Juggling full time work and our busy schedules meant that for our trip to Cape Town we only had 11 days, including travel days and a multi-day wedding, to explore the Western Cape. As much as I wanted to discover Kruger National Park near Johannesburg or Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth doing so would be at the expense of discovering Cape Town. It just wasn't going to happen this trip.
So we went in search of a safari just a few hours' drive from Cape Town, as to fit in with our plans to discover the region. This being our first safari, there was a convenience factor of game reserves near Cape Town would provide a good introduction and a chance to spot the Big Five.
There are numerous game reserves on the Western Cape so finding one that suits your needs and budget is important. The not-so-good news is that the game parks close to Cape Town are generally smaller with less diversity and numbers than the more famous game reserves of Mpumalanga and Limpopo on South Africa's Eastern Cape.
Just two hours by car we found ourselves at Aquila. We booked a one-night safari in a luxury cottage, which included 2 game drives (one afternoon, and one at dawn), meals of lunch, dinner & breakfast noting this isn't all-inclusive as any drinks needed to be paid for.
The check-in process was a civilized affair at a permanent open-air building constructed from wood, stone and a thatched roof. We arrived promptly at noon when check-in opened, keen to discover what safari was all about. The process was relatively seamless with a complimentary glass of South African sparkling wine or sparkling apple juice upon arrival and the usual forms to complete. Rooms weren’t available until 2pm so we headed over to the onsite restaurant for lunch.
Food at Aquila comes in the form of a buffet. A vast array of mixed salads, chafing dishes filled with hot options of curry, casserole and a carving station for roast meat. As smoking was permitted outside, we opted for an inside table beside the window, overlooking the pool and onto the reserve. In the distance we had our first glimpse of what was to come. Three giraffes made their way across the plain.
Our luxury cottage was a semi-detached bungalow with a thatched roof. There’s a private patio, a corner bath and a rather funky outdoor open-air rock shower. An elephant made from towels greeted us as we entered and it instantly brought a smile to my face. A safari had been on my bucket list for years and I loved every moment up to that point and the anticipation was only building for what was to come.
Our patio overlooked the reserve. It had potential to be rather impressive with the patio providing a private view of these glorious animals in their own habitat although natural undulations in the earth mean we see nothing more than a small mound and trees so it feels oddly familiar, like the extended backyard of a mates house in Australia.