Where to see ‘Big 5’ wildlife
Wildlife viewing often lands at the top of travelers’ wish lists. Spotting iconic animals in their natural habitats is an equation for a memorable trip, whether you’re a photographer, an amateur wildlife biologist, or just looking for a unique encounter.
But not all wildlife experiences are created equal. Some may be exploitative or unsustainable, involving chasing after or baiting animals—situations that can cause harmful stress on fragile animal populations. The best wildlife experiences are safe, respectful, and educational for all involved.
In wildlife viewing, the term “Big 5” refers to a region’s top 5 species—whether they’re iconic, impressive, rare, or some combination of those qualities. These three properties in North America, Australia, and Africa offer luxury accommodations paired with Big 5 wildlife viewing experiences—a truly memorable mix. And they each focus on sustainable viewing experiences that respect the fact that these are wild animals, not circus entertainment.
Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge
On the “Sights of the Sound” tour in the UNESCO-designated Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve on Vancouver Island, you’ll see the Canadian Pacific Coast’s Big 5 (whales, bears, bald eagles, sea lions, and sea otters) from the exclusive base of remote Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. This eco-safari experience immerses guests in the heart of Canadian nature, connecting with the landscape, its culture and wildlife, and celebrating its superb regional cuisine and luxurious lodgings. To preserve the natural environment, Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge has established an Environmental Legacy Program, funded privately by the lodge and by lodge guests, which supports sustainability initiatives, and a comprehensive Environment Management Plan is in place to steer all operations with underlying strategies relating to the conservation of the marine and rainforest ecosystems.
Southern Ocean Lodge
Down under, just a 30-minute flight off the coast of Adelaide, is Kangaroo Island where you’ll be surrounded by what many consider to be Australia’s Big 5 (kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, wallabies, and Australian sea lions), all of which roam freely in this natural zoo without fences! And, with hundreds of different animal species living on the island, the Big 5 are just the start. While there are several accommodation options on the island, there is nothing quite like the renowned Southern Ocean Lodge (whose rebuild is currently underway after the devastating 2020 Bushfires). Its isolated setting, stunning coastal views, spacious luxury suites, and gourmet dining experience based on local ingredients make it the perfect retreat after a day of Australian wildlife viewing. A dynamic environmental management plan featuring state-of-the-art, continually evolving technologies steers lodge operations and ultimately enhances each guest’s experience of the destination, while ensuring biodiversity protection and conservation
Kariega Private Game Reserve
And, for the Classic Big 5 of Africa (rhino, buffalo, leopard, lion, and elephant), Kariega Private Game Reserve sits on a 10,000-hectare property in Eastern Cape, South Africa. Experience close-up game viewing from the comfort of an open game drive vehicle. And relax afterwards at any of the multiple accommodation options offered, from lodge chalets to tented suites. A levy paid by guests goes to The Kariega Foundation, a non-profit trust, to contribute to the upliftment of local communities, sustainable wildlife management and conservation.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.