My word, I have no idea how I missed this gem for such a long time. We've lived in East Sussex for just over four years now and a couple of friends had mentioned Port Lympne but just in passing. It's around 40 miles from me and I had (mistakenly) thought it was a small animal conservation centre, so I hadn't made any effort to take the family over there.
Then I sat down in June to plan our Summer holiday days out and was looking around the web for places to visit as a family. It is always fun to see somewhere new and my husband is a real bird and animal lover, so I was checking out zoos, farms and the like for him to be able to practise his photography. I came across the Port Lympne Reserve website and realised what we have been missing out on for the last four years!
Will we go back there, now we know? An absolute yes, it is the most amazing day out and because so many of the animals are roaming free I bet it never feels like the same experience twice. Who knew there was a UK based safari experience? And don't think I am exaggerating, as we drove around in the safari truck we saw Giraffes, Water Buffalo, Antelopes, Rhinos, Eland, Greater Kudo, Ostrich, Zebras, Deer and Wildebeest and all of these were roaming free as we passed through their home. There are dozens more types of animals too but I'll mention more about those later.
Getting there/ Arrival
We arrived at Port Lympne Reserve around midday and it is a very easy drive from Ashford and the M20. The brown signage was good and our sat-nav plotted the route accurately. I was pleased to see there was an abundance of car parking and the most amazing views over the countryside as soon as you got out of your car. We only had to wait in queue for about 6 minutes to get our tickets and head into the reserve.
The girl at the front desk, gave us a map and advised that we could go one way to see the Tigers and the other to get to Basecamp which is where we could pick up the safari truck and take a tour. She did advise us that being the school holidays it was busy but we expected that so it wasn't an issue. We got to basecamp at about 12.30pm after eating our sandwiches on the way and got into a large queue, quite a way ahead of us we could see a sign that advised it was a half hour wait from there and it turned out to be accurate.
We waited about an hour to get onto the safari truck but the time seemed to go pretty quickly as there was a play park next to the queue that the girls were happy playing there. JJ went into the Basecamp restaurant and got himself a drink and I saw others coming back to the queue with chips and paninis. It was good to see picnic tables all along the basecamp queueing area as it meant people who could not stand for long periods were accommodated and there was a massive buggy park for people to leave their belongings (at their own risk).
Oh one great thing to mention is that I thought our safety was taken very seriously on the safari trucks, we had a good briefing at the beginning and we were all expected to wear our seat belts. There are also emergency stops buttons on the trucks and trailers as well.
As well as taking the safari truck you can also walk around many areas. The park is around 600 acres and this means there is so much space. We loved walking and being able to watch the gorillas, monkeys and rhinos up close. You do need to be aware that the park can be very hilly in places though. It isn't an easy walk by any means, so you need to just take it in your own time and enjoy the views as you go by.
|Thanks to my husband for these great images|
If you are anything like my husband and I you will love being able to capture the animals on film and there are lost of different talks and feeds that you can watch throughout the day, just check the blackboard by the entrance for the days activities.
Eating and Drinking at Port Lympne
There are loads of different places to eat and drink onsite or you can bring your own picnic, and if you do I'd recommend the grounds of the hotel, which are just beautiful and there is a fun maze there for the kids to explore.
There is food to suit all tastes and pockets. From a baguette or freshly-cooked burger, to a wood-fired pizza at Babydoll's Italian, right up to an exquisite A La Carte meal at the hotel. We just had a coffee and cake whilst at Port Lympne and it was £2.60 for a small cappuccino, £2.00 for a pastry, £3.00 for a slice of cake and pre-packed sandwiches started from £3.50 so a snack or easy lunch doesn't have to break the bank.
The kids also liked the fact that there are play parks for them to burn off some energy at Basecamp and also in Carnivore territory.
Conservation is key
One of the things we loved about Port Lympne is their commitment to conservation. The reserve is owned by the Aspinal Foundation who are renowned as a world leader in animal conservation, through breeding and protection of endangered species. At port Lympne you could read about the many programmes they are involved with to try and ensure that many species do not become extinct.
Most of the 700 animals (around 80 species) at Port Lympne are endangered or rare and they are kept in large enclosures that resemble their natural habitat. They haven't been bought to Port Lympne to be a tourist attraction but to help prolong the life of that species as so many have fallen prey to poachers and deforestation issues.
There is also a wonderful Back to The Wild programme and over the past few years alone, they have released Back to The Wild a range of animals including 8 black rhino, 49 Javan langurs, 9 Javan gibbon, 11 European bison and over 60 western lowland gorillas back to their natural habitat.
We didn't actually go into the dinosaur forest as we had only arrived at lunch time and we wanted to make sure we saw all the animals. This seemed to be a popular area for families with children younger than ours. Port Lympne is home to the UK's largest dinosaur forest with loads of life sized dinosaurs that have all been designed by Palaeontologists, so every model is anatomically correct and just as it would have been as it walked the earth millions of years ago!
There are also various guided walks and fossil fun activities throughout the day. Check the blackboard when you arrive.
|Livingstone Lodge, Image Source: port Lympne|
Staying at Port Lympne
As you walk or drive round the reserve you can see some of the various accommodation options on offer for a short-break stay. Again there is something for everyone, from glamping in a cosy wooden pod to staying within the African nature reserve and waking to views of Giraffes, Rhinos and Zebras to a luxury stay in the Treehouse Hotel or original Port Lympne Hotel.
This is something we have set out heart on, so we had better start saving now as prices start from £99 a night for a wooden camping pod and this includes entry to the reserve but I've not got my heart set on a night in a Livingstone Lodge, which are the luxury safari tents right on top of the hill within the African nature reserve. prices for this start at around £180 per person (based on two sharing) and include a 4 course meal and breakfast, as well as a safari tour and access to Howletts and Port Lympne. I'm going to get saving and maybe this can be our joint birthday present next year.
- Book in advance via the website to get 10% off entry prices and keep an eye out for special offers - like kids going free during July and August this year. The price for a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) is £74.54.
- Summer (25 March - 24 October) opening hours are 9.30am - 6.30pm (with last entry at 3.30pm) and Winter ( 25 October - 25 March) are 9.30am - 5pm with last entry at 2.30pm.
- Port Lympne Reserve, Nr. Ashford, Kent, CT21 4PD
- Website is - https://www.aspinallfoundation.org/port-lympne/
- Dogs, including assistance dogs are not allowed in the park and of course should not be left in your car either
- Pushchairs can be borrowed at the reserve
- Wheelchairs are available for hire at the Gatehouse
- There are accessible toilets and baby change facilities across the site
Disclosure: We received complimentary entry for our family in exchange for this honest review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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