Living in sunny South Africa, means that we’re fortunate enough to have lots of zoos and nature reserves and see some of the most amazing animals on a regular basis. Some of our favourite animal outings include The National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria, and the Lory Park zoo in Midrand. We also really like The Farm Inn in Pretoria, which offers a safari experience, almost in the middle of the city! And whilst all of these are wonderful to visit, Ive always wanted to actually interact with and touch the animals, most especially lions! However, with a family of 4, this can often be a costly exercise, and so we decided to delay it until the children were older.
This weekend though, when looking through lists of places to visit in and around the area, I stumble upon the website for the Chameleon Village. They are based in Haartebeespoort, which is informally also known as “Harties”. Its a small resort town in the North West Province of South Africa, situated on slopes of the Magaliesberg mountain and the banks of the Hartbeespoort Dam, and the best part is that its less than an hours drive from home.
The Chameleon Village is a wonderful destination with restaurants, outdoor and camping gear, a lion park, snake park, indigenous gardens, jungle gyms for the kids, décor and hand crafted products sold in a large flea market style setup. However the main reason for our visit, was the lion park! Entrance to the village itself is free, however for the lion park there is an entrance fee of R100 per adult, and R50 per child. They currently have a special for this holiday, and are charging an unbelievable amount of just R20 for children. Here they not only offer a short walk-in tour of their lions and tigers, but also a lion interaction experience, with cubs. They currently have 6 lions, and 2 Bengal tigers. The white lions, a male and female, were both 7 years old, and impressively huge. The male especially had a very large mane, which gave him a very dominating and commanding presence. We also saw another set of lions, which were just a year old, and kept in a separate enclosure.
The white Bengal tigers, also a pair, a male and female, were equally impressive, and at just three years old, gave an impression of being fully grown. However our guide told us that they were still considered ‘youngsters’ and was a well of knowledge about these large cats, giving us info about how to spot whether an animal is fully grown or not, how much they eat and weigh, about the markings on their bodies, and the general behaviour ect.
The best part of the outing was undoubtedly the interaction with the lion cubs, of which there were 2. Visitors are taken into the enclosure only in groups of 8 or less, and strict instructions are given on behaviour, and the manner in which to interact with the cubs. One was a 3 month old female, named Mia, and the other a 6 month old male named Storm. Mia was a lion lion, and looked very much like you would expect a lion cub to. On the day we visited, temperatures were soaring at 37 degrees Celsius, and so the cubs were sleepy and relaxing in the shady portion of their enclosure. Storm at 6 months old, was much larger than I anticipated. His paw was almost larger than Little Miss’ face!
Even though the children were slightly hesitant at first, with a little encouragement from the guide, they began slowly rubbing the lions, who responded almost like domestic cats would. They especially loved being tickled their ears, and moved their paws about. Their fur whilst soft enough, had a course texture. A lion’s paws is very similar to a pet cat’s, but much, much bigger. They have five toes on the front paws and four on the back. Also like a pet cat, lions have retractable claws. This means that their sharp claws can be stretched out and then drawn back inside again under the fur where they are hidden. Again this was not only explained by the guide, but he showed it to us as well. We took lots of photographs, and then had to leave as another group had arrived.
After this amazing amazing experience, we walked around the village, had lunch at one of the restaurants (Oh the village boasts 2 halaal restaurants, which made a nice change from the usual chips, salad and juice that we usually have to settle for!) There are quite a few arts and crafts style stores, a vintage photo booth, an even a store that teaches a knife-making course! Then we walked to the very large flea market area, which was bursting with African curios and gifts and souvenirs and mementos. The children bought keyrings, and a few other knick-knacks.
The drive back over the dam wall, was as beautiful as always. The beautiful bridge set against the backdrop of the stunning mountain ranges, and the water cascading down the mountain was incredible.
Overall, it was stunning day out, and one that I would highly recommend as an unforgettable day trip!