Expert Reviews – Shamwari GR

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Indulgent game viewing
Overall rating

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

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

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.

Big Five and more in the Albany thicket
Overall rating

Shamwari is the most famous private reserve in the Eastern Cape, and it is hard to fault the quality of its lodges and camps, or its wildlife viewing. Established in 1990, it now extends over a vast 250km2/96mi2 and is divided into two distinct sectors by the Bushman’s River as it flows eastward through the reserve. I was hugely impressed by the northern sector; the mountainsides support a cover of Albany thicket punctuated by bright orange stands of winter-flowering aloes. Wildlife viewing is patchy but this densely vegetated sector certainly lived up to its reputation as the main haunt of the reserve’s closely guarded black rhinos, delivering us with two separate sightings – one of a solo male and the other of a male with two females. The grassy south is flatter, and the vegetation more degraded. However, it is productive for the likes of lion, white rhino, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, giraffe, hippo, Burchell’s zebra and most of the reserve’s 17 species of antelope. With luck, you might see four of the Big Five on one wildlife drive (the exception being the elusive-as-ever leopard) but a two or three-night stay is recommended to be reasonably confident of this. Shamwari’s reputation for luxury and exclusivity is justified when it comes to the stunning accommodation and food, and the quality of wildlife sightings. However, with a total of 71 rooms and suites spread between eight lodges and camps, it can get pretty busy with tourist traffic compared to the likes of Samara or Kwandwe.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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