Expert Reviews – Amakhala GR
Melissa is an award winning travel writer for Fodors, Frommers and Insight, including guides to Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
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Amakhala (Private Game Reserve), South Africa
I don’t often go over the top and wax lyrical but I really loved Amakhala. It isn’t the world’s finest game park and while it is stunning scenically, put it next to the Ngorongoro Crater and it pales. But this small 18 000 acre/7,300 hectare private reserve has something special. Tucked into the southern strip of the Eastern Cape between Shamwari and the Addo Elephant Park, along the Bushman's River, five cattle and sheep farmers, all descendants of the area’s original European 1820 settlers, got together to return their land to the wild. Since 1999, they have been working hard to let the natural vegetation grow freely, ridding it of invasive species, importing animals from elephants to the humble dung beetle in a programme that is still ongoing. They also have brilliant social and community programmes, offer ranger training and opportunities for people to stay as volunteer workers.
In all there are 11 lodges across the reserve, some purpose-built, some adapted from the original farmhouses and they come in all shapes and sizes from tented camps to old colonial and wood and thatch Africana. I couldn’t possibly see them all but stayed at Leeuwenbosch, a fabulously atmospheric old colonial country house where host Bill holds court and regales guests with wild tales in his private bar during and after dinner. This, like much of Amakhala, isn’t a typical ‘safari’ experience but it’s great fun.
And that I suppose is the magic of the place. Until about 20 years ago there was precious little wildlife left in the Eastern Cape. Now, with Shamwari, Addo and Amakhala all offering Big Five gameviewing it’s seriously on the map. It’s right on the Garden Route at the heart of tourist territory and beside the sea. Importantly, it’s also in a malaria-free zone.
Minus points – the quality of the gameviewing is nothing like as good as the Kruger area or northern KZN. You do see plenty but Amakhala is new and is still restocking and more importantly, much of the land is fynbos scrub with lots of low bush for animals to hide in. The lions are also kept in a separate (huge) enclosure because of proximity to nearby villages. So if you want to count off your tick list of species, or are looking for the open veldt and thundering herds of wildebeest, this may not be the right place for you. But if you’ve been round the block a few times, just love being out in the African wilderness, in amazing scenery, with the animals, the stars, great company and a laid-back environment, this is absolutely the place to be.