Livingstone Lodge, Port Lympne, Kent

Find Your Perfect Escape../Sitemap/Find_Your_Perfect_Escape.html
Guide to Treatments../Guide_To_Treatments/Guide_To_Treatments.html
Zumba(R) Fitness../Zumba/My_Classes.html
Books And DVDs../Basics/Books_And_DVDs.html

I’ve always dreamed of going on safari, so when I saw this I thought what a wonderful escape it would be for anyone who couldn’t go on safari in Africa, either for financial, time or health reasons.  What I didn’t realise was how much my friends who have actually been on safari to Africa would love it.

If you do want to do this overnight escape on a weekend - book early; I booked about 5 months in advance because I wanted to go with a big group of friends for my birthday!  You have to book by calling the lodge, they’ll take credit card details for a deposit and then you should receive a great big pack of information in the post - with the best bit - the dinner menu!

Port Lympne and Howletts are two parks in Kent which are part of the Aspinall Foundation, a conservation charity that also does great work around the world.  I wanted to visit Howletts ever since a friend told me that they have gorillas here - then I went to their website and read about the overnight safari experience.  As well as an evening game drive hosted by experienced African guides, you get to spend the night in African style lodges - the very essence of glamping - with proper beds under canvas (and with lights and heating), some of them four poster!  You also get to enjoy a five course African dinner in the Laapa which is a restaurant and lounge, as well as a serious full english breakfast before a shorter game drive in the morning.  You also get access to both parks on both days so you can really make the most of them!

We drove to Port Lympne from London, stopping en route at the aptly named Tiger Pub in Stowting, which is just over 7 miles from the safari park, but well worth a detour for the excellent food.  Although it’s slightly on the pricey side (but worth every penny) some of my friends went for the afternoon tea, which was a steal for the huge warm scones, lashings of clotted cream, jam and tea (or if you prefer, excellent coffee). 

You can arrive as early as you like to take advantage of the day access to Port Lympne - and there are some areas of the park not covered by the evening and morning game drives, such as the lions, tigers, small cats (including the cloud leopard rumoured to be the most beautiful animal in the world and... there’s a baby one here!), gorillas, tapir and other apes, so it’s well worth a wander to visit these before the game drive.  But be warned, you won’t necessarily see everything even if you visit the enclosures; as these animals are mostly in breeding programmes they are given a large amount of space and privacy and those leopards are very good at hiding!

We arrived just in time (make sure you leave plenty of time on the windy country roads to reverse all the way back when a tractor’s coming the other way!) to see a few lions who took exception to my friend’s coat and actually hissed at her, and pick up a coffee from the cafe (excellent coffee which my Italian guests greatly appreciated!)  The signage as you come into the park can also be a little bit confusing, as there are a few car parks dotted around - the one you’re looking for is the one with the big electrical gate (we followed a safari jeep in).  It also took us a little while to work out how to get out - you jump out, press the button and jump back in as the gate is timed to stop any animals getting out!

The game drive itself starts with a champagne welcome and the essential health and safety talk.  We were all a bit surprised at how many things we were warned about - until the guide went on to tell us about the people who’ve done some really silly things or sued because they tripped on the grass.  It says a lot that they can no longer wake you with a cup of tea because of health & safety (although you’re welcome to take your tea and coffee back to your lodge).  Having said, that one of the most basic health and safety rules was to remain seated until the truck stops - but it’s hard to remember that when you see these incredible animals! 

I was a little bit worried that my guests might get bored as there’s a lot of information to start with about their conservation efforts and the problems they face; particularly with rhino whose horns are so valuable that it’s very hard for them to survive in the wild, but it’s all part of the passion that these guides feel for the animals, the habitat and the ecosystems that they are trying to help survive.  After a few minutes I think we were all caught up in the whole story and captivated until the last part of the trip up Dog Hill where it really does get very cold (they do advise you to wrap up warm and they mean it!)  Aside from the cold the truck itself was pretty comfortable and disabled guests are more than welcome and well provided for with one lodge kitted with extra power supply capable of powering an extra heater or medical equipment, and disabled toilets and showers next to the lodges.

The drive takes in some of the most famous animals; rhino, elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, as well as many of the smaller species.  I learned more in five minutes of this game drive than I have in many years of visiting zoos and safari parks.  They are also very focused on explaining how the different species work together and how they are trying to reintroduce species that have come into conflict with modern farmers in Africa.

But by the time we arrived at Livingstone Lodge we were ready for anything warm, plus some of my guests were a little wary about the accommodation: “We’re sleeping in tents?” “Well sort of.” 

When they actually saw inside the lodges they were absolutely blown away.  These really do beat any fantasy you may have of an “Out Of Africa” style safari.  The beds are comfy, at this time of year they add heaters to take the chill off, and they also provide you with slippers, shower cap, and sumptuous shower and shampoo (I thought these were far too nice to use so brought them home, and have to tell you that the bath/shower wash is just heavenly) as well as a toothbrush in case you forget your own!  By the time we got to Livingstone Lodge we were all pretty much frozen and the thought of a shower in a shower block (nice, but still a shower block) was most unappealing, so we just decided to thaw out with lots of tea in the Laapa before getting ready.  First of all, when I did have a shower in the morning I was blown away - it was like a steam room - I wish I’d had one the night before!  Secondly, apart from a slight smoke issue (the food is cooked on an open flame in the centre of the room) the Laapa was just wonderful.  It’s glass fronted so you can enjoy the sunset over the beautiful landscape and oh so cosy with a little stove to warm your hands on.

The five course African dinner did not disappoint.  It’s also a buffet so you can have as much of everything as you like - it was very hard to save space for dessert.  We had a range of starters including snoek pate - a sort of African fish - which was my favourite.  There’s also a wine menu featuring mainly African wines with the odd champagne.  When I ordered some champagne the very sweet guide warned me that it was a little bit expensive (bless him it was still about half the price of what you would pay in a London restaurant or bar), and all the wines were excellent.  The salad courses were also lined up on the side for us to enjoy whenever we liked.

The main course consisted of lots of vegetarian options (omnivores are welcome to try them too when the vegetarians have had enough), huge prawns, chicken in lemon and garlic and the piece de resistance; the beef.  The chef cooked a flank of beef over the fire so that it looked black on the outside and pink on the inside.  I know this doesn’t sound appetising but it was possibly the best beef we’d all tasted.  Pudding was banoffee pie, bakewell tart (one of my favourites and absolutely divine) and some fruit which really didn’t stand much of a chance. 

My lovely friends had organised a birthday cake which was beautiful but... even they agreed it was nothing compared to the cake that the other birthday girl on our table received.  Made by the Port Lympne team it was a whole tiger’s head - as she’d spent the day doing the Tiger Experience where you can actually feed the tigers.  They really know how to do things right here!

Then it was on to the cheese board where we started to slow down, before finally the petit fours and coffee finished us off for good!

It wasn’t a late night; they do stress in the brochure that they don’t want to disturb the animals, besides we had to wake up at 7am for breakfast and the morning game drive.  The bar closes at 11pm when you pay your tab for the evening and then it was off to the shower block for a bit of communal toothbrushing.

With the fluffy dressing gowns this felt like a wonderful mix of five star luxury and roughing it; it’s just the kind of place where you can’t take things really seriously, so there was lots of giggling on our way to bed.

Despite the cold night and some heavy rain we were all snuggly in our beds, although I did wish I’d thought to bring an umbrella for the occasional trip to the loo. 

On the dot of 7am our guide called to wake us up - we were already awake as he’d had to call our friend in the Painted Wolf tent about ten times!

Breakfast was everything you could want - (aside from some disappointing baked beans) and I continued my mission to eat my body weight with a full english breakfast, fresh fruit, lots of coffee (it’s fairly weak in the lodge), fresh toast made by the chef to order, pain au chocolat and croissants (these were exceptional!)  The highlight of breakfast - although they do stress this is not guaranteed - is when the keepers feed the animals right in front of the Laapa.  Halfway through a piece of toast and a zebra or wildebeest would wander up, and the side of the Laapa slides back so you can get a closer view.

Then sadly we had to pack and leave our cases in our lodges.  (They’re brought back to reception separately.)  Normally I’m very good at packing but on this occasion I left my shoes under the bed as well as a jumper - so I returned to reception to find my zebra patterned high heels on the head guide’s desk!  They do a great job of checking the lodges when you leave!

The morning game drive is much shorter, but perhaps more enjoyable for us with the sun coming out.  The highlight for me was seeing the baby rhino, which really brings it home just how well these guys are doing with the breeding programmes.

A few strong coffees at the cafe and a quick look for tigers and it was over to Howletts (an 18 and a half mile drive).  Howletts is a much more pedestrian and child friendly park and it’s the largest gorilla enclosure in Europe.

With several of the younger gorillas loving all the attention from the humans, in particular one tiny baby climbing up the bars, closely watched by mum, keeping about twenty of us humans rapt for half an hour, it really was a wonderful experience.

Sadly it was almost time to say goodbye, and we scuffed our heels like school kids as we had to drag ourselves away.  There was just enough time for a last Sunday lunch (I know it’s hard to believe we could eat any more) at the Unicorn Pub less than a mile from Howletts.  Not quite as pretty as the Tiger, but the food was every bit as good.

All in all it was the best birthday treat I’ve ever had, such a wonderful experience to share with my friends, and I can’t wait to go back again.


Evening game drive, Livingstone Lodge, Port Lympne, Kent

The overnight safari is an Enjoy England Tourism Excellence 2010 Gold Award Winner

We paid £120 per person for entry into Port Lympne safari park on Saturday, welcome drink, evening game drive, toiletries, five course meal in the African Lapaa, overnight accommodation in lodges, full English breakfast, morning game drive and entry into Howletts wild animal park on Sunday: As at October 2011

Prices for overnight safaris are from £120 to £220 (£120 single supplement) - season from March to October.  There is a £50 surcharge for the four poster bed lodges.  For more information visit

Entry to Port Lympne starts from £18.95 for children and £22.95 for adults, entry to Howletts is from £15.95 for kids and £19.95 for adults (check their website as there are discounts available) and in the summertime some evening safaris with 2 course dinner are available from £40 (no overnight stay), you can also design your own safari or trip with the team.

Remember, all profits from the parks and lodges go to keep the parks running and other conservation efforts.

Search the internet with Safe Search