At the start of the summer holidays, I was contacted by the lovely team at Longleat Safari Park to ask if I would like to visit with my family as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. Naturally I said yes, so last month on a glorious summer’s day, we hopped in the car and made the 3 hour journey to Wiltshire.
The Wiltshire estate was the first place outside Africa to open a drive through safari back in 1966 and to celebrate this historic event, the park is having a spectacular ‘African Summer’ of live entertainment.
When we arrived, we set straight off to what I would say is Longleat’s main attraction: The Safari Drive Through.
Our first stop was African Village where you can park the car and jump out to get up close and personal with some of the animals.
We were able to take a stroll through the Lemur Walk-Thru which was great fun for the boys as the lemurs were swinging and jumping all over the place.
We also got the chance to meet some wallabies, pygmy goats and warthogs, but my absolute favourite part of African Village was the specially designed viewing platform next to the giraffe and zebra enclosure. Giraffe’s are one of my favourite animals, I just think they’re majestic and magnificent creatures so it was amazing to see them up so close. I believe there are also opportunities to feed the giraffes throughout the day but I somehow missed this at the time.
Upon leaving African Village, we made our way around Vulture Venue and Flamingo Valley and headed towards the Monkey Drive-Thru. There is an option to bypass this enclosure and I would strongly suggest doing so if you want to avoid damage to your car. I chose to ignore the warning signs – BIG MISTAKE – and left the enclosure minus 2 windscreen washer jets on my bonnet. It was hilarious at the time, don’t get me wrong, and a privilege to be in their environment but seriously… when they say the monkeys will cause damage, they really mean it, so just be aware.
We didn’t catch a glimpse of Anne the Elephant unfortunately, but the Big Game Park and Deer Park were teeming with mammals from all walks of life – white rhinos, camels, oryx, ostriches, Ankole cattle and deer. At one point I thought one of the rhinos was going to charge at the car in front of us, but there were armoured tractors on hand to give him a little nudge off in the opposite direction.
Last on the safari drive-through were Tiger Territory, Lion Country, Cheetah Kingdom and Wolf Wood. These were probably some of the animals I was most looking forward to see and yet they were the only ones I didn’t manage to get very many snaps of. They were all feeding and there were cars everywhere so we couldn’t stop for long, but it was an incredible feeling being immersed in their habitat though.
When we had finished on the safari, we went over to the Main Square to have a nosey around some of the other attractions at Longleat. It had been decorated in honour of their 50th anniversary and African Summer celebrations so looked amazing.
Main Square was rammed by the time we got there and although we were unable to go on the Jungle Cruise or Jungle Express (the queues were ridiculous), we did make it around everything else.
We wandered freely among the primates at Monkey Temple, met the happy colony of penguins at Penguin Island and came face to face with meerkats, porcupines, otters and other animals at Jungle Kingdom.
Animal Adventure seemed particularly popular with families as there were lots of interactive and sensory activities specifically geared towards children and the opportunity to get really close to animals. There are cuddly creatures like rabbits and guinea pigs, parrots, a butterfly house and for the very brave, the Animal Handling Hall, where the keepers had visitors touching tarantulas and stroking snakes.
The majority of our time however was spent in the Little Explorers Garden, Longleat’s brand new enchanting play area specifically designed for under 5’s. The boys could have spent all day in here. They were clambering over Suzie Squirrel’s climbing frame, exploring Topsy the Bunny’s hidden burrows, jumping on the trampolines, making music, dancing on the interactive floor – it’s a pretty impressive and incredible play space I must say.
As for the 50th anniversary African Summer celebrations, Longleat had clearly put a lot of time and effort in to those. Among the highlights was the ‘Pride of Longleat Parade’ with floats featuring some of the park’s most famous residents including monkeys, penguins and an original Safari boat driven by meerkats. The parade also included Atlas, a giant lion puppet created by the team behind the hit ‘Warhorse’ theatre production and a spectacular troupe of African dancers. The atmosphere was electric and everyone was just having such an incredible time. They were definitely celebrations fit for a king and captured the heart of Longleat perfectly.
We had such an amazing fun-filled day at Longleat Safari Park, honestly, it’s the perfect destination for families with so much to see and do – we will definitely be returning again in the future.