Shamwari Game Reserve – Arrive a guest, leave a friend

This post is dedicated to my recent bush trip to one of the most successful private conservation initiatives in Southern Africa, Shamwari Game Reserve, an experience which left me wiser, a holiday that left me more “earthed”, more centered, and one that created memories that will no doubt still have me smiling and laughing for years to come.Situated only 75km from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, which is only a 90-min flight from Cape Town or Johannesburg, its proximity to the Garden Route makes Shamwari a natural choice for those seeking to combine a tour of the Garden Route with a luxury safari.

I arrived with expectations from having spent a considerable amount of time in the Lowveld and was unsure as to how the landscape of the Eastern Cape would compare, however, Shamwari left me very impressed. The reserve offers 25 000 hectares of stunning natural terrain, 6 luxury 5-star lodges, an Explorer Camp dedicated to walking safari’s and 3 different education and rehabilitation facilities. Even having researched all of this pre-trip (which I always do before I travel) nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful experience I was about to embark on.

We stayed at Shamwari’s premier lodge, Eagles Crag. This lodge is in the center of the reserve and offers a luxurious stay perfect for couples. You are nestled in a valley amongst awesome rock faces, the accommodation is spacious, classically beautiful and each room very private. Our room offered exactly what we expected from a lodge of this caliber. The whole corner of your room opens onto a large private deck with loungers, splash pool and outdoor shower. Dining wise, I really enjoyed all the food – it was freshly prepared and made to order, which reminded me of luxury home-style cooking mixed with an African bush experience.

Whatever the reason for your bush trip, Shamwari offers an accommodation style to suit. If history is your thing and you fancy a colonial style romantic trip, check in at Long Lee Manor. Long Lee was built in 1910 and is Shamwari’s oldest lodge.

Planning a family reunion (kids welcome) or special birthday getaway? Then Sarili will be heaven for you. This modern lodge with amazing river views offers exclusive accommodation for a party of 10 with your own private chef and ranger. One can book individual rooms too, but it really is perfectly suited for bigger groups.

If a luxury tented experience is on your travel to-do list, then Bayethe Tented Lodge will not disappoint. This is the largest camp, with 12 detached tents and situated in the north of the reserve.

We were very fortunate to have our very own private game ranger during our stay. Biggest bonus for us – it made all our embarrassing silly questions and statements during our drives slightly less awkward as there were only three of us in the vehicle! I cannot praise our ranger, James, enough for ensuring that we had a memorable stay and experience. His love and passion for wildlife and for Shamwari knows no bounds. We may have made him cringe on occasion, but we really did come away with an enhanced knowledge of the bush. Did you know that a Bokmakierie (bushshrike) must teach itself to sing? Yes, you read that right. I too thought all birds could join a choir at birth! In terms of game viewing, we were lucky enough to see 4 of the Big 5. This region is excellent for elephant. Their temperament is calm, relaxed and they are totally at ease with the vehicles. A perfect sighting of the rare black rhino on a hillside and a special sighting of a female cheetah and her 4 cubs were added to our list too.

However, it is not just about game viewing at Shamwari. The reserve has one of the best rehabilitation centres in South Africa. They are fully registered to provide veterinary care to young, abandoned, orphaned or injured animals. During our visit to the rehab center, we met the on-site vet and all the animals in her current care, including Zoe and Spring, the tame Zebra and Springbok pair, who welcome you upon arrival. Groups who visit the rehab center are also educated about Shamwari’s magnificent endangered rhino and the many conservation and anti-poaching activities presently underway.

My favourite travel moment at Shamwari:

Spending time with a herd of elephants and a 3-week-old calf for 30 minutes just before sunset.

What I love about Shamwari:

While I enjoy any travel experience, I know that some are a little more special than others. That’s not necessarily due to the tangibles, but rather the intangibles: those special moments and experiences that elevate a trip into something that is truly life altering. From Shamwari I will take…. the diverse beauty of the landscape, the joy of experiencing so much more than your normal bush trip in one place, to hands down one of the best massages I’ve ever had at the Eagles Crag Spa (and I’ve had a lot of massages in my time). And lastly, to the uncontrollable laughter shared with my travel partner Pippa and our ranger James.

My Shamwari packing advice for winter:

My best advice is to choose comfort above all things. You’ll want to wear layers, a good longer jacket, beanie and outfits to match the bush colour palette of course. Those early morning drives are icy, so you need to bundle up and then remove layers when you stop for coffee or the essential glass of red wine.

Always wear sunscreen, even in winter. My go-to product, La Roche-Posay Anthelious XL Comfort SPF 50.  The icy air, wind, sun and dust strip your skin of moisture during your drives, so pack a night cream that will boost your skins hydration levels whilst you sleep: I love the Vichy Aqualia Rich cream. Do not forget to bring sunglasses.

Every experience at Shamwari was made to feel like it was crafted for me personally. One can plan a trip to a beautiful destination and book into star accommodation, but one thing that will make one trip more memorable than the next is brilliant customer service. It’s priceless, and when I get that “it feels like home” feeling, I know the customer service cherry-on-the-top has been achieved. Every staff member we met, no matter their role, was super friendly and no request was too much trouble. Shamwari means ‘friend’ in Shona. The reserve could not be more aptly named. Arrive a guest, leave a friend.

Watch my Shamwari video on YouTube or follow my journey on Instagram.

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