Lions and tigers and bears… oh my! Rachel Bailey reports back from a safari-themed weekend at Port Lympne in Kent, highlighting why a trip to the animal reserve is a must for other groups.
Wide-eyed, and swaying with the side-to-side motion of an open-air safari truck, it was easy to imagine that I was on real-life bush safari in South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Outside, I could see everything from zebras and painted dogs to lowland tapirs and przewalski horses. The Kent coastline, the vistas of daffodil-yellow rapeseed fields, and of course, the typical goosebumps-inducing British weather were the only indicators that I was actually on home-turf.
Glamping at Bear Lodge
One of the best things about my extended trip was the group accommodation. Port Lympne has lots of places to lay your head, from a four-star boutique hotel to Tiger Lodge. The latter’s actually two cottages that have floor-to-ceiling windows facing onto the tiger enclosure. There’s a wolf version of this, too.
My group – there were 13 of us – stayed at Bear Lodge. This site’s made up of 19 eight-person glamping tents. Each one comes with everything you need for a hassle-free retreat – like a fridge, bedding, a warm shower and a wood burner. It’s rustic, but you don’t go wanting for anything.
Staying here really added to the safari experience, thanks to the fact that the tents face onto the bear enclosure. Waking up to the sight of a mother bear and her cub playing on a tyre swing was something quite special.
Extra time to see the animals
One of the benefits of staying overnight at Port Lympne is the extended time you’ve got to explore the reserve. Combined, the safari plains and walk-through areas are home to over 700 animals.
We started with a Ranger Tour – a 90-minute drive around the ‘Kent savannah’. Cameras at the ready, we snapped our way past black rhino, Rothschild giraffe, and noisy baboons. Alternative VIP tours are also available for groups.
Safari over, we went to explore the rest of the reserve on foot. You could spend a couple of days ogling all the animals, from the lemurs to the red pandas. The western lowland gorillas were particularly attention-grabbing, especially a tiny baby playing in the grass.
Restaurants at Port Lympne
There’s a collection of places to eat at, including a fine-dining restaurant in the hotel. Our party spent our first evening in the Bear Lodge Restaurant. It’s got a Mongolian grill where you can watch your dinner get cooked in real time.
On our second evening, we dined at an Italian place called Babydoll’s Wood Fired Pizza. It’s stashed away in the woody depths of the reserve – but we arranged for Port Lympne staff to pick us up in safari jeeps to transfer us there and back. The food was tasty, with all herbs and vegetables sourced directly from the kitchen garden.
Great for groups
I cannot score Port Lympne highly enough, both for its animal conservation efforts, and the seamlessness with which they put my hen party together. My three-day experience left me with a heap of cherished memories and a rock-solid recommendation for GTOs. You must, at least once, take your group to this excellent animal attraction. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
For more information on group rates and overnight stays, call 01303-264647 or visit www.aspinallfoundation.org/port-lympne/schools-and-groups