So, this was my first time in South Africa and also my first safari experience. I spent the first four days exploring Cape Town. I then flew onwards with British Airways, operated by Comair to Port Elizabeth in order to continue by car to Shamwari Game Reserve. I was excited about going on a safari, but I didn’t realise how diverse and knowledgeable it could be.
I Chose Shamwari as it offered a very personal and unique experience. Shamwari is 250km and is made up of what used to be over a dozen farms. The reserve is privately managed in comparison to Kruger National Park, managed by the South African Government, Shamwari initially began by sourcing a wide range of animals and plant species that were originally native to the area and releasing them back into the wild habitat.
The reserve caters for a wide range of different markets and budgets. It consists of the explorer camp, which is effectively rural camping as well as 6 lodges varying in styles and finishes. For example Long Lee Manor offers a spa and gym facility, whereas Baythene Lodge consisted of luxury tents. I chose Riverdene Lodge as it is a farmhouse that has been renovated and restored; it provides a warm environment including 9 cosy bedrooms.
|(The infinity pool at Riverdene Lodge)|
The lodge rates included a buffet breakfast, a 3-course lunch and dinner as well as two game drives per day (This took me a while to figure out, as I did not actually realise that the food was all-inclusive until the end of the first day!). The daily agenda consisted of a game drive each morning (with a group of up to 10 people from your lodge). I received a 6.30am daily wake up call; a group breakfast starting at 7.00am and a firm departure time at 8.00am. Upon return, there was time for lunch and a couple of free hours. At 2.30pm there was afternoon tea with the group, before departing on another game drive at 3.00pm. Each game drive lasted around 3 hours and also consisted of a break halfway through for 15 minutes. This gave you the chance to embrace nature if you needed the toilet, as well as a hot beverage in the morning and a soft or alcoholic beverage in the evening.
|(Venison, main course option at dinner one night)|
|(A glass of Sauvignon Blanc as the sun went down on the first day)|
I thought I was going to be the person laughing at the bird watchers and those people clutching a pair of binoculars. Of course I had been excited to see the animals, especially ‘the big 5’ in a natural environment, and also get some away time from your average day-to-day responsibilities.
However, after just a few mere hours within the Shamwari Private Game Reserve and in the middle of my first game drive I actually started to appreciate learning about the geographical area, starting with the basics such as the different types of plant species and vegetation that grow throughout the reserve, right through to the smaller birds and reptiles that add to the biodiversity. As of then I wish I had bought a book about the native plant species in South Africa. I was also very jealous of those who had been clever enough to pack a pair of binoculars, as they were able to spot different animals and plants at such a distance.
|(Giraffe crossing a plain)|
In total, I was able to experience 15 hours in the wild, over 5 game drives. Shamwari made the experience very personal, by making sure that you have the same ranger for each drive. As I visited the reserve off-peak there was an average of 4 lodge guests in a 4x4 game vehicle each day, usually the vehicle can cater for a maximum of 10. This made the experience very personal as we were all able to bond as a group and the ranger knew which animals I wanted to see. (I really really really wanted to see an Elephant!).
|(The game drive vehicle)|
The week before had been very wet and rainy, the elephants had moved into the Northern Territory. As most game drives were focused around the southern territory where the majority of animals were located, this had made the elephants hard to track and locate. Luckily, during my time at Shamwari, the weather had begun to improve. On my second day in Shamwari and my third game drive, we were able to locate the elephants and this made me very happy.
|(Two males fighting over dominance of the group)|
I was very fortunate that it didn’t rain during my time at Shamwari. The month of June falls in the middle of the South African winter. During this season it is renown for a couple of sunny days, followed by a period of rainy days. The temperature consisted of a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius in the day and lows of 8 degrees Celsius at night. Each morning and evening was cold in the reserve, but I had prepared for this and had packed layers. During the relaxation and lunch hours, the weather was fairly warm, and I even got a slight tan! The weather in my eyes was ideal, as it was unusually dry and warm for the 4 days that I was there (luckily it did not rain at all) Due to the unseasonable weather, the animals were able to roam and were viewable on game drives, compared to when it is either too cold during winter or hot in the South African summer months that the animals hide in the thickets and rest. It also meant that the lodge was not overcrowded and added to the relaxed feelings that I embraced.
|(A lioness approaching the game car)|
I now think that a safari experience is more than just seeing animals in a natural environment. I found it interesting to learn about the biodiversity of the reserve and how this affects animals and plants. For example, the Vachellia / Acacia Tortilis is found in the thickets of Shamwari, although the plant has large thorns, both elephants giraffe and many other game animals feed on it. The plant wants animals to feed on it, however it does not want to be overly grazed on. Therefore, when the plant is feeling vulnerable it will change how it tastes and therefore it stops appealing to the animals. This results in the animals not wanting to eat from that particular plant. This then gives the plant a chance to adapt and increase growth.
|(Vachellia / Acacia Tortilis - courtesy of Google Images)|
Shamwari was everything it appears to be, advertises itself as and more. I would definitely go on another safari, but I would like to go to other destinations such as Kenya and Botswana and other safari offerings in South Africa, such as Kruger National Park beforehand, in order to give a comparison. I feel that if I were a yearly repeat visitor to Shamwari you would not appreciate the wildlife and terrain that is offered.