PORT LYMPNE GIRAFFE ENCOUNTER IS THE HEIGHT OF EXCITEMENT
It's a tall order to find a more magical way to spend an hour
Hidden away on a 600 acre, country estate near Hythe in Kent lies Port Lympne Safari, Wild Animal Reserve and Hotel, a park where gorgeous animals from across the world are engaged in a conservation programme by The Aspinall Foundation, which help to repopulate the planet with species whose numbers are dwindling.
It also aims to educate people about the creatures whose habitats we're destroying at a rate of knots, like the beautiful Rothschild's giraffe that is currently flickering its ridiculously long eyelashes in a brazen - and successful - attempt to earn another handful of food from the bucket we're holding.
We're barely 90 minutes from London, and yet we're surrounded by a tower of giraffes in a scene plucked straight from Kenya - at least, it would be if their numbers hadn't been decimated. There are now estimated to be just 2,500 of these beautiful creatures left in the wild.
We're picked up from Base Camp in a pleasingly industrial safari truck, with metal seats and open sides beneath a flimsy canvas roof. We're driven through the African and Asian experiences and our guide helpfully points out the many wonderful animals en route, giving us a mini-tour of the park.
The giraffes announce their own arrival long before our guide points them out. One of the many drawbacks of being 20ft tall is that it’s impossible to sneak up on a truck full of eager visitors, and so it plays out today, when we see their heads pop up over the horizon as we drive through fields of deer and ostriches.
After a brief safety talk, we jump out of the truck and spend a few minutes gawping through the fence at the gorgeous creatures, who don’t seem quite as enamoured with us, given that they eyeball us briefly and then start to shuffle inside the giraffe house.
Thankfully, this is a common occurrence, because our weather doesn’t match up to the African plains of their homeland - so we follow them inside the heated warehouse and huge, furry heads immediately start to poke over the dividing wall, nuzzling into our hands.
We’re not allowed to stroke the giraffes, which is harder than you’d think when animals as beautiful as these swoop down into your personal space, but we’re warned that touching of any kind will have these nervous creatures heading straight for the door.
But it's a fantastic learning experience, with a knowledgeable guide talking us through every aspect of the giraffes' lives and the many quirky traits of these weird and wonderful animals.
We spend half an hour with the giraffes, holding handfuls of diced leaves in the air as they scoop it up with their bizarre, 18-inch, black tongues. We learn facts we’d happily retell over the dinner table (every spot on a giraffe’s body conceals a sweat gland; they sleep standing up, with their eyes open and constantly chewing), and some we probably wouldn’t (they are constantly chewing because they vomit up their food five times, re-eating it until they’ve removed all of the nutrients from it) and we get to watch these awesome beasts just centimetres away as they interact with us, and each other. They’re ungainly and daft, beautiful and ridiculous, and it’s impossible not to love them after spending time in their presence. This is a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend time with one of the most endangered populations of giraffe in the world.
Price £85pp + park entry fee
Port Lympne Safari, Wildlife Reserve and Hotel, Aldington Rd, Lympne, Hythe CT21 4LR