A gap year break should be something memorable and exciting, as you're not likely to have many opportunities throughout your life when you can jet off on an extended trip overseas. South Africa tours are an ideal choice if you love wildlife spotting.
The country is packed with national parks and private game reserves, where you can see some of the continent's most famous residents - including the big five of elephants, lions, rhinos, buffalos and leopards. Here are five destinations where you'll be in with a chance of spotting these, and countless other, animals.
Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve
This is actually the oldest game reserve in South Africa, having been founded three years before Kruger National Park in 1895. It is also renowned for its efforts relating to white rhino conservation and now boasts the world's largest population of these big creatures. As a result, you'll probably have a better chance of observing rhinos here than anywhere else in the country. There's also a healthy black rhino population in the park, as well as the other four animals that make up the big five.
Kruger National Park
This is the most famous conservation area in the country and with good reason, as it spans 2 million hectares and is home to hundreds of different species. There are more than 500 kinds of bird in the park, as well as 147 types of mammal and 34 varieties of amphibian. Of course, the big five all live here, but it might be more of a challenge to spot the little five - a list comprised of the buffalo weaver, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion and rhino beetle.
In addition to all the wildlife, there are a few cultural sites worth visiting in Kruger National Park, such as the Albasini Ruins - which are the remains of a 19th century trading post established by Portuguese trader Joao Albasini - and Thulamela, an Iron Age site where numerous artefacts and graves have been unearthed.
Hermanus is a seaside town, rather than a national park, but it's one of the best places in the country - and in fact the world - to go whale watching. Situated to the south of Cape Town, it's a great place to visit if you're keen to spot some large marine life as well as the famous creatures on dry land. Between the months of May and December, you can see southern right whales off the coast, as hundreds of them gather in the area to breed and calf. It's possible to see them from the shore, but for a close-up view, join a boat trip.
Kariega Game Reserve
Back on dry land, another top spot for seeing South Africa's most famous inhabitants is the private Kariega Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape province. Hyenas, hippos, wildebeest, giraffes and zebras are among the animals you can view, in addition to the big five, while the onsite spa at its lodge will add a touch of luxury to your gap year adventure.
Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain National Park is not as packed with the large animals as the rest of South Africa, but some of its residents make it worth a visit. The jackass penguin colony at Boulders Beach is a charming sight to behold, while numerous species of antelope live around the slopes of the famous peak, including the recently reintroduced klipspringer.