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South Africa's Western Cape province is a African safari mecca, not by the size of the reserves but by the sheer diversity of African safari choices.
Coastal regions offer up-close African safaris that include the marine big five, while some land-based reserves are home to the big five animal species.
From Table Mountain to the Klein Karoo, the scenery is so breathtakingly spectacular that you'll be left with the regret of not staying longer.
Cape Arugulas is the furthermost southern point of the African continent and is situated 109 miles (176 km) southeast of Cape Town. It is also the place where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean.
So, if you're set on seeing as much of the Western Cape as possible while on safari in africa, then the Cape Arugulas lighthouse is a fitting landmark to kick off your dream safari.
Gansbaai is the launch point for the ultimate marine safari. It is situated about halfway between Cape Town and Port Arugulas. You'll be able to see whales, dolphins, endangered African penguins, seals, and the great white shark that make up the marine big five.
Dyer Island Cruises operates the Dream Catcher, a specially designed spacious whale-watching boat that will get you up close and personal with the marine big five and then some.
Dyer Island is a 20-hector seabird nature reserve situated about 8.5 km out to sea. Residents of the island include the endangered African penguin, endangered Bank Cormorant, endangered Roseate Tern, African Black Oystercatcher, and Leach's Storm Petrel, to name a few.
The APSS (African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary) is near Dyer Island and has the largest population of African penguins, which form part of 29 different seabird species on the sanctuary.
Shark ally and Dyer Island are world-famous for Great White Shark sightings, so chances are you'll not be disappointed.
You can book a cage dive among Great White Sharks to experience these feared predators in their habitat. It is not uncommon to spot the marine big five on a single tour, and you'll be treated to valuable marine life information as well as the tainted history of Dyer Island and the many shipwrecks that litter the reef and coastal area.
Boulders Beach, Cape Town, is another sanctuary worth putting on your safari itinerary.
Here you will be able to swim with African penguins and watch them express their curiosity while you're sun tanning or enjoying a picnic on the main beach.
Boulders Beach is part of the greater Table Mountain nature reserve, and although you can walk or swim freely among the wildlife, you are discouraged from making physical contact with the animals and birds.
The Boulders Beach penguin colony has an oil-stained history of survival. In 2000, the MV Treasure, an iron ore tanker, sank near Robin Island, spilling about 1 300 tons of oil into the ocean.
Over 19000 affected penguins were rescued, and a further 19 500 were captured and relocated to the Eastern Cape.
The success of the rescue was over 91%, and all the birds were released back into the wild. To date, this was the largest animal (bird) rescue of its kind.
Gondwana is situated in the garden route and is about a four-hour eastward drive from Cape Town. The reserve spans 11 000 ha or 27 181 acres and is a fully free-ranging big five privately owned game reserve.
It may be difficult to spot the elusive leopard or the black rhino, but in a game reserve this size, coming across a lion, buffalo, elephant, white rhino, giraffe, cheater, zebra, hippo, and several species of antelope is always very possible.
The mountainous backdrop to the reserve gives you a sense of tranquility. At the same time, the rising aroma from the fynbos vegetation around you almost compels you to pay more attention to the greenery.
Guests of Gondwana African Safari have several activity options that go beyond their popular big five game drives.
You can take on mountain biking excursions or hikes that end in an Africology spa treatment if you choose. There is also a junior ranger program that does wonders for nature conservation.
Suppose you opt for a more adventurous hiking safari. In that case, it's wise to dress for the occasion, and a pair of authentic South African veldskoen complimented with a wide-brimmed bush hat and the traditional dab khaki bush clothing will blend right into your surroundings.
The rangers and staff at Gondwana are very service-driven. Your safari to this unique part of Africa will be rewarded with the experience and knowledge of these people who pride themselves as the custodians of a small piece of indigenous Africa.
Accommodation is luxurious, and the Kwena lodge, which incorporates the traditional Khoi-San dwelling in its beefed-up architecture, allows for safe star gazing at night.
There are 12 spacious bush villas, each with a wooden deck that offers unique landscape views.
Gondwana is relatively close to the coastal towns of Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Mossel Bay which offers superb golf courses and golden beaches as a prelude to other great activities.
Here is another little gem that packs a big safari punch. The Plettenberg Game Reserve is small at only 2 200 ha (5 436 acres) and is situated at the foothills of the Tsitsikamma Mountains.
Because of the reserve's small size, a limited elephant herd was necessary, and in 2016 the herd grew to 9 strong.
Most elephants were rescued from culling operations in other reserves and game farms.
What is particularly exciting about a safari to Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve is, it is Big five country. You can opt for a ranger-guided horseback safari to visit the resident elephant herd.
You might even come face to face with buffalo, lion, giraffe, white rhino, kudu, eland, and other game.
The rangers are well trained and experienced, so they know how close they can get to some of the more dangerous animals. Nevertheless, a horseback safari will get your adrenaline pumping.
You can either overnight in the park or stay elsewhere in the accommodation-rich area and opt for day visits to the reserve.
Staying at the Baroness lodge in the reserve will take you back in time to the early exploration days as it was the residence of Baron Joachim von Plettenberg whom Plettenberg Bay was named after. The lodge has a rustic feel to it and is stylishly overlaid with luxury.
By market standards, the costs of accommodation, game drives, and horseback safaris are all very affordable.
This picture is taken from the Robberg Peninsula (Robberg Nature Reserve), situated close to the Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route. "Rob" in Afrikaans is "seal", so the place is literally called "the seal mountain". The extension on the right is "the Island" – a small rocky area connected with the peninsula by the narrow strip of sand. This strip of sand is basically a beach bar washed by water at its both long sides. Robberg Island is built up by conglomerates of Robberg group and is a beautiful home of many marine bird species, reptiles, seals and indigenous plants. The Nelson Bay Cave, situated on the Robberg Peninsula, is one of the oldest caves, inhabited by human. Photo Credit: Elizaveta Kovaleva
Aquila Private Game Reserve is the closest big five reserve to Cape Town and is less than a two-hour drive away, situated near Touws River in the mountainous Karoo region. Here too, you can enjoy the excitement of a horseback safari or opt for a quad bike safari.
The mountains add scenic value but also make the reserve appear smaller. At 7 500 ha (18 533 acres), the reserve accommodates the big five and a range of other wildlife like giraffe, hippo, different antelope species, and 170 bird species. There is also an animal rescue center in the reserve, and visits can be arranged.
Day visitors who prefer to stay in bustling Cape Town can make use of the reserves shuttle service or take an early morning scenic drive in a rental vehicle to the reserve, which might be more relaxing as it will give you more time to stop along the way.
If you decide on vehicle rental, then a 4wd vehicle is a must to tackle the 4X4 route in the reserve. You can also try your hand at fishing to round off your safari in a more relaxed way.
Aquila boasts a 4-star lodge with different accommodation options, so you can stay a few nights and experience all the other safari options.
The sunset champagne drives are almost an Africa safari tradition. This is the time of day to share stories, sightings, or some helpful information you learned about the flora and fauna of the region.
The Western Cape is not a big five mammal territory, but many reserves showcase at least a few of the big 5, with only a few home to the big 5, be it in limited numbers.
Yes, the reserves are smaller than other central reserves around the country, yet some visitors have expressed disappointment at reserve sizes, equating them to glorified zoos.
This is disheartening, but if you think about the essence of a safari and your interaction with wildlife, you only really need to interact with a few animals or a single animal at any given time to create that once-in-a-lifetime memory. The reserves might be smaller, but the animals live wild and free in sustainable habitats.
Besides, reserves are always looking at ways to expand by adding new territory. The smaller wildlife reserves, animal rescue centers, and sanctuaries dotted around the Western Cape all contribute space and veterinary services that go a long way in preserving the wildlife of Southern Africa.
A marine big five safari need not be that one unique feather in your cap because you have the option to experience the big five mammal species while in the region.
If you are pressed for time or finances, the Western Cape can turn your wish list or bucket list into the reality you often dream about.
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