South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

Anyone who knows me will know about my big love for the gentle giants that roam our earth. Elephants embody a tender and peaceful spirit. These immensely powerful animals have always fascinated me.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

During my research for driving the Garden Route in South Africa I stumbled across The Elephant Sanctuary. Nestled within The Crags in Plettenberg Bay on the Western Cape and less than a ten minute drive from where we were staying at Hog Hollow Lodge, it didn’t take long for me to book a visit.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

The Elephant Sanctuary rehabilitates abused, overworked and abandoned elephants with the aim of ultimately releasing them into the wild. Unfortunately for some of the elephants this will never be as they simply wouldn’t survive in the wild, which makes The Elephant Sanctuary their retirement home.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

The rare chance to interact with these magnificent creatures through touch, feeding and walking was too great an opportunity to miss. My love for elephants has inevitably rubbed off on my girls too, who were both giddy with excitement when they realised what was in store.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

On arrival we were introduced to our fantastic guide Patrick who gave us a quick tour of the elephants sleeping quarters before heading out to the fields to meet them. I was almost in tears when they described the state the elephants arrived in at the sanctuary. Fearful and scared they initially had to sleep with their guides in the stables to slowly help build up their confidence and crushed spirit. It showed the great love, care and respect they’re now showered with which is wonderful. We were filled with further anticipation when told the names, ages and special characteristics of the three African elephants.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

My heart actually skipped a beat when we finally saw the elephants. Up close Marula, Thandi and Jabu were so impressive. Most of us have seen elephants at zoos, but standing in such close proximity to these gentle giants is just amazing.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

My girls were fascinated by their stories and the biology lesson in anatomy that followed. We all had the chance to touch their very rough, mud encrusted skin, look into their mouths, rub their trunks, tusks and incredibly velvety skin behind their huge ears.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

On the way back from the forest we all had an opportunity to walk ‘hand in truck’ with these humongous animals. We were shown how to hold out our hands so the elephants could gently place their trunks in. Mr S led the way showing his girls how to do it like a pro.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

It was an incredibly proud moment for us to watch our girls confidently lead the elephants out of the forest. Fearless and taking it all in their stride.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

Soon it was my turn. After seeing Radha and Asha’s wet, mucous filled hands I was suddenly worried about my intermittent skin condition on my right hand. I’d cleverly forgotten to bring my steroid cream on holiday, so it had been further exacerbated with cracked skin. So, when my name was called for my once in a lifetime tactile moment with Jabu, I had a second to decide – do I give up my dream and protect my hand or just go for it and think consequences later.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

Two seconds later I had Jabu’s hot breath enveloping my hand and do you know what – I didn’t care. I was walking ‘hand in truck’ with an ELEPHANT!  This had never even been part of my wildest dreams, but I was living it. Right now!

And I should have bottled some of that elephant snot. By the next day my skin condition had seriously improved. Who needs steroid cream eh?

There are various experiences you can book whilst at the sanctuary, we added on the elephants brush down experience to our tour. A brush down to an elephant is in essence a massage. Elephants are no different to humans. They love being pampered. With a hard bristled brush you move in downward stokes on their skin. In the process you’re covered in specks of dry mud that flies off – A small price to pay for a unique interaction.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

Finally we ended the tour with feeding the elephants a bucket full of apples. Jabu and Marula had lost the tips of their trunk, known as their fingers through traps when they were young. The guides taught us how to lay the food just on the inside of their trunks, rather than right into their nose like the other elephants. They weren’t shy about asking for the food. Trunk out, ready and waiting, they hoovered it up sharpish. It was a wonderful way to end our hands-on experience.

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

The 90 minutes you spend in the company of the elephants is not cheap. The brush down experience is 705 Rand and 310 Rand for children (4-14 yrs). Taking good care of these elephants costs a lot of money, so you can clearly see where the money goes. I would happily pay it again. Repeatedly! The activity is perfect for families. My kids were blown away by this encounter. Although I’m never going to be able to take them to London Zoo again!

South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

This will be a moment in our lives that will stay with us always. I know it sounds dramatic but I felt so humble and honoured to stand between these mammoth animals. I’ll also remember the prolonged look into Jabu’s doe eyes whilst I massaged him. We shared a moment which left me feeling quite emotional and has been etched in my memory forever.

They say an elephant never forgets and with an experience as incredible as this one, neither will you

Have you ever had an up close and personal encounter with an animal? How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments box below.


The Elephant Sanctuary | Monkeyland Road | The Crags | Plettenberg Bay | South Africa


South Africa: The Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay




  1. 26th June 2017 / 7:39 am

    I’d planned to go here but we couldn’t make it cos it was pouring with rain!!

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      26th June 2017 / 7:56 pm

      Oh noo Angie, such a shame. Well a good enough reason to head that way again sometime 😉

  2. 26th June 2017 / 12:13 pm

    Such majestic creatures, and so beautifully captured. Wonderfully written, Sima 🙂

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      26th June 2017 / 7:57 pm

      Thanks so much Jigyasa!

  3. Jasmin N
    26th June 2017 / 4:08 pm

    Ooh elephants are adorable! Although, I would not necessarily pay for getting to see them as I don’t feel like it’s good for the animals, but well, I’m who I’m & I’m glad you and your family had a great time! Sounds like a memorable experience for the kids 🙂

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      26th June 2017 / 8:02 pm

      Without the money they get from visitors. The elephants wouldn’t be cared for in such a great way and would most probably still be exisiting in awful conditions or worse. They’re not performing, just living out their days the best they can after such horrible pasts. It was great experience for the kids and away to show them how animals should be treated.

  4. 26th June 2017 / 6:10 pm

    This must have been a once in a lifetime experience. I really want to go to South-Africe in a couple of years. I am so happy the elephants are taking good care of after those terrible chapters of their lives.

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      26th June 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Yes Tessa it’s great to see how they are cared for now. You’ll love South Africa, such a wonderful country.

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      26th June 2017 / 8:04 pm

      Oh Hannah it was an incredible experience. Thanks for your lovely comments.

  5. Analesha
    26th June 2017 / 9:26 pm

    This looks amazing. Look at you touching the elephants! What an incredibly journeys!

  6. 26th June 2017 / 9:59 pm

    What an amazing experience for the whole family and I can completely see why it is emotional as well. Sanctuaries are wonderful organisations and if bringing some visitors in helps the elephants than that’s fantastic.

  7. 26th June 2017 / 10:37 pm

    Aaww this is so cute !! I adore elephants too and it makes me feel so good seeing a place where they are being taken care of ♡

  8. 27th June 2017 / 4:21 am

    Great post. I love animals, I do visit zoos but never got a chance to touch any animal.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful moments. 🙂

  9. 2nd July 2017 / 5:28 pm

    Wow a once in a lifetime experience Sima! I think I would have bawled my eyes out hearing about the mis-treatment of these beautiful creatures. I love that your skin condition improved too after walking hand in trunk 🙂 – definitely ear marking this for the bucket list! xx

    • Sima Sthanakiya
      2nd July 2017 / 9:02 pm

      It really was Maggie. Highly recommend if you venture that far when you book South Africa. And who would have thought elephant snot had such magical powers!

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