Expert Reviews – Shamwari GR

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Indulgent game viewing
Overall rating
3/5

There are many reasons why I love Shamwari and keep returning, but the most simple is that it always delivers. Situated along the Bushman's River, Shamwari is a private, family-owned game reserve which offers visitors a chance to combine Big Five viewing with luxury living… Well, at least for the few nights you stay here. Any place that combines game viewing with spa treatments certainly wins my tick of approval. The accommodation and meals at the well-run lodge are included in packages as are the twice daily game drives. While the vegetation is not as lush as in the north around Kruger and the 20,000 hectare park comparatively small, this is a major advantage when it comes to game viewing. It’s also malaria-free; which is a big bonus, especially for anyone travelling with children. On my last visit I saw all of the Big Five as well as numerous other larger mammals. I watched cheetahs feed and got within metres of a pride of lions. Then topped my day off with an indulgent massage… Heaven!

Shamwari – wild Africa reborn
Overall rating
3/5

It was Adrian Gardiner, the owner of Shamwari, that we have to thank for starting to bring Africa back to the Eastern Cape in the 1990s. This heavily farmed area was once rich in wildlife but had been effectively cleared of game by the mid-19th century. When he bought a small weekend getaway on the coast, he had a dream which gradually grew into the magnificent showpiece 7,000 ha game reserve that is Shamwari today. It was tough. The badly eroded land had to be restored, every animal imported, the balance of the species carefully maintained.
Today, the reserve functions wonderfully as a game park with over 5,000 animals including the Big Five, but what sets it apart is what’s still going on behind the scenes. There are two animal education and rescue centres, the Julie Ward Centre and Jean Byrn Born Free Centre both caring for rescued animals and providing wildlife education for local children. 3,500 ha (8,650 acres) have been set aside to assist in breeding rare species such as Cape Mountain Zebra and the disease-free Buffalo. They also run volunteer programmes, ranger training and even veterinary courses for student vets and nurses who want to get some wildlife experience.
For the rest of us mere mortals, there’s a choice of seven five-star lodges. And they really are very glam indeed. On my last trip I stayed at African chic Eagle’s Crag, somewhat bizarrely at the foot of said crag in a very dramatic ravine. Sadly it was too cold to wallow in my private plunge pool.

Here, as everywhere in the Eastern Cape, the gameviewing is good but not spectacular, hampered to some degree by the scrubby vegetation. You have to work that bit harder for your sightings and the game is more obviously managed. There are relatively few patches of open savannah. What it does have to compensate is magnificent scenery, a malaria-free environment, sumptuous luxury and a perfect Garden Route location.

Shamwari, the Ferrari of safaris
Overall rating
3/5

Shamwari is a very, very smart private game reserve housed on land reclaimed from farms by a prominent South African conservationist and businessman, Adrian Gardiner. The experience is slick and the service at the various luxury lodges is definitely five star – I certainly appreciated wallowing in my spa bath and wrapping myself in a fluffy dressing gown after my evening game drive. During my stay at Shamwari I saw a great variety of game, with the reserve’s relatively small size and well-organized network of driver/guides yielding big five sightings right, left and centre.

If this all sounds a bit un-adventurous, it is – the vibe at Shamwari is very much all about luxury and ease rather than wilderness and exhilaration, and the prices can be eye-watering. But spa treatments and amazing food are still always welcome, and this would be a great place to bring a friend or partner who’d like to see game but doesn’t fancy roughing it. It’s also easily accessible from Port Elizabeth, making it a good one-night stopover option on a driving holiday in the Eastern Cape.

Shawari: a Big Five haven in the Eastern Cape
Overall rating
4/5

Shamwari is another one of South Africa’s private game reserves, home to the famous Big 5, offering excellent wildlife viewing and luxury accommodation. The park is set in the Eastern Cape and the vegetation is quite different here than in the more classical safari destinations in Mpumalanga. One of the draws to the park is that this area is malaria free. This might be a consideration if you take small kids. Wildlife in this part of South Africa was mostly eradicated and has been restocked in Shamwari and some other parks in the area in more recent times. Because of this, the safari industry is much younger here than in the Kruger park area, home to most of the private game reserves in South Africa. My highlight in Shamwari was a very good black rhino sighting. I’m not sure whether black rhinos are just easier to spot in the lower, spekboom rich, vegetation of the Eastern Cape or whether it is because of higher densities, but I haven’t ever had as many good black rhino sightings in Mpumalanga as here.

A slick conservation triumph
Overall rating
4/5

In recent decades, a number of malaria-free private game reserves have popped up all over the Eastern Cape, rehabilitating a wide variety of big game that had previously been eradicated from this region by hunting and heavy-farming. Shamwari has been around longer than most and remains the undisputed top of the pile as far as I am concerned.

Today, thanks to sterling and multiple-award-winning conservation efforts, Shamwari is home to all of the Big 5 in abundance. I brought my partner here last year for her first ever safari and we saw all 5 on day one, along with cheetah. Our guide that day had been at the reserve for 17 years, not an uncommon length of time here – Shamwari certainly seems to treat its staff well, and they deserve it. From my experience, all of the guides here remain among the best I’ve encountered anywhere in Africa.

And so do the lodges. All seven of the luxurious and exclusive five star options offer a completely different style and experience; the food and service are flawless. For me, the rehabilitated reserves in the Eastern Cape can never recreate that utterly raw and unadulterated bush feel, but there’s no denying that everything else about Shamwari operates like a very well-oiled safari machine.

Award-winning private reserve with extremely high standards
Overall rating
4/5

Small enough for some to consider more of a zoo than a reserve, I nonetheless admire Shamwari’s high level of commitment to animal welfare and rehabilitation. Thanks to a careful wildlife stocking and management process, you can see the Big Five here, albeit in circumstances which feel rather tame; you can also learn about some of the challenges of wildlife conservation by visiting the Born Free big cat rescue centres within the reserve.

The accommodation is certainly sumptuous – a string of celebrity guests including Tiger Woods, Brad Pitt and John Travolta have all visited in recent years – and the family facilities are good. Overall, if you’ve already been to one of the larger, wilder parks and reserves and are looking for more of the same, you may feel let down by Shamwari, but if you’re new to safaris and appreciate comfortable surroundings you’re likely to love it.

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