Aquila Private Game Reserve – Lions and Rhino and Zebra, Oh My!

Within the first few days of arriving to Cape Town, I had planned to do cage diving with great white sharks.  Due to ocean swells, it had been cancelled, so I had spent the previous night scrambling to find something that I could do because tours fill up quickly around here and everyone leaves the office at business close (6pm).  I wanted to do some sort of day safari around the Cape Town area so that I had an additional safari experience to Etosha in Namibia in case that turned out to be a bummer or I missed certain animals or something…and I just wanted to compare different safaris.

I found one through my research online and that was advertised in our hostel called Aquila Private Game Reserve.

They had day trips with a game drive that lasted a few hours, they provided you with a meal or two depending on if you did the early morning or the afternoon safari, and they provided transportation from/to Cape Town!  The price wasn’t too bad either, so I decided to shoot them an email.  They were very quick to respond and very nice.  They answered all my questions quickly and efficiently, and I felt very good about them, so I booked directly with them.  Plus, the travel person at the hostel travel desk didn’t think I’d be able to get on any kind of tour for the next day, so I figured I’d make sure she didn’t get a commission from my booking.  (insert maniacal laughter)  So, I booked everything via email/online and was all set for the Full Day Trip Safari that started early the next day.

I was picked up the next morning around 6:45am in a mini van – luckily I was the first one picked up, so I had my pick of the seats.  The driver was very friendly, and we made stops to pick up one lady from Europe, a couple from Brazil, and a few others.  The drive was about 2 hours to get to the reserve. It was very scenic along the way passing beautiful mountains and vineyards.  I kind of wish we could have stopped at each point to take photos because the photos that I tried to take were just blurs.  I couldn’t sleep on the drive because I was afraid of missing the beautiful mountains.

I was trying to get a photo of a vineyard here.

We stopped at a gas station for a short break, which was a really cool stop.  I took photos of the seating area for one of the fast food restaurants attached to the gas station’s convenience store.

The design was very unique – each table had an area built into the center of the table for a potted plant. And then there was an inspirational word near the plant on the table with braille underneath it.


There was also braille on other places on the tables like down a leg of the table or along an edge of the table.  I have no idea what the braille said, but I just thought this was so unique.

Very artistic – something that all my design friends at work wold appreciate, which is one reason that I took pictures.  There was a plaque on the wall of the artist who designed the space and told more about it, so I took a picture of that, as well.

It was such an odd place for this lovely dining area to be – in the middle of nowhere in South Africa.  I felt it should have been in some hip city center somewhere.

A few minutes after our pit stop, we were pulling into Aquila Private Game Reserve.  The area was just beautiful.  But it looked like it had been around for a while and then maybe bought by someone else who was renovating it to make it nicer because there was construction going on and it looked like there were some cottages that were no longer being used and some hotels/lodges that were being built.

As soon as we got out of our van, we were greeted with a welcome beverage of sparkling wine.  How fancy and what a treat after a long car ride to feel so special.  Then we walked into the reception lobby to check-in and pay or collect our receipt if we had pre-paid.

We were then directed to the buffet breakfast where we could sit wherever we chose and partake in a scrumptious spread of breakfast assortments of cheeses, fruits, meats, and eggs.  Very European, I think.  I didn’t want to eat too much because I wasn’t sure what some of the food was, but I also didn’t want to feel too full on the game drive.

After breakfast, we had about half an hour to relax outside around the lovely site until we were sorted into our safari jeeps.

I was one of the only idiots who got the instructions wrong and waited in front of the restaurant, not in front of the reception (two completely different locations), so I almost missed the safari!  I was grouped with everyone from our mini van ride and a few others (including 2 guys from Atlanta that I got to know a little bit on the game drive).  Our safari guide/jeep driver was really hard to understand with his thick accent, so I just gave up on half the information he was giving and just caught key words from him.  What was really funny and super cute, though, was instead of addressing the group as “ladies and gentleman” every time he spoke, he addressed us as “ma’ams and sirs”.  It made us all giggle every time.  But he was still really good, I’m sure, if I could have understood everything he said.  He definitely knew his stuff and had tons of info to share.

I was so excited to start out on the ride.  I had a seat to myself, video camera ready, camera with brand new telescopic lens ready, and I was ready to go.  The first animals we saw were hippos – the deadliest animals in Africa!  A family of them was sunbathing on the banks of a watering hole with a little baby.

It was very surreal because all I could think of was doing the Kilimanjaro Safaris Ride at Animal Kingdom, but I HAD to get that out of my head because THIS WAS REAL, THIS WAS REAL.  I REPEAT, THIS WAS REAL!  But I couldn’t help but think there was someone going, “cue the hippos” or “cue the animatronics”.  That’s me being the goofball who worked in theme parks for too many years and had the magic destroyed.  lol.  But these were real, it was real, no one was cuing them.  This was real wildlife in the wild in Africa.

We watched the hippos for a while and then we saw some ostriches (boring to me but they made for some nice photos) and springbok (also boring to me).  #spoiled?

And then we saw zebra!  Or should I say a dazzle of zebra because that’s what a group of them is called!

We watched them for a while, and I fell in love with them – I noticed they each have little personalities like my dogs, which was fun to watch.  I also noticed that one was acting a little strange because he must have really liked one of the female zebra, although he was never looking at another zebra.  I did not take any pictures of him because his “5th leg” (if you know what I mean) was so prominent, it would have stole the show!!!  Sorry, this should probably be a PG blog post.  Sorry.  But, it was a sight to behold.  hahahaha.  Yeah, I saw some Animal Planet porn on my trip.

After watching the super cute dazzle of zebra for a while, we moved on to see rhino and their babies!!! But they were all sleeping and didn’t really care for us, so it was hard to get good pics of them.

Don’t they know how far I traveled for them?  Really!!!

Then we moved on to everybody’s favorite part of the tour…where the tour guide got out and talked about sh**.  Sorry, PG, PG.  But, seriously, the tour guide talked about dung and even picked it up and almost stuck it in my face.  I was thoroughly grossed out.  They were trying to explain what different animals’ dung is comprised of and how you can tell which animal left what dung…but honestly, unless I live in Africa, I don’t care.  It stunk.

Next, we were off to the lions!!!  We were told that the lions were actually fenced off separately from the rest of the animals because Aquila is a relatively “new” reserve (19 years old); so the lions have to be separated, otherwise, they would eat all the other animals and there would be no reserve (even though it is 10,000 hectares).  Not sure how old the reserve has to be before the lions can be allowed to free roam with the other animals.  We had to drive through a double layered fence where the driver had to unlock one fence, drive in, then unlock the other fence to drive all the way in.  It reminded me of Jurassic Park and the T-Rex paddock.

Ok, so maybe not as high-tech as the T-Rex paddock…
We saw the lions almost immediately – 2 females and 2 males.  They were BEAUTIFUL!!  I think they were the highlight of the game drive for me.  

We were so close to them, so my pictures turned out amazing!  Their manes looked so soft (well, maybe a little rough) but they looked so fluffy that I wanted to hug one.  Sorry, this is PG…I can’t have you imagining me getting mauled by a lion, that would be rated R for violence.  The female lions do the hunting at night (not really sure what the males do?) so they are all just lazy during the day and trying to stay cool.  It really was neat how their colors and their manes completely camouflage in with the grasses around them.  We stayed and watched them for a while until they were clearly tired of us being there, and then we drove out of the other side of the paddock.

Next, we saw 2 huge elephants walking our way.  What a surreal moment to see elephants heading straight for you – they were on a mission – walking with a purpose – straight down the road towards us, to the point that we had to move our vehicle.

The driver’s side of the windshield is smashed – the guide said this was done by an elephant’s tusk when it was “playing”.

The guide said that they liked to play with the vehicles from time-to-time, and it looked like they might be in a playful mood today; so we had to move out of the way so as not to get hurt or the vehicle get damaged.

They were beautiful, and we watched them for a while.  One looked much older than the other.  After we left them we saw a couple of giraffe in the distance.  We never got really close to them. Even with my zoom, it was hard to get good photos of them while they were walking with a mission to go eat.

And next, we came to our drink stop and were served sparkling wine again.  Nice refreshment on a game drive!!  We spent about half an hour there, some people taking selfies, some people taking photos with the scenery (it was so beautiful).  And then we were on our way back.

We came upon the elephants again, they were totally hogging the road in front of us, and we obviously couldn’t go around them.

Eventually, there was a fork in the road, so we could take a detour.  Funny that they walk the road, though.  And then we came back to the lodge, ended our game drive, and were ready for lunch!

The lunch buffet was a nice assortment of some European dishes like meat stews, potatoes, vegetables, cheeses, fruits, breads.  I didn’t know what a lot of what everything was, so I tried a little of what looked good.  Some of it I lucked out on, and some of it not so much.  They did have bread pudding for dessert that was very good, so I had seconds on that!

After that, we had a couple of hours until the van left. We could partake in spa services (at our own expense), lounge by the pool (too cold to swim), go on a 4-wheeler ride through the reserve (they call them quad bikes) for a fee, or do horse back riding through the reserve for a fee.  I didn’t opt to do anything.  I was so exhausted that I just basked in the African sun on a lounge chair near the pool and was totally fine with that.

These lounge chairs were around a fire pit, I believe.  

I did visit the gift shop, which I was very disappointed in, especially for a nice establishment like Aquila.  I would have expected something much nicer.  All I bought was a rhino cause band.

Eventually, it was time for us all to head back for the 2 hour drive back to Cape Town.  We went the same route, so we saw all the same sights with a stop at a different gas station this time for restroom and snacks.  All in all it was a great day, and I’m so glad I did it.  I got some amazing up close shots of the animals, which is great in case I don’t get some of those in Etosha.

Ma’ams and Sirs, I hope you enjoyed this blog post.  

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