Dreaming of going on an African safari? Discover tips and insider details from our very own destinations expert, Oceania Cruises’ Vice President of Destination Services Operations, Christine Manjencic. With over three decades of experience in the cruise industry, travel is simply in Christine’s blood. Since travel is essential to her role, she is always on the go, and recently had the chance to go on a range of safaris in several areas of Africa including at Shamwari Game Reserve and Pumba Game Reserve both outside of Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, along with Phinda Game Reserve outside of Richards Bay and Chobe National Park in Botswana.
What are the lodge accommodations like?
These lodges are beautiful, very luxurious – without exaggeration. For example, at Pumba Water Lodge, every lodge was slightly different. The one I was in had this massive round bathtub, and a deck outside with a plunge pool – you can wake up and an elephant is drinking out of your plunge pool. It’s amazing. These are places you can come back to completely relax and rest after long game drives, total comfort. And it’s so unbelievably quiet, every little crack, stepping on a bush – you hear everything. Even though it’s an actual lodge, you hear everything.
How long are the game drives, and what did you see?
Typically, two or three hours, though it depends on what you encounter, the time of day and your escorts. When you go out on the early morning drives, they’ll have the croissants and coffee waiting for you beforehand and when you return, they have a nice big breakfast ready.
I was able to see everything – the Big Five! It was remarkable, even during the off-season.
We saw elephants, leopards, giraffes. We saw a lot of hyenas – you just see the eyes at night. And they travel in huge packs. We also saw a ton of buffalo. Lions, and then there were gazelles and warthogs everywhere.
What animal encounter or safari experience was most memorable?
Learning about the lions as I saw them. On the very first night we saw a lion – a female lion at Pumba Water Lodge. These animals fascinated me. Learning the fact that the female goes out and gets the kill, the male lion eats, and then when he’s done, she can eat, this was so interesting. And we saw that happening – the male having his dinner and then the female having hers. He protects her and the babies, that’s his territory. He’s the protector, but she feeds everyone.
With the overall safari experience, it’s just remarkable being out there. It’s like being on a different planet. You are so far removed from everyday life, it’s like just being dropped in the middle of
nowhere – the noises, the smells, everything around you. It’s just incredible.
What were the rangers like?
The rangers are wonderful, they absolutely love what they do. They’re so enthusiastic and passionate about the animals and the nature. It’s truly amazing – you learn so much.
Tell us about the experience of being at one of the lodges at night.
Many of the lodges bring in local entertainment which is quite nice. Dancing and great music – it’s very festive and a lot of fun. Plus, there’s typically a little seating area around the fire, and you all sit around the campfire and have hot chocolate with marshmallows at night. It’s really nice. And then later, you are usually escorted to your own lodge. At Shamwari for example, all the lodges are separate and a bit spread out, so especially at night time, you are escorted. It’s right out in the middle of the bush – there are no fences. The escorts have torches and they take you right to your door.
What were the differences you noticed among the different safaris you went on?
Phinda was bigger than Shamwari, but it was still a private game reserve. At Phinda we also had a lovely open air dinner beneath the stars one night.Chobe, in Botswana, was very different from the area of the Eastern Cape lodges which were very green, very bushy. Chobe is also a national park, so you are restricted on where you can drive and you have to keep to the roads. Here the landscape is much more desert-like and barren, but we did see plenty of game – a lot more giraffes and other animals. Since it’s more open, you can see the animals more clearly. In Chobe, we also took a sunset cruise along Chobe River which was a special experience. Literally, you look to your left and it’s Namibia, and you look to your right and it’s Botswana. Then, you see the elephants coming down into the water, playing in the water. You get the chance to see a lot of elephants there in their natural environment – during the sunset, it’s really memorable.
Meanwhile, in the bush in Shamwari and Phinda, because they are private game reserves, there aren’t any restrictions on when or where you can go on drives. We drove into hyena dens, we went everywhere. You’re driving off-road at night and everything, it’s brilliant. And it’s more up and down and through the trees and foliage – it feels more like discovery. I recommend going on safaris in both of these regions (in Chobe and in the Eastern Cape) if you can – they are very different experiences.
What are your tips for first-time safari-goers?
Dress in layers – it’s cold in the morning and you’ll be going out early in the morning on game drives. On the safari trucks, they do have blankets as well because it’s quite cold when you go out at 5 a.m. Pack lightly for the safari – just what you need. And no need for adapters. The majority of these lodges have sockets for every plug possible. That surprised even me. Then they are also well-equipped with hairdryers and dressing gowns and things like that.
What left the deepest impression on you?
One of the most remarkable things is that there’s no light pollution there, so when you look up at the sky you see the Milky Way like you’ve never seen it before. It is simply amazing. I have never seen it like that in my life – not up in the mountains, not even out on the middle of the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, not even in the Amazon. That was one thing that really stood out to me – it was as if the sky were the light, streaming down. Just brilliant.