Planning for a Safari: Shameless exhilaration!

I was just working through my planning for my next safari into Africa and I got so excited that thought “let me jot down some thoughts on it.” This little note might well develop into a series on various aspects of “expeditioning”, so if you are the safari type, keep on watching this space!

People mean a spectrum of different things when they use the word “safari”, so let’s first set the scenario: At the more civilised end of the spectrum there would be taking the SUV out on a safari into the platteland to some game lodge or the like.

At the other end of the spectrum there would be an expedition into really remote hinterlands where there may eventually no longer be any roads or even tracks and where, at some point, the vehicle may be left under a tree and the expedition continued on foot because it just becomes too tedious to schlep it through the bush.

In between are of course a range of options that tend more towards the one or the other opposite. A fairly common variant is one where safarinistas make up a touring party of a few vehicles and head into the wilderness, but on fairly established safari routes to spots where there are at least basic (if primitive) infrastructure – say in Botswana or the southern parts of Mozambique or the Kaokoveld.

Be that as it may, going on any safari requires careful planning and the right equipment and provisions for the circumstance that are likely to be encountered.

The below is probably more appropriate for expeditions into really remote areas, but it can be appropriately watered down for other circumstances.

First, a few words of caution if you are to take on expeditions on rougher side of the spectrum:

  • Make sure your vehicle is suitable for the kind of conditions you are likely to encounter. This includes both terrain and climate – can it, for example, run for extended periods under load stress in extreme heat conditions?
  • Make sure your vehicle is in top mechanical condition.
  • Make sure you are skilled at driving your vehicle in the kind of conditions you are likely to encounter.
  • Unless you are highly experienced, get together a group of at least three or more vehicles so that you can assist each other if things start going wrong.
  • Have an emergency recovery or repair plan. If you cannot do basic repairs on your vehicle yourself, try to get someone in your party that can. Also, see that you have the right tackle to have another vehicle tow you out – the gods forbid.

As far as equipment and supplies and the packing thereof are concerned there are some important pointers that I have distilled for myself over years of wandering remote Africa:

  1. Try to make the best possible assessment of the likely conditions to be encountered. Spend time to read up, talk to people who might have been there, use Google maps and Google earth, especially if there is nobody to ask.
  2. Try to travel as light as possible. Take along only what will be necessary. The heavier the vehicle, the more fuel it will use (and in remote areas the quantity you can carry may be a serious limiting factor), the less manoeuvrable it will be, the easier it will get stuck and the harder to extract, and the worse the wear on your vehicle and tyres. The latter is important. Tyres on an overloaded vehicle are more likely to be ruptured by sharp stones or vegetation remnants, and this means lots of wheel changes and repairs and possibly getting stuck completely.
  3. Try not to have any part of the load sticking out beyond the outside dimensions of the vehicle. It creates extra wind resistance on the (inevitably lengthy) open road sections of the journey and in the bush it tends to hit branches and break. Piling stuff onto the roof or having pieces of equipment mounted where they stick out may look impressive in town, but it’s definitely going to be awkward in the bush. Roof loading also makes the vehicle more top heavy.
  4. I far prefer using an open pickup vehicle. It has the disadvantage of the load possibly getting wet, but I have found that the advantage of easily reaching any part of the load, and quick and easy removal thereof far outweighs that. In the deep bush this becomes important. For the rain I pack stuff in containers and pull over a tarpaulin to cover it if necessary.
  5. As far as equipment is concerned, be thorough but frugal. The stuff is heavy. Basically I make sure I have sturdy bush breaking equipment (the vehicle does a lot of this work, but one often has to chop or dig away or fill up). This includes a bush pick, a shovel, machetes and a hand axe. Then strong basic recovery equipment: A high-lift jack (make sure it actually works and you know how to use it), a winch if you have one (the high-lift or a block and tackle or the like can be a stand-in, and I prefer a manual winch that can be mounted either in front or at the rear), a length of chain or steel cable (almost can’t be too long – a good anchor point may be a long way away), sand mats (sometimes, depending on the expected terrain). Then, repair equipment. A good tool set with 8mm to 24mm spanners and sockets, a sturdy screwdriver set, punches, waterpump- wire- and long nose pliers, side cutter, hacksaw, hammer (2 lbs and 4 lbs), chisel, crowbar, 4 ton bottle jack, vice grip, tyre levers, a gas blow torch (maybe optional). Remember, never save on tools. Its just not worth it!
  6. Of course one needs to take along camping gear according to taste. I stay basic. Cool box, folding chair, pot or two, deep plate, mug, cutlery, grid, good heavy hunting knife and pocket knife. I sleep in my hammock under a tree, and I stretch a tarpaulin when it looks like rain.
  7. Regarding spares, it depends a bit on the vehicle. Some vehicles have known weak points. Make sure you’re covered. Fan belts, water hoses and spare fuses are the bare minimum. It’s actually a good idea to take along a few pieces of various sized rubber piping with matching jubilee clamps (repair fuel lines and the like). Make sure you have at least 2 spare wheels and tyre repair equipment. I prefer using 13-ply tubed tyres (then you need to take at least 2 spare tubes). They require some know-how to repair, but they are far stronger then the tubeless type.
  8. Consumables? At least 5l of multipurpose oil (either engine or gearbox), brake fluid, small container (500ml) grease, radiator stop-leak, epoxy putty and glue, adhesive glue, insulation tape, duct tape, cable ties (long ones), a few 4-inch nails, a few 6mm, 8mm, 10mm and 12mm bolts, 50mm long with matching nuts.
  9. Containers, water and fuel. This will depend on the expected conditions and distances to replenishing points. Both are likely to take a lot of space and weigh a lot.
  10. Again basic. Work out a daily menu. In the bush I tend to eat only twice per day – breakfast at around 10 o’clock and again in the evening. I take maize meal, oats, vegetables and meat and long-life milk for the first few days, then tinned or freeze dried veggies and meat, and I rely some on the bush, depending on where I go. If you are planning on recruiting African companions along the way, remember to count them in in your supplies.
  11. Remember, roads are rough. Make sure stuff is tightly packed inside containers. If not, objects will tend to chafe one another and wear through, containers may be punctured, loose bulk will almost certainly be reduced to fine powder; it will be a general disaster. Make sure the load is well secured and packed such that you can get to everything, preferable in the sequence you are likely to need them, and without unpacking and repacking.  The frequently-used stuff must be easy to access, for example. On the open vehicle I use sturdy containers on which I can stand to reach others, and I try not to have more than one layer. Remember, there is amplified vibration and whiplash at the rear of the vehicle over bumpy roads. Pack accordingly.

Hmm. Hope someone somewhere finds some use for all this senseless doodling…


  1. Hello Judy. So happy that you like the posts and enjoy them. Thank you for your generous remarks.
    I usually set out alone. I find that being completely alone focuses the mind, sharpens the senses. Along the way I might pick up some African bush companions, depending on where I want to go and for how long. These may include a guide, who is usually an older person that had lived in the bush for his life and can actually teach me things I don’t know. Then, if long distances on foot is to be involved, I recruit some bearers to help carry food and equipment. I travel light, with the bare minimum because I simply sleep under a tree and try to live (as far as possible) off the veldt, but it’s still quite a load.

  2. Somehow through the magic of the internet I found your blog.
    I was wondering if you are alone on this trip? If so, have you ever gone with someone for a trip like this?
    Also I want to comment on your writing. It takes me directly to the moment you are describing and I really enjoy your descriptions of even the smallest things.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Julie Cargill

  3. Hello Nathalie,
    I sleep in a hammock, yes. I find it more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. It does get a bit cold sometimes though, and then I sleep on the ground close to my fire. Of course it means, in either case, one has to keep the fire alive through the night if you are in an area where dangerous animals are active. However, on occasions lions have been so active around my camp that I have had to, in one or two cases, keep more than one fire going, and in in others, resign myself (accompanied by appropriate language) to sleeping in the Land Cruiser’s cab (uncomfortable and cold!)

  4. Good blog.
    You sleep in a hammock Hoffman? It must be very raw out there.
    You have courage.

  5. Genade liewe Hoffman – ek is skoon uitasem net van die lees en die hare staan penregop op my kop. Dis van bang en ongemak ek dink. Hoe gaan ek sonder my haardroër en lipstiffie regkom en…ek verstaan 90% van die gereedskap wat jy noem se name nie eers nie en netnou vra jy my om iets aan te gee. So sou jy my dalk saamnooi sal ek ‘ongelukkig’ nie kan saamgaan nie al klink en lyk jy soos die ‘toughy’ in die destydse Gunston sigaret advertensie. Ek droom nog steeds oor die man…

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