Making the Most of an African Safari
Tourists come to South Africa for two things – sun and safari. But do they understand that in order to see the Big-5 in their natural habitat it’s bound to rain at some point? So how do lodges help guests understand that rain is necessary (and welcome) and how do they keep them enthusiastic when they find that their 3-day safari is going to be a rainy one? By Des Langkilde.
To find out how they make the most of their guest’s safari experience on rainy days, I interviewed Rob Gradwell, Managing Director of Lalibela Private Game Reserve in South Africa’s malaria-free Eastern Cape province.
“Well firstly, we don’t cancel game drives when it rains. Some of the best game sightings that our guests have experienced have been on drives in the rain. Viewing predator species, in particular, is best while rain is falling. The reason for this is that big cats hunt more successfully in the rain as plains game turn their backs to the angle that the rain is coming from. The rain also dampens sound and decreases smell.
“Secondly, from a guest comfort perspective while on safari in the rain, we have recently replaced Ponchos on our game viewing vehicles with brand new fleece-lined raincoats.
“Our rangers and lodge staff go to great lengths to explain to guests how important rain is in Africa and how essential it is for the flora and fauna. We also brief our guests on the unique photo opportunities that can only be captured in wet conditions. For example, when the earth is wet after a downpour, flying ants burst from the earth in their thousands, while birds take advantage of this as an easy feeding opportunity. Then there’s the chance to photograph a rainbow – well worth enduring a few hours’ on safari in the rain,” says Gradwell.
I then asked Vernon Wait, Lalibela’s Marketing Director what guests do on rainy days in-between game drives.
“Like most game reserves and lodges in South Africa, our lodges have comfortable lounges with a wide selection of coffee-table books, novels by popular authors in various languages and board games for guests to enjoy. Then, of course, there is the pleasure to be derived from sitting beside a roaring open hearth fire, while sipping on a South African sherry or Amarula Cream, or a freshly brewed coffee – all of which is provided complimentary as part of our all-inclusive rates at Lalibela.”
And what about guests who have young children?
“Mark’s Camp has a well-equipped play centre where children are kept busy on dry or rainy days with a number of fun and educational activities, such as rhino T-shirt painting, making African masks, painting, making photo frames, making wind mobiles, and a whole lot more. Also, on a complimentary basis, we provide experienced childminders to take care of children while their parents relax. Special meal times for children under eight years of age, with food more suited to young pallets, also ensures that parents can have more adult time should they choose,” says Wait.
I should mention at this point that children have their own game drive accompanied by a Children’s Programme Coordinator – but that’s another story which you can read about here.
What pre-trip tips would you give to guests who know that they will be arriving over a rainy period?
“Be Prepared! A lot of the stress about rain on safari stems from what water may do to their expensive cameras and electronic equipment. We recommend that guests bring along a waterproof bag in which to put everything the moment it starts to rain heavily. Although a lot of gear these days can handle a light spatter of rain, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“Also, as with when it is not raining, we encourage our guests to eliminate specific expectations and to be open to anything. Accept the wet conditions and look out for unique sightings that won’t be seen in dry conditions. The joy and enthusiasm felt by rangers and lodge staff are difficult to ignore and this often rubs off on guests. It is not uncommon to hear guests talking about their “crazy ranger” who got them to dance in the rain at sundowner time on the game drive,” concludes Wait.
From my own experiences of game drives in the rain, I’ve found them to be exhilarating, as the field guide performs feats of driving on muddy roads, coaxing the Land Cruiser up steep inclines as though he’d been doing it all his life. Of course, he mostly had been. It’s all part of the adventure of a safari in the rain.
For more information visit www.lalibela.net