How to Safari in South Africa with 'As Seen from the Sidecar'
Matt Bishop and Reece Gilkes are two former Flight Centre Travel Experts attempting to complete the first ever circumnavigation of the globe in a scooter with a sidecar.
Now six months into their adventure, Matt and Reece have just experienced a fabulous stay in South Africa where they left their tent behind for a few nights and had a taste of the high life with a stay at one of Flight Centre’s favourite safari lodges. Here they share their experiences, and reveal their top ten tips for visiting South Africa.
Checking in to Chapungu
Matt: We pulled up to the Chapungu Luxury Tented Camp In Thornybush Game Reserve near Kruger National Park, having just driven the best part of 10,000 miles across Africa. The luxury that ensued for the next two days was just out of this world. Tent and luxury don’t really feel like words that should go together but when you walk in to one of the luxury tents at Chapungu you’ll completely understand. It’s like having your on private lodge. It has air conditioning - in a tent - need I say more?
Facilities and amenities at Chapungu
Matt: Chapungu has all the usual amenities of a 5-star hotel room but feels like you’re actually sleeping among the animals. You can sit up in your bed and watch the antelope chilling just a metre from your front door, or take a shower while watching the baboons run past, and at night you can kick back and have a bath while watching the Milky Way above you. It’s by far the best place we’ve ever stayed.
A typical day at Chapungu
Reece: A typical day at Chapungu will start bright and early with a 5am wake up to catch the morning game drive. The best times to see the animals are at dusk and dawn because it’s cooler, so they’re most active. You’ll roll out of your luxury bed, grab a quick coffee with your guide, before jumping in the jeep and heading out to find animals for four hours. I’m not usually a morning person but nothing wakes you up like having a full-grown African elephant run right past you, calling out to the rest of the heard to warn them of the wild dogs in the area (that actually happened – it was crazy)!
After your game drive you come back and tuck into breakfast. Then you’ve got until 4pm to do what you like. We were ready for a bit of relaxing after the drive down so we kicked back next to the pool and chilled out until lunch. Lunch is massive – it’s buffet-style and a unbelievably good. After stuffing yourself silly, you can choose to walk it off on a bush walk with your guide or you can just hang by the pool again. We did the latter having gone completely in on lunch.
Then you head out on your sunset game drive to see what you can find again. You’ll do about a two-and-a-half-hour drive before stopping for a drink while the sun goes down. Then you’ll do another hour or so of night safari. Your tracker will sit on the front of the vehicle with a spotlight and you’ll be on the lookout for prowling leopards and lions looking for dinner. After that, it’s back to the tents for a little relaxing before a three-course meal, again made with the best local ingredients by ridiculously talented chefs. After dinner, you can hang out and chat with the other guests in the bar or head back to your tent and look out for more wildlife from your balcony bath tub.
Thornybush is great for families
Matt: Thornybush Game Reserve is great for families but there are lots of different accommodation options to choose from, so chat to your consultant and find out the best one for you. For a family of four or five we’d recommend Waterside Lodge due to its extended room, the perfect set-up for a family adventure. They also go that extra bit further to make families welcome by putting on kid’s entertainment like creepy crawly safaris where they’ll go on a bug hunt around the lodge.
Is Thornybush Game Reserve worth splashing out on?
Reece: Yes. Just yes. It’s so worth splashing out on. The thing is about Thornybush is that it’s proper luxury, real proper luxury but you can get that anywhere - what you won’t get anywhere is the adventure of being completely inside a game reserve. We were almost pushing bucks out of the way to get to the tent one night and how often do you get to shower while watching baboons or have a bath while looking out for leopards?
On safari in Kruger National Park
Matt: We did four game drives while we were staying at Thornybush, all with the same super knowledgeable guide and incredibly experienced tracker. We saw all of the Big 5 plus a load of other equally impressive creatures too. The highlight has to be tracking rhinos and then staring them in the eye from no more than five metres away. It’s bizarre because they’re obviously massive but seem to be incredibly good at hiding!
Reece and Matt’s top 10 tips for visiting South Africa
- Hire a car. The country has so much to offer that you need the flexibility to pull in and look at another incredible view every 20 minutes or so. Plus, you can drive your own car through Kruger so if you’re on a budget you won’t have to dig deep for the game drives.
- When you get to Kruger National Park, dig deep for the game drives anyway. More than that, splash out on a special couple of days at Thornybush. It’s an experience like no other.
- Take binoculars – you’ll get a close up look at the wildlife that likes to stay at arm’s length, like the vultures!
- Don’t hold back on tasting the local food – we’ve driven the length of the continent and the best stuff we’ve eaten was here in South Africa – if you can, order a Kudu steak or try the other local game.
- After Kruger, drive the Garden Route and hit the beach. On your way there take the Prince Alfred pass. It’s considered to be one of the most spectacular roads in the country and that’s saying something out here.
- Go seal watching at the Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenburg Bay. Take your swimmers and you’ll have a fantastic beach more or less to yourself.
- Eat fish and chips. We think we know how to make fish and chips in the UK – we’re wrong. Grab a portion anywhere along the Garden Route and you’ll see what we mean.
- Jump online and check out what’s happening along the Garden Route while you’re there. We watched the national kayaking polo tournaments in Knysna and hung out with some bikers who were heading to the biggest biker festival in South Africa.
- Go all the way down to Cape Town. While you’re there check out the Sunday market at the Old Biscuit Factory for a bit of holiday shopping and go surfing on one of the many beaches.
- Finish your South African adventure by watching the sun drop over the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re feeling energetic then pack a couple of drinks and head up to Lions Head where you’ll get panoramic views of the city or if you’re not one for an hour-and-a-half hike, then chill out with a cocktail in one of the many bars lining Camps Bay.
Follow Reece and Matt on their epic sidecar adventure via their website https://asseenfromthesidecar.org/
If you'd like to follow in Reece and Matt's footsteps with a stay at Thornybush Game Reserve, give your Expert a call to discuss our South Africa holidays, including our best-selling Garden Route & Safari itinerary.