From a South African perspective
To the average “passerby” Safari West in Sonoma County, California, is a cool place to go glamping with some wild animals and birds in the background. What’s the big deal right?
Right. Well here is the low down from a South African’s experience and perspective.
As you can imagine we African’s can be a bit particular when it comes to others trying to recreate a piece of our wonderful continent. Ok we are very particular. Look, we grow up with a set standard of how things are for the wildlife: they roam free, the fences (if there are any) are so far in the distance you don’t know that they exist, and sometimes while stuck in traffic you may find yourself looking up on to the mountainside and staring at two very large cat like eyes.
Enough about me and on to a South African’s thoughts and experience at Safari West!
Driving through the gates was like entering a 400 acre African wonderland in the middle of California. The use of natural resources and no fake stone (you know that stuff in theme parks) had me itching with excitement.
We started off our tour walking to where the Flamingos and ducks hang out. It’s been a while since I have seen so many in one place all harmoniously either snoozing or feeding their young.
From the flamingos we entered the enclosed aviary that houses so many bird species that it would have a birding enthusiast trying to figure out a way to stay behind and visit with them longer! I’m talking various sub-species of Igrets, Francolins, Hornbills, Cape Thick-knees, the laughing Kookaburra, the Secretary, Spoonbills, you get the picture.
After the birds we continued on our walk to the enclosed areas for the carnivores. Stepping up to the cheetah enclosure I found myself pausing and actually saying wow out loud. I haven’t seen one that big in a long time, the cheetahs can actually run around and spread their fast legs! The Lemur’s and other primates cages were just as impressive.
After a quick water break (and I thought Florida was hot!) we climbed onto a true safari looking Jeep, settled in and set out on our Safari Adventure.
At the start we drove past a few animals that couldn’t be reintroduced into the “wild”. The little warthogs came up to say hi as we paused and a few hogs stood around checking out our funny looking faces. The ancient tortoise of course just carried on his way.
We then continued to a huge enclosure that houses Giraffes, Gazelles, Impala, Antelope, Bontebok, Eland, Gemsbok, Kudu, etc. This enclosure was so big that while we drove around the perimeter we didn’t even “feel” fenced in. The animals themselves were inquisitive and not fearful, most just carried on with their day as if we humans were invisible.
Giraffes lazed about without a care in the world, the young ones strolling passed our vehicle curious as to what was going on, and the buck paused every now and then to either lick an ear of their sister or to watch us as if we were their favorite tv show.
After a leisurely drive we headed out of that enclosure and started towards where they keep the rhinos. These guys munched away at their fresh grass in companionable silence. It was nice to see them looking so healthy and happy.
At this point in the tour I was already feeling overwhelmed with feelings of being close to home, the smells, the views and the animals all hit me in a big way. It didn’t end there though.
Our super knowledgable guide took us into what I can only call a “free enclosure” (there are fences but to you and me they don’t exist because they are unseen, it is that big). Here you hold onto your hats, cameras and on to the rails as you 4×4 up and down the rolling hills and mountainside catching beautiful glimpses of a herd of Zebra, Wildebeest, Buck, Buffalo, Gemsbok and Nyala, to name just a few.
In all, the safari tour probably took about 2 hours, some parts could take longer depending on what animals you spot and how interested your group is in the animals, vegetation and history. The guides take their time to answer everything with good humor and knowledge only learnt from being around these amazing creatures every day.
Is there more than just a Safari?
Although we didn’t stay the night their incredible Tents, which really are Glamping palaces that rival the Kruger National Park, looked amazing and comfortable. I’d definitely recommend that you add an extra day on to your trip and book an overnight stay.
I’d imagine it would be noisy for those not used to the sounds of Africa but an adventure it definitely will be. Personally I find the sounds of wild animals so much better than that of stomping people who have the need to shout in the hotel passageways after midnight. There is nothing quite like waking to the sounds of the wild at your doorstep, end of story.
It seems not only did they import a part of Africa but also the Braai! Not to be confused with the BBQ which uses coal, the braai is traditionally a wooden fire over which you cook your meat. (It tastes delicious ok).
The dining area was beautifully done with rural touches and humbleness. It is not the Ritz but a true experience akin to that which you’d experience at the Game Reserves in South Africa.
Worth adding some days to your vacay out in Northern California?
Sorry but that’s a really crazy question. Hell yes! I’m a huge advocate for any place that promotes education and animal conservation and Safari West does both in spades!
Yes California has endless vineyards and wineries but there is so much more to see and experience. Better yet, you could have the best of both worlds!
Healdsburg is pretty close to Santa Rosa so stopping off there and enjoying a Bike Healdsburg tour of unique, small and delicious wineries in the late morning (Read about our experience here) and then heading out to Safari West for an afternoon safari and a night of glamping fun is definitely possible.
(California is more than just Napa)
As a South African I’ll admit again, I was very skeptical that it would be even remotely close to an “African” experience. I could never have been more wrong in my skepticism.
My hours at Safari West left me feeling like I had taken a mini break back home, it staved off my homesickness pangs and made me feel like I needed to find out when next I could visit again just to re-experience home without the 24 hour flight!
The finer details?
Want to visit Safari West? click here to book your tickets, they fill up pretty quick so if you’re planning a vacay get those tickets as soon as possible.
If you can’t visit just yet but want to support their conservation efforts click here.
Love the wine and want to try out the biking before you head out to Safari West? Click here for more info!
All photos are available for purchase upon request.
* I received a complimentary safari tour in return for this article review. This article has been written with artistic license, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Mad Hatters NYC•
5 years ago
I was so jealous when I saw your social media posts on this! I have no idea when I’ll be able to make it to South Africa, so I’m definitely putting this on my list of places to go until then! Thanks for sharing 🙂
5 years ago
It’s definitely the perfect place to get a proverbial taster for a African safari 🙂 Plus its close to wine country!