Big 5 Safari - Volunteer Project

This Big Five Safari Reserve began in 1999 as a joint conservation venture. Today, six independently owned lodges are all accredited safari lodges. The lodges are managed by the descendants of the original families who arrived here with the British settlers of 1820. Looking at the amount of work and the interest of international visitors to do more than just go on safari drives, this project came to life and started offering volunteering opportunities in 2006.

Project includes the following

Accommodation Yes
Meals Yes
Transport Yes
Project co-ordinator Yes

Cost of Project

1 week 415 euro 540 USD 332 GBP
2 weeks 810 euro 1055 USD 648 GBP
3 weeks 1185 euro 1540 USD 948 GBP
4 weeks 1560 euro 2030 USD 1248 GBP
Extra weeks 385 euro 500 USD 308 GBP
Transfer (any day) -
one way
60 euro 78 USD 48 GBP

About this project

This Big Five Safari Reserve began in 1999 as a joint conservation venture. Today, six independently owned lodges are all accredited safari lodges. The lodges are managed by the descendants of the original families who arrived here with the British settlers of 1820. The lodges offer various styles of accommodation, which include two gracious colonial homesteads, two classic bush lodges, a historic inn and a Settler farmhouse.  Looking at the amount of work and the interest of international visitors to do more than just go on safari drives, this project came to life and started offering volunteering opportunities in 2006.

Mission of the project
This Big Five Safari Reserve is a unique conservation initiative that allows animals to be re-introduced to the area where they once roamed freely and so making a contribution to the conservation of our natural heritage. The land was used to ranch sheep and cattle up to the turn of the century. The challenge has been to re-establish the original flora and fauna species to the area and to return the land to nature.

Role of the volunteer
The volunteers will work together with the game ranger (‘game’ means wild animals) who is responsible for all their activities. Volunteers assist in a variety of tasks and activities all related in running a safari reserve and maintaining infrastructure, well-kept animals and any initiatives relating to this reserve.

The project has several staff members with a variety of responsibilities such as admin staff, maintenance staff, field workers and game rangers. You will work with a variety of people from all walks of live. 

Daily guidance
Volunteers will be supervised by one game ranger who is in charge of all activities, the house and any help you might need. He lives at the volunteer house and will look after your meals, after work activities, fun outings, driving you up and down to the reserve and help you with whatever you need. He is extremely experienced and can really show and teach you a lot about the big and small things in the bush.

Other volunteers
This project is specifically selected to give you a unique and personal experience. This volunteer co-ordinator believes in smaller projects with a limited amount of volunteers to guarantee this uniqueness. Volunteer numbers therefore differ from 1-10 and as volunteers come and go numbers can differ. Most volunteers are from the UK, USA and Western Europe.

Tasks and activities

As a Volunteer at the Big Five Safari Reserve, your primary responsibility is monitoring the lions, with the rest of the day filled with tasks and duties based around the reserve. You may also have the chance to assist with many on-going short and long term projects on the reserve. A list below provides the details of various projects both on-going and experienced by past volunteers.

Duties at any one time may change, which means no week at the reserve is the same.

Daily activities
Activities can be seen in long term project, general duties and short term projects. The activities during your stay will be a variation of all these activities. Not all activities can be guaranteed to take place during your stay however, so see it as a surprise of what you will be doing!

Long term projects:Rhino

  • Animal Counts
  • Animal Tracking using telemetry
  • Territorial ranges and feeding range monitoring
  • Lion health and breeding monitoring
  • Giraffe movement and breeding monitoring
  • Local community sustainability
  • Assisting vulnerable children and aids orphans
  • Birds in Reserves Project

General reserve duties:

  • Erosion control
  • Fence patrol and maintenance
  • Herbarium development
  • Alien plant control
  • Bush clean and clear up
  • Road maintenance
  • Boma maintenance

Short term projects:

  • Game capture, counts and monitoring
  • Medicinal use of plants and vegetation biomes
  • Guided walks, tracking and trails through the reserve
  • Nocturnal predator monitoring

Pipeline projects:

  • Wetland restoration

Future Projects:

  • To continue all current running projects to their full effect
  • Start providing basic pre-school education at the Isipho Centre
  • Start getting involved in active sport games at Isipho to aid children’s health and fitness
  • Relocation and renovation of the Isipho vegetable plot
  • Bi-annual neutering of stray dogs and cats in and around the surrounding townships

Fun Activities:

  • Bush camping
  • Navigation and Compass Orientation
  • Xhosa Bush Tour
  • Target shooting
  • Updating Project Information on the Computer
  • Canoeing
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • 5-Star Lodge Experience
  • Dissections
  • Darting and relocations
  • Game drives
  • Volunteer diary for our website

Working days and hours
The working week at the reserve will usually comprise of a 5 day week working 8 hours a day (Monday-Friday). Time to start and finish work will depend on the activities of the day and time of year.

Blue Kingfisher

Area description

The area
The reserve is situated in the Eastern Cape, 85 kilometres from the Port Elizabeth airport, in a beautiful area. The environment provides a home for a vast quantity of animals and vegetation, truly a feast for the eyes. Your home whilst working on the Big Five Safari Reserve will be in the town of Paterson. This town was once an important railway link until steam trains were derailed in the 1980’s. By 1996, the rail functions had been transferred to the city of Port Elizabeth and Paterson became semi-dormant.

The farming community of Paterson saw a clash of domestic and wild animal hunting interests, which caused the eradication of ‘problem animals’. Substantial parts of the area since have become sanctuaries for wildlife and nature-based conservation. The last 200 years have seen dramatic changes in the farming and conservation around Paterson, with several farms diversifying into game reserves. The local community is actively involved in the running of these game reserves, retraining from farmers and labourers into maintenance and service workers. Paterson has since become a busy town offering a Café, coffee and cheese shop, fuel stations, Take-away, 2 mini-supermarkets, a
post office and the popular Sand flats Public House.

Your Co-ordinator is qualified in First Aid and First Aid kits are available at the volunteer house. Local doctors and hospitals are available in Port Elizabeth, a 1-hour drive away. Tetanus injections are highly recommended. Please consult your GP for advice on immunisation requirements. As the reserve is a Malaria Free area you don’t have to worry about prophylaxis.

Your personal safety is very important to us and this project has been picked to offer you safety. The town of Paterson is not Johannesburg and crime is not as most people think and expect. You live in a safe house and will be looked after by an experienced ranger. There is a safe to keep valuables if needed as well.paterson

Evenings and weekends are allocated for your leisure to either relax in the pub or sit in front of an open fire. Alternatively a wide variety of activities can be booked from the volunteer house. A full list of activities is available at the house, which includes car hire companies should you simply like to explore the area for yourself.


Volunteers are accommodated in a one-storey 7-bedroom house, which overlooks a large garden and within walking distance of the local bar and basic shops. Most of the rooms are doubles, with 3 sharing one bathroom, 2 sharing a second bathroom and 2 rooms being en suite. Each bathroom has a hot water shower.

A communal dining and sitting room with digital satellite TV is central to the house, with well equipped kitchen and office space adjoining. A sun room provides additional seating room where the internet and telephone is available. The internet is charged at R10 per 30 minute interval. If you spend less than 30 min the R10 rule still applies and telephone calls can be made from the telephone using a World Call Card.

The house also has an outside seating area with braai (BBQ) and fire pit for chilly nights and social gatherings.

The electrical sockets in the house are 2 and 3 round- prong and will require international adapters which should be purchased before arrival.

All meat, fruit and vegetables are provided for the volunteers at the house. Volunteers are responsible for cooking evening meals in the communal kitchen, so show what you’ve got up your sleeve. Breakfast and lunch are prepared individually so you grab what you like in the mornings and take a packed lunch when needed. Sweet treats and snack food can be bought in one of the shops in Paterson which you will pass daily on your way to the reserve.

Vegetarian and other dietary requirements can be catered for with prior notification, so please let us know so we can be prepared.

Laundry is provided during the working week by the cleaning lady. She washes depending on how much washing there is, so don’t worry about doing it yourself!

How to get there?

Arriving at the project
Upon arrival at Port Elizabeth Airport you can make your own way, or you can choose to be collected by a representative who will transport you to the volunteer house in Paterson (approximately 1 hour drive). Please note that extra fees apply for pickups from the airport (see costs).

You will be greeted at the Volunteer house by the Volunteer Co-ordinator. They will provide you with a short briefing of the house rules, general programme and show you around the house and the facilities. You will then be shown your room and allowed to settled in and meet the other volunteers who you will be sharing the accommodation with. A small booklet will also provide you with more useful information regarding your stay.

Daily transport
During your time on the Reserve, you will be under the supervision and instruction of a qualified Game Ranger who has a vehicle that is there just for the volunteers. He will drive you up and down where needed.

Possibilities for arranging own transport
If you like to travel during your stay you can rent a vehicle in Port Elizabeth, but it is much easier to plan any travelling before or after your stay at the project.
The project co-ordinator offers a variety of discounted travel options such as;

    • Rental cars with Avis
    • Overland tours with Nomad                    10% discount
    • Backpackers bus with the Bazbus                    5% discount

View of the Reserve


Cost of the project
The minimum stay is 1 week and the costs are as follows:

1 week 415 euro 540 USD 332 GBP
2 weeks 810 euro 1055 USD 648 GBP
3 weeks 1185 euro 1540 USD 948 GBP
4 weeks 1560 euro 2030 USD 1248 GBP
Extra weeks 385 euro 500 USD 308 GBP
Transfer (any day) -
one way
60 euro 78 USD 48 GBP

Included in the fees are your accommodation, all meals, a cleaning lady and a once a week laundry service. All the training programs you’ll need to do your work at the project are also included.

The fees exclude the transfer from and to Port Elizabeth, your flights, vaccination, visa and personal expenses.

Our volunteer project co-ordinator can organize your transfer from PE airport to the project which costs an additional 60 euro/78 USD/48 GBP one way. So if you like to be picked up and at the end of your stay taken to PE again double this amount.

Dates and duration

Start dates
Starting dates are flexible, so you can start any week but preferably on Mondays. But again; we are flexible so check with us what dates would match your preferred starting date so we can see what is possible.

Participation is from 1 week minimum and you can only book per full weeks. Your maximum stay is 12 weeks.

Practical tips

Temperatures during the year can vary, so please keep in mind that South Africa is not always as hot as most people think.

Summers get really warm and winters very cold. This is a summer rain fall area. There is usually no snow in winter.

Summer (Dec, Jan and Feb):     16 – 35 ˚ Celsius
Autumn (Mar, April and May):  10 - 32 ˚ Celsius
Winter (June, July and Aug):      0 - 25 ˚ Celsius
Spring (Sep, Oct and Nov):         10 - 32 ˚ Celsius

It’s best to wear natural colour clothing. It fits the working place better and bright colours might scare the animals. In winter time it can be very cold, so bring warm clothing and a jacket and in summer remember the swimming costume! A hat can also be convenient.

Packing List

  • Warm clothes – Hat, Scarf and Gloves
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Thick Fleece/Coat
  • Working/hiking boots
  • Rockies or light canvas shoes for around the house
  • Flip-flops
  • Work Gloves
  • Long trousers
  • Old shirt/old trousers (in case of painting with the children on Fridays)

Cheetah with her cubsThe Port Elizabeth/Grahamstown area is known to have 4 seasons in one day. Please pack sensibly for cold and warm weather conditions. Volunteers will be working on the Big Five Safari Reserve for the majority of the day. It is important to note the wind-chill factor for early morning drives into the reserve, particularly in winter (June – September). Blankets are provided at the house to offer extra warmth in the vehicle. The reserve is a short journey in an open Land Rover from Paterson and therefore you will be asked to take enough layers/equipment and food out with you to last the day – and clothing for any impending weather conditions.

Other items to bring:

  • Binoculars
  • Travel adapters to South African 3-pron round pin – can be bought in Paterson
  • Torch (additional batteries can be purchased in Paterson)
  • Sleeping bag + mat
  • Small pocket knife
  • Travel pillow/Camping pillow
  • Money belt
  • Personal toiletries – including soap, insect repellent and suntan lotion (although a certain amount of basic toiletries can be bought in Paterson)
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • Cap/sunhat
  • Beach Towel

Items provided at the house:

  • Bath towel – not to be taken from the house
  • Clothes washing service
  • Lunch boxes
  • Thermos flasks
  • Bush camping kitchen equipment

Please bear in mind, when packing for your stay; the Big Five Safari Reserve is involved with a great deal of community work with underprivileged children. Any old clothes, stationary etc. would be very appreciated by these children should you have the opportunity to bring anything.


It is important to look at your expectations of your stay at this project; what do you hope to get out of this experience and are your expectation realistic. You can expect to have a great experience, learn about the animals and bush and how a safari reserve works in all its smaller and bigger things. Some volunteers are lucky and can assist in capturing bigger game, such as lion and elephant, but this cannot be guaranteed so be open minded, go with the flow and see what comes your way during your stay.

Extra money 

You will need some pocket money for your own luxuries, such as snacks, a cool drink or a beer, so bring some extra money for these things.

Immunization & Vaccination 

This is a malaria free area; in fact we have very little mosquitoes at all. It is best to contact your local physician before you leave your country to check what inoculations they advise you to have. Rabies is NOT common here and no real risk, so no need for that.


 Accidents can happen to anyone. Make sure you get comprehensive travel and medical insurance. Shop around and make sure it’s right for you. Think about activities you may be doing, even spur of moment ones, and make sure you're covered for these. Your policy also needs to cover medical costs. If you do not take out proper insurance, you will foot the bill.

Next to your international travel insurance we advise you to get the VOLUNTEER CARD; this will not only cover your volunteering activities but will also give you an incredible amount of discount options throughout the world! US and Canada nationals can order the card online, other internationals can email us for the order form!


Your passport must have enough pages for any visa. Your passport should have 2 pages free for every country to be visited. Please ensure that you take your own passport out from your hotel / backpackers safe the night before departure. It is absolutely necessary that you make a copy of your passport and give it to your supervisors; we strongly recommend that you also leave a copy at home or with some friends. Please note that South Africa insists on people having 2-free pages available when you enter. Keep this in mind if you are going to fly home from South Africa after completing a tour to multiple African countries. 

Please ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months after your date of departure from Africa.

You are personally responsible for ensuring that passports, visas, vaccination certificates and other travel documents are in order and for all costs relating thereto.


As visa requirements vary considerably, please contact the various embassies or a visa service agent to recheck visa requirements at least 4 weeks prior to departing.

Most countries do not have a need to obtain a visa beforehand and will receive a free 3 month visa when arriving in South Africa.

Please note that visas are the responsibility of the traveller and that project co-ordinators will not be held responsible for clients being denied entry should they not be in the possession of the relevant visas. All travellers must be in possession of a valid onward/return air ticket.


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