungry while on safari! Again, Jeffery was there to talk us through the plan for the afternoon, all of us being a bit unsure as to how he might be able to top this morning’s adventure. 

The plan to start with was to concentrate on some of the smaller things of the bush. We stopped to marvel at the beautiful colours of the lilac breasted roller and the impressive African fish eagle as it perched by a dam on the lookout for its next meal. We also learnt about some of the trees and what medicinal benefits they may have and also the traditional beliefs relating to them, with Jeffery captivating us with stories of his childhood in the bush. 

Playtime for Elephants

As we drove along enjoying all the sights and sounds, Joel told us that a herd of elephants had recently been in the area, and even to our untrained eyes it was easy to see that this had most definitely been the case with lots of broken branches scattering the road interspersed with rather large piles of dung. Jeffrey had the idea that it was quite likely the elephants were heading towards a nearby dam for a drink and perhaps a swim to cool off, did we want to go and check it out? Of course, the answer was a resounding yes!

We arrived at the dam where there was a large group of hippo lazing in the water and quite an impressively sized crocodile basking on the banks but not an elephant in sight. Never mind we were still in awe of the sights in front of us. While we were enjoying watching the hippos - some sleeping and some having a play fight in the water - Jeffery asked us all to quieten down and listen. As we all fell silent we could hear the bushes rustling and some branches breaking. It seemed we had beaten the elephants to the dam. Sure enough a few minutes later out of the bushes emerged a great grey head followed by the rest of this enormous animal. Suddenly the dam seemed to be engulfed by elephants as they quenched their thirst.

Some of the younger and livelier of the herd decided it was playtime and went headlong straight into the water and lots of splashing and spraying of water followed much to the displeasure of the resident hippo who after much snorting conceded to the bigger elephants and fled to the far side of the dam. One of the elephants also decided it was time for the crocodile to move out of the way and after a bit of head shaking and trumpeting the crocodile slid into the water and disappeared from view. The matriarch decided playtime was over and retreated back into the bushes followed by the rest of the herd and, as quickly as they had arrived, they had gone again. It is amazing how the biggest of land mammals can so easily do a vanishing act.

Spectacular African Sunset

The sun was starting its descent towards the horizon, meaning one thing it was time for sundowners. Unsurprisingly, Jeffery selected a stunning spot, this time on a rocky outcrop with a panoramic view of the distant mountains. Once again a table was quickly set up this time with a bar laid out and a selection of snacks. Gin and tonics were the order of the day!

As we set off making our way back to the lodge it was back under the blankets as the night chill crept in. Joel used a spotlight to try and pick up the eye shine of any nocturnal animals and we were informed it was a great opportunity to see some of the more elusive animals such as genets, porcupines, owls and possibly even the rare pangolin. We were treated to a lovely sighting of an African civet, some bushbabies as they jumped through the trees and a tiny chameleon in a tree that I still don’t know how Joel spotted while in a moving vehicle!

On return the lodge we were treated to a welcome drink and given some time to freshen up before dinner. Dinner was a sumptuous affair with us all dining together and Jeffery joining us to relive the unforgettable events of the day. Ok, so this might not be your typical day on safari but that is the beauty of it all. You just don’t know what will happen when you wake up!

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