It was with some reluctance that I agreed to spend a weekend camping at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park, a nature reserve situated on a stretch of the provincial road between Hilvarenbeek and Tilburg, in the south of the Netherlands. While I only have positive experiences of camping during my school days, I always found it to be hard work, with the discomfort of not having a proper bed the key reason I never plan camping trips of my own volition.
Camping at Beekse Bergen, however, proved to be quite a different experience. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone that enjoys being out in nature and observing animals up close.
The one night Ranger Camp experience consists of a bus tour around the park on the first day, dinner around the campfire followed by an evening walk and a night of marshmallow roasting before bedding down in your tent. The next day starts with a morning walk, followed by breakfast. After checking out, you’re left to explore the Safari Park on your own, a good hour before day tourists start to show up.
Beekse Bergen has a lot to recommend it. It’s a great deal bigger than most zoos; its total land area is larger than the top five zoos in the Netherlands combined, and its selection of animals is focused on African species, with some Asian ones in the mix, to keep the park open during the winter months. I greatly enjoy visiting zoos, but the space available to the animals often makes me feel rather bad. Here though, I had the feeling that the animals were given more than adequate space and were behaving in a way that is more natural than you’d see in your typical zoo.
The park has over 50 medium to large size mammals and many, many more birds. There are a few amphibians thrown into the mix (to be honest, I only saw the crocodile), but its focus is on the star mammals that live on the African plains. Among some of the most memorable are the elephants, the giraffes, several of the great apes (gorillas, chimps, gibbons, baboons), lions, tigers, two species of hyena, cheetahs and rhinos. On top of these stars, there were many species of deer, the elusive and beautifully bizarre okapi, and stoic bactrian camels. Our favourite animals were also there – two demure and rather shy red pandas and a family of otters.
The two days was great, and each venture out into the park (the bus drive through the park, the evening walk, the morning walk) was rewarding in its own way. However, the most memorable time was the morning walk. Just after the day breaks, before the crowds throng in, the animals are at their most lively and playful. We visited the elephant stable before they were let out into the open, where an 18 day old calf (who was still learning to use her trunk) and her sisters were yearning to be let outside.
Most of the animals were beginning to tuck into their first meal of the day, and this is often the best time to observe and make photographs of them. Luckily for us, we had reached the red panda enclosure just at this moment. The sound of food hitting the bucket drew the couple from their resting place in the tree tops, and we had the chance to see them eating and then grooming themselves. The morning walk was definitely my favourite part of the experience.
I also greatly enjoyed the experience of staying in the Ranger Camp. The beds are very comfortable, and the feeling of being safe and warm inside the tent, when it rained the night we were there, was truly memorable. The barbecue dinner was also super tasty and added greatly to the entire experience.
Our rangers, Jasper and Vincent, are highly knowledgeable and constantly gave us a slew of fun and interesting facts about the animals we observed during our tours. There was also a box on the bus with the horns, furs and skulls of animals that had either shed them, or died from natural causes, from which we could learn more about the creatures that surrounded us.
If you’re in the Netherlands and yearning for a bit of nature, we would highly recommend spending the night at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park. The activities are great for both adults and children, and your money will go to a good cause as the park participates in many breeding and restoration programmes with other parks and zoos around the world.
Here are all the photographs from the Safaripark: