Africa

How to get the most out of your game safari…treat it like cricket

Fi taking up position at the 'Rhino Cricket Club' in Hlane, Swaziland

Aug, 2017: When you think of Africa, what is the first thing that springs to mind? I reckon for many, (including myself) it’s going on safari. It’s sitting at the edge of a waterhole in the back of a Land Rover watching an elephant stride off into the sunset. It’s images of a pride of lions stalking a lone wildebeest or a leopard lazing in the branches of an acacia tree. It’s the Big 5 at every turn waiting for that perfect photo that will bring National Geographic calling. The thing is, it’s not exactly like that, is it? At least, that’s not what Fi and I found. It took us a while to get our heads around the whole safari thing. Embarrassingly, I would even say that at first I was a little underwhelmed. I know. I know, ungrateful sod aren’t I?! Well, that’s how we felt until we realised that going on game safari should be treated like a day of test cricket.

As close as we got to one of the huge black maned Kgalagadi lions: Kgalagadi game safari

As close as we got to one of the huge black maned Kgalagadi lions

 

What do you mean ‘test cricket’?

That’s right we’re talking that glorious institution founded by the English and undoubtably improved by her majesty’s colonies. A potential five day game where men (or women) polish balls and the willow reigns supreme. Players dress in white while spectators get drunk in the stands. Batsman play down the leg side while spinners bowl a ‘wrongun’. For hours on end very little might happen and then in a split second it’s all happening! The ball goes over the fence for ‘six’; ‘HOWZAAAATTTT’….there’s a wicket; or a scuffle breaks out between security and a drunk punter.

How is one meant to enjoy this thing you call test cricket?

To the uninitiated, test cricket can be excruciatingly boring and non-sensical but to those in the know it’s a truly fantastic way to pass a day. First off, and perhaps most importantly is to remember that something mind blowing doesn’t happen every second of the day. With test cricket you’re in for the long haul but there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be exceptionally enjoyable. As soon as one makes peace with this first key fact, they stop expecting non-stop action, they relax and enjoy the glories of the game.

You can tell someone who is in for an awesome day at the cricket. They’re the ones bringing a picnic lunch, a good book or a newspaper and an esky (chilly bin or cooler box depending on where you’re from) well stocked with chilled drinks (alcoholic or otherwise). These professionals settle comfortably into their seats and take in the splendour of the stadium around them. They might have a radio playing cricket commentary into some headphones. They appreciate the beautiful sunny day, the well manicured grass and probably chat with the other spectators around them. And, of course, when something exciting does happen on the field they jump around like idiots and enjoy it for what it’s worth. They share the excitement with those around them and then settle back to the aforementioned relaxed rhythm.

What on earth does this have to do with a day of game safari?

On our first proper game safari in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we were like the uninitiated cricket spectator expecting sixes at every ball. We drove out into the wilderness confident that the big cats were just around the corner. We searched longingly from tree to tree looking for lazing leopards. Each lonely springbok seemed a prime opportunity for a hungry cheetah, each wildebeest a mere snack for a marauding pack of lions. But, on that first afternoon, we saw none of the above, the next day neither. What the hell was going on?

For our first few days in the Kgalagadi, all we saw were lots of springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest

For our first few days in the Kgalagadi, all we saw were lots of springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest

 

It probably wasn’t until day three that we figured that going on safari was more like watching test match cricket than twenty-twenty. We realised that we needed to be more like the picnic lunch packers. We then started taking increasing note of the car loads of ageing South Africans who were quite happily driving far slower than the 40 km speed limit. They would head out for the whole day with a packed lunch, a few beers and a bird book. They were quite happy just parking up beside a waterhole for hours watching the springbok come and go on the off chance that a lion would appear. And, when something exciting would appear they happily shared it’s location with muppets like us so we could see something other than trees and dirt. The point was, they weren’t expecting action every minute. They were there to enjoy the whole game safari experience.

Once we got our heads around this new way of game driving we quickly caught on. The newspaper got packed along with our books, a picnic and a few cold beers. We would happily perch up on the side of the road waiting for a distant, lazy lion to raise his head. We weren’t rushing around like muppets and we were enjoying ourselves a lot more because of it.

An awesome encounter with a family of cheetahs out hunting one morning

An awesome encounter with a family of cheetahs out hunting one morning

 

Rhinos at the cricket

This whole ‘game safari is like cricket’ idea really came to life for us the other day in Swaziland. We headed out for a few hours of game driving at the Hlane Royal Game Reserve in Swaziland and saw very little. We poked around the dense bushland for a couple of hours but came up empty handed. But, when we returned to camp our test cricket patience paid off. The waterhole at our campsite had a bunch of hippos having a bath and three…wait, make that five….WHAT, make that ten….REALLY, that’s 15 rhinos.

The 'players' entering the 'stadium' at Hlane, Swaziland

The ‘players’ entering the ‘stadium’ at Hlane, Swaziland

 

As the sun set on these magnificent creatures I looked round and realised we were sitting at Swaziland’s version of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There was the boundary fence (albeit electrified) encircling the outfield. There was the spectating crowd lazing in comfy wooden deck chairs around the ground. Some had a beer, some had a cup of tea but all were loving the amazing game of nature’s awesomeness play out in front of them.

Fi taking up position at the 'Rhino Cricket Club' in Hlane, Swaziland

Fi taking up position at the ‘Rhino Cricket Club’ in Hlane, Swaziland

 

The 'Rhino Cricket Club' at Hlane in Swaziland

The ‘boundary fence’ at the ‘Rhino Cricket Club’ at Hlane in Swaziland

 

16 Comments

  • Reply
    Jody Robbins
    August 19, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Such good advice. You have to be patient and see the day in an experience in itself.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      August 20, 2017 at 11:21 am

      Patience can take a while to learn with game driving but it absolutely pays off. The animals couldn’t care less about your schedule or that you haven’t seen anything all day!

  • Reply
    Eric || The Bucket List Project
    August 20, 2017 at 12:09 am

    haha, love this. We had a similar experience in Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. People kept saying that you were going to see all kinds of wildlife including bears. But everyday we went into the park and saw barely a chipmunk. At first it kind of bummed me out as I threw my Veruca Salt “I Want it Now!” Tantrum. But then I realized that there is so much other beauty there in the park and though we saw no big animals there we loved the views. Plus a week later, we ended up in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and couldn’t get away from all the big animals!!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      August 20, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Glad you liked it. Totally get the Veruca analogy. Think we might have had a few ourselves.

  • Reply
    Suvarna
    August 20, 2017 at 4:46 am

    I chuckled with how you tied cricket into a safari. And yes you are totally right. I have done it many times where we just cruise around the park, and find a spot and just wait around to see what happens. The picnic packs are always essential though!
    Glad you had a good time!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      August 20, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Yup, that’s exactly it. If I’m being honest though, we mostly found animals by getting them pointed out by others.

  • Reply
    Skye
    August 21, 2017 at 3:47 am

    What a great comparison. I can totally see how you can compare the two. The same patience is definitely required for both but I have to say you got such a wonderful, rewarding experience on the safari. Those animals are glorious.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      August 21, 2017 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks Skye! In the 3-4 months we have been in Africa we have been rather lucky with what we have seen. Our latest was sitting on the banks of the Zambezi river in Zambia while about 25-30 elephants of all shapes and sizes bathed no more than 15-20 metres away. Absolutely magic.

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    August 21, 2017 at 5:57 am

    I loved your analogy of a safari with test cricket. It is so apt. Recalled our safari in East Africa a couple of months back when we were going after Rhinos and could not find them but ended up with Zebras right in front of our vehicle. As you say one cannot expect sixes of every ball and just when you thought that the game had settled into a dull pace, a six or a wicket surcharges the atmosphere like a firecracker shattering the stillness of night.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      August 21, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      ha ha, this is awesome. Yep, I really think the test cricket analogy fits perfectly. We haven’t been hitting that many sixes lately but it’s still just as enjoyable as Day 1 at the Boxing Day test!

  • Reply
    Karla
    August 22, 2017 at 6:04 am

    You need a lot of patience to see the animals but nonethless its good. we drove far and long during our safari trip but it was still nice.

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      September 1, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      Going on safari to these parks is such a privalige. It’s easy to get frustated when you don’t see much but you really need to just enjoy being there in the first place!

  • Reply
    Wanderlust Wayfarer
    August 22, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Such a great analogy–it can definitely be trying at times. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for a jaguar to peek his head through the trees so we could officially tick the Big 5 off the list. Patience is key!

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      September 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      It’s all about patience but also just about enjoying the whole experience

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    August 23, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    This is true about almost all animal watching. It’s more about patience and luck than anything else. It involves a lot of sitting around and waiting. The animal plan makes it seem like action all the time but in reality, lions hunt every couple of days so they aren’t always busy (unless you count sleeping.)

    • Reply
      RoamingCo
      September 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Yup totally agree. We had a very lucky experience with some Lions just the other day. Check out our Facebook page for the video.

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