Travel

Public Sector Manager - - Contents - Writer: Dale Barrow Im­ages: Lau­ren Barrow

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

wildlife.

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.

Big Cats

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.

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