Senior Travel Consultant Lauren and Videographer James have returned! After spending a little over three weeks travelling to a handful of our incredible projects in South Africa, they are back to regale you with tales, insights and advice, which may come in handy if you are heading over or planning a trip to the Rainbow Nation. South Africa, known for its diversity, is a country often referred to as a cultural melting pot and revered for its stunning landscapes, spectacular wildlife, and an abundance of activities fit for thrill-seekers, all of which we hope to paint you a picture of using their fresh experiences.
During his time at SanWild, James dedicated his time not just to honing his videography skills but also to refreshing his knowledge of species identification techniques; he says: "Being around knowledgeable guides and coordinators in the conservation field was a remarkable learning experience. The subtle differences between similar-looking species make identification a unique skill, and after a few trips to Africa working with the guides, I am gradually becoming more adept at it!"
Lauren spent her first week with James at SanWild before spending a few days each at the Wildlife Orphanage in South Africa, Amakhala Conservation Project, Shamwari Conservation Experience, and The Great White Shark Project. Looking back, she expresses: "I learnt a lot generally throughout my trip, but I loved learning how to track and identify animals from their footprints at Amakhala. It was fascinating learning from the rangers how to identify an animal, the differences between some prints, the direction the animal was going, and what speed, etc. I never knew you could tell so much just by looking at one set of footprints!"
"I also found it interesting to learn about invasive plant species at Shamwari and their effect on the reserve and the overall ecosystem. It felt good to assist with removing these plants, knowing that returning the landscape to a healthy state would bring more animals to the affected areas. It's an activity that makes a huge difference in the long run."
James and Lauren were fortunate enough to participate in moments forever etched in their memories, and these were not limited to their experiences within the conservation projects alone. Volunteering not only allows you to positively contribute to a cause close to your heart, often involving your favourite animals, but it also opens doors to new experiences in new places.
On the weekend, James and Lauren took the opportunity to explore and headed out on a few excursions. James explains: "Before Lauren and I went separate ways, we were lucky enough to visit the Panorama Route. The Blyde River Canyon is the greenest canyon in the world and the third largest. I don’t think I have ever sat in front of a landscape as stunning before, and it's hard to picture anything topping it. And oh, we zip-lined over waterfalls! I mean, you can’t not have fun zip-lining over waterfalls, can you?"
However, his most memorable moment and highlight of his trip was during his time at SanWild Sanctuary & Reserve: "In my second week, I joined a team of volunteers, vets, and helicopter experts for an incredible mission: darting and collaring a white rhino and a male elephant. The process involved darting from the helicopter, followed by careful handling on the ground with blindfolds and earplugs to minimize stress. The team closely monitored the animals' airways and heart rates, and blood samples were taken for health checks. This approach allows the conservation team to ensure their health and track their movements via telemetry. It's a crucial tactic for rapid response if there's any hint of poacher activity. Witnessing this impressive game management procedure first-hand was truly awe-inspiring. Yet, what stood out most was how the animals' well-being remained paramount throughout the process. It was a real privilege to be in the midst of the action and protecting these endangered animals."
Unforgettable moments happen thick and fast on projects like these, though sometimes they sneak up on you, or rather, meander on over, just like Josh the rhino visiting Lauren: "One of my favourite moments of the trip was spending some quiet time on the decking area at SanWild when Josh the rhino decided to make an appearance. I sat with him there for nearly an hour as the afternoon light faded. It was so peaceful that other animals, including warthogs and nyalas, joined him at the watering hole. It was a surreal and tranquil experience, and a moment where I just thought, 'Wow, I'm in Africa'."
"Another true highlight for me was first arriving at the Shamwari Conservation Experience, within only 20-minutes of entering the reserve, we came across two cheetah sisters, so decided to quietly observe them from a comfortable distance (so as not to disturb them), as they seemed poised for a potential hunt across the plain. I was able to tick off my bucket list dream of photographing wild cheetahs! The cheetahs started stalking a lonesome antelope, so we decided to drive to a higher vantage point which would allow us a view right across the plain to witness the hunt, should the cheetahs go for it - what a wonderful spot this was to sit and have lunch! It was an exciting welcome to Shamwari and a great ice breaker for me and the group."
Both James and Lauren have invaluable advice for those considering similar journeys. Lauren, our Senior Travel Consultant, says: "Come with an open and flexible mindset. Activities within a reserve project can be unpredictable and change frequently, but it means that every day is different and full of excitement! I would absolutely recommend visiting South Africa and experiencing the wildlife, scenery and culture on offer - there is so much to get involved in! If you have the opportunity, I recommend joining a project for at least a minimum of two weeks to give you time to fully immerse yourself into the reserve, observe lots of wildlife, and help out with a range of activities."
For those on their way out to South Africa in the near future, Lauren says: "I found a power bank very useful, especially as there are scheduled power outages in South Africa, so you may not always get to charge your phone or camera overnight as you plan. Having a power bank gives you that backup, so you don’t miss out on those amazing photo opportunities! I also didn’t need to carry as much cash to South Africa as I thought, as the majority of places accept cards. A travel card that allows you to withdraw cash and make transactions for free is something I would recommend."
Finally, she advises: "If you're heading to Africa during the winter months, pack warm clothes; a good jacket, particularly one that is a windbreaker, as the game drives can certainly be windy, and a good woolly hat and gloves are also a great idea for when enjoying a bush braai."
Videographer James says: "Travel with an open mind. People have different views everywhere on the planet, so listen to everyone, learn from everyone, and enjoy the company of people who care about wildlife and conservation."
"If you are hesitant due to confidence, put that aside. You feel at home as soon as you land, honestly. It is so much easier to make friends when you travel, as you share common interests and you’re in the same position as everyone else. It will be the time of your life!"
James and Lauren's experiences remind us that there's more we can do to gain a deeper understanding of the world and our role within it. So, if you are seeking an adventure that not only broadens your horizons but also makes a positive impact, consider following in their footsteps and embarking on a journey to South Africa, where a tapestry of adventures awaits you.
Want more information on any of the projects mentioned above? Get in touch with Senior Travel Consultant Lauren using our contact form today; she looks forward to guiding others through their dream South African trips using her firsthand knowledge.
As for Videographer James, he had a quick turnaround in the UK and has already boarded a plane to Uganda, heading to The Great Gorilla Project. We look forward to bringing you his updates on our Facebook & Instagram, and a whole winter of new video content as soon as James has his feet firmly on the ground again!
Share this article with your friends and followers by using the social media buttons below.
Wanting to add something to this story or just let us know your thoughts? Just leave your comments below. Please be aware that all comments will be moderated: abusive behaviour or self-promotion will not be allowed.
Has this blog inspired you to volunteer? If so, why not enquire today? Simply fill out an enquiry form, and allow a member of our travel team to assist with your query! Please note that blog comments are not monitored by the travel team, so any questions related to bookings may be missed.
Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.
12 more orangutans have been successfully released back...
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Borneo...
Linda Duchin volunteered at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan...
Join us on a remarkable rewilding journey as we revisit the...
Janet and Mick joined The Great Gorilla Project last year...
Lauren and James have returned and are ready to relay tales...
Team members Lauren and James, joined colleague Georgia to...
Volunteer Lynne Coe shares her valuable tips on what to...