New beginnings

A Lion and Safari Park to be proud of

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The lion that stood sentinel in Lanseria for 50 years has found a new home. The Lion Park, a World Heritage Site attraction, has moved to Broederstroom, just north of Johannesburg. The Lion and Safari Park has metamorphosed into an exciting new home for its many lions, giraffes, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas, to name but a few of its residents.

We were invited by Marketing Manager Andre La Cock to investigate what the new park has to offer. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.

Up close and personal at dinner time

Our packed itinerary began with a short safari drive to visit the lions at feeding time. The lions in the park are separated into three enclosures, to separate the prides and alpha males. We set off in a convoy of game vehicles. To access the enclosure, we drove through two gates, which provide protection against curious carnivores keen to sniff out different sides to their home.

We were accompanied by two female giraffes. Purdy, one of the resident giraffes, is well known for being a lovable pest. She insisted on following the vehicles and at times, walking in front of the trucks and rubbing up against the sides. Purdy and her daughter Zoe waited outside the enclosures while we went on ahead to witness the pride’s meal time.

Once safely inside, the food for the lions is brought out in a truck and thrown out through a hole at the back end of the vehicle. It is one staff member’s job to crouch at the back and throw the lion’s meat through the hole—a job which requires a bit of fearlessness, considering how close you are to a lion’s canines.The lions are fed different kinds of meat which is procured from farms in the region.

The alpha male promptly snatched a leg and stalked away to eat it in peace. The lionesses and cubs ate together, at times trying to steal each other’s chosen body part, with lots of growls and mock roars fired off. Feeding time is something that must be witnessed, as it provides valuable insight into how these majestic creatures interact as a pride, and as a family.

Lions dine but humans must eat as well

The new park has incorporated many new features at the new site, including top notch dining areas, the Five Dome shopping experience and a new photographic centre. We set off to the Bull and Buck restaurant after our lion feed, to experience what Executive Chef Martin Chetty and his team has put together for visitors to the park.

The Bull and Buck is the park’s premier dining attraction, an upmarket steakhouse which caters for all incisors and canines. We were seated in a comfortable booth, to begin the difficult task of selecting what meal to feed on for ourselves. For starters, I chose the Seswa cakes—brisket which is deep fried and accompanied by rocket and chakalaka dressing. My partner chose the Caesar salad, served with perfectly poached eggs, anchovies, crispy bacon and parmesan shavings. Other starter options include greek salad, roasted baby beetroot, sugar smoked chicken, salmon trout pastrami, chicken livers and roasted marrow bones.

For mains, we selected the rump and kudu club steaks, with our selected side orders of baked butternut, onion rings, battered cauliflower and crumbed mushrooms. Our steaks were well seasoned and tender and perfectly complimented by their accompaniments. We could have continued eating, as the team continued to offer us more, but by that point, we had to say no, even to dessert. Other main options include t-bones, sirloin, fillet, or more game, including springbok, ostrich and eland. For those wanting something less meaty, there is also baked kingklip, mussels, the line fish of the day, or a gnu burger, springbok shank and venison ragout to try. A taste of bunny chow, crumbed sirloin, braised oxtail, braised pork cheeks or baby back pork ribs could also be an option—the many choices will satisfy even the fussiest of cubs.

If we had the space, we would have selected the sliced fresh fruit and duck egg lavender crème brulee for dessert. There is also the creative option of butternut cheese cake or for the more conservative sweet tooth, a cheese and biscuit platter. The ample wine list, beer and soft drink selection is a meticulous indication of how well thought out the menu is at The Bull and Buck. Executive Chef Martin Chetty says, “I love working with different ingredients that create new and exciting dishes.”

We certainly enjoyed his creative take on meals at the restaurant. We were given a warm farewell and told to hurry back for more.

Bed rest and recharging for the next day

The new park is situated conveniently closer to accommodation options in the area. We were hosted by The Venue Country Hotel, a two-minute drive from the entrance to the park. This is perfect for any tourist wanting to experience everything the park has to offer, without having to rush through their day to cover everything.

The manager at The Venue has a permanent smile on his face, a delightful sense of humour and is willing to assist with absolutely everything you can think of. The rooms are equipped with a television set, large shower and bathroom space and extra blankets for the colder Highveld evenings. We were fairly tired from the day’s feeding experiences, for animals and humans alike, and settled down for a much needed night’s recovery.

Upon waking, the buffet breakfast offers everything you could possibly want and fit in to your stomach. There are vegetarian and meat options, lots of coffee, pastries, fruit, yoghurt and cereal. You are not allowed to leave until the manager is satisfied that you have eaten enough.

After check-out, we left for our morning at the park.

Meeting Cindy – the park’s gentle cheetah

The park offers a different set of attractions to that of the old venue. We were excited to go and visit Cindy, one of the cheetahs at the park. Cindy is a gentle young female who loves ear tickles and belly rubs. She will purr loudly to show you that you are doing an exceptional job. Guests are accompanied into the enclosures and watched very carefully to ensure that the cheetahs are taken care of. Cindy let us walk around the enclosure with her. Her male cheetah companion was completely disinterested in humans but stayed close enough to us to make us feel welcome in his home.

Guests are allowed to interact with and feed the giraffes as well.

If you have ever wondered how a giraffe’s tongue feels, the residents are more than happy to give you a lick. There is a photographer present to take photos, which you are then able to purchase at the photographic centre. This is one of the most up close and personal encounters we have ever had with these magnificent animals, one which was captured perfectly in our photos to take home.

Closer encounters with all the animals

Our last visit through the park was a two-and-a-half-hour safari drive, to go and check in with all the animals in the park. We boarded a smaller game drive vehicle and set off through the park to the Crocodile River. Our tour guide was an expert in her field, able to spot animals from a mile off and provide us with many anecdotes about the animals.

The old park was approximately 80 hectares. The new park is 800 hectares, allowing the park to house more animals. We were driven through the lion enclosures to “meet” the prides. Jamu, one of the alpha males, has a distinctive black mane, as he comes from the Kalahari. He has a daughter and two sons, all of whom were very comfortable in the sunshine and not entirely pleased to be disturbed by gawking humans interrupting their nap. The pride of white lions is headed up by Nicholas, the biggest of the males. Lions sleep between 16-18 hours a day, often sleeping cuddled together with a paw over their favourite friend.

Other animals we saw on the way included blue and black wildebeest, sable antelope, impala, kudu, zebra and warthog. We met Purdy and Zoe again on the way—and several other members of their giraffe family. Giraffes, unlike lions, sleep for only 15 minutes in a 24-hour cycle. We all agreed that we preferred the lion’s way of spending the day instead.

The drive took us to the banks of the Crocodile River, where we stopped for snacks and cold drinks. Sitting by the river is a great way of spending a morning in the sunshine, listening to the water running, birds calling and insects chirruping.

On our way back to the main building, we came across a nervous black-backed jackal who skittered across the road in front of us. Vervet monkeys flew over our heads and some nyala ambled beside us as we drove away. The park is also home to pythons, puff adders and spitting cobras. Learning from experience, the park does not allow guests to do self-drives anymore—safety of the guest is imperative and park experts are the best guides to take you through the terrain.

A perfect end to a weekend

We stepped off the game drive vehicle to go in search of our photos and some souvenirs to take home with us. There is a small grocery shop on the premises, offering reasonably priced goods for tourists (a refreshing change from being ripped off on many accounts). We selected and printed out our photos from the photographic centre and winded our way through the Five Dome Shopping Experience, where tourists can purchase t-shirts, animal teddies, clothing and carvings to take home with them.

Our tour ended with a warm farewell and a feeling that we wanted to come back to experience everything the park has to offer—two days is simply not enough.

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