Animals,  South Africa

Take a Ride on a South Africa Game Drive

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Have you ever thought about going on a safari/game drive in South Africa? When I was getting ready for my trip, all I wanted was to read about what the drives were actually like. What animals did they see? I wanted to better understand what to expect. So these are my game drive details to entice you more to visit South Africa and experience this on your own.

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The Dinokeng Game Reserve is home to the big five: lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo and rhinoceros.  The reason we chose here to go on our South Africa game drive instead of going to the popular Kruger National Park was because of its size and location.  Being smaller, with our limited time, there was a better chance we’d see things.  Additionally, there would be fewer visitors. Fewer people make it so much more enjoyable when you’re out there with nature! Granted it meant there weren’t as many of the animals, but we still had great sightings! Also, it was an easy drive from Johannesburg and not in a malaria area.

The lodge where we stayed in South Africa for our game drives.
The grounds and pool at the lodge.

During our stay at Mongena Game Lodge, we went on 5 game drives. However, we only had to step outside the doors of our hut to see zebras, spring bucks, or monkeys! They were just hanging out around the lodge. And those noises! The first night it was so weird hearing all the different noises. I also swore something was on our roof and I found out there were bush babies running around and it was probably them.

Zebras in the lodge where we stayed at in South Africa for our game drives.
Just sitting on our patio…what a great view!

For more details about Dinokeng Game Reserve, check out this post from Adventure Travel!

First South Africa Game Drive

We went on our first drive the night we arrived.  On this drive, we saw a male ostrich, wildebeests, kudus, and impalas.  Something funny about the impalas.  Our driver going to the lodge had jokingly called them the McDonalds deer because they have a big M on their rear ends. Now I will never be able to forget their names!  We saw the most adorable (okay they’re kind of ugly, but I think they’re adorable after this trip) mother warthog with her babies suckling. They were so cute! We spotted our first zebra and I got so excited, but immediately we had to leave because our driver got a call that an African rock python had been spotted. 

Apparently, they aren’t seen very often, but all of the recent rains had driven this guy out. He was just lying there beside the road.  When something got in front of his face, he lunged forward at it, mouth open, ready to attack.  It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen, and I hate snakes! We continued on our journey after everyone calmed down and got their pictures. 

African Rock Python on our game drive in South Africa
African Rock Python

 Next, we saw a mother ostrich and her babies. That was one of the great things about the time of year we went, there were so many babies!  Then we saw a group of 3 white rhinos.  Our driver told us that the park rangers were the only ones who knew how many rhinos were in the park and would not disclose that information to anyone.  Rhinos are one of the most hunted animals right now, as they are being poached for their horns.

Baby ostrich on our game drive in South Africa
Rhinos on our game drive in South Africa

Beware: Lions

We then came across a pack of 4 lionesses just laying around.  One of them had a cut on her back/shoulder.  Our guide explained that this was common as they would cut themselves on the bones of the animals they were eating.  After we sat there and watched them for a bit we went on our way, only to go just a few yards before our driver realized we had a flat tire.  They were trying to figure out how to change the tire when a vehicle with just a driver and guide from the nearby lodge came over.  We were all able to get in their vehicle while our guys fixed our tire.  We all sat there keeping eyes open all around us to make sure no one had decided to get up from their naps and head our way. 

On our way, there was a group of hippos in a lake so we stopped to have a snack while we watched them.  There was a thunderstorm off on the horizon and it was beautiful to watch lightning flashes behind the lake.  The animals were completely unbothered by the incoming storm.  A black heron was there fishing.  They do this thing where they turn their wings into a canopy while they’re fishing. It’s something I feel like I’ve seen in a movie, but it was cool to see in real life.  The hippos just kept floating there.  Unfortunately, we never saw one completely out of the water, but one of the guys was rather tired and kept yawning these huge yawns that would put ours to shame! It was honestly more like he was trying to catch something in the air with his giant mouth. 

Black heron on our game drive in South Africa

Second South Africa Game Drive

The next morning the first thing we came upon on our drive was a lioness who likes to be by herself.  She had made a kill, they assumed late the previous night, and drug it under a tree to eat it.  Our guide told us about how they’ll make this panting noise in between them eating which is helping make more room in their stomachs.  We sat there a while and just listened to her. 


Remember how I said I thought the warthogs were adorable?  When they run, their tails pop up into the air. And with their babies running next to them, with their tails up, seriously cute.  Then we spotted our first giraffes! They are such beautiful animals! So graceful!  Each of them has unique spot patterns, similar to our fingerprints and it’s hard to believe that they have the same number of vertebrae as humans do!

We came across the four lionesses from the previous day again.  This time they were walking, looking for a new place to lay.  We also came across a waterbuck.  This antelope has a white circle around their rear ends, like a toilet seat ring.  We had a small viewing of a black rhino.  You could hardly see him through the bushes, but you could see enough to know what you were looking at.  The black rhinos are new to the reserve and their horns have to be cut down for transport. 

Third South Africa Game Drive

That evening we embarked on our 3rd drive at the reserve.  We started off by revisiting the lioness and her kill.  By now she had moved out from under the tree.  We were able to pull up to not too far from her and watch her.  She was just laying there resting.  They are such magnificent creatures!  One of the other vehicles came over to see as well.  That driver had a little difficulty between the mud and the bushes.  The lioness took notice, and her whole demeanor changed for a second.  She was on alert to what was approaching her and had that look in her eye that you’d imagine she’d have right before she pounced on prey.  Once he got the vehicle situated she went back to relaxing. 

As we continued on we came across the only buffalo we ended up seeing.  Our guide explained that this guy was the oldest one on the reserve.  His back was covered in mud, and the guide said that he was balding so he would roll around in the mud to cover his bald spot from the sun.

Cape Buffalo on our game drives in South Africa

More rhinos, giraffes, and kudus.  Then we saw something called a grysbok. They look like baby deer and are pretty darn quick runners! There was also a jackal not too far away.  They look like a fox or a dog. So much cuter than you would think based on how they often get portrayed. 

Fourth South Africa Game Drive

The next morning we skipped the morning drive to rest and enjoy the grounds. That evening we went on the fourth drive. We came across a group of three rhinos, probably the same group we had previously seen because I recognized a cut on one of them.  Another jackal and more giraffes. 

Rhinos on our game drives in South Africa

Down the road, we came across some more zebras. One of them was a baby and our driver explained that he was probably only 2-3 days old! He was just right there walking alongside mom as if he’d been doing it for weeks or years.  We stopped to take a break and I was able to get out of the vehicle.  There was one zebra that kind of just stood there watching us.  As I would walk, she would walk around this tree and peak her head around.  It was like she thought we were playing peek-a-boo, but the tree was the size of one of her stripes, so it was difficult to actually hide. 

As we drove along we spotted something in the bushes next to a pond of water. Our guide actually got out to see what it was, and this giant water monitor lizard came running out the other side of the bushes and across the road. 

Water monitor lizard on our game drives in South Africa

Kudu are a large antelope with huge ears! The males also have these large horns that were absolutely stunning in the way that they twisted.  Before heading back for the night we spotted a few more hippos in the water.  While I was disappointed to not see one out of the water, they can actually be very mean so I am glad we didn’t come head to head with one.

Kudu in South Africa

Fifth South Africa Game Drive

The next morning was my last South Africa game drive. One of the first things we spotted was the loner lioness walking around.  We had stopped by where she had been the previous day.  The carcass was still there, and rather stinky, but she was nowhere to be seen.  When we finally came across her walking, she was not too far from a group of impalas.  However, because she had just eaten, it would probably be 2 days or so before she would kill again so she didn’t really take to much notice of the impalas.  However, we could hear them making this warning noise so that they were all aware that there was a lion around. 

Lion on our game drives in South Africa

A unique thing we came across while driving was two dung beetles.  Our guide explained that the male was pushing a large piece of dung (yes, poop) with his hind legs while the female sat on it and laid larvae.  The male would then eventually bury it for them to hatch.  It was quite impressive to see how strong these tiny beetles were! And he was pushing with his hind legs, backward, with his front legs down on the ground and not rolling it over her. Very impressive! We spotted more kudus, rhinos, giraffes, warthogs, wildebeests, and another grysbok before heading back to the lodge one last time.


While I was overwhelmed with all of the animals we did see, I was rather disappointed that we didn’t end up seeing the elephants.  The reserve is broken into two areas, and unfortunately, during our visit, the elephants had decided to hang out in the other area where our drivers couldn’t go. 

However, when we were leaving, we mentioned to our driver that we didn’t see any elephants, so we wanted to go to the sanctuary nearby.  He said, no worries, we’ll see them as we leave!  He had passed them on his way in.  So, as we drove out, we stopped where the elephants were hanging out around a lake. They were massive! So amazing!  Our driver kept saying, this is really natural geographic stuff, and I didn’t really get what he meant.  Finally, I realized that two of them were mating in the water.

For those that aren’t sure, game drives and safaris are really the same things. In both instances, you’re seeing the animals in their natural habitats. The difference between a game reserve and a national park is simply who owns the land, government or privately owned. So these are the details from all of our sightings from the South Africa game drive I went on. While I had an absolutely amazing time, personally, I did not get my fill and hope to return many times!

Let me know what your favorite animal is that you’ve seen on a South Africa game drive and check out some information about the awesome lodge we stayed at!

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  • Taylor

    I loved South Africa when I visited a couple years ago! I skipped Kruger too, but hadn’t heard of this game reserve! So awesome all the animals you got to see – especially seeing the lions more than once!

  • Rae

    I’ve been to SA a few times and haven’t yet heard of Dinokeng Game Reserve, but definitely adding it to my list now! It looks like you got to see lions a lot, which is amazing. Also, what is that adorable monkey (your first photo)? It’s so so cute!

  • Imani

    I bet this was an amazing experience! Would love to both visit South Africa and do a safari one day. Those baby warthogs are so cute! And can’t believe you could just see a Zebra wandering around from your patio. Amazing photos!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We did two partial day game drives in South Africa. We were lucky and saw a lot of animals. But we missed the sunrise and sunset views we would have got on an overnight lodge. How great it must have been to see zebras, spring bucks and monkeys right outside your door. We definitely want to go back and stay for a few days like you did. Will definitely check out the Dinokeng Game Reserve when we start planning.

    • liapontarelli

      Unfortunately, we didn’t get too many great sunsets or sunrises because of the weather, but the animals right outside were awesome! I want to go back to Africa many more times! I don’t think I could get enough of seeing the animals!

  • Eric Gamble

    Whoa, forget the Big 5 you saw the Big 50 at the Dinokeng Game Reserve! This sounds like an amazing South African Safari adventure. You saw all kinds of animals on your various game drives. Of course, the Lions, Zebras, and hippos are awesome. But that Black Rhino was really cool. That Water Monitor Lizard looked like a crocodile to me at first. Love that you got a close up to dung beetles too!

    • liapontarelli

      The lizard was so awesome. I honestly can’t believe we spotted it, and that our guide got out to try and get it out of the bush so we could see it.

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