Not every walking safari is created equal. From the introductory bush bumbles offered at luxury high-end lodges in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve, to multi-day camping based walking trails through the heart of the Kruger National Park or the desert scorching safaris of the Kgalagadi, learning about the natural habitat from the ‡Khomani San inhabitants, each of South Africa’s walking safaris offer a unique experience.
However embarking on your first ever walking safari can be daunting, to say the least. So here are 5 things you can expect on your first bush walk:
1. Don’t expect to see the big five
A walking safari gives you a different perspective of the African bush. This is not about rushing from sighting to sighting in search of lions and leopards, it’s about getting in touch with nature in its rawest, truest form. On the various walking safaris I have had the pleasure of participating in I have learnt how termites make mysterious fairy circles in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, have discovered how to make a toothbrush from a bush and crushed leaves to make a natural soap in the Garden Route, have explored porcupine homes and seen a rare species of butterfly mating with a butterfly-obsessed guide in the Sabi Sand and touched the super smooth rounded stump of a log used by a rhino every day to sharpen its horn in the Kruger. On a walking safari, you get to see the little things, learn about the daily life of the animals of the bushveld and experience a side of the wilderness that is often overlooked from the comfort of a game drive.
2. Expect to keep your mouth shut
Your walking safari will no doubt start with a safety briefing from your guides who will also introduce you to the rules of the bush. These include walking in single file, how to react when you see a large animal, wearing neutral khaki coloured clothing to blend in and the all important rule – to keep quiet. Talking should be kept to a minimum and as a result, your other sightings are heightened, allowing you to keep a keen eye, and ear, out for the occupants of this wild home. The guide will also introduce you to natural sounding calls, like whistles, to make should you see something that he/she might have missed – like that sneaky bull elephant in musth that seemed to somehow appear out of nowhere as if by magic!
3. Expect to dress appropriately
As mentioned, your guide will probably tell you to dress in neutral coloured clothing for your walking safari. Bright colours and white should be avoided unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb in the green and brown environment of the African bushveld. But dressing appropriately for your walking safari goes beyond just choosing the right colour. Be sure to choose the right shoes for your environment, or risk getting a thorn in your foot or even melting the soles like I did on the hot sand of Namibia! Take layers so that you can peel off as the day warms up on a morning walking safari or dress up as evening brings in a cool chill not often expected for first-time visitors to Africa. Long socks are also a necessity for keeping ticks and scratches from the grass and bushes at bay and be sure to slather yourself in sunscreen and bug spray before you set off.
4. Expect to learn a lot
On a walking safari, you can expect to learn a lot of the environment you are in, including interesting information about the birds, insects, trees and bushes that can be found all around. But you can also expect to learn a lot about yourself. You may be surprised to discover how you react in a scary situation or you could find out like I did, that you don’t need to fill every quiet space with talking but, instead, by really listening and observing the environment around you, you will discover the unexpected. Which leads me to my next point.
5. Expect the unexpected
On a walking safari with the ‘Safari Guide of the Year’ in the iconic Kruger National Park I was charged by an elephant, deep in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve I came across wild dogs in a squabble over a kill with a rowdy clan of hyenas, I have had my heart drop out my chest at the sight of a lonely buffalo dagga boy blocking the path on one early morning walking safari and in the Sabi Sands I was the first to spot a journey of giraffe as they lopped long-legged over a nearby hill. Each experience, no matter how big or small, was revealed unexpectedly by a turn of a corner in the African bush, the animals allowing me a small glimpse into their lives and each sighting was no less magnificent than the next. Such is the beauty of exploring the bush on foot.
Want to step out of your comfort zone and leap into your first walking safari experience? We recommend using a tour operator like Africa Odyssey who can help you to find the perfect experience for your needs.