Neil and I recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary! Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder of how lucky I am to have found a wonderful man like him. God has blessed us with a beautiful marriage, unforgettable memories and a love that keeps getting better.
We lead busy lives and sadly date nights don’t feature highly. Hence when our anniversary rolls around I make a point of arranging something special for us. This year I wanted to try something completely different and I wasn’t sure if Neil would be keen.
Cape Town, South Africa is where we live. Africa is home to the Big Five. Tourists stream in from all over the world to view game at various reserves, yet locals rarely seek them out. I understand why – the rates charged isn’t affordable to many and doesn’t feature high on a must-do list. I adore animals and visiting a game reserve has been on my bucket list for a while. The time felt right to do it now.
Neil had the same reservations as most South Africans. I had my work cut out as I argued my case from different angles, hoping he’d cave in. Luckily I have excellent convincing skills and before long he swayed my way, agreeing to go on our first safari!
We opted for Aquila Private Game Reserve, a two hour drive out of Cape Town, close to Touws River. We traveled the N1, passing the Hugenot Tunnel, taking in the scenery. Sadly Cape Town is experiencing its worst drought ever as reflected in the arid landscape. Summer was on full display and rain refused to make an appearance.
Arriving at Aquila at midday, we were warmly welcomed with drinks. Tourists were lining up to go horseback riding whilst others were gearing up for game drives. An itinerary was awaiting us for our one night sleepover. We headed to the dining area where a scrumptious buffet lunch was on offer. Opting to sit on the patio overlooking the bluest infinity pool, we sported big smiles, happy with our decision to get away from the City.
Well-fed and feeling a tad tired we headed to our lodge room a short distance away from the reception quarters. An air-conditioned sanctuary awaited us with a queen bed and bathroom facility. Upon inspecting the room, Neil exclaimed with alarm, “There’s no TV!’’. I turned around, searched the cupboards and every available space to locate said TV, to no avail! Neil is a big soccer fan and couldn’t fathom how he’d get by without it. I chuckled silently as I’m not a TV person and welcomed the peace and quiet. Besides we didn’t come all this way to watch TV, there was far too much to do!
Our game drive was scheduled for 16h00 as we scurried to the pick-up point. We were bundled into a 15 seater truck. The roof was enclosed, but the sides were open for easy access to view the game and snap pictures. Tyler Willemse introduced himself as our guide. Firing up the truck as it crawled along the gravel terrain, I held onto Neil and the railing for dear life as a smooth ride was impossible.
The elephants were the first to be spotted. Sauntering around, majestic and magnificent, totally unfazed by us. I wondered how high it would feel to sit atop them. Their grey trunks were long, wrinkly and oh so flexible. They did everything with them. Trunk touching is a vital form of communication for their kind. Tyler relayed they can live up to 70 years if well taken care of.
Next up was the Wildebeest and Zebras. They tend to cohabitate, especially when predation is rife. Wildebeest is highly sort after for biltong in South Africa, a meat delicacy. The Zebras were a sight to behold. They looked like statues, the only thing moving were their tails. These particular ones were brown Zebras. Tyler said the only way to verify if they were well nourished was if there manes stood pin straight. Naturally theirs were.
A further trek saw us finding the Rhinos. There is a campaign to save the Rhinos in South Africa due to illegal poaching. The Reserve supports this campaign and also has a rehabilitation center for animals, something they’re passionate about. Rhinos can be very vicious when their territory is crossed. I for one would not like to mess with them considering their sheer size and ginormous weight.
The lions were up next. They were isolated from the other animals with electric fencing running all the way up the Karoo Mountain range. Entering the security gate, my heart was racing and wild thoughts seeped in that we might not make it out alive! But there was no escape now as I sat rooted to Neil, praying for safety. When the truck came to standstill at a resting place where golden lions lay, I was oohing and ahhing instead! They were adorable – lazing around, unperturbed by our presence. The male lions were breathtaking with their regal manes setting them apart. They didn’t seem deadly at all but looks can be deceiving and I had no doubt they’d butcher anything in their way.
We traveled for a bit before stopping off for refreshments and snacks. It was appreciated as the weather had turned icy and the wind wasn’t letting up. Neil and I huddled around the fire, savoring biltong and grape juice. Our group on the drive consisted mainly of tourists from Germany and France. There was a local family who interacted in Afrikaans to their curious little four year old son. He was a livewire, unafraid of the animals, hoping from lap to lap finally finding his way up front with Tyler as we made our way back to the Reserve.
Exiting the truck, Neil and I were frozen returning to the Lodge. We jumped into a hot shower and got ready for supper. Once again a lavish buffet awaited us. We didn’t overindulge for we were exhausted after a long and satisfying day. We decided to turn in early as we had another game drive at six in the morning and didn’t want to be late.
My alarm buzzed at five and my eyes were burning from not getting enough sleep. I always find sleeping away from home unnatural. I had to take a shower to wake me up, dressing warmly this time, before stepping out to find the rest of our crew. Hot coffee, tea and Ouma rusks awaited us much to our delight. It was a grey morning as clouds gathered on the horizon and as soon as we climbed into the truck, light rain fell.
The game drive wasn’t to be as long as the first and we would search for animals we missed. Lucky for us many of the animals were on full display. It appeared the animals were most productive during this time. We found Giraffes twisting their elongated necks to graze away. We checked in on the lovely lions again and spotted a male and female padding up the mountain. We even happened on Ostriches on our way back. Tyler remarked they can be very dangerous when people step in their way. Should one charge you for any reason, the best thing would be to lay down on your belly and cover your head. A scary thought considering they were pecking away non-stop at their food on the ground. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the buffalo or leopards as they were roaming out of sight.
Our stay at Aquila Private Game Reserve was everything and more than we expected. We let go of our reservations that we couldn’t afford it and made a plan to make it happen. We were brave enough to venture on our first safari together, view the Big Five up close and personal, an experience that will stay with us forever <3