8 Animal Experiences You Can’t Miss in South Africa – Besides a Safari
South Africa’s wildlife experiences don’t start and end with safaris. There’s so much to do in this diverse country than simply hopping into a safari vehicle. It’s time to ditch the car, don your walking shoes, and get closer to nature than you ever thought possible. Here are the top 5 animal experiences to enjoy in South Africa:
1. AFRICAN ELEPHANT EXPERIENCE
There’s nothing as humbling as getting up close to a full-sized elephant. Inspect their wrinkled and surprisingly hairy body, feel the touch of their sandpapery skin, and admire the impossible length of their eyelashes. While experiences with the African elephant are somewhat controversial, South Africa has sanctuaries allowing close interactions with humans without compromising on their welfare.
The Elephant Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary near Plettenberg Bay offers as close an encounter as you could possibly hope for. Haul yourself up onto the back of Jabu, Thandi, or Maroela and enjoy a 15 minute ride through the forest, feel her hot breath as she slips her trunk into your hand for a hand-in-trunk walk, and settle in for a theatrical show as they perform their favourite trick of kneeling, head shaking, or trunk blowing on command (only positive reinforcement training methods are used). You’ll learn interesting facts about the African elephant and get to hand-feed them apples. Don’t forget to purchase your chosen ellie’s footprint which goes towards funding the sanctuary. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
2. RIDE AN OSTRICH
The ostrich is the largest living bird on earth and, when fully grown, can weigh as much as 120kg and run as fast as 70km an hour. If you’ve ever dreamed of hopping onto the back of these flightless birds, you’ll have to make the scenic trek to Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich Capital of the World (approx. 5 hour drive from Cape Town) where there are more ostriches than people.
Cango Ostrich Ranch
Cango Ostrich Ranch offers ostrich riding which (although awkward looking) can actually be fun. If you can’t brave an ostrich ride, you can pet the chicks, feed the ostriches by hand, and stand on ostrich eggs (they’re surprisingly strong!). There’s also a curio shop with everything from painted ostrich eggs and feathers, to biltong and leather products. Even the restaurant serves ostrich steak!
3. MONKEY MEETING
These mischievous creatures are fascinating to see in their natural habitat. Swinging from tree to tree, pulling each other’s tails, and stealing food are what they’re known for.
Monkeyland near Plettenberg Bay offers the chance to get up close with over 500 monkeys in the largest free roaming primate sanctuary in the world. The forest is home to 18 different species (11 free roaming) including Capuchin monkey, White-handed gibbon, Ringtail lemur, Hanuman langur, Black Howler monkey, Bolivian Squirrel monkey, Red-backed bearded saki, and Vervet monkey. If you’re lucky, you may spot the rare Spectacled Langur – as elusive as a ghost, he’s the only one of his kind in the entire forest. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
3. MEERKAT EXPERIENCE
Join a meerkat tour in Oudtshoorn and experience their everyday day life as a casual observer. As the sun rises, you’ll be greeted by the “sentinel” – a female lookout who will pop out of the burrow and search the area for predators. Once the area has been deemed safe, she’ll be joined one at a time by the rest of the colony.
Enjoy a 2 – 3 hour tour with wild meerkats. You’ll hike to the burrows to quietly observe this wild, but habituated, meerkat colony as they go about their day.
4. CAMEL RIDES
If you think riding a camel is like riding a horse, think again. It’s an awkward experience that involves trying desperately not to fall off, especially when the camel rises from the ground with its back legs first, tipping you forward. As long as you can ignore the 2m drop below you to enjoy the bumpy ride, it’s well worth the experience.
The camels at Imhoff Farm are tame and great for kids and adults. There is also a snake park, horse and cart rides, and an animal farmyard where kids can pet sheep, rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, and an alpaca.
5. SHARK CAGE DIVING
Do you dare to climb into shark infested water with just a metal cage between you and a 2 metre Great White in its natural habitat? There isn’t much that can prepare you for the size of these creatures when you see them underwater and realise just how broad they are, but there is also no way to prepare for the feeling of awe and respect that rushes over you once you’ve done it.
Gansbaai is known as the Great White Capital of the World. A shuttle will transport you from your hotel in Cape Town to Gansbaai (around a 2 hour journey). You don’t need to diving experience as its breath-held so no scuba tanks are used. Snorkels, wetsuits and lunch are provided. DVDs will be available but invest in an underwater camera for the occasion. For those who can’t get into the water, surface viewing from the top of the boat is still worth it. Stay nearby.
6. CROCODILE CAGE DIVING
Done shark cage diving and got the t-shirt? Why not try crocodile cage diving. You’ll get an up-close view of these man-eaters in the water – which few have experienced (and survived).
Cango Willdife Ranch
Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn offers the chance to submerge yourself in the water with five 4 metre long Nile crocodiles. The cages are heralded as “bite proof” with over two tonnes of bite pressure per square inch. You’ll be given goggles and a snorkel. An underwater photograph completes the experience.
8. CHEETAH WALKS
While running a cheetah may not sound like fun, walking with one surely has its benefits. For one, you get to view this magnificent creature up close. When this big cat decides to take a break (and he will), you will get to stroke him gently and listen to him purr. Just remember that when he decides to run, you’ll have to let go of the leash. There is no way you are keeping up with him.
Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre
Tenikwa near Plettenberg Bay offers the choice of a sunrise or sunset cheetah walk. And don’t be fooled by thinking you’ll be doing the walking because the big cat will most certainly be walking you. But after you’ve been tugged at a fast jog through the forest, you’ll get to watch them being fed and learn some fascinating facts from the conservation experts. Stay in Plettenberg Bay.
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