Cullinan, Gauteng, South Africa
What can I say about this beautiful place in the heart of the South African bushveld other than the fact that it is simply none other than stunning and a very rewarding experience, which must be on everyone's bucket list!
2015 was a very special year for me. One; it was, at long last, the year that my husband could finally join me in the UK from South Africa after living almost 18 months apart and two;...... I turned 30. Okay so some people may not be happy about that but... I decided to benchmark it by doing something special.
Now for all you horsey people (who will understand!) there is nothing quite like cantering along feeling the wind in your face with nothing around you other than wide open spaces and fresh air so.... add together a mix of that plus a herd of Springbok to your left, Impala to the right, Kudu at the neighbourhood watering hole and you have a pretty unique experience.
At Horseback Africa their passion for the majestic animals is unpresidented. The MacRea family are all for conservation and are part of a fantastic breeding program to repopulate lions all over Africa. Matt was only too happy to talk about this in more detail on the Lion Tour we had in our small group. It is evident throughout their whole setup and dedication of their staff that their only concern is the wellbeing of the lions and the other wildlife that inhabits their surroundings. The stories they told of past and existing animals was enthrauling to listen to and the plans for the littles ones for the future was very promising for the good of their species. This is a great passion of mine.
The rooms and accommodation generally is very clean and fit for purpose. Don't expect lavish furnishings, 49 inch flatscreen TVs and butler room service. You go there to be at one with nature and to talk to people. The bar is a very social area and the quietness of the vast bushveld is very still and tranquil. There is no wiff of commercial exploitation here which is what makes it so authentic; it is very refreshing to see.
Having said that, our room was situated merely feet away from a lion enclosure. We would sit on the bench outside our room and watch one of the big male lions snoozing and, on occasion, skulking around only for him to stop, lie down, perfectly perched on his rock, and stare at you giving you the look of "if this fence wasn't here....." he was great company :)
This wonderfully tucked away destination is all about your surroundings and not about your room! You go to experience nature at its finest; to meet and speak with new people to learn about nature and conservation in South Africa and Africa in general all, of course, over a nice ice cold Hunter's Dry Cider!
Having a South African husband; braaing is a staple part of SA tradition and so it was lovely for myself and Phillip to sit around at night and BBQ (even if it was cooked by an Englishman!) with the volunteers and other guests who were all great company. They even all sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me a birthday cake! We went during July, which is winter there so, although chilly, it didn't spoil a most pleasent evening with everyone.
The food is great as well. Breakfast was a self-serve cereal counter with or without eggs cooked to your liking. Our lunch was quite extraordinary; our homemade Osterich pizza was amazing! Stone baked in their own outdoor pizza oven made it all the more tasty and special!
The Lion Walk was brilliant. Matt, accompanied by his helpers, walked around 30 minutes to their local watering hole and the lions played and froliced around us quite happily. We were informed that they use it as a training tool so that they know they have to work a bit and explore for their food rather than just being fed over a fence. It was incrediable to watch them and stroke them as they walked past; they were quite relaxed with us! Playing with the young cubs at the end and watching them chomp on big chunks of meat was extremely cute and great fun.
Now for the main attraction; The Horse Riding Safari. It was, and continues to be until this day, the most amazing and rewarding experience I have had to date. The half day trek through the bush was led by Brandon, a wonderfully delightful man! Before we set off, we had a brief meeting with him so that he could determine our level of riding and previous experience before setting off and then he'd know which trails to take. After tacking up, we went out on our adventure.
The great thing about a horseback safari is how close to the wildlife you can actually get. I have done safari by jeep before and, although they are also great, there is just no comparison to being on a horse. The animals don't view the horses as an invasion of their personal space so are quite happy to keep doing what they are doing as you saunter past on four legs. Plus, to add a little extra, we were followed by two blesbok for quite some time who were very inquisitive. The highlight though, was seeing the giraffe graze; nibbling on the tops of the trees while we closed in for some pictures, completely oblivious that we had stopped for a gander. I was absolutely beside myself with excitement. You aren't as restricted on a horse as you can be in a jeep (plus its less noisy) so you can almost go anywhere without too much trouble and the horses are very well behaved! The landscape was so unspoiled and beautiful and the trails are easy to navigate.
Brandon is extremely knowledgeable about all the different types of wildlife and the whole experience was mindblowing.
I experienced why this is the number one attraction to do in Pretoria and it doesn't disappoint. When one day I return to South Africa I wouldn't think twice about going back to see how they have progressed. You get a distinct family atmosphere from this place and it is well worth a visit, even for the day. Highly recommended attraction and experience and a must-do for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Total family atmosphere throughout with very helpful and friendly staff.
Animals are very well cared for and looked after.
Non-commercial venture which is very reasonably priced.
Beautiful lodge, pool and setting for accommodation.
Wonderful free roaming wildlife on a private game park.
Beautful Spa to accompany a lovely location.
Absolutely none :)