Only 2-hours drive from Cape Town, once you go through the gates of Aquila you are transported into a wonderful world of their own making – like stepping into a safari film set, which is very real for the time you are in it.
If you go in Spring (August/Sept ) you may be lucky to see millions of wild flowers that only emerge from the scrubland with the right combination of spring rain and sun. It’s a Godly sight.
Aquila boasts Big 5 and the rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard and lion are there to see in Noah’s ark numbers. This incredibly scenic part of the Klein Karoo between the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains is semi-dry and scattered with witches-hat or flat-topped peaks. It can’t sustain any more than a few of each of these big African animals and they still have to be given fodder or meat to supplement the meagre natural resources. I feel rather sorry for the remaining giraffe, as trees are not in abundance in this landscape and you see them grazing head down – not good for giraffe blood pressure!
Since I was last there in 2008 – read my review – there have been a lot of changes; a huge new swimming pool in front of a magnificent thatched restaurant with double-volume interior and massive animal pictures on one wall from floor to roof beams. It certainly sets the scene for safari and the activities on offer; game drives, horse rides and quad bike excursions right through the animal reserve.
We tried them all in our 1 night stay; while 17-year old horse-mad Francesca galloped off across the sandy plains, I donned a Darth Vadar mask and took off at high speed on a quad bike. The Rangers steered clear of the “gangsters” aka the 2 very grumpy male buffaloes, and my guide confessed that these hoodlums seem to have a thing against him and have already chased him a couple of times. They aren’t just large cows, they are formidable 600+kg beasts and when a buffalo holds a grudge, he doesn’t give up! They say a buffalo looks at you as if you own him money – look one in the eyes and you’ll see it’s true! The “gangsters” are the reason why guests are no longer accommodated in cottages inside the reserve! It’s also why the fence has been fortified and warning signs tell you not to get too close; an unsuspecting guest taking close up photos of a buffalo through the fence had to run for his life when Mr Buffalo got fed up and charged through the fence. Guest leaped into swimming pool and so did buffalo. Guest almost walked on water to get out of that pool and hot footed it to safety in the restaurant. Thwarted buffalo was very cross!
Every time I go to Aquila I have at least one rare and special experience; last time I had one of the best fast horse rides through an animal reserve (if you are an experienced rider you need to ask not to go with beginners, then you will have a blast). I also had amazing sightings of giraffe on the edge of the dam then somehow lost the pictures!
This time on the game drive we noticed the 2 elephant walking on a collision course with the 2 rhino but still some way apart. It looked like they were aiming for each other…..and so they were. What followed as like the ET moment when the alien and human touch fingers. In this case it was the elephant reaching out and touching the rhino’s horn. Both animals then squealed and ele twisted his trunk around the horn gently and so they continued. Amazing animal interaction!
Meal times are an all-you-can-eat buffet affair, so you will never go hungry. The Dessert Queen – in the depths of the kitchen – produces every sort of high calorie sweet you could possibly desire, so it was rude not to indulge and seconds are never frowned upon here! Accommodation is 4-star and very comfortable with a fireplace in the main bedroom (nice touch in chilly winter). The turndown includes a little special something on the bed; scroll down to the bottom to see what!
The only part of Aquila that makes you feel like a voyeur in a zoo is the visit to the compounds across the road from the main entrance, where crocodiles have a little pond, cheetahs in a breeding programme have their runs and a magnificent male lion is biding time in transit between his former home and his new home in the reserve. It’s all high fences and bored-looking animals and my guide had nothing to say about anything.
Aquila isn’t Kruger and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s a high visitor volume ‘soft’ safari in beautiful surroundings close to Cape Town. It’s your African animal fix if you don’t have time or money to go to the larger game reserves much further north and east in South Africa and beyond.
I love Aquila!
Postscript: In August 2 years ago Aquila was devastated at having their precious rhino attacked by poachers. Two died in the brutal attack, one succumbing to its wounds after a few days clinging onto life. It was cruel and terrible. This instigated Aquila’s ‘Saving Private Rhino’ project. Read here to see what you can do to help stop rhino poaching.
Keep up to date with Aquila on Twitter @aquilasafaris or Facebook and of course Safari Tart’s Twitter handle: @safaritart