She may not be classified as one of Africa’s Big Five, but formidable former British prime minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, certainly provided a rare and exciting sighting this week, for the day and overnight visitors who went on safari outside Cape Town.
The great dame and her modest party of an escort and obligatory body guards chose to explore Cape Town’s exclusive malaria free four-star Aqulia Private Game Reserve, just under two hours from the Mother City to savour Cape Towns closest Big 4 safari.
“We are very proud to have created a unique safari experience for both local and international tourists, celebrities, dignitaries and seasoned travellers such as Baroness Thatcher when visiting Cape Town.“ said owner, Searl Derman.
At the thought of catering to one of modern history’s most unyielding world leaders, excited Aquila staff were immediately put at ease by Thatcher’s “gracious manner” and “charm”. The fact that she loved the experience and repeatedly complimented staff also went a long way to easing tensions.
“Today was the highlight of my time at Aquila,” said Pierre Beneke, general manager of the reserve. “I must admit I was expecting the Iron Lady to be very demanding. Instead I found a very classy lady who is really charming and gracious.
Thatcher welcomed chatting to the other visitors who instantly forgot about the old King of the Jungle bit as soon as they spotted her and could not resist approaching her. She was friendly and happily chatted to other visitors. There were quite a few British visitors who were blown away by seeing their former prime minister in the flesh on the same day they saw Cape Towns closest Big 4.
Thatcher, who arrived on the reserve just before 10am and stayed until 2.30pm, not only welcomed a table in the thatched boma restaurant but was also delighted to tuck into the traditional South African buffet and Karoo lamb spit braai feast. She further entranced staff when she declined the offer of an air-conditioned vehicle for her two-and-a-half hour safari and happily took her seat in an open Land Rover.
Thatcher was fortunate to have incredible game sightings on the game drive which included Lions, buffalos, rhinos, hippos, giraffes and a majority of plains game on the 4, 500 hectare reserve. “She also snacked on koeksisters and biltong,” said Beneke. “She must have spent about 45 minutes playing with the recently acquired lion cubs which she said she really enjoyed. In fact, she honestly loved being here and at lunch was full of questions and enthusiasm about Aquila’s community services, social upliftment programmes and training projects to create employment opportunities in the region. And at the end of her safari she opened the visitors’ book and wrote ‘An excellent safari’ and complimented Aquila on having created so much in just three years. I’m still beaming with pride,” said Beneke.
Perhaps though, it was even more of “an excellent safari” for the young ranger who escorted Thatcher and her party into the wilderness. Touwsriviers Gwen O’Ryan, now acting head ranger of Aquila was cleaning rooms on the reserve just 18 months ago. However, as part of the intensive training and development programme, she was able to swap her mop and pail for a whole new horizon among the birds and the beasts. And if you can happily keep the Iron Lady’s attention for two-and-a-half hours on a bumpy road in the Karoo Mountains, this ranger’s certainly bound for a very bright future.
Aquila has come a long way in just 3 years and has become a hot favourite with local & international celebrities, whilst filming in the Mother City. Recently seen at the reserve are Michelle Garforth, Tyra Banks, Dune Kossatz, Steve Guttenburg, Brian Brown and Luke Perry. “I’ve been to San Francisco but didn’t leave my heart there, and it’s a damn good thing ‘cause I’d rather leave it here.” Wrote Luke in the visitors’ book.
Capetonians, tourists, dignitaries and celebrities alike can enjoy an affordable day visit and or overnight safari experience within easy reach of the city. To date Capetonians have been starved of a Safari experience. Normally local and or international tourists would have had to incur the cost of flights, car hire, and petrol, time off work and malaria prophylactics to travel to the game reserves in the North.