5 unique South African safari experiences

With a plethora of enticing safari and game lodge options available in South Africa, why not opt for a unique experience for your next trip. Here are five of my favorites to whet your safari appetite:

Explore wildlife waterways at Marataba Luxury Lodge

Although sitting on a boat watching wildlife is an experience usually associated with Botswana’s Okavango Delta, thanks to Marataba Luxury Lodges, this experience is also possible in South Africa itself. Marataba operates two high-end lodges in a private concession in Marakele National Park, a three-hour drive from Johannesburg.

In addition to the impressive sandstone mountains and game-filled plains, water safaris are possible along the perennial Marabas River. Arriving at the jetty you’re welcomed on-board Miss Mara, ready to offer you plentiful game, bird, and landscape sightings. Passing by elephants playing in the shallow water, or a pod of hippo rushing into the river are indeed sights to behold. Stay in either the main Safari Lodge’s tented units or in the smaller and more remote Mountain Lodge.

Sleep under the stars at Samara

If it’s an up-close and personal experience you’re after, why not consider spending a night under the stars. Several South African lodges offer sleep out options and one of the most exciting of these is Samara Private Game Reserve’s Star Bed. Set alongside a riverbed, guests are driven to the secluded spot where their night under the African sky awaits. The raised platform has a dining space and arriving at a sunset feast, a bottle of bubbly on ice, and a comfy bed under the stars is indeed a bucket-list African experience.

The star bed is situated in free-roaming Big 5 territory and so game viewing can be done from the safety of the platform. For extra security, there is electric fencing around the platform and guests are given a two-way radio to contact the lodge for any reason. I’ll never forget falling asleep to the sounds of the African bush with a thousand stars overhead to keep me company.

Sleep on a train at Kruger Shalati

In the heart of the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most iconic park, a previously disused bridge has now had a lease of new life, offering guests the opportunity for a Kruger first: to sleep onboard a luxury train suspended high above the Sabie River below. Having only opened in December 2020, Kruger Shalati is already garnering glowering reports from first visitors.

The glass-walled carriage-rooms offer startling views along the length of the Sabie River. The train is permanently stationed on the bridge, providing a classy homebase for guests to enjoy in-between game drives. There are 31 rooms in total, and then a viewing deck with a pool from which to pass away the day, and continue the game viewing from the elevated position.

Exclusive use safari at Morukuru Family Madikwe

Perhaps the ultimate South African safari experience is one where you get to call the shots. With the privilege of an exclusive use rental comes the chance to do what you want to do, and when you want to, without having to worry about any other guests. Morukuru Family in Madikwe offers exactly that. Around four hours from Johannesburg, a few kilometers short of the Botswana border, you’ll find Madikwe Game Reserve.

Decide that you want chocolate pancakes for breakfast? Simply ask. Want a sleep-in and shorter game drive or walking safari before breakfast? Easily done. Morukuru offers lodge-style accommodation in three exclusive use homes, sleeping 4, 6, and 10 people respectively. My pick is the 4-sleeper Owner’s House, with its prime riverside location, thatched sala – a dining area suspended high above the river – and sunken firepit.

Harvest fynbos honey at Grootbos

Situated in the mythically beautiful Overberg region, two-hours from Cape Town Grootbos Private Nature Reserves offers guests the opportunity for some unique hands-on experiences. This unique lodge celebrates the fynbos – an essentical component of the Cape’s flowering kingdoms, and also the most diverse in the world. In addition to the fynbos safaris, one of Grootbos’s experiences is the chance to join the resident beekeeper to harvest, tap, and bottle your own honey.

There are several hives on the property; significantly the Erica regularis is one of the fynbos species endemic to the area, flowering prolifically in the winter months. The plant is therefore targeted by bees, resulting in a single-origin honey – from one of the rarest plants in the world. Donned in a bee-keeping suit with scores of bees flying about me, I was initially a little daunted, but once acclimatized it was fascinating having insight into their world from up close.

Comments (6)

  1. Steve says:

    I like the idea of a safari where you call the shots. Some of the safaris I’ve been on have been far too regimented. “Rise at 5.30am … one cup of coffee at 5.50 am … in safari bus for 6.00 am precisely.” For God’s sake it’s meant to be a holiday.

    • Jared Ruttenberg says:

      Exactly Steve – which is why I took to the experience like a duck to water. I hope that you too get to experience it!

  2. Freya Taylor says:

    I’ve heard a couple of people raving about sleeping out under an African sky. It’s made me think that it should really be on my bucket list of experiences to do.

  3. Cindy says:

    I sort of like the idea of collecting honey, it would be a really cool thing to do. I’ve got a friend who is a real bee guru, he’s got hives and all the gear and even he’s been stung.

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