Then, a group of giraffes, two of which were engaged in a tussle for dominance that looked more like a choreographed dance than a fight. And this wasn’t even an official game drive, just the short transfer from the Shamwari Private Game Reserve welcome centre to Eagle’s Crag, one of eight lodges in the reserve.
In the depths of a valley, the early sunset and immediate drop in temperature might have you wondering why a luxury lodge would be placed in such a spot, given the plethora of wide open vistas in the sprawling reserve literally stretching out as far as the eye can see. That question was quickly answered when stepping through the newly refurbished lodge, the décor bearing not a speck of the overdone safari lodge aesthetic but rather sophisticated charcoal grey walls, geometric prints, an intricate wooden chandelier and an inviting bar with a cosy fireplace. Continuing on to the wooden deck snaking around the back and dotted with enclaved seating areas including a fire pit, the real showstopper is the dramatic rocky cliff that greets you as you step outside.
Each suite, also immaculately decorated, includes a deck with a splash pool (mercifully heated for the colder months), an outdoor shower and all the creature comforts one would expect in a lodge of this standard. A thoughtful addition is the game drive pack that includes lip balm, tissues, aftersun gel and a few other bits to make your game drive experience more comfortable.
Unlike many reserves, where the sighting of big game isn’t a given, at Shamwari it’s almost a guarantee – such is the abundance of wildlife, delicately balanced and overseen by in-house ecologist, John O’Brien and wildlife vet, Dr Johan Joubert. We were fortunate to see young lions mating, a bull elephant fight, endangered brown hyenas, leopards and the aggressive, and rarely seen, black rhino.
The reserve, in general, has a hands-off approach to their wildlife and concerns itself with ensuring that the area will be better off in 100 years than it is today. This is most pronounced in their newly built Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre headed by veterinary nurse, Megan Sinclare. Caring for sick, injured, abandoned or orphaned wildlife from around the Eastern Cape and beyond, the aim is to get them back to health and into the wild again. To ensure that reintegration is a success, the centre is not an interactive experience for visitors (to avoid a “zoo situation”), hand-rearing is used sparingly and visits are limited to Shamwari guests only from a viewing deck nearby. The enclosures themselves are large enough to obscure the boundary fence and resemble the natural environment. Sightings of the animals in the rehab centre, therefore, are not a guarantee – which is a good thing.
Investing in the future
The rehab centre, the refurbishment of the lodges as well as the completion of two new lodges (Sindile and Long Lee Manor) by December 2019 is part of a US$25 million investment by the owners, Investment Corporation Dubai and is project managed by Mirage Leisure Developments. The rehab centre is also privately funded mainly by the Tread Right Foundation in Canada, as well as local and international families that care about conservation.
The palpable generosity of spirit and care towards guests, next-level service and the outstanding game viewing make Shamwari, which is within three hours of any South African city by air and a short drive, a destination worth experiencing and the jewel of the Eastern Cape.
For more details and bookings visit Shamwari Private Game Reserve’s website.