Words: Kit Heathcock | Images: Supplied & Shutterstock
Lion, elephant and giraffe might not roam the streets of Cape Town, as some overseas visitors might expect, but the Africa of their imagination isn’t too far from reality. The Western Cape is home to several Big Five safari experiences that allow you to take a walk on the wild side without travelling all the way to the Kruger National Park. But the true safari experience isn’t just about ticking wildlife sightings off a list. It’s a journey into the wild, where you can immerse yourself in nature, big skies and unspoilt landscapes and restore the soul.
The Western Cape, with its varied fynbos biome, offers a range of bush experiences that do just that.
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve sets the bar high for a classic Big Five safari. The 58,000ha private reserve in the Little Karoo beyond Montagu is home to free-roaming white lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo and leopard, as well as a host of smaller animals – including the critically endangered riverine rabbit – rich birdlife and ancient rock art sites. Tilney Manor offers intimate luxury, Gondwana Family Lodge (not to be confused with the game reserve of the same name) is child-friendly – with a Kids on Safari programme – and Dwyka Tented Lodge offers an experience of the ancient landscape once home to the Khoisan.
Gondwana Game Reserve on the Garden Route, inland from Mossel Bay, is another top safari experience. The 11,000ha reserve is home to the Big Five, cheetah, mountain zebra and a variety of birds and plants endemic to the Mossel Bay area. Choose between the classic lodge, luxury bush villas with the option of self-catering for longer stays, ultra-luxe, sole-use Ulubisi House, or the tented eco-camp conservation experience, giving a glimpse behind the scenes of a Big Five safari.
If time or budget constraints don’t allow for an overnight stay, some game reserves cater for day visitors. The 10,000ha Inverdoorn Game Reserve near Ceres is close enough for a day trip from Cape Town, and the Garden Route Game Lodge near Albertinia is well placed if you’re already driving up the Garden Route. Both are Big Five private game reserves also offering the whole safari lodge package.
Luxury bush experiences
Immerse yourself in nature, with a focus on the conservation of our region’s unique wildlife and flora, at a luxury bush lodge where there’s plenty to see even without the Big Five.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg offers nature drives exploring the fynbos and spectacular rock art, and also has an award-winning spa. The Koro Lodge private villa is also ideal for families.
At Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, overlooking Walker Bay beyond Hermanus, you can enjoy inspiring fynbos nature drives, walks through the ancient forest, whale-watching in winter, horse-riding trails and more.
A private self-catering cottage in a nature reserve allows you to experience the surroundings at your own pace, whether that’s lounging on a shady stoep for hours with binoculars or exploring trails on foot or mountain bike. Helen Untiedt of Perfect Hideaways visited Tankwa River Lodge in the Karoo in winter last year and says, “We spent our time in the pool and went for game drives. At night we gathered around the central fire pit under the vast starry night skies. But best of all, there’s the serenity of nothingness!” Other Perfect Hideaways off-the-grid properties on private reserves include Stoney Cottage and Klipspringer, both on Route 62.
De Hoop Nature Reserve borders the marine protected area along the coast from the Breede River mouth where whales come to calve in winter. Accommodation ranges from the restored Melkkamer Homestead to small self-catering cottages perfectly located for bird-watching, exploring the reserve and cycling adventures among bontebok and Cape mountain zebra.
Close enough to Cape Town for a long weekend break, all these destinations are malaria-free and ideal for romantic getaways and memorable family escapes.
“Besides being malaria-free, these somewhat less traditional safari experiences are quite different. And while you might not spot the Big Five, the landscape is so diverse. You’ll certainly come home with an enriched knowledge of our unique fynbos and possibly even see rare rock art.”
Michelle Snaddon, Perfect Hideaways
What to pack:
- A hat and sunblock
- Warm clothing, even in summer, for early morning game drives
- A good bird book (even if you’re not birdwatcher!)
- Comfortable shoes for exploring
- Swimming kit (even in winter the Karoo can have blasting hot days)
Experience it for yourself:
- Sanbona Wildlife Reserve: sanbona.com
- Gondwana Private Game Reserve: gondwanagr.co.za
- Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat: bushmanskloof.co.za
- Grootbos Private Nature Reserve: grootbos.com/en
- Inverdoorn Game Reserve: inverdoorn.com
- Garden Route Game Lodge: grgamelodge.co.za
- Perfect Hideaways: perfecthideaways.co.za
- De Hoop Collection: dehoopcollection.com
Websites to bookmark:
- SafariBookings: The largest online marketplace for safari tours.
- SA-Venues.com: A comprehensive list of the best places to stay, including game reserves and lodges, and easily categorised to suit your needs.
- Rhino Africa: Rhino Africa’s expert consultants use their first-hand experience to create personalised itineraries for people interested in safari holidays.
- Garden Route Venues: Everything you need to know about holidaying along the Garden Route.