Longleat Ahoy!

The adventure continues…….. where was I going for my 30th, everyone knew but me! But being in the Wiltshire area, I had an inkling, but it wasnt until we saw the first sign was it confirmed we were going to Longleat! Yes that fabulous safari park that we watched for years on TV! Not only were we going to the Safari Park but we were staying on the estate in one of their cottage, awesome!

A cute cottage but the highlight was definitely the view, through the  garden fence was the Park, giraffes and zebra right up to the garden fence, how amazing. Now I have been on safari in Africa and loved it but you do not get to sit and observe the life of animals like this, they were so close and after the park closes it was magical sitting in the garden with a glass of wine watching animal life unfold. Whats better than watching young giraffe playing chase, the monkey troop going crazy after closing time and keepers trying to herd hoofed animals indoors when it’s all just a big game to the animals.

Just chillin Lemur style

Just chillin Lemur style

Our fabulous vehicle!

Our fabulous vehicle!

Seen as it was my birthday, the being spoilt rotten continued with a VIP tour of the park. This includes going in one of their fabulous zebra print jeeps with a guide and getting to go off-road, up close and personal with the animals. Our guide Steve was fantastic. Having been a zoo keeper for over 20 years he was a font of knowledge and funny! This was a man who enjoyed his job and loved the animals he worked with.

Big kitty!

Big kitty!

Cute!

Cute!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you looking at?!

What you looking at?!

Penguin encounter

Penguin encounter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now as well as the Safari Park, there is an area next to the Big House that houses its smaller animals and Lake cruise. Both are set up to give you full on animal encounters, from walking through the penguin enclosure ( watch out penguin poo is projectile and smelly) to the manta-ray pool. I know some people do not believe in Safari Parks and Zoos, but Longleat was the first Safari Park outside Africa and their work on conservation is vital to keeping species alive especially when maniacs are running around Africa killing animals just for fun or for ‘traditional’ medicine. Not cool! Yes there are places around the world that keep animals in small cages, and they have no form of active life or enrichment but having watched life at Longleat I didn’t see one animal that looked unhealthy or mistreated. Just watching life in the giraffe and zebra field every morning and evening, these were animals going about the life they would lead in Africa and yes they have less space than they would in the Masai or Kruger but they have no threats and enough space from what I could tell for both species to get a good run on.

With Longleats position in Wiltshire its a great base for visiting the surrounding area, one day we went to Bath ( do the park and ride!) and I showed the family around the cute Spa city. But Bristol is also close by and of course you could go to Stonehenge as we did on the way. Wiltshire and the Cotswolds is a font of things to do and see so if you want a base in the area then definitely try here and of course there is also a Centre Parcs.

Bath Cathedral

Bath Cathedral

The fabulous baths of Bath

The fabulous baths of Bath

Fancy a dip

Fancy a dip

Longleat was an amazing treat and definitely somewhere I would want to go back to as an animal lover and now my friends have seen the pictures I am sure someone will find an excuse to celebrate something there!!

South Africa – Kruger National Park

When I found out I was going to South Africa for work to accompany one of our trips the thing I was most excited about, and I think like a lot of people are, was visiting Kruger National Park and hopefully seeing all the fabulous animals. The drive from Johannesburg took about 7 hours but the views were worth it as you climb higher and then descend through the Drakensberg Mountains. As it got later the clouds descended and swept over the top of the mountains creating the most amazing scenery – of course my little hand-held wasn’t able to capture the majesty of all of this!

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and covers an area of 19,633 square kilometres. The park is home to all big five and also has more species of large mammals than any other African Game Reserve (at 147 species). We were staying at the Timbavati Safari Lodge which is located on its own private reserve and meant that we had quite a few animal visitors in the lodge grounds while we were there, including warthogs, wildebeest and giraffes. It was a lovely place to stay, a small Lodge which had a real warm family feel to it! Waking up to find wildebeest outside your bed room window is certainly not something I will be forgetting for a while!

We spent an entire day in Kruger National Park with our amazing guide Prince (I spent the day singing Purple Rain in my head!) – how he spotted things in the bush is a mystery to me, he must have binoculars for eyes. Within a couple of minutes we had spotted lions and a leopard, both a distance off but still amazing. From then on we started ticking off animals and birds like they were going out of fashion. Now of course we were incredibly lucky as our guide told us, you can go on game drives and see very little and that is why I would recommend at least a couple of days of game drives to make sure you see everything. The next day we went on a bushwalk around the lodge and tracked a young male giraffe which was incredible and in the afternoon we went for an evening / sunset game drive in one of the private reserves near by and again got incredibly lucky with everything we saw.

Blue skies over Kruger National Park

Blue skies over Kruger National Park

I could go on and on about how much I loved my time in Kruger but I won’t, instead I have selected a few of my favourite photos. I won’t be winning Wildlife Photographer of the Year anytime soon but hopefully they will inspire you to go and see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.

We saw lions..... no we did really... its like where's wally, where's the lion!!

We saw lions….. no we did really… its like where’s wally, where’s the lion!!

Yes I am a wildebeest just hanging out with some Impala

Yes I am a wildebeest just hanging out with some Impala

 

the somewhat common but always stunning Impala

the somewhat common but always stunning Impala

one of my favourite shots!

one of my favourite shots!

We came across these four giraffes and they were just beautiful to watch, two were playing with each other swinging their necks around - amazing to just sit and watch

We came across these four giraffes and they were just beautiful to watch, two were playing with each other swinging their necks around – amazing to just sit and watch

They may not be the prettiest of animals but baboons are just brilliant to watch, they are so social.

They may not be the prettiest of animals but baboons are just brilliant to watch, they are so social.

My only decent bird photo, the camera doesn't do its bright colouring justice.

My only decent bird photo, the camera doesn’t do its bright colouring justice.

spotting the little five as well as the big, a leopard tortoise

spotting the little five as well as the big, a leopard tortoise

The waterbuck, so elegant.

The waterbuck, so elegant.

Pumba!

Pumba!

Yes more zebra but they are so fun!

Yes more zebra but they are so fun!

My king of the jungle, the elephant - I never get bored of seeing them in the wild

My king of the jungle, the elephant – I never get bored of seeing them in the wild

Sunset over Kruger National Park

Sunset over Kruger National Park

Good night Kruger!

Good night Kruger!

 

Kruger and the private game reserves are such special places and should be preserved and protected. We were in a fortunate position that later on in the trip we met and had a talk from a Kruger National Park vet and this was illuminating for me. It was interesting to hear his views on animal population control, the selling of animals to private reserves but also on poaching. It certainly opened up a lively debate about the ethics behind rhino farming as a measure to control poaching.

 

Our learning continued when we went to visit the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. It really hit us all about poaching, that even inside the grounds of the centre rhinos are killed and their horns taken. We came across two rhino’s whose horns had been taken but they were left alive and taken to the centre to live. There is no other way of describing it as just sad, something so central to this animal taken!

the saddest thing, rhino's poached for their horn!

the saddest thing, rhino’s poached for their horn!

 

One of Hoedspruits main aims is the breeding of cheetahs and releasing them into the wild as they too are quickly dropping in numbers. They are such a beautiful creature and its easy to think of them as something soft and cuddly until you see those teeth and they get their claws out – respect right there! They also have a successful wild dog breeding programme.

The glorious cheetah

The glorious cheetah

African Wild Dogs

African Wild Dogs

 

 

It wasn’t only the wildlife that we got to see in Kruger National Park. We also got the chance to go on a walk through a Shangaan village which was very interesting and allowed the opportunity to really see what life was life for people in rural Mpumalanga. We met with people, spoke with them and played with the children. They have so little but have such big hearts, they are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met on my travels.

 

On our walk through the village, all the children were so curious but so friendly

On our walk through the village, all the children were so curious but so friendly

Hanging outside the local tavern of course

Hanging outside the local tavern of course

We had a little nosey in the local tavern, the stark walls only decoration were these doodles of beer logos

We had a quite nosey in the local tavern, the stark walls only decoration were these doodles of beer logos

Who need the latest playstation when you have this bad boy to play with!

Who need the latest playstation when you have this bad boy to play with!

Inside the local shop in the village

Inside the local shop in the village

Inside the local shop in the village

Inside the local shop in the village

The local witchdoctor!

The local witchdoctor!

Going on safari has definitely given me the bug and its something I want to do more and hopefully I will get the opportunity to go back to South Africa but also to the Masai Mara or Serengeti as there is such a wealth of wildlife in both. I have recently been told about a new app called Herdtacker that allows you to track the herds in the Masai so it would be interesting to see it in action! Its amazing how technology can be used! Hopefully it will also help or be a starting point for helping rangers keep an eye on the animals as well and protect them from poachers!

Seeing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat is breath-taking – I do need a better camera though!