South Africa Ecotourism: Conservation-Based Safari

Elephants graze in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
A 14 day trip to South Africa 
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Step beyond the role of spectator and immerse yourself within South African conservation initiatives. This two-week tour combines learning with adventure, providing guests with a well-rounded understanding of this remarkable ecosystem. Follow leopards on foot, care for endangered species, and understand animal behavior through monitoring camera traps – all while experiencing intimate wildlife encounters.  This tour will expose you to the African bush in an unprecedented way – sure to wow the ‘Africa-addicts.’

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Most tours are customized for private travel.

General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Johannesburg, Paperbark Bush Retreat, Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Welcome to South Africa! Land in Johannesburg and Drive to Lyndenberg’s Paperbark Bush Retreat

Today your flight will descend over the sprawling and pulsing city of Johannesburg, landing at O.R. Tambo International Airport. Here, you will clear customs and collect your baggage before connecting with a representative who will drive you to the Paperbark Bush Retreat. Paperbark is an eco-lodge that is located on a 327-hectare conservation estate. With waterfalls, hiking trails, winding streams and natural pools, this property will become your oasis in the bush over the coming weeks. Having completed a long day of travel, the remainder of today will be spent relaxing on the property. Paperbark owners, Will and Carol Fox, have a special ability to make you feel instantly at home in their little wilderness paradise.

Day 2: Immerse yourself in the Bush as you Track Leopards on Foot and Establish Camera Traps in the Bush

This morning, following a leisurely outdoor breakfast, you will be introduced to the Ingwe Leopard Project and the associated team members. Led by highly skilled researchers and rangers, Ingwe strives to research leopard populations that exist outside of nationally protected regions. Over the coming days, you will assist the team in collecting viable and scientific information on these under-studied leopards, ultimately contributing towards their broader conservation. Your orientation will begin on an early morning walk through the bush, where you will begin to learn about the flora and fauna of this particular region. You will be introduced to basic leopard tracking techniques – and of course, the associated safety precautions. As the sun’s strength grows, you will return to the lodge for an afternoon of reading and relaxation during the midday heat.

In the late afternoon, you will return to the bush to begin the second portion of your conservation project: working with camera traps. A number of live cameras are strategically placed throughout the region to monitor the behavior of resident leopards. This afternoon you will travel to the various sites, ensuring the cameras are functioning and reviewing available footage. Return to the lodge as the sunsets, just in time for cocktails and a candle-lit dinner at the solar-powered lodge. Prepared to be amazed by the tasty concoctions that emerge from this eco bush kitchen – it is truly impressive what they are able to prepare! Spend a few final hours round the fire listening to stories of the Ingwe Project before sleepily moving to bed.

Day 3: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Bush as you Explore on Foot Searching for Leopards and Cameras

Having received your orientation yesterday, this morning you will be able to jump right in to leopard tracking with your guides and rangers. Today you may choose to work on spoor identification, in addition to following tracks. Again, as the temperatures warm midday, you will retreat to the shade of the lodge for a midday break. This afternoon you might enjoy popping by the Paperbark library, where you will find a wealth of knowledge amidst the books. Take a book out beside the pool, and laze the afternoon away in this perfect setting. Following lunch and high tea, you will again review the camera traps – making note of any changes to the cameras or the footage. Join your team for dinner this evening, and swap stories about what you learned today!

Day 4: Tour the Inspirational Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Sleeping at the Blyde River Canyon

This morning, following a delightful breakfast of fresh fruit and eggs at Paperbark, you will drive to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. This center is a critical home for abandoned and abused wildlife in South Africa, and plays a central role in species rehabilitation. Moholoholo is one of the few places that have successfully bred servals and released them into regions where they were formerly extinct. They are also the only facility to have bred the Crown Eagle in the entirety of South Africa. During your full day visit to the center, you will have the chance to watch the center in action. You will be permitted to interact with some of the species they are not able to reintroduce to the wild, and pose questions about the process for those that will be reintegrated.

In the afternoon, you will drive to the Zulieka Country House. Surrounded by baobab trees and rich birdlife, every section of this lodge offers sweeping views of the Drakensberg Mountains and the Blyde River Canyon. A number of gentle hiking trails depart from the lodge, leading you past the river to fishing ponds with fish eagles in the trees. Whether you opt to wander around the property in search of fresh tropical fruits, or would rather lounge in the shade of a baobab poolside, the remainder of the afternoon will be spent at your leisure. In the evening, join the lodge for a sensational meal against a perfect backdrop. 

Day 5: Visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center Before Entering Kruger National Park

Rise early this morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains with a warm cup of coffee in hand. Following breakfast, you will depart for the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center for a morning tour of this site and the Cheetah Project. This center plays a central role in protecting rare and endangered species, placing particular emphasis on cheetah breeding, rehabilitation and protection. Conservation education is a central pillar of the organization’s work, and guides will take you through the center providing insight into their work, challenges and accomplishments.

Following lunch at the center, you will move on to the infamous Kruger National Park. As you enter through the park gates, the adventure will begin as you follow roads that weave through this expansive wilderness region. As the sun’s strength lessens, the bush will come alive before your very eyes. Zebra and impala will surround your vehicle as you slowly wind through the park in search of herds of elephants and prides of lion. Having spent earlier days tracking leopards, test your skills by watching the roadside in anticipation of the tracks or signs of one of these solitary and elusive cats. You will spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring Kruger, before moving to your lodge in the park in the early evening.

Day 6: Rise Early for a Morning Game Drive and Spend the Afternoon Relaxing at a Rest Camp in Kruger

Rise before the sun today in order to explore the bush in the early morning hours. As light begins to flood the landscape, you will catch the park during another especially active time. Scan beneath trees for carnivores feasting on their kills from the night before, and look to the clearings in search of cheetah preparing for their daily hunt. The entire day will be spent following animal movements throughout the park, with plenty of breaks at rest camps for snacks, lunch and cocktails.

Tonight at the rest camp, you will get to experience a coveted South African tradition – a braai. Similar to a barbeque, a braai includes cooking a variety of meats over charcoal and serving it with plenty of grilled vegetables and stews, eaten communally with a number of cold beers to accompany the food. Be sure to sample some of the more adventurous bush meats available, including impala loin and blesbok! Enjoy a night under the stars and the company of fellow travelers, before retiring to your room smelling of a campfire.

Day 7: Depart on an Early Morning Game Drive Before Transferring to the Exclusive Sabi Sands Game Reserve

This morning there will be time for an early morning game drive before you move west towards the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. This property shares an unfenced border with Kruger, but is privately owned and maintained. Wildlife viewing is sensational within the region. The definite advantage is that traffic is limited to private guests so it is rare that you will see another vehicle along these dusty roads. The exclusivity of the region, and the luxuriousness of the properties that reside within the area, are what draw celebrities to Sabi Sands year after year.

You will arrive at your lodge in Sabi Sands in the afternoon, with enough time to indulge in a feast for lunch. You will then set out on a late afternoon game drive, carrying on with your explorations of this spectacular region. A highlight of this afternoon drive will certainly be the ability to stay out into the nighttime hours. As a private reserve, you are not confined to the national park laws, enabling night drives that feature the nocturnal world. As your vision deteriorates, your other senses come alive. Listen for the roar of a hunting lion or the cackle of a hyena as your guide tracks a hunting leopardess through the trees. Return to the lodge for a candlelit dinner beneath the impossibly starry sky, before slipping into a warm bath in your private cottage.

Day 8: Indulge in a Full Day of Exclusive Game Drives against the Backdrop of Bush Luxury

Today you will be able to indulge in an entire day of safaris through Sabi Sands. The day begins with an early morning wakeup call and a fresh cup of coffee with your ranger in the lounge. Your morning game drive will largely be driven by the previous evening’s activities and the tracks spotted by Sabi Sands rangers. Within the reserve, lodge rangers often collaborate on tracking to ensure the best possible knowledge and understanding of the resident and migrating species. Be sure to listen to your rangers stories about the specific animals you see – many of the rangers will have been familiar with these creatures since birth.

You will return in time for an impressive brunch, served outdoors. In the late morning, you will have the option to depart on a walking safari where you will have the chance to learn about the smaller insects, plants and birds that have a tendency to go unnoticed from the vehicle. Your ranger will have the chance to teach you about additional methods for tracking various species, as well as a number of survival strategies when in the bush. These walks are often a highlight of the entire trip, as it allows for the greatest level of intimacy with your surroundings.

Following an afternoon of rest and relaxation, you will again depart on an afternoon game drive or walk – complete with the classic sundowner cocktails. Night drives are again an option, and we would strongly recommend spending time with a telescope admiring the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. Listen to stories of the constellations, and practice your recognition of the southern hemisphere’s sky before retiring sleepily to bed.

Day 9: Enjoy a Final Morning in the Bush Before Returning to Paperbark Bush Retreat

Rise early this morning for a final sunrise game drive in the bush, with another option for a quick hike. Be sure to indulge in a few extra homemade pastries during brunch this morning, as this will be your final elegant bush breakfast. Full and fueled with coffee, you will then return to the vehicle to begin the journey back to Paperbark Bush Retreat. Arriving in the late afternoon, the remainder of the day will be spent at your leisure on the lodge grounds. Returning to a familiar environment after nights of switching lodges will feel somewhat like coming home. Enjoy an evening meal before gathering round the fire to exchange stories with lodge staff about the previous days.

Day 10: Return to the Familiar Pattern of Leopard Tracking and Camera Reviewing, Observing Changes over the Week

Having spent nearly a week away from Paperbark, it will be interesting today to see the changes that have occurred in your absence. Set out for a now-familiar morning bush walk, working to identify recent signs of leopard activity in the region. Notice the ease with which you pick up signs of leopards and other species after a number of days in the bush. Perhaps at this point, you will find yourself more adept to distinguishing noises of the bush, and calls of various birds.  Or, maybe you will notice a general ease as you hike through the tall grass. Be sure to spend time chatting with your rangers in order to bring even more depth to your understanding of the bush. Following an afternoon of rest and relaxation, you will again return to the cameras and review the footage collected over the past week. Gather once more round the campfire to exchange stories. Listen to the experiences of the Ingwe project over the past week – and be sure to share some of your own adventures from the bush!

Day 11: Conduct a Final Review of all Footage, Learning of the Contributions Made to the Ingwe Leopard Project

Today will be your final scheduled day with the Ingwe Leopard Project. In the early morning, you will head out to the cameras and retrieve all footage from the various sites. Brunch will be served when you return to the main lodge, following which you will be able to review all the footage together. The information collected by the cameras makes up an integral component of the research at Ingwe, and today rangers will help explain your specific contributions. The remainder of the day will be spent processing the footage and chatting with your team about the results. In the late afternoon, we will begin a celebratory farewell braai – in true South African form. Had you missed bush meats at earlier braais, tonight will be a perfect opportunity to sample warthog or kudu before you return to your typical western fare. Wine and beer will of course be plentiful, and you can look forward to an excellent night under the stars.

Day 12: Visit a Neighboring Game Reserve for the Opportunity to Walk with Rhinos Through the Bush

Following a relaxed breakfast, today you will drive to a nearby private game reserve for a final dose of the bush. Here, you will have the option to participate in a number of game drives and bush walks – depending on your preference. There is also the option to embark on the unique experience of walking with a rhinoceros through its natural habitat! Walking slowly alongside these endangered and massive creatures is sure to create some unbelievable photo opportunities as you go. In the afternoon, you will return to Paperbark for relaxation and reflection before dinner.

Day 13: Enjoy a Final Day in the Bush Entirely at Your Leisure

As your journey draws to a close, today will be left open for activities of your choosing. Some may wish to spend a final full day with the Ingwe Leopard Project, while others may enjoy squeezing in a final photographic safari or a sightseeing tour. All options will be organized by Paperbark, and you are of course always free to spend the day relaxing on the lodge grounds, perhaps making a few notes in your journal about this experience and all that you have learned. A braai will be served as your farewell dinner from the continent, and a few extra drinks will likely be enjoyed round the campfire as you reflect on this spectacular journey.

Day 14: Depart on a Final Bush Walk Through the Paperbark Estate Before Returning to Johannesburg by Road

This morning you will have time for a final bush walk before beginning your return journey to Johannesburg. Enjoy lunch in the city before transferring to O.R. Tambo International Airport for your outbound departure. While we anticipate that many will be ready to return home and act on the recently gained knowledge, a few may be interested in extending the journey just a little bit longer. Having spent the past two weeks learning, a trip to the vineyards surrounding Cape Town may just be the perfect way to round off the experience. If you want to add on additional safari time, be sure to read the travel reviews of African safaris. A representative will gladly work with you to tailor this trip to your exact requirements and wishes. 


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.