5 out-of-the-ordinary South African safari ideas

Posted on 27 May 2024 By Tsoku Maela

Safaris are part of South Africa’s DNA, with people travelling from across the globe to experience game drives and plant explorations, and to immerse themselves in the wild African bush. But if you look a little deeper, you can find the weirdest and most wonderful safaris to expand your experience of the southern slice of Africa – from stargazing safaris to butterfly safaris.

Global search engine Cheapflights.co.za has investigated some of these unusual safari options and shares some of these travel jewels with you.

1. Stargazing Safari

5 Out-Of-The-Ordinary South African Safari Ideas

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland, Northern Cape.

South Africa has some of the best star-viewing skies, especially away from the cities where the cosmos come to life. Driving to the Karoo in the Northern Cape, you can overnight in the small town of Sutherland. The town isn’t heavily populated, resulting in less pollution, so you will be able to see the stars clearly. Because it is also quite cold and located at a high altitude with low rainfall, you can visit there any time of the year for good stargazing. While you’re in the northern Cape, head across to Quiver Tree Forest, situated between Nieuwoudtville and Loeriesfontein. The spider-like branches of the trees give a different dimension to your stargazing experience.

Heading to the Western Cape, another stop on your Cape stargazing adventure is the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town (SAAO), which is home to the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. On the second and fourth Saturday of every month, at 20h00, there are open nights at the SAAO, where stargazers can see presentations of astronomy and physics, and if the skies are clear, view the stars through telescopes set up for the night. So it’s a good idea to have your stargazing safari around those times. And while you’re on that side of the Cape, you can also drive on to the Cederberg Mountains, where the dramatic landscape of rock formations and scenic views make for a perfect stargazing night.

Best time to stargaze: All year, but July to August in the winter months allow for a higher clarity of skies when not raining.

Average return economy flight price from Johannesburg to Cape Town:  about R3 400

Average daily car hire price in Cape Town per day: about R733

2. Glamping Safari

Picture: Getaway gallery

Experience South Africa’s bushveld – with a touch of glamour! Glamping is where nature meets modern luxury, and where you can enjoy being immersed in nature but without having to sacrifice your creature comforts and luxuries in your accommodation.

With some of the most incredible wildlife experiences in the world, the Kruger National Park is an ideal spot to do a self-drive glamping safari. You can enjoy the more rustic feel of camping in the heart of the bush, going on self-drive game drives, having evening braais beneath the stars – then retire to a luxury tent with a comfortable bed, and all the amenities and facilities you would expect from a well-appointed room. Decks outside of many of the tents make for incredible spots to enjoy the sunset or sunrise in the Kruger National Park and even spot some wildlife.

Best time to glamp: May to September in the winter, when rainfall is low and animals congregate around waterholes.

Average return economy flight price from Cape Town to Johannesburg: about R2 400

Average car hire price in Johannesburg per day: about R783

3. Aardvark Safari

Picture: Etienne Oosthuizen
Canon 6D, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/400 sec

Aardvarks are one of the strangest, most enigmatic animals in Africa. They are shy and nocturnal, so spotting an aardvark isn’t easy. South Africa’s Karoo and southern Kalahari are some of the noted areas for spotting aardvarks. You’ll need to take a night drive to increase your chances of spotting these elusive creatures. Because they come out to feed at night, this is when you’ll be able to spot them.

Having the sharp eyes of a seasoned guide is very useful when trying to spot an aardvark, as they know what footprints to look out for and what feeding areas to take you to to increase your chances of spotting this shy “earth pig”. But if you’re on a self-drive aardvark safari, then look for evidence of their burrows and dig around termite mounds. Their distinctive three-toed tracks are good indicators that an aardvark is/has been in the area.

Best time for an aardvark safari: Winter months of June to August, which allow you to potentially see them in daylight hours from midday onwards as they come out to forage for food before the temperatures drop in the evenings.

Average return economy flight price from Johannesburg to George: about R3 900

Average car hire price in George per day: about R930

4. Culinary Safari

Picture: Solms-Delta gallery

If gastronomic travel is your “thing” then a food and wine safari are right up your alley. A Cape culinary safari in Cape Town, for example, could see guests travelling with local expert guides on a whirlwind experience of Cape Town’s highlights, from Boulders Beach to Table Mountain, with opportunities to try eclectic foods along the way and enjoy the top-class cuisine at the Cape Grace hotel.

Travelling onwards to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands brings guests to the wine heartland of the country, where they can experience local wines and wine estates, sample locally-crafted cheeses and brandy, and indulge in chocolate tastings. Take a cellar tour, and enjoy a culinary course at one of Franschhoek’s most well-known restaurants – and visit a different restaurant for every lunch.

Moving from there to the Greater Kruger, experience incredible game viewing in open-topped vehicles complemented by night drives as you search for nocturnal species. Then indulge in home-grown and produced culinary delights at a lodge, with local food and wine pairings bringing you the most exquisite tastes of South Africa.

Best time for a food and wine safari: This is an any-time type of safari, but if you’re doing tastings in the Cape Winelands, November to January are your best months.

Average return economy flight price from Johannesburg to Cape Town: about R3 400

Average car hire price in Cape Town per day: about R733

5. Butterfly Safari

Picture: Getaway gallery

If you’re a keen butterfly enthusiast, you can experience the soft and magical presence of South Africa’s incredible butterflies on a butterfly safari across the country.

In the Eastern Cape, Port St. Johns is a great destination for butterflying. It is surrounded by forests, where you can see butterflies in numbers, especially if you take a quiet walk through the forests. The Northern Cape has fewer butterflies because it’s so windy, but if you visit Goegap Nature Reserve just outside Springbok between September and November, you could see some very impressive butterfly species. The Western Cape is also fairly low in butterfly inhabitation, but if you visit the Knysna Forest between December and February, you can see some lovely butterflies at the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve at Brenton-on-Sea along the Garden Route.

Best time for a butterfly safari: In Gauteng, the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Johannesburg, and the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens are great to visit between October and June to see butterflies. Further east in KwaZulu-Natal, is probably where you’ll see the richest butterfly inhabitations, especially in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where you’ll see masses of butterflies congregating around the dune soapberry bushes along the dune forest trails in May.

Average return economy flight price from Johannesburg to Durban: about R2 030

Average car hire price in Durban per day: about R674

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