Africa / South Africa

Knysna Elephant Park: Experience the Ultimate Elephant Sleepover in South Africa

An elephant herd at the water hole in Knysna Elephant Park

When I discovered I could have a sleepover with elephants at Knysna Elephant Park, I knew I must incorporate this bucket list animal experience into our 2-week Garden Route Road Trip Itinerary through South Africa. Could anything be more magical than spending two days with these majestic animals? Oh, and did I mention I would be staying in a room with a view of their sleeping pens?

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How to Reach the Knysna Elephants

We had started in Cape Town, and Knysna Elephant Park in Plettenburg Bay was a 6-hour drive away on the N2 motorway. As we were heading along South Africa’s Garden Route to go on safari in Amakhala Game Reserve, this stop worked perfectly for us.

Let me emphasise at this juncture that Knysna Elephant Park is one of South Africa’s ethical animal experiences and is scientifically run. Elephants are left to 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. I saw this firsthand and was extremely impressed at the dedication shown by all staff.

Knysna Elephant Park is recognised nationally and internationally as one of the world’s best captive elephant facilities.

a herd of elephants at Knysna

three elephants standing together

Learning about Knysna Elephant Park

Knysna Elephant Park established itself 20 years ago to rescue two baby elephants. Over the years, the need for a sanctuary became evident, and elephants were given a new start after being abandoned by their mothers, saved from being culled and from owners who no longer wanted to work them due to age.

As soon as we arrived, we went to meet the elephants. Meeting these magnificent creatures 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. I offered her some fruit and veg and waited to see if she would accept them from me. I was elated when she did and felt humbled by her actions.

Feeding Sally the matriach elephant

Two Mothers Meet One Another

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 all curiously stood and looked at us as if we were on display rather than them. From young bulls to mothers, this herd all lived together in harmony under their benefactors’ caring eyes.

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.

Observation and understanding is the park’s ethos, where interactions between guests and elephants occur naturally, and their behaviour is intuitive rather than controlled.

Me and Sally the Elephant at the watering hole

two elephants with their backs to the camera at the watering hole

A baby elephant having a bath in the lake

An elephant bathing in the water

So what is it like having a sleepover with an elephant?

What I can tell you is that it is a memory you will never forget. Did you know elephants can sleep standing up? Did you know that 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 starts to set, the elephants return to their pens/bomas. It is interesting to watch them go straight to their sleeping quarters without much prompting. The elephants can sleep indoors or out. A communal seating area offers guests the perfect viewpoint to watch the nighttime routine take place.

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. Once they are all tucked up, ready to sleep, you have a perfect view of what they are doing. 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 elephant 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

What happened to the wild Knysna Forest Elephants?

The Knysna Forest Elephants used to roam the areas of Knysna and neighbouring Tsitsikamma forests up until their demise in the early 1900s. Ivory hunters and farmers recultivating land for their own needs meant that the elephant numbers reduced dramatically.

Where they once roamed free, the Knysna Forest Elephants are now all 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.

Knysna Forest Elephants

What amenities does Knysna Elephant Park offer?

Overnight stays are in the main lodge and consist of twin or double en-suite rooms. Rooms are African in design in keeping with your location.

A small cafe caters for guests and visitors but shuts at 4.30 pm although dinner can be organised by request if you are sleeping 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.

Local Restaurants

We left the park in the evening and went for 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 the amount we did in South Africa. The server thought there was a problem with our food, but we explained that for the quality and quantity we received it was amazing. She found that quite amusing.

Knysna Elephant Park Restaurant

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

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 makes them clumsy as they walk, 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 and 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 to 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.

A lady stands at the watering hole with the elephant herd behind her

If you are driving South Africa’s Garden Route, then this experience should be on your 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.

To stand beside an elephant, to feed and touch an elephant and to watch as they interact with one another is priceless

About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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Andrea Said
1 year ago

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

Reply to  Andrea Said
1 year ago

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

Wendy White
2 years ago

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.

Reply to  Wendy White
2 years ago

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

2 years ago

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.

2 years ago

What a rare and wonderful experience. Truly magical!

2 years ago

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

Reply to  Anna
2 years ago

Thank you

2 years ago

This is amazing! I’m adding this to our must-do travel activities 🙂 Thank you for sharing all of the details!

Reply to  @EmNomads
2 years ago

If you manage to get there you will have the most special experience.

John -Carpediemeire
John -Carpediemeire
2 years ago

This is a real once in a lifetime experience. Absolutely magic. Thanks for sharing

Reply to  John -Carpediemeire
2 years ago

I’m glad you enjoyed it, it was a very special experience.

Wendy Lee
2 years ago

Wow, this looks like an amazing experience and totally something I would love to do. I’ve seen elephants in the wild–which is also amazing–but to be so close to them would be incredible. Also really enjoyed your photos!

Reply to  Wendy Lee
2 years ago

It was a magical experience and one that will stay with me for ever. To be up close and be able to observe the elephants was a privilege

2 years ago

This is one for my bucketlist. The last time I had experiences with these beautiful creatures was when I visited Thailand. This looks fantastic and so glad they are ethically managed. What a great experience for you and your family.

Reply to  Georgina
2 years ago

It is a place where you know you are interacting with elephants in an ethical manner. A wonderful place to visit for a day or overnight.

Lisa Dorenfest
2 years ago

Sleepover with an Elephant, who’d wouldn’t love that, even with the snoring and the farting? I adore South Africa (and Elephants) and your imagery is calling me back. We only drive a short bit of the Garden Route from Cape Town but I wish we’d made it all the way to Plettenburg Bay to this wonderful park. Thank goodness it has rescued the few remaining Knysna Elephants. Heartbreaking to think of their demise. Gorgeous imagery. Love the reflections in the watering hole.

Reply to  Lisa Dorenfest
2 years ago

Thanks, Lisa. It was a magical experience and the morning walk to that watering hole is an experience I will never forget.

2 years ago

This is just amazing! What an incredible experience. This is right at the top of my list too. I’m happy to read that this sanctuary is running at the highest ethical standards. It’s just crazy how gentle these giants are. I do wonder what you mean by they took elephants in who’s owners couldn’t care for them… do people have like pet elephants?

Reply to  Lauren
2 years ago

Farmers use elephants for work on the land. Moving timber etc. When the elephants become too old they are no longer wanted by their owners which is when they are taken in by sanctuaries such as this one in Knysna.

2 years ago

Indeed a very beautiful place. I had my own experience. Loved ur journey to Srilanka

Reply to  Priyanka
2 years ago

I didn’t go to Sri Lanka it was South Africa

2 years ago

Oh Angie, what an amazing adventure!
This must have been such a dream come true to have this kind of experience with the giants 🙂

Reply to  Ann
2 years ago

Ann it was amazing. I feel so lucky that I have had this magical experience.

2 years ago

You had such an amazing experience. I love elephants and I did not know you can have this kind of experience.

Reply to  Fae
2 years ago

It was incredible and very immersive. They are such gentle giants.

2 years ago

What an incredible experience. Glad that these places are practicing more ethical ways to interact with wildlife.

Ashleigh Hogan
2 years ago

Oh wow what an amazing trip!! !00% adding to my bucket list!!

Reply to  Ashleigh Hogan
2 years ago

Hope you get there it was incredible

Jay Artale
2 years ago

What a memorable trip. They really are amazing creatures and it sickens me when I hear about poachers or hunters who kill them just for their tusks … hopefully more ethical places like this will protect these gentle giants.

Reply to  Jay Artale
2 years ago

I think establishments are becoming more aware of the correct way of allowing ethical animal encounters and I know the animal establishments we visited had this policy thank goodness.

2 years ago

What an amazing experience! I have not heard of this place Knysna in Africa. It must be so exciting to see them so close, and feed them. Love your pictures! 🙂

Reply to  Jan
2 years ago

It was amazing and I couldn’t stop taking photos! Glad you liked them

2 years ago

This sounds like such a cool thing to do! I don’t think I would be able to sleep much either. Too cool!!!

Reply to  Jenn
2 years ago

It was such a great experience

2 years ago

I absolutely love the elephant pictures! They are incredible!!
Do you know why they have elephant pens and do not just let them sleep in one area bigger area?

Reply to  Steph
2 years ago

I believe it is to be able to monitor behavioural observations at night time as the park is the world’s leading research authority for captive elephants. They are given a choice to sleep in or out which is good. I’m glad you liked the photographs, I had such fun taking them.

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