Cape Town is a great place to see wild life as those locals really know how to throw a party!
But seriously if it is “wildlife” rather than a “wild life” you are seeking then it does not get any better than the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve which is adjacent to the well-known Kruger National Park. In the absence of a fence the animals don’t know whether they are in the Kruger or the Sabi Sands (well we think they don’t) but guests surely do as the private reserve is much less crowded and since off-roading is permitted, it is possible to get much more up-close and personal with the wildlife.
The Sabi Sands has a huge diversity of game, including all the usual suspects like giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, antelope, hippo, warthog (my personal favourite as they tend to be one of the more entertaining of species) as well as the big five (consisting of elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard in spades – it (the Sabi Sands) is recognised as the leopard viewing capital of the world as it is not unusual to encounter this elusive creature on most if not every game drive.)
The Sabi Sands is also a very accessible wildlife safari destination because of South Africa’s great transport infrastructure. The lodges are, in the main, at the higher end of the comfort scale but there are a few at the three star level. The Sabi Sands is also great value for money as the charges are in South African Rand, which has been weak against most first world currencies for some time. In addition the park fees are a fraction of those charged in East Africa. The downside is that because it is such an outstanding wildlife safari destination, it is sometimes a real battle to find availability.
So if you want the best, the best thing to do is to arrange your wildlife safari well in advance. However if your dates are set and you are having availability problems, then the next best thing is to direct your attention to one of the neighbouring private game reserves such as the Timbavati or the Manyleti, which like the Sabi Sands are free of fences with the Kruger and each other (and indeed the Sabi Sands) so the animals can move freely between them all.
Another good place to see wildlife and to add some variety and into your wildlife safari is Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Because it is still trying to shed the shackles of a despotic regime, Zimbabwe is also good value for money with a relatively short flight from Johannesburg. Hwange is a comfortable (safe) 3 hour drive south of Victoria Falls. So a few days in a different wildlife safari location can be combined with a few days in the adventure capital of Africa which (believe it or not) will have the effect of stretching your holiday dollar (as non-safari accommodation is much cheaper!)
The Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti (its Tanzanian equivalent which is actually part of the same tract of land divided by a political border) offer a completely different wildlife experience to that of the greater Kruger area. The attractions here are the vast migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra, obviously this moving delicatessen attracts an array of carnivores, particularly lion, cheetah, jackal and to a lesser extent leopard – for the latter, as we discovered after a leopard free 19 days, you either need to be lucky to find a leopard or know where to look! In our case it was the latter, complements of one of the most exceptional game ranger we have come across over the years. Indeed that one day we encountered two leopards as well as two different lion prides – my conclusion – it pays to get local guide where possible! By local I mean employed by the lodge at which you are staying. I say where possible because, unlike their Southern African equivalent many East African lodges do not offer “game packages” ie game drives in their own vehicles with their own game rangers. However if you need to “bring your own transport” then whatever you do, do NOT travel in a mini-van (called matatus in Kenya) as they are driven by ignoramuses who, instead of tracking animals, track 4×4 WDs (driven by more enlightened safari personnel who are more in sync with the wild life!)
But make no mistake, while thousands of wildebeest and zebra gathered together in one place represent an amazing sight, it takes a strong stomach to witness them crossing the river, breaking necks, backs and legs as they tumble down the bank and try to scramble up the opposite (sometimes vertical bank – wildebeest are not good planners!) The stench of the carcases of those who didn’t make it can be quite overwhelming. Having said that, a river crossing is not an everyday event and many wildlife safari goers who aspire to witness the amazing phenomenon of the migration do not experience a dramatic river crossing (which is a plus in my book, as I would like everything and one to live happily every after!)