Children look on as divers swim with a ragged tooth shark in the Predator tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Picture: Henk Kruger
Adventure is calling as we take a look at some of the best wildlife encounters South Africa has to offer. By Marchelle Abrahams

As South Africans, we’re blessed with countless sunshine days and extraordinary wildlife where just a few hours’ drive affords the opportunity of viewing the Big 5 in their natural environment.

Unfortunately, some of us don’t have the time or money to make the most of a safari or game lodge. But don’t fret – we’ve gone in search of wildlife encounters that will bring out the wild side in you – young and old.

KWAZULU-NATAL

Crocworld Conservation Centre
Situated in Scottburgh on the KZN South Coast, the conservation centre was initially established to farm the Nile crocodile.
But it’s not just crocodiles you’ll encounter; there are waterbirds, caracals, jackals, meerkats, and more than 200 free- flying birds in a walk-through aviary.

There’s also an educational centre where little ones can learn about various crocodile and alligator species in an interactive environment. Be sure to visit during feeding times. It’s easy to make a day of it as there are lots of things for the kids to do, including a playground, pony rides and a kiddies’ farmyard.

For those who prefer their entertainment on the riskier side, there is shark-cage diving.

OPENING TIMES:
Out of season: 8am-4.30pm
Holidays: 8am-5pm
Closed for Christmas

PRICES: 
Adults: R55
Children: R35
Contact: 039 976 1103 or [email protected]

uShaka’s Mexican Gila monster is one of only two lethal lizards in the world. Picture: Puri Devjee

uShaka Marine World
Still a firm favourite with families, uShaka offers jam-packed fun for everyone. But one of its most riveting attractions is the Dangerous Creatures exhibition.

Situated across the Village Walk, it’s a must for reptile enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies. The latest addition to the exhibit includes Black-throated monitors, aka The Dragons.

How about having your picture taken with the largest snake in the world? The life-sized giant anaconda has the makings for instant Instagram likes. If your kids are into creepy crawlies, they’ll love the various species on display, from dart frogs, tarantulas, Gila monster lizards and tree vipers.

OPENING TIMES:
Monday to Sunday: 10am-4.45pm daily

PRICES: 
R55 for adults and children.
Free entry for toddlerschildren under 3.
Contact: 031 328 8000 or visit www.ushakamarineworld.co.za

The Lion Park focuses on the well-being and regeneration of the endangered wild dog, white lion and cheetah. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
GAUTENG

The Lion Park
Situated between Lanseria Airport and Fourways, the Lion Park offers the opportunity to get up close with these beautiful creatures. 

Established as an ecotourism destination, the breeding ground and wildlife sanctuary focuses on the well-being and regeneration of the endangered wild dog, white lion and cheetah.

Visitors can expect to also see zebras, giraffes, blesbok, gemsbok and springboks, while the lions are kept in a separate enclosure.

The Cub World area is a safe, secure environment where children get tocan touch and cuddle with the adorable lion cubs, and it includes a giraffe-feeding platform that brings you eye to eye with these gentle giants of the wild.

Visitors have the option of a self-drive through the main park or can take a guided game drive. Other activities include cheetah walks, night drives and overnight stays in the tented camp.

OPENING TIMES: 
8:30am-5pm, daily

PRICES: 
Self-drive adult: R165
Self-drive children: (4-12 years): R60
Children under 4 are free.
Contact: 087 150 0100 or visit www.lion-park.com

A visit to Crocworld during feeding times is sure to be a treat for little ones. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

WESTERN CAPE

Cheetah Outreach
An educational and community-based programme created to raise awareness of the plight of these shy beasts, Cheetah Outreach was founded by Annie Beckhelling in 1997. 

What started out as just one hectare of land donated by Spier Wine Estate, and two cheetahs, is now a thriving ecotourism project.

Based in Somerset West, the organisation prides itself on hand-rearing cubs from cheetah breeding facilities in SA, raising them to be ambassadors for the species. Visitors will get a chance to interact with the cubs and even step inside their enclosures.

OPENING TIMES: 
Open daily from 9.30am to -5pm daily

PRICES: 
Adult: R130
Children: R80
Contact: 021 851 6850

Two Oceans Aquarium
On the outskirts of the V&A Waterfront, the Two Oceans Aquarium is a spectacular experience for both young and old. Attractions include an education centre, penguin experience, and now the I&J Ocean Exhibit.

Housing rays, striped bonito, turtles and a giant guitarfish, it’s the first exhibit of its kind in SA Africa. With 1.6 million litres of seawater at a temperatures of between 20ºC and 24ºC degrees Celsius, -the depth of the exhibit stands at 6 metres. 

Now visitors can scuba dive the experience. It’s a chance to experience the feeling of being surrounded by animals that call the underwater world their home. However, interested parties will need to have a minimum of a Discover Scuba qualification, which can be obtained with the on-site instructor.

OPENING TIMES: 
9.30am-6pm

PRICES: 
Aquarium gear: R870
Own gear: R660
Contact: 021 418 3823 or 

The Cheetah Outreach Camp can now be found in Somerset West. Picture: Ross Jansen