Johannesburg doesn’t seem like a conventional place to spend 24 hours, but I can promise you there is much more than meets the eye on offer here.
I’m sure when you think Africa the words safari and lions come to mind. You would be right, however, if you are keen to see some wildlife, be very careful about what place you chose to experience Africa with. There are only 5 places that I know of who breed Lions and actually re-release them into the wild, as the South African government doesn’t finance conservation all of the funding that places receives come from tourism and donors.
One of the best places in Johannesburg to go and see these animals is, of course, Kruger National Park. You can see some of the last white rhinos in Africa, White Lions, Cheetahs, wild dogs, giraffes and visit baby animals that have been abandoned and are unable to live in the wild or with a pack. You can opt to drive the park yourself or have a guide, this is a great way to see wildlife with young children as the risk factor is quite low.
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For those more adventurous or wanting to spend quality time with animals I cannot recommend highly enough ‘The Collins Horseback Safari and Lion Walk’, this is a family run sanctuary and they have one of the best African Lion breeding programs in the world in terms of Lion genetic diversity (it’s very important to preserve the race).
This family-run Safari will pick you up from the Hatfield train station in Pretoria (45 min by train from Johannesburg). From there it’s an approximately 25 min drive to the reserve, coming down the driveway you may see a few baboons. Once you get to the main base you will be offered tea or coffee while they saddle up the horses.
No matter your level of riding experience they will find the perfect horse for you, these horses are all trained to interact with the numerous animals you will encounter on the Plaines of Africa. You can guarantee seeing Zebra, wildebeest, Impala, Giraffes and on occasion a Leopard.
The biggest plus to the horseback aspect is how close to the animals you get, we were only 10m from the grazing giraffes and almost touching distance with the Zebra. The scenery is stunning as well, especially during the spring season when the Jacarandas are in full bloom.
Once you have had your 2,5 hours fill on the horses you make your way back for a delicious lunch of pizza or sandwich of your choice, this is all included in the price. It’s a good time to also take a dip in the pool if you’re there in summer, so take your swimmers if it’s going to be hot (also make sure to take sunscreen).
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Once lunch is over if you opted to stay for the Lion walk you will have a brief safety chat with the handler who lets you know what to do and gives great information about the care of Lions. You can tell he loves them like he would his own children.
First, you visit the breeding Lions who aren’t able to be left in the wild but instead produce offspring for them to release back into the wild. As you make your way down to the young Lions, the excitement becomes palpable! Depending on the time of year you go there may be only a few Lions or there may be around 10, all varying in ages from 3 months to a year.
You get to walk around the park with these beautiful creatures for over an hour, they may try to pat your ankles but a quick swipe on the nose reminds them who’s boss! Your welcome to pat, play and photograph them as much as you like, it’s encouraged to be physical with them, the lion cubs love the attention, even if they can be a bit cheeky at times.
After they are placed back into the pen and fed lunch you are free to spend the last half hour doing what you want, explore more of the grounds, jumping on the trampoline or simply inquire with the staff if your thirst for knowledge isn’t satisfied.
I can honestly say this is one of the best experiences I’ve had in nearly 3 years of flying. It would be a huge waste to not stop in for a day trip with the Collins if you ever find yourself in Johannesburg.