We have a number of talks coming up about our expeditions, register for a talk by clicking here!

  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Click Here for Expedition Dates


Terrestrial Site – Somkhanda Game Reserve

This expedition begins in Somkhanda Game Reserve, a community owned Big 5 game in the Zululand district of KwaZulu Natal. Groups at Somkhanda will spend part of their time in the bush completing mammal distribution surveys from vehicles using DISTANCE sampling and emptying camera traps. Foot based surveys with armed safety officers are completed to assess levels of vegetation browsing and grazing from big herbivores to determine the carrying capacity of the reserve. The bird communities are also being monitored from foot-based point count surveys. The other part of the week is spent back in the camp learning about African wildlife conservation and management and the safety procedures needed to operate in wildlife reserve with large game species. In addition, they will be learning how to track animals, identify some of the main tree, bird and mammal species encountered and helping with analysis of camera trap footage. Thus, some of the students will spend the morning in camp with briefings and lectures followed by the afternoon in the bush, whilst the rest will spend the morning in the bush and the afternoon on briefings and lectures, alternating each day. The schedule is full but there is time for the students, either individually or in small groups, to prepare a short presentation based around information they have learnt across the week and these presentations will be given on the Thursday evening.

The research activities in both reserves include helping with the following:

  • Herbivore impact on vegetation: This is assessed by completing a number of surveys such as animal impact, woody vegetation presence and dung presence within quadrats selected randomly around the reserve.
  • Estimating large mammal populations: Completing distance based large mammal surveys from vehicles to estimate abundance of the target species.
  • Bird surveys: Completing foot based point counts and transects to determine bird diversity.


Marine Site – Sodwana Bay

The students taking the joint terrestrial and marine option will spend their second week in Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. During this week at the group will be learning how to dive to PADI Open Water level which once the theory and pool training elements are completed involves 4 Open Water dives with Divemasters. If the students are already dive trained then they will be completing an Indian Ocean marine ecology course with lectures and dive based practicals. If there is part of the group that only want to snorkel then they complete the marine ecology course but with he practicals completed by snorkelling.

  • PADI Open Water dive training course: This course involves a combination of theory lessons, confined water dives and open water dives to gain an official scuba diving qualification.
  • Indian Ocean reef ecology course: This consists of lectures and inwater practicals either by diving (if a qualified diver) or snorkelling. The lectures in Sodwana Bay cover an introduction to coral reef ecosystem (characteristics of a reef, distribution of reefs in east Africa), coral and algal species (growth forms and common species), megafauna (whales, sharks, manta rays), mangrove and seagrass ecology (importance of connective systems, threats to mangroves), economically important invertebrates (lobster fishery, aquarium trade), identification of coral reef fish (main reef fish families), reef survey techniques (quadrats, transects, stereo video), threats to and conservation of reefs (protected marine areas in South Africa and Mozambique).
  • PADI Open Water referral course: For this option students need to arrive having already completed their theory and pool training components. This course takes three days to complete, after which, students will join the Indian Ocean coral reef ecology course.

South Africa Research Objectives

Operation Wallacea and our partners, Wildlife and Ecological Investments (WEI), coordinate large-scale research programmes to provide an empirical backbone for key conservation projects in South Africa. Our main aim is to assist conservation managers with pressing large-scale issues that they do not necessarily have the resources to address themselves. The South Africa research programme covers a series of reserves across the country, each using slightly different management strategies to conserve wildlife in their reserves. Big game areas in South Africa are fenced to avoid the spread of disease and conflicts between communities and dangerous animals. However, in reserves surrounded by densely populated areas such as Somkhanda Game Reserve, human-wildlife conflict can be a major challenge. Here, our research teams are looking at the extent of this conflict with a special focus on large mammal species. Large mammal distributions are monitored regularly through game transects, and nocturnal mammal distributions are assessed using a matrix of camera traps set up throughout the reserve. By combining this information with our knowledge of areas of dense human activity, we can begin to understand how human disturbance can alter large mammal movement and behaviour. 

The restriction of natural movement caused by fences can also lead to locally dense mammal populations with high levels of vegetation impact. Elephants, for example, are ecosystem engineers and their impact can alter vegetation structure and composition. By directly monitoring both fire and feeding impact on vegetation and its knock-on effects to other taxa, such as birds, our teams can assist the reserve managers to better understand how elephants can affect long-term change in the ecosystem. Monitoring of this type is also highly important in Gondwana Game Reserve, which is situated in the biodiversity hotspot of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape, and is one of the first reserves to introduce elephants back into this region. This Big-5 reserve has converted agricultural land to conservation, with the large mammals feeding on old agricultural grasslands as fynbos vegetation holds little nutritional value for large herbivores. Reserve management here have therefore asked us to monitor how the large, enigmatic game species are utilising the various vegetation types found within the reserve, to conserve the diversity of critically endangered vegetation types while supporting Big-5 tourism and conservation of the area. 

  • Learning about African conservation and wildlife management from lectures & workshops
  • Learn survey methods for assessing large mammals, birds and vegetation
  • Learn tracking skills in the African bush
  • Gain a PADI Open water dive qualification or learn about marine ecology

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis

Our expeditions run during the South African winter, so temperatures at all terrestrial sites regularly drop below 5 degrees at night. It is dry season, however, so the chances of rain are slim and days are usually sunny and warm with temperatures up to 18-22 degrees. The temperatures are generally warmer at night in Sodwana, and the sun can be quite fierce when out all day at the beach.

Fitness level required
Low. There are some short hikes over rough terrain, but most of the work is in or close to the game-viewer vehicles.

Creature comforts
In Somkhanda you will be staying in large safari-style tents with bunk beds and large, structured tents are used for the kitchen and communal areas. Sodwana accommodation is in shared tents and you will need to bring a roll mat to sleep on. All sites have hot running showers, flushing toilets and access to electricity for large portions of the day. There is very little phone signal in Somkhanda, but decent signal in Sodwana Bay. No sites have access to wifi.


  • South Africa
  • Sodwana Bay
  • Somkhanda

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

   Latest from our blog

  • Stories from Sodwana

    Posted on 1st July 2024
    Sodwana Bay has many calls to fame – from the UNESCO recognized protected reefs to the variety of cultures that have amalgamated into a unique blend found only in Sodwana. On the beach, you will find a shop run by Peet, where...
  • My Experience in South Africa

    Posted on 4th March 2024
    Prior to coming to South Africa with Operation Wallacea, I was apprehending going to the wildlife part of the country. However, after the warm welcome that the staff of the Somkhanda Reserve and Sodwana Bay offered us, as well as the amazing...
  • School Spotlight! – Nexus International School, Singapore

    Posted on 24th October 2018
    Written by Lee Wilson Nexus International School (Singapore) have participated in a number of OpWall expeditions over the last few years. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with our learners to Sulawesi, Indonesia and South Africa. I’ve returned from each expedition with...
Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
| +44 (0) 1790 763194 | info@opwall.com