Being a Safari Guide: 8 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets

“As a guide, you’re the first person the guests hear from in the morning and the last person they see in the evening.”

Being a safari guide doesn’t follow the typical 9 to 5 schedule. By the time you arrive at your office in the morning, they’ve already returned the guests back to camp from a 3-hour game drive. While it seems like a wonderful and romantic job, with sunrises and sunsets and lions and elephants all around you, there is much more that goes on behind the scenes. Repairing flat tyres, managing guest expectations and warding off snake and baboon intruders are a few of them.

Being a safari guide: behind the scenes

Are you wondering what it’s really like to be a safari guide? Here are 8 behind the scene secrets about the realities of life in the bush.

1. People skills are most important.

The biggest part of being a guide is working with people. You can have a wealth of wilderness knowledge, but if you bore your guest to tears, it won’t take you very far. As a guide, it is your responsibility to enhance the experience for people when they go on safaris. It starts with learning the names of your guests.

2. It can take over a decade for a safari guide to reach the top qualification.

The learning never stops. The only way to progress in the field is by obtaining the qualifications that are set by the Field Guides Associations of South Africa. Reaching the top qualification can take up to 15 years of studying and practical work experience.

Each year at Garonga, Adriann Louw conducts an intensive Track and Trails guiding course with the guides and trackers over 5 days. It may seem like a short while, but the transformation that takes place is overwhelming. This year head guide, Jaffet, maintained his Tracker Level 4 (senior status) but with even better results. He mentored the remainder of the team who also achieved excellent qualifications.

Being a safari guide: behind the scenes

3. Patience is a non-negotiable.

If there is a characteristic a safari guide must have, it is patience. Patience with animals and patience with people.

4. The all-khaki dress code is sort of a lie.

Truth be told, most animals see in black and white. So, you don’t have to wear khaki from head to toe on your next safari but it may be one of those fun things to do! Having said that, keep the lumo, reflective outfits for your time in camp instead of sporting them on a game drive. Many birds and some creatures are sensitive to colour and may see you as suspicious instead of one with their environment when they spot you out in their wilderness.

5. Guests’ excitement can be contagious.

The beauty of being a safari guide is the ability to see the bush through the guests’ eyes. There’s a specific sparkle about it. The smiles, questions and enthusiastic reactions are constant reminders to never get too complacent. So future guests, remember that your excitement is infectious to those around you, especially to the ones in the driver and tracker seat!

6. Being mechanically savvy comes in handy.

There will be plenty of flat tyres and the lazy lions who enjoy 20 hours of sleep a day certainly won’t offer their help. If your vehicle breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you have to know how to fix it or you risk getting stuck.

7. Early morning and late nights are part of the job.

Safaris run on a specific schedule for a reason and it is the guide’s job to make sure the guests are ready on time. They will wake you up in morning for the first game drive of the day and often stay up to wish you a good night’s sleep after dinner. They are not just guides, but caring hosts that look after every aspect of your stay.

8. They are great mixologists.

When the sun sets, this is when your guide gets to really show of their skills. First, they will stop the vehicle at one of the most scenic spots in the reserve. Just when you think the moment can’t get any better, they’ll offer you an ice-cold beer, glass of wine or a classic G&T as you watch the egg-yolk sunset disappear behind the horizon.

being a safari guide: behind the scenes

Garonga Turns 20! Our Celebration in Photos

Birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons and weddings – you name the special occasion and we will turn heaven and earth to make it a memorable celebration for our guests. No request is too big or too far-fetched because we’re only offered one lifetime to embrace the good stuff.

So, on the 1st of June when Garonga turned 20 years old, we took it upon ourselves to practice what we preach and throw a big party for the Garonga staff members. That afternoon, we cleared Little Garonga and the boma area and celebrated the best way we knew how; with lots of food, drink and laughter, much like our past guests will fondly remember.

It was the happiest of Thursdays and a joyous way to commemorate our achievements over the years with the entire Garonga family.

Here, we share our 20th anniversary celebration in photos. We hope you raise a glass as you scroll through them!

Cheers to the next 20 years of Garonga magic.

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga's 20th anniversary

Garonga turns 20

Baby Animal Moments That Will Make You Go ‘Aww’

Adorable, fluffy, clumsy, playful and affectionate. You bet we’re describing the safari babies of the bush. Recent guest, Kelly, visited during the summer season when nature welcomed the little ones into the world of wildlife. She shares all of the precious moments with us.

Warning: Goosebumps, awws and warm, fuzzy feelings ahead!

“Garonga and its Makalali bush setting stole my heart during the 3 days we called it home.

Our visit was in mid-March, being South Africa’s summertime and because of the good recent rains the wilderness was alive and wearing its green summer leaves in all their glory.

It was magnificent to see it so lush, dense and beautiful. The abundance of food and water around made for very happy animals too and because of that we were treated to so many sightings, especially encounters with baby animals too.

It’s always special to watch the interaction of young wildlife in their family groups and the cute factor was on overload at Garonga during our game drives. We saw baby warthogs following their mom’s raised tail through the grass and toddler monkeys playing in the trees and on the tent decks. The most endearing moment witnessed was of a baby giraffe giving his mom a kiss on the side of the road.

baby animal moments on safari

However, the most unique sighting we were spoilt to was of a young male cheetah calling (or more like tweeting) for his mom to come back from the hunt and reunite with him. She returned his call and they found each other in the bushes as we watched on in awe. Then they proceeded to relax together and enjoy a well-deserved mid-morning nap.”

We also can’t forget about the handful of hyena cubs that gave mum a serious run for her money in the hot summer heat.

baby animals on safari

Garonga is certainly wonderful in any season, but it’s hard to beat the cutest season of all – baby season in the bush!

10 signs you may need to get back to Garonga

“Way over expectations.”
“The only way to do a safari!”
“Like a dream!”

A visit to Garonga in South Africa’s Makalali private conservancy bordering the Kruger National Park impacts our guests in the most magical ways. Luxurious bush life and all its unexpected perks stick with them when they go back home and inevitably make them want to return again and again for more. And we’re so glad it does.

If you’ve visited us before, here are 10 tell-tale signs that you are missing your Garonga experience and it’s time for another visit soon.

1. Slumbering under the South African stars, listening to the wild sounds of the bush below you on the private Sleep Out Deck ruined any other treehouse experience for you.

Sleep out deck

2. You now look for animal tracks on the ground and tails in the trees when you go for a walk in your local park.

bush walk

3. You can’t fall asleep at night without a teddy bear in your arms.

safari camp accommodation

4. You drop everything you’re doing to stop and appreciate the sunset that unfolds before you. It was mandatory when in the South African bush after all. Why not everywhere else?

African sunset at Garonga

5. You can’t walk into a New York restaurant and feel at one with nature like you do dining in a boma that has the coolest outdoor bar you’ve ever seen.

Bush bar and boma

6. Your bathtub at home, between the four walls just doesn’t quite manage to set the scene for a relaxing bubble session anymore.

Bush bath

7. And back rubs from your partner in front of the TV don’t cut it anymore either.

Massage sala

8. When you hear something that sounds like a falling tree branch you look outside to see if there’s an elephant nearby.

elephant in camp

9. You leave a little note for your spouse to read when they come home from work. Maybe not as creative as the ones you found left by Garonga staff on the small zen garden in your room, but it’s the thought that counts.

zen garden in room

10. You’re saving up your annual leave days because you’re ready to go back!

Game drive

Leopard Spotting at Garonga Safari Camp

From agile antelopes to impressive elephants there is always something intriguing to see in the thick Makalali bushveld. But it is predator sightings that tend to be the most rejoiced.

Claire Birtwhistle, who recently visited Garonga, describes her most memorable sighting during her stay:

‘At first glance, there was nothing but bush. However, slowly but surely, the unmistakable rosettes of a leopard became visible and an enormous male leopard emerged from the thickets.

Makalali leopard sighting

I could barely contain my excitement, let alone focus my camera. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone again. Like a unicorn of the bush, he left us wondering if we’d even seen him to begin with. After all, spotting a leopard in the wild seemed like a far-flung dream for me at the time. I was desperate to see one of course, but after several different wildlife safaris, countless game drives and still no leopard sighting, my hopes weren’t high.

As soon as the leopard disappeared into the bush, our expert guide, CJ, and tracker, Phineas, sprang into action. Their familiarity with the bush was unbelievable as we bundu-bashed our way down to the dry river bed. Positioning us with a clear view of the river bed in front of us, CJ switched off the engine and we waited. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, we detected some movement in the bush and the leopard revealed himself again. This time I was ready with my camera, and despite the low light conditions, managed to capture a couple of photographs of this magnificent creature.

It was incredible to watch as he casually strolled past us, stopping every few meters to mark his territory. In true regal leopard fashion, he barely acknowledged our presence, reminding us of our low ranking on the wildlife hierarchy. It was a privilege to witness this leopard in the wild, and an experience that will likely stay with me for life.’

3 Reasons to Visit Garonga

Nestled in a private concession in South Africa Garonga Safari Camp offers visitors a unique travel experience, or a ‘safari for the soul’ as the staff likes to describe it. From wildlife viewing to luxurious pampering, a stay at the camp is nothing less than an exceptional experience.

Here are three reasons to visit Garonga:

1. No Crowds

Spot a pride of lions or catch a glimpse of a leopard hiding in the bushveld as your game viewer slowly makes its way across the savannah. Makalali conservancy, a 22 000 hectare reserve situated west of the Kruger National Park, is home to an incredibly diverse range of wildlife.
Visitors can enjoy intimate wildlife encounters and a true Big Five safari experience without having to share the moments with hoards of tourists.

Game drive with Garonga Safari Camp in Makalali, South Africa

2. Sleep Out

Set deep in the African wilderness, the Garonga Sleep Out provides a safari experience of a uique kind. Sleep under the night sky on a deck out in the bush with nothing but the sounds of wildlife and the Milkyway keeping you company. Enjoy an intimate 3-course dinner in the bush, accompanied by a bottle of bubbly before letting nocturnal Africa lull you to sleep.

Garonga Sleep out, Makalali, South Africa

3. Bush Bath

Being on safari doesn’t always mean ‘roughing it’. A bush bath is an utterly unique way to enjoy nature whilst taking some time to relax and unwind. Set on a platform, overlooking the Makalali bushveld Garonga bush bath offers guests front row seats to enjoy the wonders of wilderness from the comfort of a lavish bubble bath.

Garonga bush bath, Makalali, South Africa

Exciting Elephant Encounters at Garonga

You don’t always have to trek deep into the heart of the African bushveld to see wildlife whilst on safari. Sometimes just staying at your safari camp provides you with plenty of wildlife excitement. Garonga Safari Camp’s guests were recently lucky enough to witness a very memorable occasion with their own eyes.

A bull elephant decided to come visit one of the safari tents when the guests were relaxing on the viewing deck. The impressive beast was certainly not shy to show off!

Watch how whole the spectacle unraveled:

How to Get to Garonga Safari Camp

Travel Options to Make Your Journey Even Easier

Travel options to get to Garonga Safari Camp in Makalali Conservancy, South Africa

‘Makalali’s bushveld, in contrast to those reserves directly adjacent to the Kruger, is a series of undulating hills that offer incredible viewpoints and panoramic views across the reserve.’ This is how SA Venues describes this wilderness area, situated just west of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga, nestled in this 22000ha wildlife haven, provides an ideal location to seek out the Big Five and experience close-up wildlife encounters without the crowds. The name Makalali means “a place of rest” in Shangaan and it suggests that the reserve offers an utterly unique and intimate wildlife experience. Embark on a game drive and be mesmerized by the abundance of game, including lion, kudu, cheetah and anything in between.

The only question left is how do you get there?

Garonga is easily accessible by both air and car:

    • Direct chartered flight from Johannesburg

      Direct chartered flight from Johannesburg to Garonga with Fedair
      Take a direct chartered flight from Johannesburg to Garonga with Fedair
    • Flight and air-charter (Nelspruit KMIA)
      Take a commercial flight with Airlink to Nelspruit KMIA (from Johanesburg or Cape Town)
      Take a commercial flight with Airlink to Nelspruit KMIA (from Johanesburg or Cape Town)

      Take a private charter from Nelspruit KMIA to Garonga's airstrip with Odie Air
      Take a private charter from Nelspruit KMIA to Taronga’s airstrip with Odie Air
    • Flight and road transfer (Hoedspruit / Phalaborwa)
    • Self-drive (only 6 hours from Johannesburg)

Find out detailed travel instructions here.

Garonga Safari Camp – A Well-Kept Secret of South Africa

It has almost been six months since the grand reopening of Garonga Safari Camp, and the team is ecstatic with the positive response from guests. The Garonga staff are devoted to offering service that is nothing below excellent. There is nothing quite like beaming feedback from past visitors to make the Garonga team members’ hearts fill with delight, day after day.

Garonga Safari Camp, main lodge

This is how recent guests describe their stay at Garonga on TripAdvisor:

‘This “camp” is a well-kept secret of South Africa. Traveling off the main road for almost 45mins is your first clue that you are in for a taste of a vanishing Africa. The staff is as warm and welcoming as you could possibly want and try to anticipate your every need.’
– Cindi

‘Wow! Garonga is a great safari camp. We have been on safari numerous times and this place hit all the marks and then some. Only 6 “tents” so no more than 12 guests at a time. The tents are actually small, very posh concrete houses with mesh windows and front flap enclosures that make it feel like a luxury tent. Animals come right into the camp as there are two watering holes right below the rooms.’
– Nancy, the US

Garonga Safari Lodge tent

‘We stayed here for our honeymoon in September. Everything was such an incredible experience. The ‘tents’ are clean, spacious and luxurious along with the view. All of the staff are incredibly friendly and happy to assist with any need.’
– Louise, the UK

‘Our tent, number 5, was large and well located to view the water hole where a variety of animals could be seen refreshing themselves. We were able to watch the elephants as they came through the camp feeding and knocking down the trees for food.’
– David, Australia

‘The accommodation is quite simply superb – huge “tents”, super comfy beds, wonderful bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers and double sinks. We were in room six, which is furthest away from the waterhole and main lodge but great to feel you are away from it all watching the monkeys, mongoose and anything that wanders along the dry riverbed from the spacious deck (one night we spotted hyena as we were walked back from dinner).’
– CH London, the UK

Garonga Safari Lodge Accommodation

Wildlife Frenzy in Makalali

Life in the Makalali Nature Reserve, located only a stone’s throw away from the renowned Kruger National Park in South Africa, has been very eventful lately.

Garonga Safari Camp, nestled in the heart of the Makalali bushveld, has had a brilliant stint of wildlife sightings.

From the impressive elephants to round-eared wild dogs and fierce felines, the diverse selection of sightings has certainly impressed the recent Garonga guests. A Garonga guide took these beautiful shots during game drives in Makalali.

Cheetah in Makalali concession, South Africa Wild dogs in Makalali concession, South Africa Lion in Makalali concession, South Africa