Welcome to another entry in my series that shares my experiences in South Africa as an American. This week, I wanted to share my experiences with the parks in South Africa.
We recently visited Cape Point, Featherbed National Preserve, the Knysna Elephant Park, Monkeyland, and Birds of Eden. These were extraordinary experiences and I’m so thrilled I got the opportunity to visit them!
Cape Point is just south of Cape Town. It is a wonderful area full of olive baboons and birds. You can dine at the Two Oceans Restaurant, which is quite lovely with dishes presented almost as beautifully as the views. But keep a close eye on your food – a baboon or bird might come by and grab something. You can also climb up to a nearby lighthouse, which provides a beautiful 360° view above the ocean, cliffs, beaches, and park below.
If you ever visit Knysna and absolute must experience is the Featherbed Nature Reserve! Take a boat ride across the Knysna Lagoon to the remote park that first welcomes you with the Forest Restaurant built in the trees. From there you are transported up the hill to the beginning of a 1.4 mile hike. This hike is occasionally steep, full of steps and rocks, but chock-full of gorgeous views from the Western Head of Knysna that opens up to the Indian Ocean. I know the Pacific Northwest has its share of natural beauty, but this excursion alone gives the entire region a run for its money! The highest peak is over 780 feet above sea level. You’ll see caves, cliffs, waves crashing into giant rocks, glorious views of the town of Knysna, and possibly either dolphin or whales!
Not far away is the Knysna Elephant Park. In the States, if you want to see elephants, you must go to a zoo where you’ll see them from afar through a fenced area. If you’re lucky, you might get to touch them. At Knysna Elephant Park, you get so much more! After a short briefing of how to behave around the elephant, guests get driven out to the elephants to feed them. How remarkable is this?! I was given a bucket of cut fruit to put in my palm one at a time. The elephants were all lined up against a metal barrier, sticking their trunks out at me and my fellow visitors. With little effort, the elephants would take turns grabbing fruit from my palm with their trunks and drop it in their mouths. We would then walk to a field with the elephants and be able to stand next to them and touch them. It was such a remarkable thing to be in an open field with about a half-dozen elephants! We did not take the opportunity, but you can even ride and sleep with the elephants here. So cool!
Further on are Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, two parks located next to each other. Monkeyland is a refuge for various monkeys who were largely once pets. Here they are slowly de-humanized and allowed to be free to live as monkeys should with others. Because of this, we were not allowed to touch or hold the monkeys, as it would trigger memories from their past and ruin their rehabilitation. That’s okay, because we’re guided through trails in the forest where monkeys would jump, swing, play and run right next to us! Many even went right by me! We saw ring-tailed lemurs, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, gibbons, and many others. It was an educational and one-of-a-kind experience that you’d never get in America.
The Birds of Eden, located right next door, is a beautiful sanctuary for a variety of birds native to Africa. Some, like the hadeda and red-eye doves, you could easily find anywhere outside the sanctuary. Others, like the flamingo and the loerie, were quite wonderful to get up close to. Again, you won’t be able to hold these birds, unless an odd duck (pun intended) decided to land on you for whatever reason. But that’s unlikely. In all honesty, as beautiful as it was, this isn’t too unlike some places you’ll find in the States. What’s different is it’s much larger and intricate than any I’ve seen in the States.
So, those are the parks I’ve visited so far. We’re still planning on visiting a wild cat park, but the weather has become quite damp, so we’re waiting for the right day.