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 Post subject: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2014 5:38 pm 
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Joined: Tue May 24, 2011 5:25 pm
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Location: Pretoria, South-Africa
Hi everyone,

Just returned from a few days of relaxing outside the park while going in twice as a day visitor and then of course doing a sunset drive from outside.....MUCH more expensive than it would have been had you I stayed in the park but I have no real issue with that. I have three questions/opinions that I want to test out on this forum though so please, air your views!!

1. Has anyone noticed that some people (mostly foreign tourists) have absolutely NO idea that they must actually search for animals as well and not just leave it for the guide, worst is when someone like that gets the spotlight(s). This is certainly the most frustrating thing ever when going on sunset/night drive. I regard myself as quite respectable when it comes to handling the spotlight and recognizing that fleeting moment when you spot eyes, sometimes you only have half a second to react (more about this later) and when you do not have the spolight it is SO difficult to follow where the other person is lighting....as such, the spotlight handler must basically be the best "spotter" in the vehicle or you will miss a lot. Some people are also so erratic when searching with the light it is just impossible to spot anything. I have no idea how to remedy this as the guides normally try to explain how to use the light and what to look for....anyway.

2. What are the forums feelings on what is worth spending time on while on the drive and what is not? If I had a choice I'd say stop no more than 5-10min at the "normal" animals like zebra, elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest etc, the guide maybe explaining some interesting fact about the animal and then moving on and not stopping again at that animal species if under normal circumstances (fighting giraffe for example is not "normal"). It wastes an enormous amount of time stopping at all of these animals. I for one want to go on a night drive for the specials, big or small, those creatures you normaly don't see during the day and then of course the predators. I understande that some foreigners might find the other animals interesting as well but then they must go on a day gamedrive.

3. This point continues from the previous one. The sunset/night drives are allways along some circlular route with the time and distance fixed....if you stop all the time you end up wasting so much time that the halfway through the guide puts pedal to the metal and that is basically the end of your drive as it is impossible to spot anything at night in dense bush, everything just flies past....IF you spot anything and shout stop, the vehicle comes to a stop in a cloud of dust 50m past the sighting, reverse, stop....no reverse some more, little bit forward again.....no, sorry, already gone....and then the race back to camp starts again because the guide has a time deadline. I would much rather leave the "normal" daytime animals, do the drive at 25km/h instead of 40-50km/h and try and spot the small elusive things.

All of the above happened on this last sunset drive we did and it was most unpleasant although we saw lion with cubs.....just shows you that even with a sighting like that it can still be a bad experience. The guide was friendly and knowledgable but route management, sightings management and time management need to be addressed for these drives in my opinion. We paid more than R350 per person to basicaly drive for 1.5 hours and look at zebra, giraffe and elephant, another 10min at a lion sigting and then 1 hour and 20min of F1 racing back to camp while 90% of the people in the vehicle lost interest.....we were the only non-foreigners and the only peoply actually making an effort to spot anything, this with my mag-light as the spotlight guys were on a mission of their own.
Should I have been rude and just asked for a spotlight from someone? :hmz:

Would love your opinions guys and gals!!! :popcorn:


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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2014 9:29 pm 
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Time management on a drive is extremely difficult as the guide never knows what lies ahead. You may move from a nice sighting just to find ... absolutely nothing. And then again the guide's timing may be spot on, just to find a number of great sightings and then being in a rush for the rest of the evening.

Also remember that the guide is most often under a time schedule. There may be a night drive leaving afterwards, some guests may have someone waiting for them, having to go for dinners, etc.

Most often when you have a day / night drive the guide will spend some time with the "regular" animals during the period when it is light and start bypassing them when it gets dark.

Guides normally actually drive slower when it is dark even though it do not seem so. I have heard guests making a comment of "50 km per hour" when the speed was actually below 30.

The normal dark time speed is around 30km per hour. It does feel faster when it is dark because of the lack of vision and the environment flashing by in the spotlight.

Even driving at this speed you will be way past a sighting if the spotter sees it at close distance ... especially with the bigger trucks.

As for bad spotting ... very difficult as the guide actually has no idea what is happening behind him.

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2014 3:14 pm 
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A very interesting set of questions. I have sat pondering on some answers whilst taking a coffee break and, as a 'foreign tourist' I have tried to see both sides.

Most people reading and posting on this forum are either new and very interested in what Kruger has to offer OR already totally addicted to San Parks including Kruger. As such, their holidays plans are usually based on staying in Kruger with self drive and some drives/walks from camps. As well as Kruger stays, we also spend some time at an Inn in Hazyview and get to meet both the addicts as well as those tourists who have a much wider agenda and will cover as many aspects of South Africa as they can fit into their allotted time. For many of the latter, they will, perhaps, spend the day doing Blyde River Canyon and some specialised attractions (Reptile Parks, Elephant Whispers etc) and then book a sunset drive from their hotel/lodge to visit Kruger. As you have said, it is not a cheap way to do a sunset drive - and that is for South Africans and foreign tourists alike. The vast majority will have no experience of a sunset drive, do not know what to expect (the glossy brochures for the drives will be full of impressive night shots of animals) and really expect it to be laid out on a plate rather than having to be interactive by helping to spot and use the spotlights. If they have all had a busy day, they will probably be very tired as well and that will not help matters. To be honest, we have occasionally had a similar problem on a sunset drive from a Kruger camp but are quite happy to take a spotlight in hand each and resolve the problem that way. Means we cannot then take photos but, as with yourself, we get to see as much nightlife as possible.

I suspect the answer may be to stay at least one night in the Park and take a drive direct from camp rather than one from outside.

As regards time management, some guides handle this better than others. No-one knows what will be seen on a drive but we have found that most guides will talk through options when special sightings occur eg Would you like to spend more time with this lion or go look for something else. With a truck full of guests there has to be some sort of compromise.

So, having made those few observations, I will get back to sorting out my items to pack as we are back to Kruger in 6 days!

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2014 5:28 pm 
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Location: Pretoria, South-Africa
Thanks Imberde and Carolv for the views you shared!

You both mention how difficult time management for a guide can be as he doesn't know what sighting might be coming next, I totally agree with this. Even driving yourself and trying to get your timing just right so that you end up at the gate when it closes is difficult. What I usually do is plan my "last stretch drive" so that if I see nothing I end up with about 20min of spare time before gate closing AND that calculation is made at a speed of 25km/h.....so if I see something nice I know I have 15min to play with and even more because I can actually drive at 40-50km/h for the last 10min if need be. Maybe the guides should try to rather arrive early than on time so that if you see something you don't have to rush the last 30min to get back. If you end up at the gate early just take a quick drive there and back on any of the roads.


Imberbe wrote:
Guides normally actually drive slower when it is dark even though it do not seem so. I have heard guests making a comment of "50 km per hour" when the speed was actually below 30.

Can't say I disagree with you there, although I usually base my statements on facts and we still had to travel another 45km in 1.5 hours, we did that while also stopping at a hyena and lion sighting so I would say, in our case, we travelled at at least 40km/h.

carolv wrote:
and, as a 'foreign tourist' I have tried to see both sides.

Hope I didn't offend you!!! hehehe, on reading my post again it sounds a bit.....harsh?

carolv wrote:
The vast majority will have no experience of a sunset drive, do not know what to expect (the glossy brochures for the drives will be full of impressive night shots of animals) and really expect it to be laid out on a plate rather than having to be interactive by helping to spot and use the spotlights. If they have all had a busy day, they will probably be very tired as well and that will not help matters.

Again, I can't really argue with this.....it's just frustrating sometimes and that is why I decided to hear what other people's opinions are.....how to make it better? I honestly do not know, hehehe maybe sanparks should consider employing a professional spotter on each night drive!!! I'll volunteer!!!


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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 10:49 am 
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Very interesting topic Gjorgi

1. I agree with you and the spotlight. I personally dislike having to use one, So I try to arrive as early as possible in order to get the seats I want with out a spotlight :roll: I guess the same system could be used if you want tu ensure someone you know who is good with one, sits at a spotlight spot. I have also found that some guides are great at explaining what you have to do with a spotlight, other not.

2. Always a controversial subject. I think this is mostly affected about how well the guide knows his passenger group for this drive. For instance a group of Foreign visitors coming from outside the park would enjoy stops at general game for than the regular Saffa. I have always liked guides who ask where their passengers are from. I was once on a night drive at the end of a long weeked, every single passenger was a Saffa. I guess most people were still chasing that special sighting(we were desperate for a leopard) but our guide didn't pay any attention to that and we spent 20 minutes at a dikkop sighting :(

3. I think this is a very difficult thing to control, with a lot of it coming down to luck. I have been on a drive where we had to speed up over the last half an hour but we had had great sightings. The guide also risks annoying passengers if he moves on from certain sightings to maintain a steady pace.

Interesting to hear others views

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 11:42 am 
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Great topic as I bet most people reading this would have at some stage had a moan regarding at least one of the 3 topics raised or thought of a way to improve on the offering to park visitors.

Game drive management for me is key to this topic. I've been on drives that have been not been managed at all and these rankle. Most of these occurred at Skukuza where on the one occasion the ranger’s words were: I'll drive and you spot and then we can see what it is. One specific lady (if she is the ranger for my drive she will see me disembark due to her poor attitude before we depart the gates), but I'll not dwell on that as she is in a minority within KNP. :rtm: :rtm: :rtm: :rtm:

The best drives for me have been one where the ranger explains the safety aspect, asks the group what their interests are and re-iterates that he'll stop when we say stop, whether it is a big or small animal. I've had a few drives managed in this way where I've seen very little, yet loved it because the ranger would then just park the truck in an area of choice; tell us an interesting story and the sounds of the bush fill in our ears with wonder. Maybe in the hope that our luck would change

The spotlight point is a challenge and once again for me comes down again how the ranger manages things. My expectation is that the ranger should inform the group of how he would like them to use the spotlight and then also ask who if not the people sitting closet to them would like to use it.

Who uses the spotlight is key: Why, if you have the right person using it then it can affect what and how much you see. I'm always keen to grab a spotlight as I recon I'm nifty enough with it and have on the odd occasion asked an uninterested user if they'd rather me use it.

I'll happily admit that when we leave on a sunset drive (I prefer them to night drives as you get to experience day and night times on the same drive) I'll happily sit in silence as we drive out. This is in the hope that we drive as far away from camp, in the false hope that it would increase our chances of seeing an elusive animal or owl.

Has anybody ever taken their own spotlight on to a game drive? That would be a grand idea seeing as you can plug it into the 3 point socket in the game vehicle? :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle: :whistle:

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:14 pm 
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I think interaction with guests is the key here. The good guides build a rapport with the guests as soon as they arrive and set expectations. Of course a lot depends on the guests as well, those who are out for "a good time" will not interact and spoil it for everyone.

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:39 pm 
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My absolute best drive, not that we tend to go on too many, was with Betelgeuse (Su Marie) from Punda Maria.
She had such passion and interest for her work which shone through and we had a fantastic drive.
I will always remember her at one point in the middle of the Mahonie Loop, parking on a little causeway, asking us all to keep dead quiet and just absorb the sounds and experience and then switching off the lights for a few minutes.
Sitting in that pitch black made all your senses just come alive.
My other great drive was from Shimuwini Bush camp, we were the only ones, 3 of us, on the truck and it was just amazing. I forget the name of the guide but he was also very good.

But I tend to agree, its always going to be difficult pleasing everyone on the drive, especially in the case where they use the big 20 seater ones but the bottom line is one should get value for money and that doesn't necessarily mean being able to tick off the Big 5 during the drive but to see a nice and interesting variety, especially the nocturnal creatures on doesn't get to see, and of course which will vary from person to person! :tongue:

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:55 pm 
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I was on a drive with one of the most knowledgeable bird guides in the park - and when he tried to engage a group on he drive he got "birds are for eating". I felt so sorry for him. And sorry for me because I missed the opportunity to learn from the best.

The best drives I have been on have been the ones where the guides obviously have a love and respect for their surroundings and have loved sharing their knowledge and love, rather than showing off. It's usually been when there have only been a few of us on the drive but occasionally I've had a good drive in a 20 seater.

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 5:32 pm 
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Always difficult!.......

I like to explain the rules, ask what folk want to see, and then when I get the 'we are Saffies and don't want impalas etc' I strike a deal......we will stop once, and if they convince me they know about them we will go on.....otherwise I will tell them something they did not know! By trying to engage the guests it gives those with knowledge the chance to talk and quite often I learn too!

The light can be difficult too, but I have been known to stop and suggest it is time to swap operators so others get a chance to use the light/the operator gets a break (depends on the situation!). Always explain how to use it at the appropriate time too.

Using your own spotlight is not a good idea......think what it would be like for the poor animals if everyone was shining strong lights in their eyes! And of course the poor driver with lights reflecting off the mirrors and the windscreen into their eyes too..... And those 3-pin plugs are DC, not AC power!

Always try to show why small things are important too......and I love doing the stop, switch off lights, and listen scene too.

For me the worst drives are when the guests speak little English and there is no communication at all.

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Wed Oct 29, 2014 6:29 pm 
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One of the best drives I went on was when my fellow guests had never been in a game park before. Everything - tree squirrels, impala, was new to them and they were fascinated by everything. The guide went completely back to basics and it was one of the most enjoyable and memorable drives I have ever been on. We didn't see much but I learnt an awful lot.

One of the worst drives I went on was when my fellow guests had never been in a game park before. Nothing interested them and the guide was clueless in how to deal with the situation so he basically ignored them and, by extension, us.

Great games drives are a combination of guide and passengers. Personally I know my limitations and won't go any where near a spotlight. There are other people who maybe completely useless but are delighted when they pick out their first impala.

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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Sat Nov 01, 2014 8:48 am 
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Our tactics are always to have one of our group on each side of the truck who are excellent spotters and if they don't end up with the spotlight we use our battery powered lights which throw a bit wider beam and try to work away from the spotter's light who is not doing a good job. If the spotter is good we sit back and relax and hope for good sightings.

Our most unusual spot was a large spider at 30m off the road. I took a picture and passed the camera around the truck so everyone could see it.

We've also had a few drivers going way too fast, usually with the big trucks, and by the time they get them stopped and backed up the animal is long gone. We now will politely ask to slow down unless they are near the end of the drive and need to get back to camp.

The best drives always seem to be when the driver is also working a light, then they keep the speed perfect.


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 Post subject: Re: Sunset/Night drive possible issues....am I the only one?
Unread postPosted: Sun Nov 02, 2014 2:06 am 
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Thanks for everyone's opinion and making sure this is not one of those one post threads :wink: :clap:


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