Where to safari near Cape Town

After drinking far too much wine in the western cape, it was time for us to spread our wings and travel east. We were obviously keen to see the Big Five in the wild, but as our plans started to shrink (we were originally going to try and squeeze in Botswana/Namibia as well as South Africa) we knew there was far too much to experience in the west and south cape to travel far and wide.

With our time in South Africa, if we wanted to see the Big Five in vast numbers our options were: Kruger NP, Chobe NP (Botswana) or Etosha NP (Namibia) but all of them included flying, which we were hoping to avoid. Not only would flying be adding to our carbon footprint, it was also expensive. Add the expense of a safari experience for a week and it was looking well over our budget.

So we paired it back, ideally we needed to find a solution along the Garden Route, on our way from Stellenbosch, Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay (where we would be staying for a month.) We asked a LOT of locals and the response was a resounding: Gondwana Game Reserve.

We opted for the Kwena Lodge for two nights, full board package, half board was available (self catering not an option) but we figured we might as well remove any hassle, plus we got a great price. Our package included: Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner – 2 Game Drives per day – Afternoon tea. The price was approx $990 AUD per night. We were extremely lucky to get a discount and paid about half of that.

Gondwana Game Reserve is approx 27 000 acres in size with different parameters for different species – compare that with Kruger (19 485 km²) and it’s a totally different experience. We weren’t too discouraged after learning that Gondwana is the only free roaming Big Five reserve located in the Southern Cape. So if we were going to see them on this trip – it was going to be here.

I have to say, I hadn’t really done much research on the experience of a game reserve, all I knew was that while the reserve is gated (meaning the animals can’t escape) there is a wide area for them to roam and essentially be free. It did challenge my thoughts “is this irresponsible tourism?” and “aren’t these animals purchased, therefore, how is this different from a zoo?” but once I saw the scale of the place, I soon pushed those fears aside.

Once we arrived and checked into our lodge, we made our way to the dining hall for lunch. We were told that we’d need to be accompanied at night by a staff member because the animals can (and will) roam where they like. Lunch and dinner were three course affairs, so after I rolled from the dining hall to our lodge, we spent the next hour or so digesting before our first game drive.

The Big Five

Incase you didn’t know (like me), the Big Five consists of:  lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. The term ‘Big Five’ comes from the game hunting industry because they were the top five animals that gave their hunters most difficulty due to their unpredictable behaviour. Not because they’re the biggest or the fastest or most powerful.

Our game drives lasted about two/three hours depending on variants like weather, light, game behaviour and whether we needed refreshments (I bet you didn’t know it’s possible to have a Gin and Tonic mid game drive?). The open top vehicles seat ten guests and we were assigned a guide, who we had for the duration of our stay. We had Natasha, she was awesome! She made sure we had the chance to see everything we wanted to see (which could be summed up in one word: lions)

The drives were at dawn and dusk, when the animals are most active. We were amazed how many people slept in during the morning drives, despite freezing temperatures, these were the best times to see the animals more alert, feeding or on the move.

We were kept on a fairly tight schedule, except during the day where you could relax by the pool or have a treatment from the spa. We had other plans, we decided to go mountain biking. We self drove through the ‘predator’ enclosure (seeing rhinos, baboons and zebra along the way) and into the ‘non-predatory’ enclosure. We started cycling and saw an ostrich, zebra, and then giraffe! We were able to get so close to the giraffe without disturbing them. I honestly never thought I could say that I’ve shared my lunch with a giraffe, until now.

The other guests who had stayed by the pool would have certainly improved their tan, but definitely not their animal sightings.

Safari sightings

Above are a few pictures I took of the two lions we saw. Lucky for them, there are currently no predators for the lions in this reserve. Gondwana did try to bring in hyena, but one of their lions had escaped during the licensing process which didn’t help with their application. They wisely put it on hold.

Sadly, there would have been eight more giraffes on the premises, but over the course of a few short weeks, the lions had eaten them!!

We never found out how many rhino they had in the reserve, they don’t like to tell guests in order to keep poachers out of the know. Gondwana have an on-sight anti-poaching team, which I thought was interesting.

I enjoyed seeing the hippo’s more than I care to admit. Having never seen them before, I was fascinated to hear how lazy – yet dangerous they are. Did you know they can’t even swim? They just come up and down for air when needed and walk along the floor of the dam. The baby was standing on the mother’s back (cuuute!!)

Overall – it was a great experience, I would highly recommend you visit a reserve if you’re short on time (and cash) and are spending the majority of your time in Cape Town. For us, it was a bit of a tease, we now have a taste for a more remote safari and we will most certainly be back. Watching forty wildebeest were amazing, but I’m sure seeing four hundred would be out of this world.

That’s it this week – from here we travelled along the garden route all the way to Jeffreys Bay! All that and more next week!

Until then xo


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