When you think about an African safari, what images come to mind? Do you see a herd of majestic elephants sauntering amid the frolicking impala? Do you see a pack of playful lions rolling around in wispy grass batting pesky insects away from their faces?
Or do you picture your hair blowing in the breeze as you ride in an open-air vehicle? No matter what your imagination can conjure, I guarantee that once you visit South Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve, your experience will exceed and surpass all of your expectations.
Despite having been on safari in several different countries, I can say without a doubt that the best by far was my experience at Shamwari.
Shamwari Game Reserve FAQ
Where is Shamwari?
HOW TO USE THIS MAP: Above you’ll find a map of our highlights of the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. Click on the top left of the map to find separate layers marking the route and points of interest. You can hide and show different layers, or click icons on the map to see the names of places we mention in this travel guide. “Star” the map to save it to your own Google Maps, or open the map in a new window for a larger version.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve is over 50,000 acres and is located in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Situated along the Bushman’s River, you’ll find it halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.
Port Elizabeth is the closest city to the Shamwari Game Reserve. Roughly 47 miles away, it sits at the east end of the world-renowned Garden Route. It is the perfect location to either begin or end a vacation.
If you are trying to come up with a South African itinerary I would suggest that you fly into Cape Town and take two weeks to explore the Garden Route.
Once you arrive in Port Elizabeth, you can then carry on to Shamwari and end your trip with a bang. The highway from Port Elizabeth is well-marked and easy to drive.
I didn’t hire a car during my time in South Africa. To reach Shamwari I booked a transfer with them directly. They took me there and back from Port Elizabeth at a minimal fee.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
The climate in the Eastern Cape varies depending on what season you visit and where you go.
During the low season, which runs from June to August, temperatures range from around 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 72. In the high season, which runs from October to March, summer temperatures are higher from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 95.
My visit took place during the high season and I enjoyed comfortable, yet sometimes hot, temps during my visit.
History of the Shamwari Private Game Reserve
Shamwari’s history is incredibly interesting. The vast land that we see today has undergone a series of major face-lifts over the years.
It is through incredible conservation efforts that the lands are back to what once existed hundreds of years ago. Well-documented reports describe this part of the Eastern Cape as one of the richest wildlife zones in Africa.
It was home to the ‘big five’ and a place where wildlife roamed the land freely. By the mid-1800s settlers had taken over. They wiped out most of the game and cleared the land to create pastures for cattle, goats, and sheep.
Because of overgrazing, the soil eventually lost most of its nutrition. By 1990 the area had become a dry lifeless patch of land.
A Man With A Vision
In 1990, a businessman named Adrian Gardiner bought 3000-acres for a weekend home for himself and his family. Around that same time, a major drought forced many farmers in the area to sell their land.
Adrian bought more land and soon owned a whopping 17,000 acres. With it, a vision to return the land to what it once was.
The Shamwari Game Reserve was founded in 1992. Massive conservation efforts were put in place to replenish the land and reintroduce native species.
Emerging from the Dust
By 2002 Shamwari Private Game Reserve was ready to open to the public. Starting from humble beginnings, Shamwari started with just 7 staff.
Over time Adrian’s vision became reality. Not only was Shamwari successfully tackling conservation, but it was positively impacting the local community by creating jobs and boosting the economy with tourism.
Since its opening, 14 different farms have been consolidated, fences have been removed and roads have been closed. The land has been rehabilitated, re-seeded with indigenous grasses, and more than 5,000 head of game have been reintroduced.
Today Shamwari Private Game Reserve consists of 7 luxury lodges and 1 explorer camp. Along with two separate rehabilitation facilities, the reserve employs over 325 local staff.
A Focus on Conservation
When you stay at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve, you are participating in its unique conservation projects. It should be no surprise that Shamwari’s Wildlife Department is truly cutting edge.
The ethos of its wildlife management states that they abide by responsible conservation to ensure sustainability. This means financially, ecologically as well as socially.
Their Wildlife Department has received many coveted awards such as the Global Nature Fund Award for Best Conservation Practice. Their wildlife manager, Dr. Johan Joubert, has been voted as one of South Africa’s Top Ten Conservationists.
Top Shamwari Game Reserve Experiences
Safari Game Drives
When you book a stay at any of the lodges in the Shamwari group, you can expect that your stay is inclusive of several safari game drives.
The game drives average around 2 hours and sometimes longer if you’re having a really unique sighting.
The overland safari vehicles used at Shamwari are top of the line. You are seated two per row with a maximum of 6 guests in the back. Each row is raised a little bit higher so you can get the best vantage point while on your drive.
The vehicle is also stocked with fleece ponchos and woolly blankets as the early mornings and late evenings can get a bit chilly.
What makes Shamwari so unique for game drives is that it boasts 5 different biospheres. It is now so rich in vegetation that it is suitable for a wide variety of animals, and plant species.
The large numbers of hoofed mammals sustain a healthy population of big cats including lions, cheetah, and leopards. The thriving grasslands support the endangered white rhino and the subtropical thicket is ideal for the elephant and black rhino.
Hippopotamus thrive in the river habitat. The recently reintroduced red-billed ox-pecker is now a common site on giraffes, rhinos, and buffalo.
Visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Shamwari’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is one of the top wild animal rehabilitation centers in the country.
Under the expert care of Dr. Johan Joubert, the center focuses on rehabilitating animals. They do this without habituating them to humans so they can be successfully released back into their natural habitat.
Animals come into care for various reasons; some may be sick, injured, or abandoned but the most heart-wrenching reason is the result of poaching.
An adult rhino is poached for its horn, leaving the baby alone and vulnerable. It is absolutely sickening that countries still see a need in using the rhino horn for traditional healing. The horn itself is only made of keratin – the exact material of human hair and nails.
In recent times the Shamwari team has specialized in raising orphaned rhinos. Despite the horrendous ordeals, Shamwari has successfully raised and released several healthy rhinos back into safe environments.
Education and awareness play an important role in Shamwari’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Guests can visit the center during their stay and learn about the groundbreaking work that happens.
I found my tour of the center extremely informative. Although the animals are kept away from human contact, it was encouraging to see the variety of species being cared for by this facility.
Volunteer Experiences – Short Term or Long Term
With a minimum commitment of a two-week stay, Shamwari takes its volunteers behind the scenes and exposes them to the daily activities involved in conservation management.
Tasks may vary from physical work to interactive lecture-based learning. Several monitoring projects capture vital information used in the research and management of the species on the reserve. Other tasks involve both the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary.
Veterinary Work Experience Courses
With Shamwari’s expertise in the reintroduction and management of wildlife, the specialized veterinary team offers veterinary science and nursing students an incredibly unique opportunity.
They offer veterinary courses and experiences for both local and international veterinary and nursing students. They have developed a hands-on program that gives its participants practical experience as well as lectures and interactive lessons.
Specialized Group Experiences
Over the years Shamwari has also facilitated several tailor-made group experiences for schools, universities, and colleges. The aim is to make programs that run for about 2-3 weeks with specific educational and experiential outcomes.
Examples of program topics include learning to identify wildlife tracks and signs, basic bush-craft survival, animal management, and team building.
Visit the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary
Born Free is a UK-based organization that has sanctuaries for different species all over the world. It is a leading wildlife charity that fights the exploitation of wild animals in captivity.
Shamwari is partnered with Born Free and operates two big cat sanctuaries within the Game Reserve. These sanctuaries were opened in 1996 and 2006. You will be able to visit the sanctuaries which are now home to several rescued lions and leopards.
The cats came to Shamwari from varying circumstances that were all inhumane and abusive. Some came from zoos, others from circuses, and some were even kept as pets.
The cats brought into Born Free are unable to be released into the wild. They were never taught the skills to survive. At the sanctuary, however, they are given enough space to run freely until the end of their lives.
Shamwari’s Community Projects
As Shamwari’s core values focus on sustainability in all areas, it is difficult to narrow down how they give back to the community.
It is incredibly encouraging to know that Shamwari holds sustainable tourism in such high regard. It is humbling to know that my visit has helped improve the life of someone in the local community.
The majority of Shamwari’s staff come from the surrounding communities of both Paterson and Alicedale. They try to empower and educate their staff so that the community as a whole will benefit.
Supporting the children of the community is also really important to Shamwari. One such place is the Khanya Care Center in Paterson. The center was started as a haven for children who were living on the street and suffering from abuse, poverty, and lack of a family structure.
Exclusive Walking Safaris
Professionally guided walking safaris are a unique way to experience the African land. They offer a different perspective of the animals you may come across as well as the indigenous flora and fauna.
Walking safaris however are restricted to ages 16 to 65. Bird-watching is another popular experience on the reserve. Home to several bodies of water, Shamwari is the perfect place to observe the 275 different bird species that frequent the reserve.
The 8 Shamwari Lodges
Sindile is Shamwari’s newest lodge and was just built in 2019. It consists of one main lodge and 9 luxury tents for guests to stay in.
The main lodge has a beautiful dining area with an outdoor patio. This allows you to take in the panoramic view while you enjoy your meal.
There is also a bar, a curio shop, and an outdoor fire pit with another spectacular view. Being at Sindile is like being perched atop the trees so you can be at one with nature.
Glamping At It’s Finest
The tents are elevated and strategically placed on the edge of the Bushman’s River. You have no obstruction to the spectacular view. Although Shamwari calls these rooms tents, by no means does it feel like you are roughing it.
The beauty of Sindile is that the structure itself makes you feel like you are staying in a canvas tent while still giving you the luxuries of a 5-star hotel.
The room is decorated with original African artifacts and is stocked with western essentials. This includes Wifi, air conditioning, and a private mini bar, to name a few. There is an indoor fireplace and an en-suite bathroom that features an outdoor shower.
To make the rooms even more spectacular, each one has its own private heated pool. The only restriction that this lodge has is that it doesn’t allow children under 16 to stay here.
Eagle’s Crag is a magnificent lodge that is tucked in among lush vegetation and high rocky cliffs. Because of its unique location at the bottom of the crag, the rooms feel incredibly private and secluded.
Each room resembles a traditional African hut and is made of thatch, stone, and glass. Renovated in 2018, the rooms are furnished with sophistication and offer amazing windows that face the crag.
The private deck is absolutely gorgeous and each room has its own private heated plunge pool. The only restriction that this lodge has is that it doesn’t allow children under 12 to stay here.
Along with the 9 guest rooms, Eagle’s Crag has an enormous main lodge in which guests can use. There is a games room offering a pool table, fireplace, and a big-screen TV. A relaxation retreat offers a steam room and a sauna, a fitness center, and a curio shop.
The magnificent dining room offers unique boma-like booths as well as a gorgeous bar with a fireplace. The lodge’s upper deck is stunning with aerial viewing pods that provide a panoramic view of the surrounding rock faces. It truly is an oasis and is the perfect location for bird watching.
Riverdene Lodge is a one-of-a-kind facility where children have so much to keep them busy. Being a family-friendly lodge, there is a warmth about Riverdene that makes you feel like you are at home.
Riverdene’s main lodge combines luxury with comfort. It overlooks the bushveld and was recently renovated in 2018. There is a beautiful bar and lounge with indoor and outdoor dining facilities that open up to a barbecue area.
Riverdene also has a curio shop and swimming pool that is equipped with a shallow area for children. It sleeps 18 guests in total and each suite consists of two rooms that are connected.
Kids on Safari Program
Upon arrival, parents can register their children for the Kids on Safari Adventure Center. Children will have access to both indoor and outdoor activities during their stay.
Indoor activities include crafts and games while outdoor activities are an adventure in itself. The outdoor center is equipped with zip-lines, rock climbing walls, adventure slides, and a network of tree-houses with suspended walkways.
Shamwari has developed a Kids on Safari program where children can take part in the safari with the rest of the family. They will also be educated in conservation practices.
For obvious reasons, children under the age of 4 are not permitted on the actual game drives. Riverdene offers childminding services with trained staff so you can enjoy your game drive without worry.
Long Lee Manor
Long Lee Manor is Shamwari’s original lodge and was designed from an original Edwardian farm mansion built in 1910. The manor house has been beautifully restored and its extravagance is undeniable.
It is absolutely breathtaking and when you reach the outdoor dining area you are met with the most gorgeous infinity pool that looks onto a watering hole full of wildlife.
There are also traditional-style boma huts with dining areas that give you sweeping views of the Bushman’s River Valley. Newly renovated in 2019, the manor also provides its guests with a relaxation retreat, a fitness center, a gift boutique, and gardens.
Long Lee Manor accommodates up to 38 guests with a variety of elegant rooms. It is truly an incredible lodge as it takes you back in time with its rich history while boasting its historic opulence.
Bayethe Tented Lodge
Bayethe comes from the African greeting and direct translation of ‘I salute you’. It is one of the warmest ways to welcome and with that theme, this lodge has that very same essence.
Each luxury tent immerses you in nature but also gives you the comforts of a five-star hotel. They are surrounded by lush vegetation near a river that offers unique opportunities to come in contact with animals.
Giving you a more rustic feel from its other tented lodge at Sindile, it still epitomizes tranquility with comfort.
Bayethe consists of 12 luxury tents. Each offers an indoor fireplace, air conditioning, an en-suite bathroom, an outdoor shower as well as a private plunge pool. Its only restriction is that it does not allow children under 12 to stay at this lodge.
The main lodge is stunning with a quaint cabin-like vibe. There is also the most beautiful deck with both indoor and outdoor dining areas, a bush relaxation retreat, a lounge area as well as a curio shop.
With the theme of this lodge designed to resemble traditional African huts, Lobengula consists of 6 stunning junior suites. The suites are strategically situated around an exquisite thatched main lodge, as well as a beautiful pool and a poolside relaxation bar.
The layout of this lodge leaves you feeling like you are in a traditional African village and although it is unique in character, it is in no way lacking in luxury.
The junior suites are beautifully decorated with touches of sandstone and granite. All of the suites contain a private deck or plunge pool.
Although they each have their own en-suite bathroom with both a bath and shower, they also each boast a private outdoor shower that looks onto the surrounding nature. This lodge is also restricted as you have to be over 12 years of age to stay here.
Lobengula also has a fitness center, a sauna as well as a first-class spa. The Lobengula spa is an oasis where trained professionals are there to pamper you with various treatments.
This beautiful lodge is more than a place to lay your head and you will leave feeling like you have had an amazing African experience.
Sarili Private Lodge
Sarili is different from the rest of the lodges in Shamwari in that it offers the entire lodge as a private booking. It takes up to a maximum of 10 guests and you have to book a minimum of 2 nights.
When you book Sarili Private Lodge, every aspect of your stay can be tailor-made to suit your group’s needs. There will be personal staff, including the house manager, private chef, and ranger, to make your stay as memorable as possible.
You can personalize your game drives, bush walks, and visits to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Born Free Sanctuary. As well, you can have in-house spa treatments at your request.
The lodge itself is set in a stunning location where you can look out at the Bushman’s River below and with luck watch the hippos frolic in the water. It is surrounded by African wilderness but decked out in five-star comfort.
There are 5 private rooms within the lodge. Each has its own en-suite bathroom with a bath and shower, underfloor heating in the bathroom, as well as a private patio or balcony.
Shamwari’s Explorer Camp is a one-of-a-kind experience that puts camping on a whole different level. The camp operates from October to May and is available to guests ages 16-65.
Although this camp is more basic than any of its other lodges, it truly is what we now know as the term ‘glamping. The camp is discreetly fenced in for safety reasons but is set upon a plateau among the only basalt and granite extrusions on the reserve.
Included in your stay at the camp is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a guided walking safari with one of the highly skilled rangers.
What is a Typical Shamwari Experience Like?
My weekend at the Shamwari Private Game Reserve was like stepping into a dream. Met with incredible and devoted staff, my friend and I were treated like queens.
I have never been anywhere in my life where every minute was taken into consideration and delivered with 5-star expertise.
From the moment we arrived until the minute we left, my expectations were absolutely blown out of the water.
My stay consisted of three days and two nights. I could have easily stayed for much longer so I definitely suggest this length as a bare minimum.
Day 1 – Afternoon Arrival at Shamwari
We arrived at the Welcome Lodge just at the edge of the reserve at approximately 1 pm. We were greeted with kindness and quickly swept away on a safari vehicle to our chosen five-star lodge.
Upon arriving at the lodge, we were greeted with friendly staff who served us freshly squeezed lemonade. We were given a tour of the main lodge and taken to the most spectacular room with a view.
A welcome package awaited us that included locally sourced high-end products like sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and after-sun. We also enjoyed delicious snacks like caramel popcorn, biltong, and nuts.
At this point, you could have left me there. I was on cloud nine, however, the experience only got better.
No Issues with Dietary Needs
Lunch awaited us and for both my friend and me, who have dietary restrictions, this part is often a challenge.
There was no need to worry though as the kitchen staff was fully aware of all of our dietary limitations. They were more than willing to turn the kitchen upside down to make a meal that satisfied our every need.
Curious, I spent some time chatting with one of the chefs. He told me about the rigorous selection process of becoming a Shamwari chef.
Obviously, an impressive resume first has to be screened to be selected to prepare meals for the selection committee. Once selected he described the process as being on a reality cooking show.
It is intense and highly competitive, however, the outcome is having the most incredible talent working in the kitchen.
Game Drives, Lions & Rhinos, Oh my!
After lunch, we were met by our ranger at 4 pm where we embarked on our first game drive. Shamwari likes to assign the same ranger for your entire stay. This allows you to build a relationship and get the best first-hand knowledge without duplication of information.
For three full hours, we were on the chase to see the most amazing animals that Africa can offer. The reserve is so massive and allows for your game drive to look very different depending on where your ranger takes you.
From the grassy plains to mountainous pinnacles, even if you did not see any animals during the entire drive you would still be impressed with how beautiful the land is.
Of course, this was definitely not the case as we were given a wide range of animals to watch. I was absolutely speechless when we came across two lionesses with their cubs.
Watching the lions play is surreal as they clearly have the mannerisms of a domestic cat. Just with a lot more power and size.
At one point we watched a white rhino approach the group of youngsters. Just like a domestic cat ready to pounce on a toy, so too did one of the young lions.
With his ears down and his behind wriggling, he had no idea that he was too small to ever compete with a full-grown rhino.
Sundowners With A View & the Special Touches
As the sun started to set our ranger took us to a beautiful look-out point. We stopped the vehicle and he prepared some snacks and drinks. From alcoholic beverages to soda, the vehicle was stocked with anything you could want. It was the perfect way to end a beautiful day.
After dark, we headed back to the lodge where we enjoyed the most delicious Nutella hot chocolate and warm towelettes.
Following dinner, we returned to our room to find our bed turned down. A note on our bed delivered the forecast for the next day.
Day 2 – A Full Day of Safari Adventure
Saturday at 5 am we were given a wake-up call by our ranger. We were offered early morning refreshments in the main lodge and snacks to take on our morning game drive.
By 6 am it was time to get back into the vehicle to search for more amazing animals. We again were able to see so much and for 2 hours were given a highly entertaining spectacle.
At 8 am we were given the option to visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for a comprehensive tour. We also observed a few of the animals that are currently being rehabilitated for release.
By 9 am we were back at the lodge enjoying hot apple tea and a warm towelette.
Mid-Morning Breakfast Buffets
After freshening up we came back to the lodge for breakfast. This would be a massive table filled with a buffet-style of goodies as far as the eye could see.
It truly had everything you could think of – fresh berries, yogurt, cereal, meats, cheeses, and pastries. There is no way you could go hungry. As I sat down to eat, I realized that there was also a menu with more food to choose from. As I said earlier, you will not go hungry at Shamwari.
Afternoon Relaxation & Evening Game Drive
During the afternoon we were able to relax and enjoy the luxuries of our room. We had our own private pool and of course the most spectacular views to take it all in from. Lunch was also served and we enjoyed downtime before another game drive at 4 pm.
Like the previous night, we were given a live show of wildlife. Elephant, giraffe, buffalo, kudu, ostrich, hippo, leopard, cheetah…the list is endless and the cast was extraordinary.
Day 3 – Game Drives, Conservation & Farewell
Our last morning started the same with early morning refreshments and then the 6 am game drive. The highlight for me was following a pair of cheetah as they marked their territory and spied on a group of zebras.
I could have sat and watched them all day but at 8 am we were due to visit the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary.
We were given a tour and taken to visit all the big cats that reside there. There is no human contact with the animals. Each enclosure has a raised platform where you can watch the animals go about their day.
I was so touched by a pair of lions that both came to Shamwari from unfathomable situations in France. They came up to our platform and peacefully greeted us as we took their photos.
These amazing creatures are now living their happiest life after having to endure such brutal existences.
We returned to the lodge for another amazing breakfast then relaxed in our rooms. We took one last swim in our private pool before packing our bags and checking out.
Even as you leave, Shamwari is feeding you. They sent us away with homemade granola bars, each wrapped in cute packaging wishing us farewell in all 11 South African languages.
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