Durban, South Africa
My adventure began in the middle of May; I was traveling by myself at 22 years old from the United States to volunteer in South Africa at the Elephant and Rhino Conservation project. After over thirty hours of flying I arrived in Durban, South Africa, and was met by a representative from the project. I, along with several other volunteers, was loaded into a van and made the two-hour ride to the game reserve.
The reserve is beautiful. The lodgings are basic but comfortable. Be prepared to deal with water shortages though. We were instructed to use the water from our daily showers to flush the toilets (you get used to it).
The first day is overwhelming as the leaders instruct you on everything you will be doing, it seems impossible, but trust me, it is not bad at all after that first day so don’t give up.
Researchers usually go out on drives before the sun is up for an approximately 3 hour game drive. The game drives are hit and miss, since this is not a zoo, you are not guaranteed to see everything. You may observe all of the big five one day and almost nothing the next. The reserve is home to all of the big five, but I must warn you that it is rare to see all of them in one day. I was there for elephant and rhino research but since you ride in the same jeeps with other researchers, you spend quite a bit of time watching big cats as well.
After your first drive in the morning you head back to the lodge and help yourself to coffee or tea and mingle with other volunteers. It was wonderful to meet people from all around the world. The afternoons are used to enter data or some days you can have free time. The reserve does have a pool when water is available, internet is available at a small fee and terrific scenery is free so just you can just sit back and relax!
The evening game drive starts at around 3:30 and lasts until dark. However, during your stay as a researcher you will get to participate in some night drives which start around 8 and last until midnight. These are a blast, just being out in the pitch black and hearing the animals is amazing.
You get the weekends off and have the choice of either going off the reserve on an excursion or staying at the lodge. I suggest doing as many of the excursions as possible but staying at the lodge at least one weekend. The excursions always have at least one park representative on all the trips so there is no need to worry about being on your own. When there are trips to St. Lucia or Mozambique GO ON THESE TRIPS! Do not miss the opportunity to go on “the elephant interaction.” It is heavenly to meet an adult bull elephant (aptly named Rambo) up close and personal.
I was never scared in South Africa and feel that my month there was well worth it. There is nothing like living in a game reserve in the heart of South Africa. Just being there is worth the money. If you are going in Africa’s winter months take a heavy jacket and blanket, you will thank me. Also, take multiple sunglasses, water bottles, and maybe even a backup camera just in case. The project is what you make of it, sign up for jobs and work hard, you will find it rewarding! Volunteering in South Africa at this project was incredible. Happy travels!
Get involved and begin the journey of your lifetime! Click here for more details about the Elephant and Rhino Conservation in South Africa!