What's it like to go on a South African wildlife adventure?
Shamwari Private Game Reserve, a Big Five, malaria-free, award-winning game reserve in the Eastern Cape, was the furthest we'd go on our South African road trip before returning to Cape Town on the second part of our trip. It was also where we'd experience our first safari and bushwalk.
Staying at the Shamwari Game Reserve Long Lee Manor lodge
Shamwari Long Lee Manor room review
We'd left Plettenberg Bay after breakfast as our booking suggested we'd arrive at Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape no later than 1 p.m. so we'd be able to enjoy lunch there. On arrival, we were met by the friendly staff with some refreshing drinks. They explained all about the accommodation and our program for the next two days and assured us we could always ask for changes.
After going over some practical matters about staying at the private game reserve, we were guided to our room – one of the suites at the Long Lee Manor safari lodge. When we stepped inside, I was thrilled to start a room tour. I'm sure you can see why.
What is the accommodation like?
Long Lee Manor Lodge consists of a main building, a lunch and tea building and two separate buildings with rooms. It has a total of 10 suites and 5 luxury rooms, all fully equipped with these facilities:
- Air conditioning
- Tea and coffee making facilities
- En-suite bathroom with separate shower
- Electronic safe
- Patio or balcony
- Fitted international adaptors
- Television with selected satellite channels
- International dial telephone
- Private minibar
We had another separate toilet, a lounge area with a desk, fireplace and a bathtub. All beds at Long Lee Manor are twins that can be put together to make kingsize doubles.
What's included in the room rate?
Regardless of which lodge at Shamwari Private Game Reserve you stay in, rates include:
- your accommodation
- 3 meals per day
- 2 game drives per day
- local beverages on the game drive
- tea, coffees and water
- guided walks
- tourism levy and VAT
- visits to educational centers at Shamwari
What's not included are all other beverages (including those you have with your meal), spa treatments and doing laundry.
Housekeeping drops by to tidy the place up during the day when you're on a game drive or chilling by the pool. There's a turndown service that dims the lights and makes your room cozy for some post-dinner relaxing.
Don't be surprised to find an occasional treat alongside ample water bottles.
Meals at Shamwari private game reserve
As mentioned before, all food is included in the room rates regardless of which of the lodges you're staying at.
At Shamwari Long Lee, a large breakfast buffet is served at the main manor house and guests can order warm breakfast items from the menu. I highly recommend their French toast with banana and my boyfriend loved his pancakes.
We had lunch once at Long Lee on the terrace of the tea lounge and once at the Sarili Lodge, it was an excellent location with an amazing view of the park. We even got so lucky that a group of no less than 30 elephants headed our way while we were enjoying our salads.
Dinner is served at the manor one night and in an outdoor courtyard area the other. At the manor, dinner consists out of a more traditional three-course à-la-carte meal while the courtyard is reserved for the famous braai or barbecue of South Africa – traditional music included.
Before every afternoon drive, guests can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with a salty or sweet snack at the tea lounge.
Going on a Shamwari Safari: the private game drives
While we were at Shamwari, we ended up going on three game drives (we skipped one as we wanted some pool time too) with our ranger Alex.
“Our” ranger? Yup!
When you arrive at the Shamwari private game reserve, a ranger is assigned to you and he or she will be the one taking you on all of your game viewing excursions. Alex helped us change our program a bit, arranged our bush walk and joined us for a couple of meals.
Not only was Alex great in answering all of our questions and providing information as we drove around the park area, but we had the luck of having her all to ourselves. As we visited in low season, it wasn't that busy yet at the game reserve so we got a private jeep and ranger for our game drives.
Now, I'm all for meeting other people when I travel, but this being our first African safari, I was happy my boyfriend and I got a private experience.
On the drive
The afternoon game viewing at Shamwari takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. and the morning game viewing from 6 to 9 a.m. Needless to say, the one drive that we skipped was a morning one :D
When you arrive at Shamwari, you receive a goodie bag which includes an animal checklist and a sanitary bag and some tissues. For, you know, when you gotta go.
The rangers have nice thick blankets and fleece ponchos in their jeeps for comfort when you're cold, and bottles of water. During the afternoon viewings, a sundowner is included, but more on that later.
Let's get to the animals!
Our drives were excellent, with the first one being the best by far. The rangers are in constant communication with each other so whenever they spot an animal, they'll let each other know to help with navigation.
They never come too close and they always wait their turn so that there are never five jeeps hovering around an animal.
We saw lions, rhinos (not gonna talk about them as we don't want to give the poachers clues!), hippos, warthogs, baboons, velvet monkeys, cheetah, jackals, otters, elephants, giraffes, all kinds of antelopes, so many birds, buffalo, and zebra.
Some of the highlights:
- seeing a group of lions feasting on a fresh kill
- being held up by playful rhinos blocking the road on our way back to the lodge
- watching elephant boys fight playfully
- having warthogs over for a visit at the lodge
- witnessing one zebra chase another, spurring the whole dazzle to run along
- spotting all kinds of little ones
- peeing in the bush
Remember that sanitary kit I told you about in our goodie bag? When you go on an afternoon game drive, the driver will find a good spot to get out and enjoy a drink and a snack while watching the sunset over the reserve. It's such a fun experience… once you don't need to pee anymore. And I needed to pee so badly when we stopped the jeep.
So Alex went to find us a safe spot and as I had on skinny jeans, my boyfriend came along to help out. Yup, that's true love right there.
Peeing in the bush as a lady isn't practical and definitely not when wearing skinny jeans, so I just took them off entirely and did my thing.
Little did I know that the grass in the bush isn't nearly as soft as the grass back home so when I pulled my trousers on again, they came accompanied with all sorts of prickliness :D
Ah well, at least I was relieved.
Only a moment later another jeep drove by and I could hear Alex say “Now that's the full African safari experience” :D
Born free foundation Shamwari
On one of our excursions, we paid a visit to one of the Big Cat Rescues of the South African Born Free Foundation. The Foundation aims to “keep wildlife in the wild” by working with local communities, protecting threatened species in their natural habitats and helping people and wildlife live together without conflict.
Their first sanctuary opened 26 years ago. There are now 2 sanctuaries situated within the private reserve.
The Foundation works together with Shamwari in giving rescued lions and leopards who can't really live in the wild anymore, a home at dedicated centers within the private reserve.
At the Julie Ward Centre and the Jean Byrd Centre, guests of Shamwari can learn about the big cat's rehabilitation and conservation efforts made to protect both species.
Joining a Shamwari walking safari
On our last day at Shamwari, we had to check out at 11 a.m. This gave us ample time for one last activity. No morning game drive today but a bush walk!
Accompanied by our ranger Alex and the bush walk man who's name I'm sorry to say I forgot, we got into the jeep and headed out into the reserve.
He explained that we'd first drive for a bit to search for some animals, which we'd then try to carefully approach.
It didn't take long for us to spot something. Guess what it was? Rhinos!
Bush Walk Man let the other rangers know where we were and that we were getting out so that they wouldn't come driving by. That could put us in a dangerous situation.
How to safely spot the big 5 on foot!
We parked the car in an open field located across from the rhinos and it was explained to us what we'd do:
- We'd approach the rhinos by walking in a U-shape toward them, always with the wind blowing from them toward us so that they wouldn't be able to smell us. Rhinos don't see that well but they have an amazing sense of smell.
- We'd walk in a straight line behind each other, leaving about a meter in between one another. That way, if we'd come to face an animal, it would feel less threatened as it would only see one person. On top of that, walking in this formation gave Bush Walk Man literally free range in case an animal would make a deadly charge and he'd have to shoot it. If we were walking beside him, we could get in between the rifle and the animal.
Close encounters while walking in the African wild
As we first walked away from the rhinos and then across the field, Bush Walk Man pointed out tracks from different animals. As we turned toward them, we were all instructed to be super quiet and step on the softest bits of soil.
We first sneaked behind a bush, then in a small ditch from where we had excellent views. The next photo was taken with my (small) tele lens from about 15 meters away!
We admired them for a bit while our guide told us we were looking at a mom and her two kids. While they were first napping, they were now getting up and suddenly one of the kids turned its ears toward us.
A sign knew we were there. Not long after, the mother turned an ear as well, keeping another ear turned toward a sound coming from another direction.
A few moments later we were instructed to go back. Alex took the lead while Bush Walk Man kept an eye on the rhinos as we retreated.
What an adventure!
The close encounter had only lasted for a few moments but it was so intense. You'd think it would be the same as watching these animals up close from a jeep, but the sensation is entirely different.
And that we could experience this with rhinos without having to search much!
On our way to the jeep, we got lucky a second time. There was a group of antelope nearby and a mother had just left one of her little ones behind.
Apparently, the little ones are so vulnerable when they're born, that the moms leave lying somewhere in the grass and only go back to them to feed them until they can properly walk (and run away from things) on their own. The “idea” behind it is that predators will follow and hunt the herd and won't see the little ones in the grass.
The Shamwari Conservation Experience
Most people head to Shamwari for the private safari experience, as we did, but for those of you who are interested, I'd also like to mention the Shamwari Volunteer Experience.
Whether you're looking for a short experience or want to spend several months as a Shamwari Game Reserve Volunteer, there's plenty for you to do at the park.
Duties range from tracking and monitoring wildlife to physical tasks. You'll learn about African wildlife management and will have plenty of opportunities to interact with the local communities.
For more information, check out the Shamwari Conservation website.
Practical information for staying at the Shamwari game park
Shamwari Game Reserve lodges
Shamwari has six lodges and one Explorer Camp available, they are spread throughout the game park site:
- Shamwari Eagles Crag Lodge: Shamwari's premium lodge
- Shamwari Bayethe Lodge: a luxury tented lodge
- Shamwari Long Lee Manor: where we stayed :-)
- Shamwari Riverdene Lodge: a family-focused lodge
- Shamwari Sarili Lodge: another family- and group-friendly lodge
- Shamwari Lobengula Lodge: a smaller, more secluded lodge that can be booked in its entirety
- Shamwari Explorer Camp: a wilderness bush camp focused on guided walking safaris. Only open from October to April
All lodges are 5-star rated.
Shamwari Game Reserve rates
At the time of writing, Shamwari Game Reserve prices range from R8,300 (€413/$446) per adult per head for the cheapest room in one of the lodges in low season.
For the private lodge sleeping up to 10 people in high season it costs R96,000 (€4780/$5166). The Explorer Camp (only available from October to May) is R4,900 (€244/$263).
This might seem expensive at first, but I don't think it is if you look at what it includes. Not only do you stay in a luxury room with all your meals included and use of guest facilities but you also go on two three-hour game drives a day, a guided bush walk, a visit to Born Free Shamwari and afternoon tea.
Our stay here was one of the highlights of our trip to South Africa and I'd truly recommend it to anyone looking to do an African safari holiday and is planning to travel in the Eastern Cape.
Where in South Africa is Shamwari Game Reserve located?
Shamwari is a safari park located in the Eastern Cape near Port Elizabeth, about a one-hour drive from the city. From Cape Town to Shamwari Game Reserve it's a nine-hour drive, which is also why we planned it in as the furthest stop along our South African loop road trip.
What does “Shamwari” mean?
Shamwari means “friend” in Shona, a Bantu language linked to the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
How big is South Africa's Shamwari Private Game reserve?
The size of the Shamwari Game Reserve is impressive at 96.53 mi² or about 25,000 hectares.
Want to stay at Shamwari too?
You can! And if you do, I'd really appreciate it if you could book through here. It's my personal link for your Shamwari booking via Booking.com, my preferred hotel booking platform. If you use this link, I'll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps me keep this blog running.
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We were offered two complimentary nights at Shamwari to be able to review the place for you. No agreements were made whatsoever about the content of this post, so it's a good thing we both loved our stay :-)