Aquila Private Game Reserve is just under two hours drive north-east of Cape Town and is probably the most visited safari destination within reach of the city. The terrain is completely different from the coast, because once you have passed over or through the mountains, you enter the Great Karoo. It’s dry and dusty with occasional pointy or flat-topped peaks and beautiful golden escarpments dipping into sandy valleys mottled with small aromatic bushes. Aquila is full of the game that used to roam this dry interior and out of all the reserves within reach of Cape Town, this is the one I enjoyed most.
It is owned by a handsome man with a large ego, who knows how to make big things happen. Aquila is his dream and every year he took one step closer to having the Big Five animals roaming his land. He finally achieved this and has lions in their own large patch of hillside, through which the safari vehicles drive.
He’s got leopard in them thar hills and a couple of buffalo somewhere, rhino roam around happily and he’s now got elephant too. He’s even bought some crocs for his pond, but they get a bit cold in the winter so have a little house to hide in, and there are hippos in the dam. Wildebeest and zebra roam around and giraffe go in search of tall trees, of which there is a lack in this arid area. Around the main lodge are some smaller wild animals including a really cute meerkat family and an old springbok who feels safer around people.
The Karoo is an area of great habitat diversity and the distinct biomes of succulent Karoo, Fynbos and Renosterveld (the world’s rarest biome), can be found at Aquila. This ecology is explained fully by the passionate rangers who make a stay at Aquila very special. I was shown the reserve in a Land Rover, but was dying to get on a horse and gallop through the valley.
A lovely American couple Ross and Rosy, were also keen for a ride and since we could all ride well, we bombed around at full gallop and even without shoes, the hardy horses happily climbed a steep rocky hill to give us an amazing view across the beautiful reserve.
The Karoo colour palate of pale grey, sunset orange, dusty browns and yellow sand is mirrored in Aquila’s luxury cabins. They are Flintstone-style with a makeover; whole log furniture, skins on the floor, roaring log fire, hefty local stone and a giant log-four poster bed. Yabba dabba doo!
Lunch and dinner are buffet style with great slabs of roasted meat, including local Karoo springbok (known for its herby flavour) and cholesterol-free ostrich. There are rich meat stews every kind of veggies with sauce and a superb range of salads. It’s not fancy, but its wholesome, filling and there’s lots of it.
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