A Scenic road to see the Big Five in two days

On a beautiful sunshine day in July 2019 we got on our GS Adventure bike and took a ride to Aquila Private Game Reserve where we would spend the night for my 37th birthday. Aquila is located in the Touws River district and is about 157km from Cape Town. The actual route is straight and fast via the N1 and is easily reachable in less than 90 minutes, but obviously the route we took was the more scenic one via the beautiful R46. From the offices of Berg 4×4 Rentals in Philadelphia it made up 183km. It took us about 3 hours to complete (including many coffee stops).

The route is lush green landscapes, winelands and mountains with interesting and historic towns on the way.

As we entered the vicinity of Witzenberg driving down the pass there is an uninterrupted view of the horizon and fertile land as far as the eye can see.

We passed Riebeek Kasteel; one of the oldest towns in South Africa discovered by Jan van Riebeek when he climbed up a mountain (now known as Bothmaskloof). The town is rich in art, culture and even has a chocolatier.

The first coffee stop was in Tulbagh which is the 4th oldest town in South Africa. In one particular street you can find the largest number of Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage sites in South Africa and there are plenty of restaurants, wine and olive estates.

The town was beautifully rebuilt after the earthquake in 1969 and boasts with 5 museums that tells the story of the rich history of this little town.

At Wolseley, a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains (also the place where my dad grew up) the R46 meets the R43 that goes to Ceres. You can see the Anglo-Boer War Blockhouse and do some birdwatching, hiking or horse backriding.

An exciting drive up Mitchel’s Pass takes us to the Tolhuis where we had traditional roosterkoek, eggs and bacon for breakfast and then into the little town of Ceres (well known for their fruit juice, zipline adventures and the Ceres Mountain fynbos reserve.

For the next 73 kilometres there is nothing but beautiful, tranquil scenery until we reach the reserve.

When we got to Aquila we were warmly welcomed and ushered to our beautiful suite. We freshened up and decided to explore a bit before having lunch.

Aquila is full board and provides a buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as an afternoon and morning game drive.

Leisure time (when you are not eating or game driving) you can hang out at the bar, have a swim (which we do not dare in the middle of July in the Western Cape) or relax in the beautiful spa area – which is an additional cost of course. Please book ahead of time to avoid disappointment as the spa cannot accommodate all the lodgers in one day and works on a strict diary. The arm water pools, sauna and steam rooms are included in the spa facility and free if you stay two or more nights.

It does feel a bit commercial in the dining area with the plastic chairs and all the people (almost like you are at the airport waiting for a flight). Some guests were sleeping in the bar chairs waiting for the game drive.

But any type of disappointment is completely dissolved once the game drive starts…

It was absolutely freezing at the back of the Land Cruiser as there was a wind blowing and we snuggled closely together. From the start to the finish we saw amazing wildlife including Elephants, various Antelope, Zebra, Wildebeest and giraffe. Our guide was very knowledgeable and allowed plenty of time for photos. We had a very special lion encounter… We entered the lion den and while we were staring them basically in the eye, the one male started roaring load and cheerful and it was not long before he was joined by a choir of about 5 others. Their voices lifted way up over the rocky valley and filled the air with a powerful song that lasted over a minute! Everyone of the Land Cruiser was silent and we all enjoyed this very special song together. I felt so small at that moment as I realized how wonderful this large earth really is. What a honour to be able to experience this.

Just as I thought that this was the absolute highlight of my day, we ended the game drive with the Rhinos (the most endangered specie in South Africa currently). A female Rhino is pregnant for 3 years before she gives birth. At the rate they are being killed for their horns there is no way they can populate fast enough to keep up.

This special sighting was of a mother and her young baby grazing.

We headed back to the hotel and had a hot shower to warm up before dinner.

The bike ride back home the Sunday was quiet as we each had our own thoughts on a wonderful special weekend with the Big Five.

So, if anyone wants to see the Big Five and only has two days to do so… Visit Aquila Private Game Reserve. You will really find what you are looking for…

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