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Knysna Elephant Park: The Ultimate Elephant Sleepover in South Africa

Knysna Elephant Park: The Ultimate Elephant Sleepover in South Africa

When I discovered I could meet and sleep with orphaned African elephants at Knysna Elephant Park, I knew I had to incorporate this bucket-list animal experience into our 2-week Garden Route Road Trip Itinerary.

Could anything be more magical than spending two days at Knysna Park with the elephants and sleeping in a room with a view of their indoor sleeping pens? I don’t think so!

In this post, I highlight my time at Knysna Elephant Park, including information on interactions you can have with the resident herd, the park’s amenities, and how to get there.

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Matriarch elephant stands in front of a bull in Knysna Elephant Park.

How to Reach the Knysna Elephants

We had started in Cape Town, and the Knysna Elephant Park (Plettenberg Bay Elephant Sanctuary) was a 6-hour drive away on the N2 motorway.

We were heading along South Africa’s Garden Route to go on safari in Amakhala Game Reserve, so stopping overnight to meet the Knysna Forest Elephants worked perfectly for us.

Opening Hours

Open 365 days a year to visitors, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Early morning and late afternoon experiences are conducted by reservation only at 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Guests staying overnight will be able to wake up at dawn and walk with the domesticated matriarchal herd at sunrise.

Learning about Knysna Elephant Park

Let me emphasise at this juncture that Knysna Elephant Park is one of South Africa’s ethical animal experiences and is scientifically run.

Knysna Elephant Park established itself in 1994 to rescue two baby elephants.

Over the years, the need for a nature sanctuary became evident. Elephants were given a new start after being abandoned by their mothers or saved from being culled and from owners who no longer wanted to work them due to age.

The management prioritizes the elephant’s welfare, making Knysna Elephant Park recognised nationally and internationally as one of the world’s best captive elephant wildlife facilities. The park provides much-needed research into the life of the African elephant.

Elephants can roam free during the day and put into their indoor pens or bomas at night. They are not taught to perform for the public and are treated by their keepers with love and respect. And there’s definitely no riding elephants happening at Knysna Elephant Sanctuary.

What happened to the wild Knysna Forest Elephants?

The Knysna Forest Elephants roamed the areas of Knysna and neighbouring Tsitsikamma forests until their demise in the early 1900s.

Ivory hunters and farmers recultivating land for their own needs meant that the elephant numbers were reduced dramatically.

Where they once roamed free, the Knysna Forest Elephants are now gone, and the last DNA records (2019) show that only one female Knysna Forest Elephant remains in the area.

This figure doesn’t include the park’s protected elephants, as they have been rescued from other areas within Africa.

herd of Kysna Forest Elephants entering the forest.

What amenities does Knysna Elephant Park offer?

Overnight stays are in the main Knysna Elephant lodge, consisting of twin or double en-suite rooms. Rooms are African in design in keeping with your location.

A small cafe caters to guests and visitors but shuts at 4:30 p.m., although dinner can be arranged by request if you sleep over. Breakfast is served for guests each morning after your sunrise walk.

The park also offers other experiences with the elephants, such as breakfast picnics or sundowners. There’s also a small curio shop selling local handicrafts and Knysna souvenirs.

Local Restaurants

We left the park in the evening and ate dinner at Zinzi Restaurant in the nearby Hunter Hotel. The food was superb, and when the bill arrived, we questioned it because it was so reasonable.

For a similar meal in the UK, we would have paid triple what we did in South Africa. The server thought there was a problem with our food, but we explained that the quality and quantity we received were amazing. She found that quite amusing.

Buildings in Knysna Elephant Park housing the restaurant and shop.

Meeting Sally – The Head Matriarch

As soon as we arrived, we went to meet the elephants – it was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.

Sally, the herd’s matriarch, was my first elephant encounter, and it exceeded all my expectations. She was interested in my bag of fruit and was more than happy to accept some from me. It was one of those pinch-me-is-this-real moments, and I was humbled being so close to her.

Feeding Sally the matriach elephant

I am 5ft 7in, but next to Sally, I felt tiny. She could have knocked me over with one shake of her body, but she was so gentle and serene. From one mother to another, I felt we bonded at that moment, and I looked forward to meeting her again.

The elephant keepers introduced us to other herd members, who curiously stood and looked at us as if we were on display rather than them. From young bulls to mothers, this matriachal herd lived together in harmony under their benefactors’ care.

Feeding Sally with fruit and Veg

It was then time for the elephants to have some fun at the lake, and they certainly did. From the bull elephants to the mothers and teenagers, they all wallowed in the water, and you could see how spontaneous it all was for them.

The park’s ethos is observation and understanding. Interactions between guests and elephants occur naturally, and their behaviour is intuitive rather than controlled.

Angie standing next to an elephant at the water's edge in Knysna Elephant Park.
Two elephants stand together at the watering hole in Knysna Elephant Park.

5 Interesting Facts about the Trunk of an African Elephant

1. An elephant trunk contains 40,000 different muscles.

2. The elephant trunk is by far the most versatile appendage on the planet

3. The trunk is both extremely delicate and extremely strong. 

4. Elephants are either left or right-handed. 

5. The elephant’s sense of smell is estimated to be four times that of a bloodhound, and they can smell water from miles away. 

A small elephant bathes in the water hole at Knysna Elephant Park.
A small elephant is standing in the watering hole washing itself in Knysna Elephant Park.

What is it like having a sleepover with an elephant?

I can tell you that it is a memory you will never forget. Did you know elephants can sleep standing up? Did you know elephants snore and expel air from their nether regions as they sleep? It sounds like I’m describing an older man, doesn’t it? But believe me, that’s what they do, and it’s loud!

I couldn’t go to sleep for a while because of the noise, and it made me laugh so loudly that I managed to wake my husband up (who coincidentally was snoring only slightly lower than the elephants!)

As the sun sets, the elephants return to their pens/bomas. Watching them go straight to their sleeping quarters without much prompting is interesting. The elephants can sleep indoors or out. A communal seating area offers guests the perfect viewpoint to watch the nighttime routine.

Book your room at Knysna Elephant Park here.
Viewing the elephants from the main seating area

A Room with a View

Our room was comfortable and had one window that looked over the elephant pens/bomas. We had a perfect view of what they were doing once they were all tucked up and ready to sleep.

I didn’t sleep much the night we were there because I kept getting out of bed to watch them; after all, who wants to sleep when there is a herd of elephants beneath your window?

Some of the older herd fell asleep straight away, some of the teenagers just weren’t ready for any shut-eye, and a newborn baby (yes, that’s right, he was just like Dumbo) was bottle-fed on a straw bale beneath our window by two volunteers who stayed awake with him all through the night. You can’t get more magical than that, can you?

Our bedroom window overlooking the elephant sleeping area.

A Sunrise Walk with the Elephants

Waking up at sunrise is no hardship when you know you will walk with elephants to their watering hole. Even though the temperature was chilly first thing in the morning, we were eagerly awaiting our experience.

We were each given an elephant to pair up with, and I got the formidable matriarch, Sally. My husband and two boys were matched up with elephants of varying sizes.

Knysna watering Hole with a group of elephants beside it.

We headed off on the short walk from the lodge, through the fynbos (native shrubland) and towards the mirror-like watering hole. I didn’t realise that the elephants’ size made them clumsy as they walked, and I happened to be at the side of Sally as she swaggered into another elephant, nearly squashing me between them.

I was glad the keeper was vigilant. With a quick tap and a call out in his native language, Sally moved away, and I was saved. What an experience- nearly becoming the filling for an elephant sandwich!

elephants at the watering hole.

We watched as these gracious animals made their way to the water edge and gently re-hydrated themselves – a herd of elephants, a mirror-like watering hole and the mountains in the distance; what an experience.

Angie stands at the watering hole with the elephant herd behind her.

Is it worth visiting Knysna Elephant Park?

If you are driving South Africa’s Garden Route, this experience should feature high on your travel itinerary. It will be an insight into the life of the African elephant and allow you to get up close and personal with the strongest land animals in the world.

Standing beside an elephant, feeding and touching it, sleeping close to it and watching as the herd interact with one another is priceless.

Please PIN for future travel to South Africa.

Want to know about other animal interactions you can have in South Africa? Please read the following posts:

10 Ethical Animal Encounters Along the Garden Route

How to Visit the Penguins in Cape Town on Boulders Beach

Quatermain’s Safari Camp Review: 3-Nights in Amakhala Game Reserve

Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.

Andrea Said

Tuesday 14th of July 2020

We seem to love the same type of travels! Bookmarked and added to the bucket-list.

WhereAngieWanders

Tuesday 14th of July 2020

This experience is definitely one of a kind and therefore perfect to add to a bucket list.

Wendy White

Friday 8th of May 2020

This would be my dream! There is no way I'd be able to sleep either if I could watch elephants all night. It's just so sad that there aren't any left in the wild there now (apart from that sole female). I've saved your Pin in the hope we get to visit there some time in the future. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience.

WhereAngieWanders

Friday 8th of May 2020

I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope you do get to South Africa one day, it is a magical country.

WhereAngieWanders

Thursday 7th of May 2020

I'm glad you enjoyed finding out about my experience. There are many other ethical animals encounters to have along the Garden route so it is a great place to come and interact with animals knowing that it is all done in the correct manner.

Francesca

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

What a rare and wonderful experience. Truly magical!

Anna

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

This looks like an amazing spot! Some really gorgeous photos too.

WhereAngieWanders

Wednesday 6th of May 2020

Thank you