Seeing the Big 5 in Africa is right at the very top of many a bucket list around the world and quite rightly.
There’s not much that can beat looking in the eye of a lion, observing an elephant drinking through it’s trunk or stumbling across a solid, but silent, rhino munching his way through the day…
Africa has some of the very best animals on the planet and they have to be seen to be believed!
As a family we love a safari holiday, and take them as often as we can, so we’re not new to spending time with these inspiring creatures. We’ve been lucky enough to see the Big 5 in the flesh a few times over (well, leopard only recently!), but at every chance I get I want to be in the bush, surrounded by the sounds, sights and scents of nature. It really is one of my happiest places.
I’m so pleased to have been able to introduce my 2 kids to their African heritage from an early age. Our visits over the years to various game reserves around South Africa have fostered a deep love of wildlife and from the sounds of things I’m set to have a ranger in the family in just a few years time based on my son’s enthusiasm for animals, especially African ones!
Nothing beats seeing animals in their natural environment – for adults and kids alike. A trip to the zoo or the circus to see wild animals is actually rather heart-breaking in comparison. Watching a whole herd of elephants interact in their matriarchy system, a trio of “duggar boys” rolling in the mud or a baby hippo emerge from it’s swim are all moments that will be ingrained in your memory for a lifetime!
But what about those of you who just can’t get up to the bush due to time or budget constraints?
If you’re a Cape Town-based family or a tourist visiting South Africa for only a week maybe you just can’t make your way up to the Kruger… and in that case I’ve got the solution!
Aquila Private Game Reserve is located less than 2 hours drive from Cape Town just off the N1 highway we recently took a turn here and spent 24 hours enjoying a safari in the Western Cape for a change…
On arrival we were greeted with mugs of hot chocolate for the kids and the option of a glass of local wine or a tot of sherry for the adults. I opted for the more warming option!
We then made our way into the large dining area to enjoy a buffet lunch.. passing a welcoming committee of an entirely different variety on the way… .
My son’s rather apt description of a buffet: “I like this way of eating because there’s so much to choose from, but the problem is that you end up eating it all!” He made me laugh because it’s all true. There was always plenty of second helpings to hand which ensured we didn’t go hungry at Aquila!
After lunch we took a short walk through the grounds and facilities at Aquila to orientate ourselves, making particular note of the beautiful new spa and the kiddies facilities to come back to take advantage of during our stay!
We then made our way to our suite – the master bedroom downstairs and the kids loft above – for a short snooze before it was time to head out on our first 4×4 safari.
Aquila is a super popular option for tourists and the vehicle was full of families from Cape Town and further afield all eager to spot their first African animals.
The Karoo at this time of the year is barren and beautiful. I loved seeing the stark natural scenery change colour with the setting sun… it was just as special in many ways as our sighting of 2 elephant enjoying their evening meal.
At Aquila there is little vegetation to make up the natural diets of the animals who would usually live further north, so they help the animals through the drier months by supplementing their food, this means that you’re almost guaranteed to see 4 of the Big 5 on your very first game drive!
Our game drive sightings including 2 elephant bulls, a lone springbok, a gaggle of ostriches, a pod of hippos submerging themselves in the dam (including a teeny, tiny baby – if hippo’s can be tiny!), a dazzle of zebra, a buffalo and a crash of rhino – too many to count!
Sundowner drinks are an essential part of a safari and we weren’t disappointed – drinks and snacks were enjoyed while getting to know our fellow passengers before we headed over the ridge and into the lion camp where we would witness a pride indulging in their dinner!!
The next morning dawned bright and freezing! There was actual frost on the ground when we headed out on our morning game drive (quite an unusual site for us coastal dwellers!).
We definitely hadn’t packed enough beanies, gloves and scarfs for the temperature and so we piled on the supplied blankets in the back of the 4×4 and huddled together for some extra warmth!
The animals seemed oblivious to the freezing cold and we found a lone giraffe, some eland and a party of dancing wildebeest showing off their moves in the morning light.
Our ranger, “Eyes”, also taught us how to tell the difference between a male and a female rhinoceros! Do you know what it is??
After our buffet breakfast we dropped the kids off at the Kids Club and headed back to our rooms to change into our swimwear for some R&R time at the spa’s facilities…
(Be sure to come back tomorrow when I share my review about the Tranquila Spa at Aquila and details about our special couples treatment. What a spoil!)
Our kids were only too happy to enjoy a morning playing life-size chess and putt-putt in the sunshine and we were thrilled to have some time out together too.
But a family getaway is also about the time spent as a family making memories together and so we made sure we also fitted in a final game of putt-putt to finish off our stay!
Aquila Private Nature Reserve is ideally located for anyone in Cape Town keen to see the Big 5 up close and personal. We saw 4 out of 5 on our 1 day trip and as I said you’re quite likely to see all 4 on just one game drive.
Aquila arranges transfers to and from their reserve for day visitors, overnight or weekend guests.
Please note that those of you lucky enough to have already visited other Big 5 reserves in South Africa might find the experience a bit disappointing – this is a very different experience from bumbling through dense bush and stumbling across tracks that you follow to the next unexpected sighting.
Nevertheless, there are definitely aspects of this type of safari that would appeal, especially for those with young kids who have yet to brave the bush due to travel time and expense, or those who are concerned about malaria (Aquila is a malaria-free zone). It’s also an easy option for tourists only visiting Cape Town on their travels to Africa or Capetonians who have international visitors who they’d like to introduce to the “real” Africa and the incredible animals who call the continent home!
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