Top 10 self-drive tips

Charles Norwood has spent 35 years driving the back roads of Africa. Here’s his advice for those planning their own self-drive expedition

As Andrew Pierre White succinctly put it on the Safari Drive safety video about driving the roads of Africa, the easiest way to stay safe is to Slow Down!

This simple piece of advice can also be applied to far more than the roads of Africa: all aspects of a self-drive safari will benefit from a slower pace.

So my top ten tips for a slow safari, in reverse order, are as follows:

10. Slowing down the journey at the planning stage of your safari is critical. Allow extra days and extra hours, even though paper and Google maps may indicate a short drive. For example, according to Google, Windhoek to Victoria Falls is only 14 hours and 34 minutes driving time. But three weeks would likely do this wonderful journey more justice. Remember that delays and breakdowns will happen in Africa, and you don’t want a carefully planned itinerary thrown into turmoil on day one because the bags never arrived or a scheduled flight connection was missed.

9. Stepping off a plane into a hired 4×4 and driving for several hours in the heat of the day is asking for trouble. Plan to unwind at a tranquil bush lodge nearby if possible, to and get the flights out of your system – somewhere like the unique Eningu Clayhouse Lodge if you are flying into Windhoek. Spend the afternoon napping and watching the birds from the cool of the pool.

8. At the start of any journey it’s always tempting to push it and cover too much distance. Try to settle into an easier-paced rhythm and limit your driving hours to a minimum each day.

7. Start the day early, especially if you have a long stretch of driving that day. Dawn is a special time of day in the bush. It rewards the early riser with spectacular light and you often find wildlife browsing calmly nearby.

6. Stop and greet people, ask questions and explore the terrain. It’s why you have come to Africa, and grinding through the dusty roads can be unrewarding and tiring without decent breaks.

5. Lunch on the road is a treat, so stop and make time for it. One tip is to ask the lodge for a packed lunch the night before you leave as it’s often included in the price and can be full of surprises.

4. Game drives are a big part of any safari, but many inexperienced self-drivers keep driving and miss the wildlife. Ask guides at camps and lodges for the best game-viewing spots and ask other drivers about their sightings. If possible, stop at a waterhole, park in the shade, sit and wait the and animals will come to you.

3. Stop driving early and get into camp with plenty of daylight. Pushing on and driving when tired is the cause of many accidents. Over the years, statistics show that many accidents happen in the late afternoon and, strangely, often on a Friday. If you are camping it will take a while to work out how the kit fits together, so allow time for this and to cook supper whilst it’s still light.

2. Make sure you give yourself time for a sundowner at the end of the day. It makes all the heat and dust of the road seem trivial. It’s a special time that should be savoured slowly.

1. The single most important tip is to drive slower. This will automatically keep you safer on Africa’s dirt roads. Don’t worry about those drivers blasting past in a cloud of dust – they are hurrying to a destination whilst you are on a journey of exploration.

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Charles Norwood is an advisor on self-drive and overland journeys, having spent 35 years driving the back roads of Africa and founding Safari Drive, the pioneer of the self-drive safari.

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