Vehicle based game drives are the conventional way to see Africa's greatest landscapes and wildlife, and are in many cases the best way. In a vehicle, your human scent and shape is disguised and you're no longer seen as a threat: wild animals will let a vehicle much closer than they would a horse or any person on foot. It is easy to track game and, when you find it, a vehicle keeps you safe and secure. A four-wheel-drive will easily climb steep inclines to give access to great views and carry all the photographic equipment you might need, with plenty of handy places to keep your binoculars as well as a "cooler box" for soft drinks and sundowners.
African game drives usually include two outings per day. The first starts just before sunrise, with tea and snacks served in the bush, returning for a late breakfast long after daybreak; the second takes place in the afternoon, coming back to camp at nightfall or, in private reserves where night-drives are permitted, long after dark. Safari game drives after dark are often a real highlight: not only is the mood of the bush very different at night, you're also likely to encounter a whole range of nocturnal species including leopard, porcupine, hyena and countless owl species. On night game drives, animals are located by their glinting eyes and brought into sharp focus by high-powered spotlights.
Most African safari vehicles are four-wheel drive and are customized to maximize your game viewing experience. The exact design of the vehicle will differ from camp to camp as many will have been individually converted. Those in Southern Africa are traditionally open-sided with tiered seats rising up behind the driver to ensure every traveler has a clear view. Some also have a small tracker's seat that folds out on the hood at the front of the vehicle, allowing a specialist guide to track spoor through the bush and help find a route across broken ground. A canvas shade is sometimes fitted, but a hat is always a sensible precaution. Blankets are provided for colder mornings and nights but scarves and gloves are useful through the cooler seasons.
East African game drives used to rely on vehicles with closed sides, sometimes minivans and sometimes four-wheel-drive, but always with flip-top or elevated roofs so guests can stand up to get the best vantage point for photography. Where game concentrations are especially high, regulations often insist such vehicles are used. However, most of the private reserves in East Africa have now adopted the open-sided, tiered vehicles pioneered in the south.
How many clients will share your safari vehicle is an important factor to consider on game drives. With too many people, your experience will suffer: views can become obstructed and disputes can arise. It's not always easy for the guide to reconcile the differences of a committed birdwatcher with another client who might be on his first safari and just want to gaze at big cats. We make sure our lodges strictly limit how many passengers are allowed into each vehicle on a game drive. It's not unusual for experienced travelers to insist on a vehicle and guide for their own exclusive use, though this does incur an extra charge. This has to be arranged in advance, so if this is your choice please let us know when planning your safari with Aardvark.