Luxury game reserve Shamwari soothes the soul
In the Eastern Cape, only an hour from Port Elizabeth, is a destination for the ultimate escape. Shamwari Game Reserve, with its different lodges, offers a luxurious and invigorating break from the concrete jungle.
When we arrived I was stressed out. But the tempo immediately dropped a few notches, and the relaxation factor rose. At reception we were greeted by two big smiles and immediately served a welcome drink as our bags and vehicle were seen to.
Shamwari has several five-star luxury lodges, but our home for the weekend was the more modest Explorer Camp. Nestled against a granite koppie, the lodge gives guests the chance to reconnect with nature without the distractions of the 21st century.
Here, with little more than a tent, a comfortable bed and an outdoor shower and toilet, thoughts settle on the more subtle but important aspects of life.The flora, fauna and night sounds remind us that we are not alone on this planet, while the expanse of stars overhead give perspective of how small we are in time and space.
The camp's simplicity doesn't neglect comfort and care.The food is fit for a king. There is no electricity and everything is cooked on the fire, but you won't miss out. Expect a full
Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape offers a luxurious escape from the fast-paced life, bringing you eyeto-eye with Africa’s magnificent
breakfast cooked by the camp chef every morning, as well as a vast array of tender meat, perfectly cooked vegetables and delicious salads for lunch and supper.
Add to that the dedicated attention and care of the rangers and the camp strikes a wonderful balance between luxury and simplicity.And don't worry: there is a solar plug available for you to charge your phone, if you must.
Up close to elephants
A large part of the day plays out away from the camp, in the serious business of game viewing. Equipped with binoculars and walking shoes, we would set off each morning and evening with the rangers in the open-air game viewing vehicle.
Here the wonder of the park becomes apparent. As you drop down from the escarpment through the wooded slopes the plains open up, with their abundant animals of all shapes and sizes.
The park hosts a variety of game, including the big five, but it is also a great place for bird watching.
The diversity of biomes - woodlands, grassland and water bodies - means the park hosts an assortment of species, from bee eaters to barbets. Our ranger was an expert bird guide, able to identify the species from the faintest glimpse or even a snatch of birdsong.
Our first evening game drive was a wonder, with up-close sitings of elephant and both black and white rhino. The magnitude and power of these animals cannot be appreciated from photographs. The animals of Shamwari are used to game-viewing vehicles.You can get so near them even the rumbling and breathing of the elephants is audible.
The low-lying regions of the park are full of antelope, including water buck and majestic kudu and eland. Milling herds of springbok, zebra and impala form a constant backdrop.
After thoroughly enjoying the birds, the browsers and the grazers of the park, our rangers decided it was time to seek out the big cats. After a scout of the southern reaches of the park from an elevated koppie, we set off for a region of the park where a male cheetah had been spotted a few days before.
Studying the spoor and the demeanour of a westward-facing herd of giraffe, we searched high and low. Just when we were losing hope, the sharp eyes of our ranger spotted the camouflaged outline of the cheetah. With a fantastic view, we watched the cheetah soak up the sunset, its proud head held high above the deep red earth.
The spectacular evening siting of the cheetah was followed by a morning view of a pair of lions.The lioness, blood-stained from a meal during the night, lay about one hundred metres off.The male, his breath visible in the cold air, roared to his companion.
We were in the relative safety of the vehicle, but the roar still gave
us a nerve-chilling, bone-penetrating shiver. Maybe it's the history of this magnificent animal, and a somewhat dulled memory of when we too, were considered prey.
Walking with animals
With all the food and game drives, we felt we needed to stretch our legs on a game walk. Parking the game vehicle in a bushy area near the Bushman's River, we set off with our two armed guides – stealthily and steadily.
The game, normally relaxed around the game-viewing vehicle, are more edgy when they see people on foot. It wasn't long before a partnership of kudu and baboons were barking at us, sounding the warning call. On foot we were considerably more vulnerable.The game we so nonchalantly watch in the game vehicles become a threat that can't be ignored.
The rangers, always aware of the direction of the wind, kept one eye on the spoor and one on the surroundings. While initially considering an approach of a white rhino in the area, the swirling wind and proximity of a pair of lions meant we completed a loop and instead returned to the protection of the vehicle. Feeling a little safer, and with our legs well worked, we continued with our game viewing.
Eyes on the stars
A highlight of a getaway on safari in Africa is a magnificent sunset. Here, at the closing of the day, you really appreciate the wonder of nature. With a sun-downer in hand and an unparalleled view, the events of the day coalesce to bring on a deep sense of wonder and contentment.
The evening passes quickly, as the rumbling return of the game vehicle is replaced by the crackling of the bonfire. After a tranquil dinner to the background music of the night life, you are rested and ready for bed. But there is one more activity not to be missed.
The deck above the camp is the place to look up and view the stars. The rangers, who have told you about every plant and animal, now become astronomers as they point out the various planets and constellations. This was the first time I was able to observe Jupiter's moons, and the constellation of Canis Major - the Big Dog.As Beau Taplin wrote: “Night air, good conversation, and a sky full of stars can heal almost any wound.”
Shamwari offers a great escape from the fast-paced life, and brings you eye-to-eye with nature.The city has blotted out the stars and chased out the animals, and we are the poorer for it. For the ultimate escape, we must seek out the places that preserve the ancient ways of nature. Here we can gain perspective and unwind, away from the hustle and bustle.