Close enough to watch the water evaporate off the back of a sleek hippo, and near enough to count the wrinkly folds on a rhino! This is the type of exhilarating experience guests can expect when saddling up for a Horseback Safari at Aquila.
Just two hours out of Cape Town, in the stark beauty of the Southern Karoo, Aquila Game Reserve gives visitors to our fair province the chance to enjoy the majesty of the Big 5 in a natural setting.
Guests are welcome to view buffalo, rhino, hippo, elephant, buck, giraffe, lion and even leopard (if you are lucky) from the back of a traditional safari vehicle, but those who wish to get up close and little more personal should opt for the Horseback Safari instead.
Day visitors to Aquila are received from 9 am with a tasty glass of bubbly on arrival, after which they’re invited to tuck into a buffet breakfast in the Africa Boma Restaurant. Having left with the scheduled transport at 6 am, I was ready to feast and lined my tummy with a hearty helping from the continental and cooked offering (they even have pap – a type of porridge and a local favourite).
With a little time to spare before our 10 am start, I headed out to take a stroll around the grounds. Just moments after reaching the fence line, the peaceful morning quiet was punctured by the loud trumpet of a male elephant! He playfully trundled right up to the fence, tossing branches and kicking up a dust storm as he gambolled along, much to the delight of the awestruck onlookers who happened to find themselves in the right spot at just the right moment.
With this auspicious start, I headed off to meet my trusty steed and guides for the morning. While my proficiency in the field of horse-riding is shaky at best, my chaperones assured me that no experience was required and that we’d go at a comfortable pace.
Saddled up to Dynamite, my sweet and sturdy pony, our band of three entered the park, framed by the dramatic mountains and cornflower blue sky. Unrestricted by roads, and with no rumbling engines to frighten off any potential game, it was indeed a safari like no other.
Cresting over our first hill, we spotted a pod of hippos, sunning themselves just a few metres from where we paused. Known as the most aggressive creatures in the African bush for a reason, I was keen to move on swiftly, unperturbed as they were by our presence.
As we picked our way through the indigenous fauna and flora quietly, it was always a bit of a shock and thrill to find that we’d just about walked into the game we were seeking out.
While each outing might differ, I was fortunate enough to see White Rhino, Eland, Ostriches, Hippo and Springbok on our 90-minute sojourn. My guides also expounded on the qualities of each animal, peppering our journey with tales of their origins, traits and behaviours.
With a camera full of our morning’s adventure, we headed back to the confines of the estate, sadly shutting the wild behind us as we left the special reserve.
Before pausing for lunch, I visited the ARC (Aquila Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Conservation Centre) – situated across the road from the estate. Home to rescued lions, a leopard and breeding pair of Cheetahs – the Arc is a sanctuary for animals that can’t be released back into the wild, and a temporary haven for those that can be rehabilitated.
Morning trips end with a buffet lunch served in the Boma area. I enjoyed their fresh salads (many ingredients having come from the ARC aquaponics system that you can read more about here) and fish, but guests are spoilt for choice with meats, hearty veg and loads of side dishes as well as puddings.
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Blog post by: Tarah Darge
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