Expert Reviews – Amakhala GR

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Amakhala (Private Game Reserve), South Africa
Overall rating
3/5

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.

From farmland to game reserve – conservation in progress
Overall rating
3/5

Amakhala Game Reserve began in 1999 as a joint conservation venture between the owners of six lodges, who were the direct descendants of families that settled here in the 19th century to farm sheep and cattle. Bit by bit, they’ve rehabilitated the land and reintroduced animals that once roamed freely in the area. Today there are 10 lodges all offering a different experience: from the rustic Quartermain’s 1920’s Safari Camp (without electricity) to the colonial Leeuwenbosch Country House to the African design inspired Safari Lodge. The Big Five reserve offers easy wildlife viewing in a pretty setting and most safari animals are usually seen within a normal two to three-night stay. After several game drives, I enjoyed stretching my legs and a change of pace on a walking safari. This is a great opportunity to see some of the smaller creatures, marvel at the shapes and sizes of animal tracks and learn about the plants. Most exciting though was approaching two white rhinos downwind while trying not to snap any twigs. Their strong smell confirmed that we got the wind direction right if nothing else.

The Big Five and the N2
Overall rating
3/5

This admirable private reserve was created in 1999 as a joint conservation venture comprising six old livestock farms. The farms still support a fair amount of Albany thicket (woodland) dominated by indigenous spekboom (a South African shrub) and have been restocked with suitable wildlife. The main wildlife-viewing circuit is very pretty, flowed through as it is by the Bushman’s River, and enclosed by verdant mountains and sandstone cliffs. The reserve is home to all the Big Five. If our visit is representative, you can be pretty sure of seeing lion, elephant, buffalo and white rhino in the course of a two-night stay, along with cheetah, giraffe, hippo and more. A nervy highlight for us was encountering a pair of white rhinoceros on foot on an expertly guided bush walk. Unfortunately, when we visited, the river was too low to do a boat trip. A fairly significant negative of this otherwise commendable reserve is that it is bordered by the N2, the busy main road that runs east from Port Elizabeth to East London, and the sight and sound of traffic tends to kill the wilderness buzz. Also, while access is reserved to overnight visitors and all game drives are guided, a total of 11 lodges on the property means that it tends to carry more traffic than the likes of Shamwari or Kwandwe. That said, Amakhala is far cheaper than most private reserves in the Eastern Cape and – low profile of leopards notwithstanding – the wildlife viewing really is very good. A recommended option for budget-conscious first-time safari-goers.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.0/5
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  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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