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Safari near Cape Town, South Africa! Aquila game reserve lions, elephants.

rhino at aquila safari

A dream come true… I went on safari in South Africa!

Cape Town Tourism brought my travel filmmakers and me to Aquila Game Reserve, located two hours from Cape Town. Without having to “rough it” in the bush, we got to see the Big Five animals up close and in a natural environment.

south africa lion park

Aquila’s 7500 hectares holds hundreds of African species, including endangered ones. We saw lion kings,

elephants playing on safari

playful elephants beneath the Cape Karoo mountains,

rhino african savannah

… and the mighty rhinoceros, which the reserve is fighting to protect from extinction. (The other two of the “Big 5” animals are the Cape buffalo, and the African leopard.)

aquila private game reserve

My travel team and I are adamant about only supporting ethical places, where animals are well treated (no tiger temples or ocean parks, for example). We were glad to see Aquila’s commitment to responsible practices and anti-poaching. Our guide worked in rhino conservation for years, and we could sense his passion from the way he described the animals.

south africa travel tv filming

Aquila is a private game reserve and offers “safari drives” in the morning and evening, lasting about three hours long. There are also bicycle, horseback, and overnight options, but we aren’t exactly the hardy outdoor types…

aquila safari resort cape town

… and preferred to enjoy the quaint lodges and cabins. We arrived just before lunch time, and made our way to the buffet.

safari chalet south african

These black and white photos on the wall made me miss my Scottish Fold, but got me excited to see the big cats up close.

blue peacock, africa

My first encounter with creatures: a peacock, near the welcome entrance. The blue and gold feathers are luminous.

peacock and girl

If I could talk to the animals, like Dr Doolittle, what would they say to me? Probably “Bleh.” (My outfit details are described below.)

cute lion print backpack

Number one rule, which filmmaker Melissa is breaking: don’t touch the wild animals. Lions may look fuzzy, but their predator instincts are sharp.

safari open vans

We settled into a covered safari vehicle, and our guide drove us through the reinforced gates. He reminded us to keep limbs inside at all times, and not make startling noises.

lion roaring on safari

These lions were saved from “canned hunt” operations. When the guide described this torturous practice, I wanted to cry. Canned hunting is when animals are put in a confined area — almost like a large gladiator arena — so that “trophy hunters” can easily find and kill them.

The lion pride resides in a separate fenced section of land. Since they grew up in canned hunting operations, they don’t have the skills to survive in the African wilderness. Aquila lets them live in a naturalistic home, while getting care from the staff.

lion safari park

How can anyone want to shoot these creatures? Our guide told us about something even worse: big game hunting, done from online! People would use their computer screens to track animals, and press a button to shoot them. It’s like the horror movie Hostel come to life.

two lions mating

Fortunately, these lions now have the chance to enjoy life. From our vehicle, we got to see some National Geographic action. The male lion prowls towards the female…

male female lion mating

… gets behind her, and nibbles her neck. You can guess what happens next! (I actually took a video of the lion mating; you know you want to see it.)

lions kissing

“Can you feel the love tonight?” It didn’t last long, but the lion king got a kiss after.

leopard at night

Yet another section is home to cheetahs and leopards. So sad: this leopard was fattened up for a canned trophy hunt, to the extent that his stomach hung to the ground. Once again, Aquila gives these rescued animals a secure home, and even has a cheetah breeding program.

lion face backpack

Tip: even though you’re in Africa, dress warm. We visited during their winter (July), and there was a strong wind. I am wearing a million layers under my Algonquins top, and silver skirt by Candy Stripper (both from Tokyo). My happy lion backpack is a present from A Bros Products in Hong Kong. The leopard print tights are a random purchase from somewhere in Asia.

zebra in south africa

It was fun to drive around the immense main reserve, and look for animals. We spotted zebra print among the tall grasses. (Here’s a video of the zebras flipping their ears and tails; it’s quite different to see the safari in motion.)

zebras in african safari

Indescribable, the joy of seeing animals in this manner.

three zebras grazing

Our guide parked us close to the creatures, and told us fascinating facts about them. We learned that if the zebra’s mane flops to one side, it isn’t healthy. And why can’t we ride zebras? Because they have a different spine structure from horses, which doesn’t let them support the weight of a rider.

south african mountains

He also told us that our cabins are well away from the animals… because once, a water buffalo charged through the door!

springbok south african antelope gazelle

These are springbok, a type of antelope-gazelle. As their name suggests, they’ve got a spring in their step.

eland antelope south africa

Here’s an eland, or antelope with twisted horns. We also spotted the grumpy-looking water buffalo, but weren’t quick enough to get a photo.

rhinoceros peeing

We had rather good luck at capturing animals doing “natural activities!” Since the rhinoceros is severely threatened by poachers, out to cut off their horns, Aquila has a “Saving Private Rhino” initiative. They focus on training programs to prevent attacks.

aquila private game reserve, rhinos grazing

Our guide taught us to identify white rhinos. They look a lot like black ones but are taller, have a bigger head and larger hump on the back, and tend to hang in large groups, eating grass.

girls at aquila game reserve

We kept warm with blankets from the guide’s stash. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, as you’ll be outdoors for several hours.

elephant walking to mountains

The elephants were heading to the mountains, but we caught up with them just in time.

two elephants locking trunks

These elephants are teenagers, playing together with their trunks!

elephant running

They’re such peaceful, happy animals. Our guide told us the difference between African and Indian elephants: the African ones are larger and more wrinkled, with full rounded heads, and ears shaped like the continent.

aquila safari reviews

The vehicle stopped, and we all took a few minutes to stretch our legs. (Photos by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.)

champagne toast glasses

The guide offered us nuts (no thanks, allergies) and champagne (why yes!). Cheers.

group of springbok

We didn’t want our safari game drive to end. There’s something magical about being in an environment like this, simply observing the animals as if you were one of them.

big 5 safari animals, rhino

Near the watering hole, multiple species gathered. I spotted zebras, ostriches, rhinos, and the little symbiotic birds (oxpeckers) that perch on their backs.

cute zebra baby

Only one word to describe this look… kawaii!

lion tribe, pride

How many lions can you count? Funny how their expressions and postures are exactly like my Scottish Fold cat’s.

elephant park, Western Cape africa

There’s more about Aquila Game Reserve and their conservation efforts on their site. While this safari is more tourist-oriented than some others, the big benefit is that you can easily make a day trip here from Cape Town.

travel bloggers south africa, love capetown

Thanks to Cape Town Tourism for making this report possible. I hope all of you will get a chance to experience safari. It’s as amazing as everyone says.

aquila safari cabins, rooms

Some final shots from my Instagram, of the cozy African-style rooms and a lion in motion.

elephant sanctuary south africa

Have you ever seen lions, giraffes or elephants in person? Is safari on your travel dream list?

SHARE & COMMENT

38 Comments

  1. Posted August 10, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    This is on my list of things to do when my daughter gets old enough !

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      She would love it!

  2. Posted August 10, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Love this so SO much!

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      One of the best days of this year!

  3. Posted August 10, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    stunning!

  4. Posted August 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed watching the pictures of your tour, excellent pics, beautiful scenery and you ever so sweet at the end, all dressed up for Antarctica (just teasing) What struck me was the condition of the lions, they looked so healthy, so vibrant, not at all like the ones in zoo’s. Figures. Thank you for sharing!.

  5. Posted August 10, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    The big antelope with the spiral horns is a Eland! One of my favorites!

  6. Posted August 10, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    oh those lions!! ha ha

  7. Posted August 11, 2014 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    amazing photos omg!!

  8. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Sounds (and looks) absolutely amazing!

  9. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    We have to get on a safari

  10. Posted August 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    THE LIONS

  11. Posted August 12, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Fun! I want to go too.

  12. Posted August 12, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    Great blog post

  13. Posted August 12, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    beautiful

  14. Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    wish i could be in your retinue lc!

  15. Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Did you ride the cable car up tabletop mountain?

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      YES and we also did a helicopter ride! <3 Will show you pics soon. I love Cape Town!

    • Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      YES and we also did a helicopter ride! <3 Will show you pics soon. I love Cape Town!

  16. Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    my home!

  17. Posted August 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    awesome!!

  18. Posted August 13, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    hi!!!

  19. Posted August 13, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    i dig this

  20. Posted August 13, 2014 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    very good photos of animals

  21. Posted August 13, 2014 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Looks an amazing place.

  22. Posted August 13, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Awesum!

  23. Posted August 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Heard so many great things about that beautiful place :)

  24. Posted August 21, 2014 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    :O OMG

  25. Posted August 23, 2014 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Omg I love your blog so much!!

    Fashion gets Fierce.

    • Posted August 23, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      aWW Thank you, Ines!

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