We are often asked what is the “best” time of year to come on a safari. This is an excellent question, and like most excellent questions that usually means that it doesn’t have a very simple answer!
Depending on who you ask the answer will differ, but there is a general consensus that winter is a wonderful time to be in the bush. During the winter months the vegetation thins out and spotting animals lurking in the bushes becomes significantly easier. Having said that the animals do their best to overcome this advantage by cunningly camouflaging with the world at large. During the winter the lions’ fur is almost an identical hue to the grass and the grey of the tree bark disguises elephants in an uncanny way for so large a mammal. So our spotting eyes need to remain sharp to find them. But what makes the winter so special for me is the lighting. The early morning sun catches on the pale grass in scenes of startling beauty, and in the afternoons the animals are bathed in a beautiful golden glow.
Safari’s can be a confusing holiday, instead of a luxurious lie-in we rouse our guests before the crack of dawn. However, in our winter months this is not such a rude time to be awakened, the sun rises later and so guests still get the chance to rest overnight. The mornings are chilly (to say the least) but by the time guests are back from their morning drive the day is perfect for sunbathing and relaxing around the pool – an activity that is uninterrupted by pesky mosquitoes in the winter as this is our dry season! In the evenings, once the sun has set the temperature turns cool enough again to make sitting by the fire the ultimate activity. Locally the fire is known as a Bush TV, the programme never changes but it is strangely addictive and you never want to miss an episode!
Winter in the South African bush is renowned for its spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Not only are the sunrises and sunsets themselves a spectacle but the hour just after or before them transforms the bush. The golden hour occurs all year round but it seems somehow to be amplified during the winter months. Sightings take on a magical quality in this light and you need to pinch yourself to make completely sure that whatever you are seeing is really happening.
Once your sundowners are finished and the sun has set it is time to turn your attention to the nocturnal species that inhabit the bush. The concept of a night drive always requires a healthy dose of luck because of course there is no light by which to follow tracks, but there is no doubt that night drives are more productive/active during the winter months. Just like humans the animals are often keen to avoid the coldest parts of the night and so in the winter months they become active just after the sun has set rather than waiting for the temperature to drop much later in the evening. This is undoubtedly the best time of year to see bush-babies, genets, civets, porcupines and all of the other wonderful creatures that move around after the sun has set. If you are one of the truly lucky ones you might even get the chance to see a pangolin – the ultimate safari goal!
If your timing and luck do not happen to cross the paths of any of our nocturnal denizens then all is not lost. There are still the stars to keep you company. In the bush winter is our dry season. The lack of moisture in the air leads to crystal clear evenings and a celestial display that is humbling to behold. Whether you spend time absorbing it all in silence and contemplating your place in the big wide universe, or whether you are drawn in by the mythology that surrounds the stars, this activity is sure to be a highlight for all guests who spend their normal lives surrounded by city lights.
At Garonga the winter has another huge advantage, it is undoubtedly the best time of year to test out our extra activities as well. To hop into either the star bath or the bush bath when you return from your drive is a very welcome treat, the hot water chases away the evening chill (a far cry from our hot sticky summer nights) and the stars create an unrivalled view for your relaxation.
The quintessential Garonga sleep out is truly marvellous in the winter. You will be dropped off in time to enjoy a private sundowner amidst the stunning views. The sleep out deck is carefully situated on an elevated point the warm air rises and settles around the deck making the winter temperatures very comfortable indeed. To keep you cosy throughout the night we equip you with a sumptuous duvet and extra blankets that will banish even the most persistent of the winter chills. For entertainment we believe that there is nothing better to enjoy than the nature that surrounds you. In case you hear a rustle of leaves or the breaking of a twig you have your own spotlight to scan for nocturnal visitors. We also leave you with a laser pointer and map of the stars in case you feel like doing more than just taking in their beauty. To round off an incredible experience we encourage you to wake up early the next morning, the sunrises from the sleep out deck are unrivalled in their beauty!
I can already hear everyone worrying that with a sleep out being such a unique offering it must be hard to secure availability. Whilst we always encourage you to book in advance to be sure to avoid disappointment we are thrilled to announce that our new camp, MCH Private Tented Camp, comes with its own sleep out deck, affectionately known as “The Kipper”. The setting is different but the all of the goodies that we leave you with are the same and we are confident that a night at The Kipper will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. The best thing about all of these activities, whether they be the star or bush bath, or either sleep out experience? They are fully included in your stay with no extra charges to you to enjoy them!
Finally, romance is never in short supply at Garonga so if you have had to postpone or re-organise, or indeed if you are still in the planning stages of your wedding celebration why not consider a bush wedding! Bush weddings at any time of year are spectacular but in my view, winter is the perfect season for romance. The humidity has lifted and the days are cool enough for you to feel dapper rather than overdressed in your beautiful wedding outfits. Your day should be heralded by blue skies and your evenings will be free of uncomfortable mosquitoes, leaving you with nothing else to do but dance the night away! Your ceremony will be intimate and unique and you never know which bush residents might pop their head in to wish you well in your lives together.
If you are still on the fence about when the “best” time to go on a safari is, then there is nothing else for it. You will just have to come and try it for yourself!
All the best from your local bush enthusiast – Sophie