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  • Writer's pictureGabriella Walker

Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Updated: Jun 15

I have the fondest memories of safari in South Africa as a kid. Being so connected with nature and experiencing the excitement and thrill of spotting animals that previously you'd only even seen on TV or in books. There's memories that will stay with me forever and will always bring a smile to my face. Feeding grapes to monkeys outside our lodge and them spitting the pips back at us. My Dad not quite setting off fast enough in our self-drive Jeep and a rhino giving a rather terrifying warning that he would charge if we didn't move on quickly.

South Africa's a 12 hour flight and a few thousand pound away though. I've done other wildlife reserves since across Europe but nothing really has ever come close. That's until a few weeks ago when we visited Watatunga near Kings Lynn. The magic of this place has floored me and it's taken me this long to find the words to articulate just how incredible it is and why it's so so special.

Set in 170 acres of woodland, grassland and lakes, as you navigate your self-drive buggy around the reserve, you would never for one second believe you were a 12 minute drive from the centre of Kings Lynn. "It feels like Jurassic Park" are the only words I could summon as we first entered the reserve. It really is as cinematically spectacular as the moment in Jurassic Park where they reach the island and discover that Sir Richard Attenborough's character has created living dinosaurs.

At Watatunga though, they're not dinosaurs (obvs), they're endangered deer, antelope and birds along with the most varied collection of deer and antelope in Europe and they're part of a conservation project and run various breeding programmes for endangered species.

There's birds at Watatunga that went extinct in the UK all the way back in 1832 and are now thriving in the reserve. So much so that they chase you along as you drive your buggy (which genuinely reminded me of the rhino encounter - although don't worry we were totally safe - unlike South Africa...thanks Dad 😂)

Although the buggies are self-drive, tours go out in groups of several buggies and everyone is guided by an expert in a separate vehicle. There's radio systems and the guide is trained to spot the animals, get you to stop, point them out and then tell you all about them and their history. I can genuinely say that despite having done safari and seen the big five, my experience at Watatunga and the knowledge and passion from the guides topped everything that I did as a kid in South Africa.

It really doesn't matter who you are, how old you are or how clued up you are on nature or conservation, there'll be something at Watatunga that will leave a mark on you. That will create a core memory that lasts a lifetime.

There's 23 different species at Watatunga (you can find a full species list here). They've got Eastern Mountain Bongo which there are thought to be less then 100 of left in the wild. Père David's Deer which are extinct in the wild and I saw a juvenile of on our tour. We even spotted Blesbok which actually originate from The South African Plains.

Watatunga is special. So special that even if you're not based in Norfolk, I'd be telling you to come to Norfolk literally just to visit Watatunga. In fact, they've got accommodation within the reserve that gives you unrivalled access to the animals. From the hot tubs of one of the cottages, the deer regularly saunter past and there's a walkway across the reserve that's goes to a hide and is exclusively for those staying in either the lodges or the cottage. You even get your own buggy for your stay which you can use for your own self-drive tour at any time.

If you don't chose to stay at Watatunga (we didn't as we're only a 1.5 hour drive away), the self-guided tours are 90 minutes long. You get the choice of either a 4 person buggy for £70 total (i.e. per buggy not per person) or £105 for a 6 person buggy. Which to me is phenomenal value for the experience. I probably shouldn't say this as they'll put the prices up but I genuinely would have paid £70 per person for our tour. It really was the most amazing thing we've done in Norfolk to date (and if I'm completely honest, the UK).

If you're one of our newsletter subscribers, you'll even find a code in the discounts section of the newsletter, giving you 10% off tours anytime from now until the end of October.

The beauty of Watatunga is that it's also so close to lots of other amazing Norfolk adventures too. So once you've finished on your tour that really doesn't need to be the end of your day out. Kings Lynn is a short drive away and there's so much history and incredible architecture to explored. This walking route is a great one for finding the best bits and we'd recommend lunch at Mem's Kitchen on Saturday Market Place. Or of course, you could always visit Sandringham and spend the afternoon exploring the incredibly beautiful royal estate.

On our way to Watatunga, we stopped at Rudham Deli for a coffee and some snacks from their incredible selection of local produce. After our tour we then started the drive back but stopped again in East Rudham and had lunch at Biagio’s Tea Room which does the most incredible sandwiches and is just the loveliest place to sit back, relax and chat. I could honestly spend hours here and I'm beyond pleased we stumbled across it. It's going to be my new go-to for lunch whenever I'm in West Norfolk now. Both Rudham Deli & Biagio's are also offering our newsletter subscribers 10% off so would be the perfect accompaniment to a Watatunga day out.

I really feel like I'm still on a dopamine high from Watatunga and it's two weeks ago since we visited. Every time someone sees me they always ask what my favourite most recent Norfolk adventure has been. I think I'll be saying Watatunga as the response for many years to come.

If you haven't been, you need to go. In fact, everyone needs to go. Just maybe not all at once as there's something very special about it being a little bit undiscovered and a little bit exclusive. Join the club of having visited though. It's a pretty great club to be in and I absolutely know you won't regret it.


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