Africa South Africa

Finding the Big Five: A South African Safari

A trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without a safari. Not wanting to miss out on a true African experience, we booked a day at Aquila Private Game Reserve.

When researching nearby safaris. Aquila was one of the closest and one of the more affordable. Many other reserves were quite costly, and were easily too far for a day trip.

There was so much we wanted to do in Cape Town, which meant that we didn’t want to be travelling too far, and Aquila was the perfect place. We had an amazing adventure, one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Booking online

We had been researching different safaris online when we found Aquila. It seemed to be close enough to Cape Town that we could get there and back in a day, and just about affordable.

The trip to South Africa was for a friend’s wedding, and after speaking to them about the safari idea, there were six of us keen to go.

Aquila don’t have an online booking system, so you have to liaise with one of their booking agents which was hard work. After several chat conversations over a few days, we’d been able to secure a group booking with a 10% discount; 4 of us would be doing the quad bike safari and two of us would be doing the morning safari.

I chose to do the morning safari so I’d have more opportunity to take photos.

There was then further conversations over email where the previous pricing agreement was lost and so there were several emails that went to and fro to try and work out what we were paying and how we were going to pay it.

I would say it was the only part of the whole experience which was really disappointing; I couldn’t believe booking for 6 people could be such hard work.

Location

The game reserve was a two hour drive from Cape Town through the mountains and was a fairly straightforward journey but involved getting up pretty early so we could arrive for 7am.

It was a bit of a gamble as to whether Google Maps would get us there. We didn’t see much signage until we got pretty close, and there wasn’t much civilisation en-route either.

Arrival

We arrived at the game reserve to smiling faces and friendly staff. After parking up and checking in at reception, we were free to wander round and visit the continental breakfast.

We walked through the rustic, thatched cottages to the main canteen where there was a huge breakfast buffet on offer. Fruits, cereals, meats, cheeses, pastries, and an unlimited supply of tea, coffee, and fruit juices.

After getting up early and spending the first few hours cooped up in the car, it was a welcome break.

We helped ourselves to food and took some time to relax before we needed to get ready for our safari.

Morning safari

Those doing their quad bike safari needed to get ready first so the whole group headed back out to the front of the reserve where staff were on hand to provide helmets and show how to use the controls.

Once they were all kitted up and ready to go, we left them to it, and headed for our own safari experience.

As the last two to arrive at the truck, we were lucky enough to be seated up front next to the driver which gave us an amazing view.

The truck set off and I was buzzing with excitement. Driving away from the little village of buildings where we’d been all morning, the open-air truck passed through some gates and entered the reserve. It was like stepping into a completely different place. All of a sudden, the sight and sounds of people melted away and all we could see was untamed wilderness.

After ten minutes or so of driving, the driver pulled up in the hope we could glimpse some buffalo, and it quickly become a game of spot the animal.

The game reserve is huge, 10,000 hectares in total, which gives the animals plenty of space to hide. While I could just about see the horns of a buffalo in between the brush, I didn’t get a clear enough view. Personally, I was more impressed with our eagle-eyed guide.

Disappointment didn’t last too long as the truck soon came to a stop not far from an elephant.

This graceful and impressive animal is my mum’s favourite but I don’t think I’ve ever felt true awe until that moment. Only ten metres or so from the truck, this magnificent elephant slowly and methodically grazed nearby bushes, not paying us any attention, completely relaxed in its surroundings.

I could have easily sat and watched the elephant all day. There was another in the distant and I was eager to follow. But our guide had promised he would try to find the Big 5, and so we began to head towards the lion enclosure, while entertaining us with facts and tidbits about the animals and the reserve.

Our next stop was near the rhinos. The truck always kept a respectful distance, but the animals would often come closer. Here, we stopped near the rhino herd where we had a good view of the baby, only a year or two old. We’d only stopped for about five minutes when a herd of zebra appeared and began to make their way over. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by rhinos and zebra.

We set off again, passing giraffe and antelope as we went before being let into the lion’s enclosure.

While the reserve is mostly free for the animals to roam, the lions are kept in a separate space so they aren’t able to hunt the antelope and buffalo that the reserve protected.

We were given strict instructions to stay within the vehicle at all times. And were warned that we might not get to see the lions at all. They often slept during the day, and when it was really hot, could be found hiding in the cooler spots.

Luck was on our side. The lions weren’t overly active, but they were still basking in the sunshine before the day become too warm, and could be seen lazing on the rocky slopes.

We headed out the other side of the lion’s enclosure, and began the journey back to the main buildings. We spotted some ostriches, a few more giraffes and even came across some hippos enjoying a bath. Two of them had been casually walking on the road and dashed into the water for safety when they saw us coming. I never knew they could move so quick!

The morning safari came to an end with most of us wishing we could do it all over again. Our guide had been excellent and he was generously tipped by everyone as they climbed out the truck. He had been witty, friendly, entertaining and more than willing to answer questions about the animals. His passion was infectious.

The perfect end to a perfect day

After being reunited with the rest of the group, we decided to make the most of the facilities on offer and headed to the pool. We were all super dusty from the safari and desperately needed to freshen up. But we didn’t mind; the views were stunning and we could just about glimpse an elephant or two on horizon.

While we relaxed by the pool, dipped a toe or two in the water, and enjoyed a refreshing drink, we swapped stories and compared experiences.

Knowing we had a long drive back to Cape Town, we soon packed up our stuff and headed back.

All in all, we had a great day. If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, Aquila is a great reserve to visit, and I would hands down do it again. I don’t think it’s an experience you could ever get bored of.

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28th April 2020
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