Monkeyland, a free-roaming primate sanctuary just outside Plettenberg Bay, has always been one of our must-visits anytime we are in the Garden Route. It’s an absolute privilege to be able to roam around the forests with monkeys big and small, learning a bit more about them, their habits and habitats in the wild.
So, when we recently found ourselves near Ballito in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province, seeing the newly opened Monkeyland KZN just had to be on our list of things to do.
What is Monkeyland?
Monkeyland KZN, which is part of the South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance, covers a swath of tropical, secret forest about 20 minutes outside of Ballito, providing a home for rescued monkeys. Many of these primates come from zoos, have been injured, or hand reared as pets and thus would never be able to return to their natural homes. However, here at their home-away-from-home they can free roam, not bound to cages, as they forage in the forest, meet other monkeys and simply live their best lives swinging from tree to tree.
The aim of Monkeyland is to educate visitors about keeping animals as pets or engaging in experiences where touching and playing with animals is allowed, hence the sanctuary’s firm #HandsOffOurWildlife policy where no one, guests and staff alike, are allowed to interact with or touch the animals, allowing them to be as wild and free as possible. Here they also teach about the rapid decline of natural habitats and how to buy goods wisely, such as avoiding those that have been tested on animals.
The Monkeyland KZN experience
Monkeyland KZN first opened in April 2019, however with COVID on the cards, the monkeys have seen few visitors to date, making the sanctuary still relatively new. Our experience started at the Monkeyland reception site where we found a shop selling all matter of monkey-related paraphernalia, a small restaurant and lovely jungle gym for our own little monkey.
From there we embarked on a short drive in a safari vehicle to the hidden forest where our guide took us on a walking tour to see what monkeys we could find. The forest is home to a large number of different species including capuchin monkeys, ringtail lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, buff-cheeked gibbons, squirrel monkeys, black howler monkeys and spider monkeys, as well as a myriad of birds and even a couple of antelope. It is much like a walking safari in the bush in that there is no guarantee as to what you will or won’t see.
Covering an impressive area of 23 hectares, the sanctuary is almost double the size of its Garden Route sister, allowing for a more wild, raw and real experience, where you really have to keep your eyes peeled and ears open to what you’ll see or hear next.
Tips and tricks for visiting Monkeyland KZN
For anyone thinking about visiting Monkeyland KZN, here are a few tips and tricks that we picked up from our visit that may be helpful to future travellers:
– Go early: We booked the second tour of the day in Spring, and it was already very hot at 9:30am in the morning. The walk takes about an hour and a half to two hours and just as you won’t feel like trekking through the jungle in the heat, the monkey’s get lazy too so plan to go early or late in the day when the weather is a bit cooler.
– Go after feeding time: Unfortunately, the monkeys won’t find all the nutrients they need in the forest and as most of them are rescues that have been raised by humans they don’t know how to forage or hunt properly. Thus, the team at Monkeyland feed the monkeys twice a day from feeding stations scattered throughout the forest. With one feeding first thing in the morning and another in the late afternoon, there’s even more of a reason to visit at these times for the best chances of good sightings.
– Dress appropriately:You’ll need to wear comfortable walking shoes as you may end up trekking quite deep into the forest to look for the monkeys. If you’ve ever been to Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay, you’ll quickly discover the Ballito version features a much more strenuous, natural walk, but it also gives you a beautiful insight into the natural forests of the region. You’ll likely also want to wear shorts because of the heat so be sure to put some mosquito repellant on your legs and arms.
– What to take: The forest is quite shady so you can likely leave your sunglasses behind but be sure to take glasses if you need them for far-distance vision and some binoculars if you want to get a better close-up view of the birds and monkeys. A decent camera is also essential as is a bottle of water. Aside from that, no other food or drink is allowed inside the forest so leave enough time to enjoy a meal at the restaurant beforehand.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab the family and have some fun in the forest with these amazing monkeys? Monkeyland KZN is open every day from 9am to 4pm, including public holidays.