20 great reasons to visit Shamwari Game Reserve on the Eastern Cape, South Africa

 

Whether you’re going on safari for the first time or you’re a seasoned traveller who has been on safari many times before, look no further than Shamwari Game Reserve. We stayed there recently and had a truly amazing time. Here are 20 reasons why this reserve serves as an excellent luxury option.

1. Accessibility

In less than an hour’s drive from the airport at Port Elizabeth, you can be at Shamwari Game Reserve. For those who can’t wait that long, there’s a private airstrip at the reserve but arriving overland allows you to see Port Elizabeth and its outskirts, and slowly get a feel for the lie of the land as you near Shamwari. We spotted a few warthogs on the other side of the perimeter fence the moment we reached the reserve.

Warthog

Port Elizabeth is a city that will see considerable change in the coming years with the development of a tourist-friendly waterfront much like Cape Town’s, making a city and safari break an even more appealing option. Also Shamwari Game Reserve lies on the Garden Route, making it the perfect stop-over for anyone taking on this trip.

2. It’s malaria free

Shamwari lies in a malaria free region in the Eastern Cape meaning that you don’t need to worry about contracting malaria when visiting the reserve. For those who don’t wish to take anti-malarial medication whether it be for their own personal medical reasons or simply out of choice, this is ideal and a better option than the likes of the Kruger National Park or the Mapungubwe National Park.

Zebra

3. A choice of excellent accommodation

There are many different accommodation options at Shamwari, catering for a myriad of different preferences. You have the colonial style Long Lee Manor and family friendly Riverdene Lodge, for instance – the two places where we stayed – or you can have exclusive accommodation for a party of up to 10 with your own private chef and ranger. There’s even a luxury tented accommodation (Bayethe Lodge) offering the height of luxury and the Shamwari Explorer Camp for those seeking a more adventurous option.

Riverdene bedroom

4. Superb food

I really couldn’t fault the food.  It was of a consistently high standard and beautifully presented, with plenty of choice for all tastes. Children are equally well catered for with more kid-friendly options, but not your usual chicken nuggets and chips that invariably seem to dominate children’s menus.

Riverdene dessert

5. The staff

We found the staff were always charming and polite, whether it be the check-in desk or the chambermaid, the barman or the bag porter. Nothing was too much trouble and, perhaps most important of all, they smiled!!

Riverdene staff

6. Quality rangers

I can’t speak highly enough of our ranger, Geran, and the rangers at Shamwari in general. They are so knowledgeable about everything, it seems, and their depth of knowledge seems to know no bounds. They can distinguish different species of snakes from the tracks that they leave… they can tell you about the inner workings of a giraffe’s digestive system (or any other animal for that matter)… identify dung and tell you how fresh it is… tell you individual characteristics of the many different bird species… or about how specific plants adapt to their environment. It goes on and on.

Geran

Geran was always willing to answer our many questions and you could tell that he genuinely loved his job, which of course comes through in his enthusiasm on game drives. The rangers don’t only need to have a huge depth in knowledge, but they also need to be skilled in getting along with guests, and Geran certainly did that. Over breakfast one morning, on talking to me about my work, he commented ”wow, your job sounds nearly as good as mine”. I suppose I have to agree… afterall, he does have a rather nice and spacious ‘office’!

There’s even a ‘ranger school’ at Shamwari, where would-be rangers are trained in everything they need to know in order to become successful in their chosen career. What this means is that the reserve has ‘first pickings’ of the very best rangers coming through their programme, thus cleverly ensuring a top class ranger service is maintained.

7. The vehicles

At Shamwari they use open-sided Toyota Land Cruisers adapted to hold up to 7 passengers plus the driver/ranger. No scratched windows or seating positions where you won’t get a good view and no need to worry about aircon. Furthermore, you’re in reliable transport that’s more than capable of getting over some really rough terrain.

Vehicles at Shamwari

8. The game drives

I’ve already mentioned the abilities of the rangers and the quality of the vehicles but the game drives themselves are what makes a stay at Shamwari. Such is the nature of Shamwari Game Reserve that you’ll be unlikely to ever have a drive where you won’t see something of note. The reserve is vast (25,000 hectares) with lots of varied terrain – open plains, long grasses, areas of thick bush, elevated areas offering great views… it’s all there.

Lion

We even got to sample a couple of night drives which were a new experience for us all.

9. Walking safaris

I’m told a walking safari can be a great way to experience the bush. Understandably this isn’t something that is available to children at Shamwari so we didn’t partake, but it is a service that they offer. The picture happens to be one of Geran when he briefly left the vehicle just to check on some wildlife we’d been tracking, rather than a walking safari per se.

Ranger

10. All of the Big 5

Not that it should be, but if your goal is to ‘tick off’ the Big 5 - elephant, buffalo, rhino (both black and white), lion and leopard – then at Shamwari you’ll at least be giving yourself a fighting chance since they have them all within the reserve.  We saw four of them, with leopard eluding us… the same happened the last time we went on safari in Tanzania. We don’t mind – it gives us a good reason to go again!

So here are three of the Big 5 (our sighting of buffalo was a little too distant and shrouded by bushes for a photograph to do it justice)… the close-up of the elephant is one of my favourite pictures from the trip and has been featured here.

Lion

Rhinos

Elephant close-up

11. Host of other species, large and small

Of course, it’s not all about the Big 5. There’s lots of other species to observe, large and small.

Giraffe close-up

In addition to some usual favourites such as giraffes, hippos and cheetah (none of which make up the Big 5), there are many different types of antelope. Pictured here is an nyala, but you’ll also find hartebeest, sable, kudu, waterbuck, springbok and more. Good luck in telling them apart from one another, though, espcially at distance!

Nyala

Smaller species still that we spotted included warthogs, vervet monkeys, mongoose, hare and tortoise (and before you ask… no, we didn’t see the last two racing each other!).

Tortoise

Shamwari is also home to around 250 species of bird, including raptors like the black harrier and fish eagle; also many water birds such as the darter, three-banded lapwing, malachite kingfisher and African shelduck. Chats could be seen looking for ants around the termite mounds and red-billed oxpeckers living off parasites on other animals.

Bird

12. Well-managed

Maintaining a 25,000 hectare reserve with the right balance of predators and prey can be no easy task and does need constant monitoring. The ecosystem is delicately balanced and can be effected by annual variations in climate so occasional, careful intervention is sometimes required.

The reserve has two fenced areas – one main area with predators and another without. In the latter there is a buffalo herd which is being brought up to acceptable levels before some are transferred to the main reserve. Also, at the time of our visit, there was a female cheetah that was being introduced from elsewhere and being temporarily housed at the rehabilitation centre prior to its introduction to the main reserve where there are just two cheetahs (brothers, so no chance of offspring without the introduction of the female).

Cheetah

Sadly management of the reserve has also had to incorporate stringent anti-poaching measures but an effective, highly organised anti-poaching team is in place and works around the clock to ensure the protection of the rhino at Shamwari.

Getting all of these aspects of the management just right must require meticulous attention to detail and constant monitoring.

13. Rehabilitation Centre

For the most part, they let nature run its course at Shamwari but in cases where they think intervention might help, they might adopt a different stance.  This is almost always done with a view to being able to re-introduce the animal back into the wild. This little bushbuck had been orphaned and was being hand reared - our elder son had the amazing experience of feeding him from a bottle.

Baby bushbuck

It’s here that you can also learn about the Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative. Did you know that the rhino is due to go extinct as early 2021? With no thanks to demand from China and a misguided belief that powdered rhino horn can act as a cure for cancer, rhino horn is now more valuable than gold by weight. Such is the value put on this horn that poaching has become a sophisticated operation, sometimes involving helicopter and invariably brutal means of acquring the horn.

14. Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary

At Shamwari, they look after a number of Big Cats that have been rescued from the most awful conditions, through a charity known as the Born Free Foundation. There are quite a number held here, including lions from bankrupt circuses, two from a Tenerife nightclub, and even one that used to belong to Charles Taylor, the ousted President of Liberia. Whilst some are thought to have been fed on little more than spaghetti of all things, the latter is thought to have devoured the occasional visitor to Taylor’s house, never seen to emerge from the building again. These animals are sadly not fit to be returned to the wild – and never will be – but at least they can be given infinitely better conditions for the remainder of their lives.

Rescued lion

15. Family friendly

We found Shamwari to be very accommodating for families, particularly at Riverdene Lodge. Children are thoroughly spoilt there -but in a nice way – and it’s a great privilege for children as young as 4 years old to have the opportunity to go on game drives. For younger ones still, there is a nanny service available so Mum and Dad can still enjoy the experience, but personally I’d suggest saving the experience for when your children are a little bit older as they will get so much out of the wildlife encounters.  As a result of our trip, our elder son is currently doing a school project on the plight of the rhino.

Another feature that we really liked was the child-oriented ‘spotting’ books that were provided on arrival – a comprehensive list of species to look out for in the reserve – in addition to a booklet with various puzzles to keep them entertained. These were great for keeping our children engaged, as well as educational at the same time.

16. Sundowners

What’s not to like about pulling up on a hillside with a magnificent view and a glass of wine as the sun sets on the horizon?

Sundowners at Shamwari

The views didn’t disappoint either!

Sunset

17. Spa treatments

We didn’t use the spa facilities on our visit but, if that’s something you sought, they can do beauty treatments, manicures, pedicures, massage, etc. Relaxation retreats are available at Eagles Crag Lodge, Villa Lobengula and Long Lee Manor which each have two treatment rooms. Bayethe Lodege also has a twin treatment room or guests can enjoy treatments in the privacy of their own rooms.

18. A favourable exchange rate

With the rand weak against the pound, South Africa is an attractive destination for anyone in the UK right now. A glass of house wine at Shamwari is around 25 rands – that’s about £1.40 / $2.25 at the current exchange rate.

19. Lots of other nice little extra touches

Lemonade on arrival at lodges, flannels to freshen up and hot chocolate on your return from game drives. All these lovely little extras really make you feel like your stay is important to them. We even had a surprise private lunch at a lovely spot with a view overlooking Bushmans River…

Surprise lunch spot

20. Exclusivity

This is a private game reserve so you won’t be faced with the traffic and congestion that you can get on some safaris. This can be a problem on some safaris nowadays, so much so that it can impede your viewing chances, not to mention spoil the overall experience. There’s no chance of that at Shamwari – most of the time we were out there on our own and only occasionally would we see other (Shamwari) vehicles.

Giraffe drinking

So there you have it… 20 great reasons to visit Shamwari!

Disclosure: The above formed part of a luxury trip to South Africa sponsored by Hayes & Jarvis, specialists in personalised, luxury holiday itineraries for discerning travellers to over 55 destinations worldwide.

Comments (30)

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  1. Lash says:

    Hey Paul,

    Great post…and excellent reasons to visit Shmawari!

    Thanks for filling me in on this game reserve, which I didn’t actually know about. The easy accessibility, well-educated guides, chance to see the big 5 and other animals, plus it being malaria free are all fantastic selling points.

    When I finally get to South Africa, I will definitely check this place out. Sounds awesome.

    cheers, Lash

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    It certainly is… I’m sure you will love it! :)

  3. omo says:

    Hi Paul,
    Great write up. Did the hotel rates include the game drives or were those additional? When do you think the best time to visit will be? Thanks so much

  4. Paul Johnson says:

    Hi Omo

    Thank you. And yes, the hotel rates are inclusive of game drives.

    Paul

  5. camilla says:

    Hi Paul,

    This is a great post-I’m hoping to book a couple of nights at Shamwari for January. I’m really keen to do the camping, but I’ve not been able to find many recent reviews online. Did you hear/see anything of it whilst you were there? Would be interested to know if you think it’s worth it- or whether to just book one of the lodges! It’s my first safari so want to make sure I book the right one.

    Thanks,

    Camilla

  6. Tracie Howe says:

    What a thorough post on this place! Thanks for sharing your experience. It looks like you got pretty close to some animals!

  7. Mindi says:

    Shamwari Game Reserve looks like a very special place. Also, I love all of your photos of the animals – both big and small.

  8. Paul Johnson says:

    Hi Camilla

    The Explorer Camp is a relatively new offering (opened in 2012, I think) so I don’t think you’ll find as many online reviews for that one, and it’s not one we saw first hand. That said, I have managed to unearth a couple and they are both favourable:

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g312559-d2658186-r149560080-Shamwari_Game_Reserve-Port_Elizabeth_Eastern_Cape.html

    http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g471864-d502079-r173143891-Shamwari_Game_Reserve_Lodges-Shamwari_Game_Reserve_Eastern_Cape.html

    If you’re in any doubt as to which accommodation would be best for you, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact them directly to make enquiries, or speak to Hayes & Jarvis who are trip was arranged through. Both will be more than happy to help, I’m sure.

    Have a wonderful trip and do come back and let us know how you get on!

    Paul

  9. Elena says:

    Looks like it has it all! I´m sure it is a very memorable experience for everyone who visits. You have taken some amazing shots of the animals!

  10. So many great reasons to go!!! I love the ‘quality rangers’ and the fact that it’s well managed… those are really important! Seems like a wonderful place to stay too. I’d love to experience this! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Erin says:

    You had me convinced with the last article on the accommodation. But leopards are by far my favourite and I can’t wait to see them in the world. And exclusivity sounds ideal to me.

  12. camilla says:

    Thanks for taking the trouble to find those reviews Paul. I’ve booked the camp so I will be sure to let you know how I get on with it. We may book one of the lodges for the 3rd night so will be interesting to compare the different experiences!

  13. Paul Johnson says:

    No problem, Camilla… I do hope you have as wonderful an experience as we did!

  14. anna parker says:

    Reading this, I do wonder why you would need to go anywhere else – seems to have everything! And in a new area that isn’t over-reserved, so is more like seeing the animals in the real wild!

  15. The fact that it is malaria free is a great bonus. I’ve never had a problem with anti-malaria medication but I know some people do and I’d rather not take it given the choice.
    Love the sound of the Explorer Camp, although I’m sure I’d be happy with any of the options.
    Great photos by the way. I too love your elephant close-up.

  16. What a comprehensive write-up Paul. The fact that you can be there within an hour of the airport is really remarkable, as you certainly saw lots of animals. I am one of those people who has a terrible time with anti-malaria pills, so not having to worry about that is a big plus too. Where do I sign up!? The lion yawning is a terrific shot.

  17. Miguel says:

    Wow! That sure is a paradise!

    Wish I could get to visit the place in the future as well. I feel so envious see all those photos. :)

  18. todd says:

    The reserve looks like a great experience. I love animals and go to a local drive through safari. of course this doesn’t compare to the actual place in Africa. I would really like to go someday to see the big 5, plus giraffes, zebras and all the other wildlife. The close up of the elephant is great.

  19. Paul Johnson says:

    Thank you, Todd… I think that is my favourite one from the trip. It was actually featured here:

    http://www.digitalab.co.uk/blog/2014/09/18/featured-travel-photographer-paul-johnson/

    Regards

    Paul

  20. camilla says:

    My boyfriend and I did the explorer camp at Shamwari in January and had the most incredible experience. I know there aren’t many reviews online, so I thought I’d send a quick message as an overview:

    If you want to be up close and personal with nature, this really is the real deal. Since the safari is done on foot, you are assigned one of two of the only rangers at the reserve who are qualified to take tourists on walking safaris, as a result their knowledge really is astounding. We walked within 15metres of white rhinos grazing, elephants drinking from a watering hole, hippos and even male lions. I have to admit it’s the scariest thing I’ve done, but it was a unique experience to be able to get so close and observe these animals in their natural environment. The nice thing about the camp is that the vehicle is also made use of so if a sighting is spotted elsewhere in the reserve then we were given the option to drive over and take a look. In a way, the camp was really the best of both worlds. Another benefit to being on foot is that for safety reasons other vehicles are told to stay away from areas we are trekking and we found this a big bonus. The camp itself was not luxurious but it was very comfortable and we really enjoyed the campfire in the evening and the delicious food cooked for us on site. We also did game drives on each of the nights, so for the cost compared to the lodges I think it’s excellent value for money.

  21. Paul Johnson says:

    Sounds a wonderful experience, Camilla. It (understandably) wasn’t something we could do with children with us, but must have been amazing for you. Thanks for sharing. :)

  22. Kimberly says:

    I enjoyed your informational post on Shamwari. I am considering a visit next year. Can you compare your experience with any other private reserves? I had an absolutely brilliant time at Londolozi in February, 2012. Such abundant game there, I’m wondering what the Eastern Cape is like by comparison. I am planning on treating my niece who has not yet been to Africa and I want her first experience to be as close to perfect as I can get. Thanks again.

  23. Paul Johnson says:

    Hi Kimberly

    I’m afraid my only other safari experiences have been in Tanzania (Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Manyara) so I don’t have anything really similar to Shamwari to compare with. Shamwari, being enclosed, was very different to anything we’d experienced in Tanzania, but an experience I’d thoroughly recommend. I don’t know how old your niece is but I’d say Shamwari is very kid friendly (see the post on Riverdene at http://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2014/10/09/short-stay-riverdene-lodge-shamwari-game-reserve-eastern-cape-south-africa/ ). Our boys were aged 10 and 8 when we were there.

    It would be great to hear how you get on if you do choose to go!

    Regards

    Paul

  24. Claire Ambler says:

    What a wonderful read of this blog. I can only endorse all that has been said. We spent four days at Shamwari in Logunbula Lodge for our honeymoon in 2000. The game reserve was second to none and had it all. We saw the big five, a pride of lions with their Cubs and even witnessed a hunt and a ‘kill’ from our vehicle. The animals were so close and in abundance. We laughed each morning as our Guide who incidentally was named ‘lucky’ woke us up as some unearthly hour…it was our honeymoon but well worth seeing the dawn break as we headed out into the early mist watching Kudu snd Springbok dancing around us. Our guide was fabulous, spending the evening with 4 other couples was an amazing experience, old and young. The Guides joined us on the first night and were so knowledgable. The facilities were five star luxury, it was perfect. Our children now 12 and 14 often listen to us wax lyrical about the trip which led to a even more wonderful three weeks down the Garden a Route to Capetown. My fav hotel we stayed at is Hunters Country House a Relais and Chateau hotel with sumptuous thatched cottages in the grounds, we stayed in Monkeyplum Cottage! Gosh what great memories, we plan to return Shamwari for our 20th wedding anniversary,in four years time (yikes!) Thanks for the read Paul.

  25. Kelly says:

    Great review. We stayed at Shamwari end of September 2012 as part of an extended honeymoon. We saw all of the big 5 and more and the Rangers were so knowledgeable and really went out of our way to make sure we saw everything we wanted to. The food was gorgeous and we will be going back in the future. One of the best experiences ever. UK Traveller.

  26. Chris says:

    Fantastic and accurate review. My husband and I spent 4 nights at Bayethe last November and had the most fabulous time. Very luxurious accommodation, superb food and the BEST ranger (Headman) ever!! Saw all the ‘big 5′ except Leopard despite Headman’s best efforts! He tried 100% to show us a Leopard!
    It was truly memorable and the best holiday we’ve ever had!
    DO IT………..

  27. Karen Snape says:

    Hi Paul – quick question – how old were your children on this trip? Mine are 5 and 7 and I’m wondering when I’ll be able to take them. With the Rand so good against the pound I’d like it to be soon!
    thanks

  28. Paul Johnson says:

    Hi Karen

    Our boys were 10 and 8 when we went, but there were much younger children there.

    You might find these links helpful in coming to a decision whether it’s right for your children:

    https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/kids-to-go/topics/from-what-age-do-you-take-kids-on-safari

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/is-an-african-safari-suitable-for-a-5-6-and-a-7-yr-old.cfm

    http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/19/tips-for-taking-your-kids-on-safari/

    If you do decide to go, I’d certainly say Shamwari is a great place to introduce children to a safari experience.

    Paul

  29. Karen Snape says:

    Brilliant thanks – I’m thinking next Easter so they’ll be 6 & (nearly) 8. I’ve been researching Shamwari for a client (hence finding this post) and it does look perfect for them …

  30. Paul Johnson says:

    No problem, Karen… do come back and let us know how you get on if you do decide to go! :)

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