Caped Crusaders Animal magic

| January 17, 2014

Suzanne King discovers abundant animal attractions in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

Elephants, Addo National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa

“The Eastern Cape ticks the Big Five boxes with ease: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant…”

Kruger may grab all the headlines when it comes to South African safaris, but the Eastern Cape is coming up fast. And little wonder, given its unique qualities. First there’s the location – perfectly placed for adding onto a classic Cape Town and Garden Route itinerary – and the fact that it’s malaria-free. Most importantly though, it’s home to superb game reserves and parks that offer a perfect safari experience.

The Eastern Cape allows you to tick the Big Five boxes with ease: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant all thrive here. But that’s just the start. You can see cheetah speeding across the plain, otherworldly giraffe lolloping gracefully past, and dainty, wide-eyed dik-diks (small antelopes) skittering off into the bush. There are zebras and antelopes, hippos and meerkats, and evocatively named birds such as the fiery-necked nightjar, violet-eared waxbill and amethyst sunbird.

No other travel experience makes you feel quite as wonderfully alive as rising in the pre-dawn chill to hear the spine-tingling roar of a distant lion. Head off on the first game drive of the day, and the bush comes to life all around you, wonders coming thick and fast. You can have watched natural history documentaries on television for years, but nothing prepares you for the raw thrill of a close encounter with Africa’s wildlife. The jolt of happiness that hits you as you watch a herd of elephant crossing the path just ahead of you, little ones tumbling cutely along beside their stately elders. The sense of humbled-awe meeting the cool gaze of a male lion just yards away, or spot a post-kill leopard lounging sated in a tree, all sprawling limbs and idly twitching tail.

In normal life, day sometimes blurs into night without you noticing. Here, it’s a moment of magic that commands your attention, as the sinking sun blazes colour across the wide African skies. A gin and tonic never feels more perfect than when you’re sipping it on a lantern-lit verandah, watching contentedly as animals wander unselfconsciously down to the waterhole to bathe. Or on a sundowner cruise, gazing across a river tinged sunset pink, as twitching hippo ears ripple the surface.

For those who like their creatures to come with comforts, the Eastern Cape doesn’t disappoint on the accommodation front either, with a range of lodges to suit all types. From the family-owned, family-friendly Leeuwenbosch, at the heart of Amakhala Game Reserve, to Kwandwe’s fun and funky Ecca Lodge. You can go retro in Shamwari Game Reserve’s new Explorer Camp, which recreates the adventure of an old-school safari (think bush walks by day and sleeping under canvas by night); go classic at Pumba Water Lodge, where each thatched chalet has views of Lake Kariega; or go ultra-luxe in Addo Elephant National Park, where Gorah Elephant Camp comes complete with high-thread-count linens, gourmet cuisine and a ‘Ralph Lauren meets Out of Africa’ mood.

Simply put, the Eastern Cape is animal magic.

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