Last Updated on January 17, 2019 by

A self-drive safari in South Africa can be an excellent way to see the wildlife at your own pace, on your own terms.

Covered in nothing more than gravel stones, the road ahead of us did not look like something our tiny Kia Picanto could handle. There were no signs and the road winded ahead as far as the eye could see. After six hours of driving along slick and smooth highways, I felt that we’d still yet to experience what it was really like to drive around Africa. This unexpected turn from the highway to unpaved road seemed to be the opportunity I had been waiting for.

Finding Our Way Through the Bush

The sun was disappearing into the distance and we were driving through the back country of South Africa, finding our way to Sabi Sands Private Reserve. Daylight was running out and we only had a hour or so to navigate the wild savanna and get to our lodge before night fell. There was no time to waste so I stepped on the pedal and headed for the gritty path.

Speeding through the rocky country road, we left a thick trail of dust behind us as we passed tiny villages, local schools, and rural huts. Friendly locals waved at us with the most genuine smiles on their faces and kids ran alongside our car, shouting and screaming. Halfway through our drive, we even picked up a hitchhiker. The lady, dressed in a security guard uniform,  happened to be traveling a few miles on our direction so we made some room on the back and she joined us for a while.

Our impromptu companion was working as a security guard in Thulamahashe, just a thirty-minute ride away from where we picked her up. She had missed her bus and was going to be late for work, so she was thankful that we gave her a lift so she wouldn’t be too late. As we drove past her village, she told us about life growing up there, with a look of contentment in her eyes. While we didn’t get to talk much, we always enjoy picking up hitchhikers and interacting with locals whenever we got the chance.

A Family Safari in South Africa

Self-Drive Wildlife Safari

After dropping off our hitchhiker, we continued driving for an hour or so before reaching Gowrie gate, the main entrance to Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Two park rangers greeted us at the entrance and after clearing the park fee, we were finally in the reserve, weaving through dry savannas and sandy plains.

At first the road didn’t look any different from our previous drive, but we soon realized there was a lot more to it than we expected. Just ten minutes after entering the reserve, we spotted some impalas grazing on the side, before driving by a giraffe who had his neck stretched out and eyes wide opened. Male kudus (one of the biggest antelopes around) sporting large curling horns were galloping within the bush that flanked the dirt road. We even had to stop a couple of times to let some zebras and buffaloes cross the road in front of us. Along the way, we even stopped to watch the sun set in its full glory.

By the time we arrived at our lodge, the sky was dull grey and  the temperature had dropped drastically. Our rented Kia Picanto was covered in a layer of sand and dust, battered from a whole day of rough driving on the rugged back roads. We were surprised that it was able to endure the rugged terrain, despite its small size and power. Our self-drive safari was an experience unlike no other, and we wouldn’t have been able to make it to this part of South Africa without our trusty steed.

Our Self-Drive Safari in South Africa

Disclaimer: Our car rental was arranged and sponsored by but all opinions expressed above are our own.