Making our way through the electronic gates into Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve, there was a real sense of anticipation after seeing the sign at the entrance warning of ‘Danger! Live animals!’ We drove slowly over the dirt track which snaked through a wide expanse of open space – some nearly 5,500 acres – and followed the directions towards the main lodge. Suddenly, there was an excited squeal from the backseat. “There’s giraffe, mummy! A GIRAFFE!” As the car slowed down to a standstill, Monkey hadn’t been mistaken. Right by our car was a giraffe, happily minding his own business and chomping away at the top of a tree. From this moment, we all knew we would be in for a magical few hours.
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve is the Southern Cape’s biggest game reserve and is home to Africa‘s Big Five – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. I have always wanted to go on a game drive but wasn’t sure that it would be possible with two young children.
So my first thought was to choose an experience which would give us a taste of what a safari would be like and, after reading about Plettenberg Game Reserve’s two-hour drive, I felt this was the perfect antidote to testing the waters.
What sealed the deal for me was that young children are welcome, even babies. When I emailed ahead of time double-checking that Peanut would be allowed to ride on the truck with us, they reassured me that as long as he was in a carrier it would be fine.
After being checked in at reception, we were all wowed by the different animal artefacts and decorations adorning this huge expanse of space – from skins, to horns, and to my horror, elephant leg stools! I was reassured by a member of staff that these were taken from an elephant that had died of natural causes, but still, it makes me shudder thinking about them now…
As more visitors arrived, we were ushered to the disembarkation point onto a huge truck with barriers and a roof. The four of us fit comfortably onto the back seat, with the baby in a sling sitting on my lap.
Monkey clocked the ranger’s rifle straightaway and began asking us why this would be needed. Now, I’m not sure if the ranger was jesting a little, but he told Monkey it was for our protection, and to make sure he didn’t stick his arms out of the truck in case a lion might mistake him for dinner. All of us laughed, rather nervously, and then he accelerated and we were off!
The game drive is meant to only be two-hours, but take this with a huge pinch of salt. As our driver explained, in order for visitors to get the best out of the experience, this would mean seeing as many of the animals as possible. Unfortunately, they don’t always play ball, so the ranger has to use his know-how to drive us to the best viewing spots and to where he thinks some of these creatures might be hiding out.
Our drive took more than three hours, and remarkably the baby was relatively calm. There was a moment where he really didn’t want to be strapped to me, but luckily I had brought plenty of snacks – and perhaps it was also the bumpy motion of the truck that eventually sent him off to sleep for a good 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, we were all cold, though, because we weren’t dressed appropriately. It was a relatively hot day, but under the roof of the truck with no sunshine to warm our skins, mixed with the rushing cold winds that came through as we were speeding along, meant we had goosebumps most of the way around, not helped by the fact we noticed other guests in different trucks had blankets! Our ranger had been so keen to get going, he’d forgotten to bring the onboard.
Did it ruin our enjoyment – not really because, during our time we saw so many amazing animals up close, it really was quite spectacular. From a baby giraffe and elephants to rhinos and leopards, buffalo, wildebeest and zebras, as well as crocodiles. Did we get to the see the Big Five? Yes, we did! But we were a little disappointed not to be able to spot any of the Reserve’s hippos – we think they were hiding under water as we came past. Here are the highlights in photos below:
Once we had finished, we made our way to the cafe/garden area where we ordered a bite to eat – the kids happily munched on a cheese toastie and chips and afterwards, having fun in the playground. My husband and I marvelled at the backdrop of the foothills of the Tsitsikamma Mountains whilst pushing the baby on a swing. We were still in awe of all the wonderful animals we had just seen. It had been an amazing morning and we continued to discuss how fantastic it would be to actually stay on the Reserve itself in one of their many lodges.
After the children began to tire, we decided that as much as we were enjoying our surroundings, it was time to leave. Perhaps it helped that both the kids were so well behaved, and that Monkey was excitedly asking questions about the animals he had spied, but there was one thing for certain – our first experience of a safari game drive was a huge success and we all agreed this wouldn’t be the last one we’d go on…
• A safari game drive at Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve costs R690 (£42) per adult and R190 (£12) for children 2+