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While many travellers put seeing the Big Five at the top of their wish lists, there are other reasons to head out on safari beyond catching glimpses of lions and leopard in the wild (as magnificent as that is). New iterations of the adventure classic are drawing visitors in to the complex and multilayered landscape of the veldt, and adding new ways of understanding and appreciating the wonder that is Africa.

The slow safari

While the safari ritual is standard at most lodges – a 5 a.m. wake-up for the morning excursion (don’t worry, there’s fresh coffee to start and a stop for breakfast out in the bush) and 4 p.m. departure – the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in the southwest part of South Africa’s Kruger National Park puts a renewed emphasis on in-depth study of animal behaviour. Outings here, one of the best known game destinations in Africa, allow for more time to observe the animals in the wild, with excursions led by guides who are knowledgeable not just about the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo), but about the Little Five (elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, leopard tortoise, antlion and rhino beetle, less noticed but still enigmatic dwellers in the bushveld) and the local vegetation.

Dawn safaris reveal elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, leopards, giraffes – the whole Lion King roster – and the twilight journey lets you see the animals in a different light. There are also guided walking safaris, with an armed guard, just in case, that concentrate on the smaller animals and flora. One grace note I particularly appreciated at Sabi Sabi’s Earth Lodge – a high-design luxury escape – were art supplies in the bedside-table drawer for guests desiring to to paint or sketch.

A four day fly-in Safari package at Earth Lodge begins at $8,168 a person. One night, with full board begins at $1,868 a person. sabisandsgamereserves.com

Botantical safari

The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve sits among the rolling hills of fynbos, which features more than 9,000 plant species.Handout

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, in the Gansbaai region of South Africa’s Western Cape, is surrounded by the world’s most diverse botanical area, the Cape Floral Kingdom. The five-star resort sits amongst the rolling hills of fynbos, the rich South African bush vegetation with more than 9,000 species of plants.

So while a flower safari may sound pretty tame, it is anything but. A tour, done either on horseback or in a jeep, of the rolling hills covered in flowering bushes reveals the intricate interconnectedness of plants, birds and insects.

My guide, Clayton, knew the botanical names of every bush and flower. “This is the protea leucadendron coniferum, but you don’t need to know the Latin name," he said, pointing at a shrub with yellow leaves. "It is far more interesting to know that there are both male and female forms of plants in the fynbos and that some of them produce a silky parachute that spreads the seeds in the wind. Some of the seeds are spread by mice or rodents and some of these plants flourish only after enduring a fire.”

Some of the plants documented at Grootbos are found only in this private reserve, and it is that special and rare diversity that the resort is dedicated to saving. Rates from $1,055 a night, including full board and activities. grootbos.com

Marine safari

A marine safari in Gansbaai offers encounters with seals, sharks, whales and more.

If you’ve seen the animals, why not do the fishes? Both Grootbos and the elegant White Pearl Resort in Mozambique offer marine safaris, with the chance to see the aquatic big five – dolphins, whales, sharks, seals and penguins. (The devastating cyclone that has ravaged Mozambique has thankfully not damaged White Pearl, which is located on the Indian Ocean in the far southern tip of the country.) You can try out shark cage diving in the Gansbaai too, if that’s on your risk-list.

White Pearl, built into an ocean-facing hillside and cradled in a crescent bay lined by white sandy beach, offers the two-part Bush to Beach Safari. Not far from the resort is a nature reserve, and guests can enjoy an animal safari in the early morning and either a marine safari or a beach experience in the afternoon.

If you want to keep focus on the water, you are in the right place here. Each villa has its own butler, who will schedule your picnic lunch on the beach, arrange a marine discovery walk, a beach horseback ride or a snorkelling excursion. He’ll also bring you breakfast to enjoy by the plunge pool while you watch the dolphins just offshore. Rates begin at $730 a night and include full board and most activities. whitepearlresorts.com

The author travelled as a guest of GoWay Tours. It did not review or approve this article.

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