Review: Aquila private game reserve has a new spa and it’s an African dream come true

When I got an invitation to experience Aquila’s new spa I didn’t hesitate to say hell’s yeah! The piccies looked beautiful. Also, my bestie Karisa, she of Cape Town My Love, was invited too, so we decided to hit it up together and it didn’t disappoint.

For those unfamiliar with it, Aquila is an award winning 4-star private game reserve in Touws River that’s home to all of the big five just two hours away from Cape Town. They offer half day, full day and overnight safaris. Also, if you’re in Cape Town, getting there is easy as they offer a shuttle from all city centre hotels.

Upon arrival we met Aquila’s marketing manager, the lovely Johan, and were treated to a welcome drink and then got to explore our very mooi-looking surrounds. I was impressed by their huge infinity pool, one of several pools at the lodge, and enormous double volume dining area that serves up three buffets a day.

Gorgeous, right?

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This is the dining hall but you can eat on the patio too.

As for our accommodation, we were given a premier lodge room which was fabulously spacious with an en suite bath and shower.

The best bit, however, was the balcony that served up a killer view of the grounds.

Once we’d found our bearings our first stop was to check out the ARC centre (Aquila Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Conservation Centre). A non-profit initiative, it was set up to help house animals that either can’t be released back into the wild or need a little TLC before they go. At present, it’s home to a leopard, crocodile, cheetahs and, at one point, looked after a baby rhino that was rejected by its mother. As it turns out, looking after and releasing an animal into the wild is a lot more expensive than you’d think. The cheetahs, for example, would need tracking devices that cost around R150K a pop. (Apparently strapping a FitBit on them just won’t suffice. I asked!) If you want to help out you can donate over here.

When lunch time arrived I was impressed by the variety served up by the buffet as well as the fact that most of the fruit and veggies are grown sustainably at the ARC centre. They also have an onsite tilapia fish farm so that’s always on the menu too.

Roast potatoes with gravy for the win!

Still, while I tried and enjoyed all the aforementioned, the majority of my food consumption that weekend was their epic sticky toffee pudding with warm custard. Yum!

After lunch, Karisa and I headed over to the new Tranquila spa. I knew it was going to be fabulous as I’d seen the piccies but I didn’t realise just how enormous and mod-looking it would be. In fact, it reminded me a little of the sky top spa at the The Westin in Cape Town. Facility-wise, you’re looking at 10 treatment rooms, a massive group treatment room, nail bar, steam room, sauna, two heated indoor pools and an outdoor one. The large treatment room has two massage beds but could easily fit ten people into it and would be ideal for a fun girlie occasion like a bachelorette.

Yes please!

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Having a swing chair in my home one day is a life goal.

If you book into a premier cottage or stay longer than two nights you’re free to enjoy the spa. If not, all you have to do is book a treatment (starting at R110 for a brow threading or tint) and then the facilities are yours to enjoy. Karisa and I were both spoiled with a 90-minute Rose Quartz couples massage (R1 290 pp) and it was absolute bliss, so much so that within half an hour I’d fallen fast asleep! In a way, it’s a lot like a hot stone massage, but the therapist substitutes the volcanic rock for a smooth rose quartz crystal, using it to work out every knot along with a Theranaka’s marula oil-infused African Infusion body oils.

This is just one of the treatment rooms.

To view the full Tranquila spa’s full treatment menu get clicky clicky over here.

Later that avie, Karisa and I jumped into an open vehicle and headed out on safari. Being a jaded cow, I wasn’t overly excited about it. I have a short attention span and imagined myself wanting to die from lack of cell reception while someone droned on about some far away wild animal-shaped speck blurred by bushes. (I know, I know. I’m a total bitch!) So imagine my delight when the drive turned out to be one of the most epic things I’ve done in yonks! Girls, it was CRAZY how close up we got the animals! We saw loads of them – elephants, lions, rhinos, zebras, giant impala, you name it… As the game reserve is big enough to house everything comfortably, but small enough that your ranger knows where everything’s likely to be, you get to spot almost everything! Also, Trevor, our ranger, was brilliant. The dude really knows his stuff and is super passionate about conservation so listening to him talk was truly fascinating.

Ready to roll!

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Those aren’t islands in the water, they’re hippos!

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I didn’t have to zoom in to take this piccie.

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Eland crossing!

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‘Cos what’s a game drive without bubbles and snacks?

After the drive, we headed back for another yummy buffet dinner and I enjoyed soaking up the lodge’s laid back atmosphere. They put telescopes out on the lawn so you can look at the stars and the kids can enjoy marshmallow braais in their giant boma area. (Aquila’s a great place to take kids if you have them as it has supervised play areas including a sandpit, wooden playground and mini golf course as well as daily activities and a junior ranger programme.)

The next day, Karisa and I were only mildly hungover so we hit up the spa’s pool (warm and wonderful!) then lay out by the pool to people watch with cocktails while feeling like pot bellied pigs. (Buffets – even breakfast ones – ignite the crazy in me.)

It’s always cocktail o’ clock at Aquila.

We watched the clock march towards our departure time with dread. Aquila isn’t the kind of place you want to leave in a hurry but it’s not out of reach should you want to go back. I’ve looked at their rates* and, considering what they offer its great value for money. If you’re looking for a fun escape for your family or a weekend away with friends just know it’s an absolute gem that can be tailored with additional activities that include the spa, quad bike or horse back safaris.

Bye Aquila, you’ll be missed.

A big dankie to Johan for being a wonderful host and major contributing factor to the all-round awesomeness of this trip. (I think of you every time I find yet another lint-covered date rolling around in my bag!)

Love, love

Leigh

*To give you an example, you can enjoy an overnight stay in a Standard Lodge room for R2 095 per person sharing. This includes transport from Cape Town, three buffet meals, two game drives and an optional visit to ARC. Drinks would be for your own account and indulging in a spa treatment would give you access to its facilities. Nice!

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