South Africa safari: Beyond the big five

Safari experiences that go even more wild than you might expect

Think of an African safari and it’s hard not to conjure images of elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalo – otherwise known as the ‘big five’. As spectacular as seeing these animals up close might be, some South African reserves look beyond the big five to provide a safari experience unlike any other.

A diverse safari

A zebra in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

At Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve — a collection of four National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World set within Greater Kruger National Park — the safari experience is about more than ticking the big five off your bucket list (Though you will most likely see them, too)

The Sabi Sand Reserve is home to more than 200 indigenous animals. The local Shangaan trackers and highly skilled rangers of the family-owned, eco-friendly Sabi Sabi set out to show off the full scope of the animal kingdom. In just one day on safari, guests can also see more than 350 different species of bird. Catch a glimpse of the lilac-breasted Roller and it’s hard not to gasp. After a mere few hours in the bush, you’ll even start to recognise birdcalls, such as the raucous cackle of the grey go-away bird (aka Grey Lourie).

One of the unexpected joys of such a diverse safari is gaining an understanding of the interconnectedness of the species, from the largest of mammals to the smallest insects. Sabi Sabi holds walking safaris to showcase these links. A nod to slow travel, these quiet walks through the African bushveld provide a chance to see the little five (elephant shrew; buffalo weaver; leopard tortoise; antlion and rhino beetle), as well as to explore the fascinating flora, including the the potato bush, which at nightfall gives off the potent whiff of hot mashed potatoes.

A marine safari

The Grootbos marine safari

For another South African safari experience that swerves the norm, head to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Playing host to the marine big five (southern right whale, great white shark, bottlenose dolphins, Cape fur seals and African penguins), Grootbos offers marine safaris in conjunction with Dyer Island Conservation Trust. You can also spy whales on one of the scenic, whale-watching aerial tours, which depart from Grootbos’s own airstrip in a private plane.

As much of this marine life is on the doorstep, Grootbos also offers land-based whale watching off the limestone cliffs of De Kelders bay. There are also coastal safaris, where you’ll literally step into the Stone Age by exploring Klipgat Cave (a World Heritage Site) and combing the beach for coastal creatures such as anemones and limpets, and edible plants (sea pumpkin, sapphire, sea lettuce and more).

A botanical safari

A Grootbos flower safari

As Grootbos is set within a rich and biodiverse area roughly the size of Portugal, the reserve leads progressive botanical safaris during which guests can get up close to Grootbos’s 800 plant species (100 of which are endangered and six of which were first discovered here).

Also within Grootbos’s 2,500 hectares of wilderness are several milkwood forests. A few times a month, these 1,000-year-old forests act as the setting for a romantic African ‘boma’ dinner, where guests feast on grilled meats in these groves of ancient trees, strung with kerosene camping lanterns and twinkling fairy lights.

The details

A view from a terrace in Sabi Sabi’s Selati Camp

Sabi Sabi starts at £812 per person per night, which includes open safari vehicle safaris, walking safaris, breakfast, lunch, boma dinner, a house selection of beverages, WiFi and transfers from the Sabi Sabi Airstrip.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve starts at £289 per person per night based on two sharing. This includes accommodation in a one-bedroom luxury suite at Garden Lodge, full board dining and a selection of activities.

South African Airways offers daily overnight flights from London to Johannesburg starting from £543 return.


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