IIf you've ever been on a safari, you'll know how difficult the vehicles are with the game: the big noise the engines make when they start and the noise as they head through the woods. However, it is the kind of noise that you get used to and may not even notice – until you are no longer there.
That's what happened when I got into one of the new electric 4x4s in Cheetah Plains and experienced the joy of an almost silent game.
The vehicles – Toyota Land Cruisers with Tesla batteries – are more or less the first in the popular Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa. (The luxurious Londolozi guesthouse tested a few years ago, but development stopped when Land Rover stopped producing the the center of the project).
Given the novelty, we get strange looks from guests from neighboring shops. One morning we shared a leopard sighting with another 4×4 that arrived with the usual loud noises and roars as it headed for the big cat and its seven-month-old cub.
After a while, Matt, our guide, asked if we were ready to leave. He started the engine quietly and we went down with only a sound. In the other vehicle, everyone lost interest in the leopards, turning to look at our Cruiser with a jumble of drooping jaw.
It's not just the people who look like surprises. Around the corner, we found a herd of impalas on the road. The antelopes turned their heads to look at us with a puzzled expression. They would normally have drifted away from hearing the engine. "How did you get here?" They seemed to ask.
In places where animals are most nervous, this may have undesirable results; you do not want to surprise a grumpy elephant. But the Sabi Sands animals, well accustomed to the vehicles, take everything at a good pace. Our silent approach does not panic with the wildlife we encounter, from a family of wild boars and impala with thin-haired newborns to a solitary elephant, a pair of white rhinos and lions feeding on a zebra kill.
Cheetah Plains – a luxury inn comprised of three four-bedroom exclusive villas – reopened in December 2018 after a complete renovation that reflects a responsible approach to safari. Owner Japie van Niekerk told me that the lodge will be "100% off the grid by the end of April", running entirely on solar power. The villas are equipped with gray water recycling systems and are almost free of single use plastics.
Electric vehicles are a big part of the sustainability drive (so to speak): with zero emissions and batteries charged with solar energy, the environmental benefits are clear. Then there is the lack of noise pollution. People travel to the bush largely because of tranquility. A noisy engine is a major irritant – a problem Van Niekerk was determined to solve.
"I've been involved in motor sports for 12, 15 years," he said. "I went to one of the familiar guys and said," Let's do something that looks like a Land Cruiser. We will adjust the suspension so that it functions as a Range Rover, but it should work like a golf cart. "In a gaming unit, it is not uncommon to spend four to six hours a day in a vehicle.
With this in mind, van Niekerk set about perfecting "his most expensive seat, his most comfortable seat". Your team has created one that you sit and do not lean slightly back with the sides raised. There are winter warm seat mounts and USB chargers to ensure you do not run out of camera battery at a crucial time. Converting each of the cruisers costs about $ 100,000 (£ 77,730).
Enhanced suspension makes these Land Cruisers the most comfortable safari vehicles I've ever been on. As we advanced, there was only a slight crash in place of what now appears to be a highly unpleasant motor racket. "It sounds a bit like a cable car," said one guest. I could easily hear Matt from the backseats while he drove – a big plus. Generally, it is difficult to detect any verbal exchange above the three-line mechanism behind.
As guinea pigs, we had some technical problems. One night, when a storm grew around us, our vehicle did not start. Forked lightning crackled in the pink sky. Fortunately, after a few worried attempts, Matt was able to start it. In another way, the vehicle refused to reverse a gentle bank. "Did you turn it off and call again?" Asked Simm. Of course, as with so much technology, this worked.
Another issue is the mileage between the loads – currently around 30 miles (48 km). "This has to do with software programming and the most efficient use of batteries," van Niekerk said.
But the batteries themselves are a problem. Consider the environmental and community impacts of mining for the raw materials, as well as the energy needed to produce them. The Global Battery Alliance – an organization launched by the World Economic Forum to drive a more sustainable battery industry – found that in Germany, where more than 30 percent of energy sources are renewable, "it takes nine years for an electric car to be greener than a diesel car, "assuming a specific average mileage.
Until then, most electric vehicles will have been replaced. Batteries can, of course, be recycled or reused, but they are expensive. Despite these reservations, there is no doubt that electric vehicles are the future, both on the road and in the bush. And on the safari, there's a bonus: silence is a luxury – and when it's good for our planet, it's even better.
Journeys by Design (01273 623790; journeysbydesign.com) offers six nights in South Africa from £ 8,542pp (four shares) including three nights at the exclusive Cheetah Plains and three nights at Ellerman House Villa. Domestic flights and road transfers are also included.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Johannesburg from £ 416 back. From there, Federal Air (0027 11 395 9000; fedair.com) flies to Cheetah Plains from £ 640 return.