Saturday, February 1, 2014

Self-Drive vs. Guided Tour

After 6 nights in Kruger, we left the wide landscapes of the 2million hectare park and hopped over to a private game reserve. Fancy-smansy by our standards, Kapama was one of the less expensive almost-all-inclusive (no drinks included, not even water) game reserves near Kruger.

Our plush bungalow with a real queen-size bed, desk, patio and vaulted ceilings.

I took two baths in this tub--one each day we were there. Who knows when I'll see another bathtub again?

We stayed there two nights and were driven about the reserve in the morning and late afternoons by a pair of guides: one driving, the other tracking animals from the hood of the open-air land rover.

As we had seen the Big 5 already, many of the smaller animals and loads of birds, we weren't on the "hunt" for anything specific. We did, however, see plenty of wildlife. Still the whole thing had a markedly different feel than our simple, self-drive adventure.

Firstly, they wake you up at 4:30am with a knock on your door or a phone call. As our phone was broken, we got the personal visit each dawn. From 5-5:30 they offer you tea, coffee, fruit and assorted gluten-ful pastries which we longed to eat. Once caffeinated, we loaded up into an open-air land rover with the guide and tracker who rode with our entire stay at the reserve. And then we hit the dirt road, along with 7 other land rovers piled full with other traveler-tourists.

From 5:30 to about 8am, we would drive around in our designated quadrant of the reserve looking for animals. More often than not, our driver would stop the vehicle and he and the tracker would get out and wander about looking at the animal tracks, trying to devise who was heading where and how close they might be. All I can say is that this part was completely boring for me. I rather prefer the spontaneity of our self-drive adventures where a lion, elephant or clan of baboons could be just around the corner and we wouldn't know until--surprise!--we came upon them. But not in the reserve. There a certified tracker reads the paw prints and tells you where the animal is hiding. And, oh by the way, the leopard is deep in that thicket and we can't see it. Thanks a lot. I'd rather just not know that a big cat is nearby and instead be delighted when I see yet another small herd of impala or lone giraffe.

Wait?! You get OUT of the truck to look for the lions?

Then around 8 or 8:30, we'd pull off someplace with decent visibility, maybe a watering hole or meadow, and the driver and tracker would set up a little folding table with coffee, tea and more gluten-ful biscuits. Did I mention we can't eat gluten? At least the coffee was good. And then we'd be back on our way in hopes of spotting a few more beasts before we returned to the lodge for breakfast at 9am with all the other guests.

After breakfast are the "optional activities" like the pool, massages at the spa (yes please for Josh), elephant rides (not okay says me), the cheetah project (yippee!) and napping (check, check). Lunch is served at 1pm, afternoon tea and cookies at 4pm and then it's off on another guided tour to a new quadrant of the reserve. The afternoon tour is much like the morning one, complete with a sunset stop for drinks (this time with a full mini bar), returning to the lodge for dinner around 9. Then bed, then 4:30a wake up call. Repeat.

My favorite part of the reserve experience was the Cheetah Project. What can I say, they are just so cuddly looking! But alas cuddling the cats is not allowed so I had to get by with a few photos.


One other perk of the game reserve is that the animals who live there (entirely fenced in on all sides) are so accustomed to seeing the trucks that you can get really close. And they don't even try to kill you! It's pretty awesome.


All in all though, I would pick self-drive over guided tour because (a) it's so much less expensive, (b) you get to drive as far and as slow as you want and watch the animals for as long as they will let you, (c) you won't get sunburnt in a car with AC, (d) you can pack your own gluten-free snacks to munch anytime you're hungry, (e) there are much larger herds of animals in Kruger, and (f) you will be delightfully surprised every time you spot an animal.

However, if you're just there for the food, luxurious accommodations or to check off the Big 5 from your list, then perhaps a game reserve is for you.


P.S. I also recommend bringing an awesome hubby who knows how to drive a stick and is willing to be responsible for driving on the left side of the road while trying to spot wildlife. :)


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