A game drive is the highlight of each safari, providing an opportunity to appreciate Africa’s natural splendour and observe species in their natural habitat. Read on for our complete guide to safari game drives, which includes advice on how to get the most out of your game drive as well as suggestions on what to bring with you.
What Is A Safari Game Drive?
The word “game drive” should be self-explanatory: The term “game” refers to wild creatures, whereas “drive” alludes to a vehicle drive! A game drive, in its most basic form, is a journey in a vehicle to view animals in their natural habitat.
In national parks and game reserves that allow self-drive, a safari game drive can be done in your own car, or it can be a guided drive in a specialist game drive vehicle led by a professional ranger/guide who will describe the species and surroundings. This article focuses on wildlife drives led by rangers in specialised safari vehicles by safari companies, resorts, and national parks. Self-drive safaris let you go on your own game drives whenever and however you like, although much of the information below applies equally well to self-drive safaris as it does to professional ranger-led game drives.
What To Expect
Every game drive is unique, which keeps things interesting, although the format of a game drive is likely to remain the same no matter where you go:
- Early mornings, late afternoons, or late at night are normally the coldest periods of the day, when most animals are most active.
- Game drives usually 3 to 4 hours and include a break, depending on the duration and distance.
- With luck, you’ll encounter a variety of wildlife species, with opportunities to observe and photograph each one.
- You should have plenty of opportunities to ask the ranger questions about the creatures you observe, as well as a wealth of other information about the ecosystem, flora, birds, animal tracking, and, if you’re lucky, an incredible animal tale or two.
- A stop where you may get out of the car and have a drink and a snack — generally somewhere with a beautiful view of wildlife and/or the bush. On morning drives, you’ll most likely have a hot beverage, while on afternoon drives, the break will be timed to allow you to enjoy the sunset with a delicious sundowner. Unbeatable!
Rangers are frequently in radio communication to exchange sightings with rangers in other cars who are also out in the same area. Once a sighting is reported, there is an etiquette that no more than two or three vehicles approach a sighting at a time to prevent disturbing the wildlife and causing a scrum. On a game drive in a private game reserve, you may never see another vehicle, but in congested national parks like the Serengeti, a dozen or more cars may be fighting for the best place at a sighting.
Types Of Vehicles
For wildlife drives, there are two primary types of specialist safari vehicles. Which type you’ll have is mostly determined by the country you’re in. In general terms:
- Game drives in East Africa are usually done in a 4WD Land Cruiser with a roof that can be raised so you can stand and have a better view of the animal. This raises you to a good vantage point for wildlife viewing and provides some stability for photography from the jeep’s roof.
- Safari vehicles in Southern Africa are typically open-sided 4WD vehicles with no sides and no roof. Even when moving, this setup provides excellent 360-degree game viewing.
How To Get The Most From Your Game Drive
- Be realistic: Your game drive will commerce in a game reserve or national park, not a safari park. This refers to wild creatures that are free to roam in their native habitat… As a result, no matter how much you’ve spent for your safari, sightings are never guaranteed! It’s best to keep your expectations low and be surprised when you see a lion kill or an African rock python attacking an impala. If the trip is calm and there isn’t much wildlife to see, take advantage of the time by interacting with the driver or guide and asking them to share their wildlife expertise with you.
- Practice patience: While there are a variety of strategies to increase your chances of sighting specific species, wildlife spotting is frequently just a waiting game. Patience is essential on a game drive, whether you’re resting by a waterhole or carefully trudging through the forest with your eyes peeled. Similarly, if you’re on a game drive with other people, you could discover that the ranger stays longer than you’d like at certain sightings but not long enough at others. The ranger strives to keep everyone in the truck pleased for the duration of the journey, which necessitates certain concessions. Finally, try to go with the flow and appreciate the gaming drive for what it is.
- Improve your wildlife knowledge: During a game drive, you’ll be accompanied by one or two rangers who are knowledgeable with the area’s geography and fauna. They’ll almost undoubtedly have a lot of anecdotes to tell, as well as a lot of knowledge on the creatures. The more you talk to them and ask them questions, the more you’ll learn – which may help you notice the animals yourself, get a better photo, or just make you appear even more knowledgeable when you return home!
- Think carefully about seating: Open vehicle game drives typically accommodate four to ten people in a vehicle with three rows of seats behind the driver, each somewhat higher than the last. You have the benefit of being raised for better wildlife observations while also being within easy talking (and listening!) distance of the guide if you sit in the middle row of chairs. Of course, personal choice dictates where you sit, but the middle of the car provides the best of all worlds… at least for your first game drive. If you have the opportunity to go for a few game drives, mix it up and see which one you like for the next time.
- Share camera duty: If you’re going on a game drive and want to get some fantastic photographs, having many cameras will assist. A camera with a decent zoom lens and a camera with a wide lens can be taken by one person and a camera with a wide lens by another (or even just a smartphone). Having two people ready to shoot a photo with various settings means you’ll receive more photos and have a wider range to choose from.
— Bronwyn Reynolds, Fizzin