South Africa – working with elephants

South Africa is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have ever stepped foot on.
There are not many places in the world where you can see amazing sunsets, wild animals, ocean and mountains all in one place – but South Africa? Of course you can.

As my first solo trip South Africa will always hold a special memory for me. Coming near to the end of placement year about to begin my final year of university I wanted to treat myself to something really special after the final year stresses. But, I wanted something different. I was done with all the ‘Shagaluf’ boozy holidays with my friends which are no doubt fun but just end in a rushkinoff cough and regrets. I wanted to immerse myself in something completely different where I could look back and go wow I really did that.

Having had a true love for elephants since I was a little girl I started searching online for volunteering projects and came across one from POD which was an elephant research member working at an elephant sanctuary in South Africa in a place called Knysna. Reading each line of what the volunteering project involved I fell more and more in love with the idea. Now, I’m the type of person that will contemplate something for a long time and am terrible with decisions but with this I was sure it was something I wanted to do – so I booked it there and then. The project had a choice of volunteering from two weeks to three months. With this being my first solo trip and with funds after university being dismal I decided on the one month option as I believe two weeks would just be not enough time (which I was 100% right!).

The time soon went and before I knew it I was at the airport saying goodbye to my parents and off on my first ever solo trip to South Africa.

4 weeks at Knysna Elephant park 

Even with the 6am starts I loved being at the park. It was calm, relaxing and I got to see and work with the elephants everyday as well as witnessing some absolutely stunning sunsets over the lake just outside our bunkhouse (where all the volunteers stayed!).

An average day started at 6am where we would go to the Boma and see the elephants eating their breakfast and getting ready for the day. We would then have our breakfast ready to start our working day which involved a number of activities. Mainly, this was research-based where we would monitor the elephants and write down their behaviours including feeding and interactions. Other jobs consisted of cleaning the boma, taking poo samples (not as bad after the first time!), entering data into the computers, cutting and weighing food for the elephants, making enrichment’s and sometimes making dung paper!

My biggest highlight of the park has to be walking with Harry’s Herd as the sun was rising across the river with the elephants reflections in the water. I honestly have never witnessed such a beautiful sight. Although the photos are equally stunning it really was one of those moments that just took my breath away and something I will truly treasure forever.

The working day would usually finish about 5pm where we had the rest of the evening to ourselves as well as the weekends where we could do as we pleased. Now I’m not going to lie where the elephant park was situated it was a bit out of the way of things but not far from Plettenberg Bay which is a gorgeous seaside town with a few restaurants/bars and shops. I would highly recommend going to  ‘The Table’ restaurant/bar for food and/or drinks. Everything is reasonably priced, the staff are lovely and the food is really good. Another restaurant you MUST visit that is a bit outside of town is Emily Moon. Everything about Emily moon was gorgeous and the food was divine. Also note to self a glass of wine costs like £1 in South Africa and food is cheap too, everything is so cheap!

There are also a lot of activities on offer around the area and I would have loved to have done more but unfortunately we had to either hire a car or taxi everywhere which inevitably became expensive. However, the things we did get to do were brilliant such as a safari, whale and dolphin watching, trekking round Robberg nature reserve, visiting a monkey park and going to Botlierskop game reserve which I have to admit was a favourite of mine.

Volunteering for a month was a real eye-opener and I would really encourage anyone to do some volunteering whether its 1 week to 1 year. It is so rewarding and when you find it’s something related to what you love you’ll find no day feels like a working day!

Below I have added some of my highlights of some of the activities I did and a bit about them..

Robberg Nature Reserve 

Robberg Nature Reserve is not only a nature reserve but also a national monument and  World Heritage Site and it is absolutely stunning. I would highly advise anyone in this area to trek round the whole reserve. It took us about 4-5 hours but it was so worth it and it didn’t feel like it because every so often we would stop and just admire the beautiful views. There were some really stunning beaches along the way, we also managed to see a whole load of seals and different creatures. If you’re not big on walking there are different lengths of treks you can do. However, I would advise a good pair or walking shoes or trainers as there were times we were climbing rocks and cliff faces.

You can find out more about Robberg Nature Reserve here. 

Monkeyland and Birds of Eden

If you’re a fan of monkeys then you will want to do Monkeyland. Monkeyland offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself with a range of monkey and lemurs on a guided tour. The tour takes about an hour to an hour and a half and is really informative and interesting. We managed to see quite a few of the different types of monkeys and lemurs and near the end you get to cross Africa’s longest suspension bridge which is pretty cool!

You can find out more about Monkeyland here.

Right next door to Monkeyland is Birds of Eden and if you’re already here it’s worth doing. The Birds of Eden is the largest free flight bird aviary in the world and you will see so many different colours and types of bird you didn’t even know existed! It’s definitely a place you’ll want your camera walking through the rainforest type area you’ll witness free flying birds in an array of colours, shapes and sizes.

You can find out more about Birds of Eden here.

Whale and Dolphin Watching at Plettenburg Bay

South Africa is a really great place to go whale watching and we weren’t disappointed on our trip where we managed to see a huge pod of dolphins, a great white shark and a whale – pretty awesome (minus the sea sickness).

I think we went with a company called Ocean Safari’s and I cannot fault them. The guys on board were really informative and nice (even when I was throwing up from sea sickness). I’ll never forget going along in the boat and just having this huge pod of dolphins following alongside us – truly incredible.

You can find out more about Ocean Safari’s here.

Botlierskop Game Reserve 

Botlierskop Game Reserve is actually a few hours away from Plettenburg Bay and where the elephant sanctuary was located but it was 100% worth the drive. Located in Mossel Bay this private game reserve is a true beauty.

I went to Botlierskop on my last weekend and I am so glad I did. Luckily, in South Africa everything is pretty cheap so you get a lot for your money. I can’t remember how much it was to stay overnight but I remember it was very reasonable. We arrived in the afternoon and settled into our ‘cabin/tent’ style rooms. All I can say is that they were gorgeous, a lovely double bed, a luxurious bath and even a shower outside where you can shower under the stars! In the evening we had dinner which I can only describe the food as exquisite, this was provided all in the cost so we only had to pay for drinks which was a bonus.

The next morning was an early start as we did a safari in the sunrise but when South Africa is as beautiful as it is you really don’t mind! Personally, I preferred this to the other Safari I did in Plettenburg Bay. The views were incredible and again we saw an array of animals.

I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful this place is, you really have to see it for yourself but if you’re ever in this area it is 100% worth a visit.

You can find out more about Botlierskop Game Reserve here.

This is just a brief overview of some of my highlights while I was in the Kynsna area and the elephant park. I hope these are useful to you and you liked reading. I also did Cape Town for a few days which I am going to write about in a separate post. 



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