An African safari conjures up images of elephants crossing scorched landscapes, dazzles of zebra cutting across sunlit savannah plains and slender-limbed lions prowling through the bushveld. Thankfully, South Africa’s various parks and reserves live up to even the most fantastical of these safari expectations. To get the most out of a safari during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, you should familiarise yourself with South Africa’s various wilderness areas.
The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is undoubtedly one of Africa’s biggest and most spectacular wildlife destinations. Roughly the size of Wales, this massive park is as rich and diverse in habitats as it is in wildlife. Nowhere else in Africa can you so easily explore a pure, unaffected wilderness. An excellent network of tarred and dirt roads run throughout the Kruger and many visitors chose to self-drive and stay in one of the many affordable rest-camps scattered throughout the park. For something truly memorable, you could splash out and book yourself into one of the private lodges in, or adjacent to, the Kruger. Ranging from standard to luxurious, these lodges offer unparalleled bush experiences, including private game drives and walking safaris, coupled with world-class accommodation.
Perched in the crater of an extinct, ancient volcano in South Africa’s North West Province is the Pilanesberg. Scenic photos of the Pilanesberg are often easily mistaken for images of East Africa; the comparison is understandable given the park’s varied habitats, prolific wildlife and sprawling landscapes. A 200km road network zigzags through the park and you can chose to self-drive or embark on guided game drives. Some visitors choose to stay in neighbouring Sun City, an entertainment mega-complex with everything from 24-hour casinos to artificial beaches, and simply visit the park on day trips. To experience an authentic safari holiday you may prefer to stay in one of several luxury safari lodges located inside the park. If you find yourself in the Pilanesberg, do your best to book a balloon safari, which will see have you floating through the early morning, over the savannah plains and rocky outcrops as you track wildlife from up high.
Pushing up against the Botswana border and only three hours' drive from both Johannesburg and Pretoria, Madikwe is perhaps South Africa’s most underrated wildlife area. Along with boasting 'The Big Five' (lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, buffalo) and a high concentration of predators, Madikwe is also renowned for sightings of two other elusive and seldom spotted animals: cheetah and wild dog. Like the Pilanesberg, Madikwe is a malaria-free area, making it an attractive option for families. Madikwe is, however, not open to self-drivers or day visitors and only lodge guests may enter the reserve.
The Eastern Cape
Dotted across South Africa’s East Coast, the parks and reserves of the Eastern Cape are much smaller than the likes of the Kruger or Madikwe. Nonetheless, many of them stand proudly as Big Five destinations and safaris in these smaller reserves are often overwhelming experiences. The fact that the region is completely malaria-free and so close to a number of coastal attractions, such as Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route, make the reserves of the Eastern Cape an excellent and convenient safari choice for anyone enjoying FIFA World Cup matches in this area. The best of the Eastern Cape parks and reserves are Addo Elephant National Park, Kwandwe and Shamwari. Lalibela and Amakhala are also good alternatives.
What KwaZulu-Natal’s parks and reserves lack in size they make up for in wildlife sightings and coastal convenience. The single stretch of highway running north from Richards Bay and Durban, makes self-driving a good option in this wild and raw section of South Africa. The government-run Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, which boasts the largest white rhino population in the world, is a fantastic place to explore for a day or two. Meanwhile, Phinda is as good as it gets for a private and luxurious safari holiday. With several distinct ecosystems and all of the Big Five accounted for, the reserve offers excellent game viewing and exploration; it is also renowned for cheetah and rhino sightings. Mkuzi, Amazulu and Pongola are all, also, excellent choices.