I love a good Tripadvisor rant. Like that guy who sprayed a 5 star Bangkok hotel with venom when his ‘friend’ (read: prostitute) was declined entry into the hotel. Or the lady who was affronted her chosen Fijian resort had failed to mention that at times it becomes quite windy on the island “The resort should really warn you about the wind!” (Because nature is always 100% predictable). So when we booked a night at the Aquila Private Game Reserve in the Western Cape of South Africa, I was perplexed at the polarity in reviews. It was either amazing or terrible. The light bulb moment came when I checked where these reviewers were coming from.
It is in a beautiful setting in the Little Karoo (only two hours drive from Cape Town through amazing farming and mountain scenery), and the resort takes full advantage of the arid landscape with most of its buildings looking out over the arid landscape. Sitting by the infinity edge pool, sipping G&Ts, one of the elephants might lumber by. The food in the restaurant is buffet style, but most of the vegetables are grown on site and it was pretty nice. The rooms are either hotel style and modern (just refurbished), or chalet in an African style. We had a loft chalet- the kids slept upstairs and we had an outdoor shower and a spa bath.
As for the game, yes, Aquila has the Big 5, but it’s also on a 7,500 acre property. As such, we saw the Big 5 within the 2 hour game drive really easily. This is because the staff know exactly where the animals are at any given moment. Lots of the animals were pregnant or had just had offspring. The lions are really easy to find because they are kept in an enclosure of their own so they don’t eat all the other animals. We got to see everything close up, which was fantastic for our small children. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the animals in the park and couldn’t do enough for us.
Here’s why Aquila sucks:
It’s in the Little Karoo on a 7,500 acre property. There are only a few of each species and yes, the lions are in a separate enclosure so you can’t see them actually kill and eat something. Some food is brought in for the other animals because an arid environment is not their natural one (the best example is the giraffes: there ain’t a lot of tall trees for them to eat from in the Little Karoo). The animals therefore tend to hang around in the same areas. The rooms are as stated above and the food presented is at the same standard as middle of the road South African restaurants.
Here’s the difference: overseas guests who have never been to a game park think Aquila is amazing because it gives you a “safari” experience with rooms and food that are pretty bloody good. South African guests think Aquila sucks arse because it isn’t a true “safari” experience, the rooms and the food are satisfactory when compared to other restaurants and hotels charging the same price in South Africa. As a non-South African who has been to Kruger National Park, eaten and stayed her way through this beautiful country a number of times, I can see the native SAFA’s point- I too have been spoilt with exceptional food, accommodation and game drives which give you chills of pleasure and rapture. Nothing can prepare you for driving around a corner and seeing a herd of 30 elephants crossing the road. And this is where the South African will have a problem with Aquila Game Reserve because the native South African will most certainly have been to one of the major game reserves to the north of the country.
But for anyone else in the world, seeing elephants and giraffe and baby rhino’s in an environment that is not measured in square metreage, but in thousand acre allotments, Aquila Private Game Reserve IS amazing on every level.
So if you’re visiting South Africa and Aquila Game Reserve will be your first and only chance to see the Big 5 in an African setting, you won’t be disappointed it’s great. If you’re Southern African- give it a miss. You’ll only be frustrated and annoyed.
Which brings me back to planning your holiday an a golden rule: Tripadvisor is a great tool to check out where you’re travelling to. Just remember: tools also travel!