I think that our stay at Shamwari has to be something that will live forever in my mind and my heart. It was truly amazing. We flew from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and hired a driver to take us to Shamwari – around a 50 minute drive.
From the moment you arrive, the Shamwari staff make you feel utterly welcome and looked after. A welcome drink (it was very welcome after the drive) was waiting for us on arrival, whilst we completed the paper work to check into our tent lodges at Baethe Lodge. The word ‘tent lodge’ might conjure up images of camping – but this is far from the case. It’s half a tent and half a lodge, but it’s more luxurious than many hotel rooms that I’ve ever stayed in (see my review of River Manor!) and as we were let into the room, my mouth gaped open and all I could say was ‘wow’!
A huge bath, a plunge pool on the decking outside, a massive bed, fully stocked bar (all included in the cost) and an amazing outdoor shower. The décor was beautiful, just the right mix or ‘safari’ and ‘luxury’ to convince me that we were really in the heart of a game reserve. The lodges are set within the Baethe Park, where there are elephants, giraffe, impala, kudu, and other animals (no cats or rhino, don’t worry) just wandering about. They are kept back from the lodges by a fence, but you could potentially see them from your lodge, and at the watering hole by the main lodge – it’s spectacular when the elephants come to visit, we were lucky to see that.
The itinerary was for 2 safari’s a day. The first would start at 05:30 until around 9am, and the second begins at around 3pm. We were introduced to our ranger, Jacques, who was an absolute star. I believe that without him, the experience would not have been the same. He was very knowledgeable and we learnt so much, but in addition he was good company and really went the extra mile (literally) to show us the best experience that Shamwari had to offer. As there were 6 of us on the trip together, we got one truck to ourselves, and Jacques drove us around tirelessly to try to see all the animals. There is no guarantee that you will see anything, but all the truck drivers and spotters work together to try to track down the animals so that you can see them in their natural habitat.
These animals are not ‘tame’ nor are they particularly used to humans. Yes, they are used to the trucks in the vicinity, but these are still wild animals, and if an elephant decides to push your truck over, there won’t be anything you can do! The rangers are so skilled at reading the animals, that you are highly unlikely to experience that though, I just want to stress that this is the real thing, and not a petting zoo! We managed to see all the animals at the park, except the leopards (though we are still sure we saw one before he went behind a rock)! Our close encounters were so memorable and I could write pages about it, but I’ll try and keep this shorter than a novel. From our experiences of walking up close to some cheetahs (behind the ranger and his gun, just incase) to viewing 2 herds of elephants greeting each other when they met, to the lion and Rhino interaction that we stumbled upon, each experience was one of a kind.
When you return from the first safari, there will be breakfast available – with a different menu every day. Every bit of food at Baethe was outstanding, really some of the best I have ever eaten. For lunch, there is a lunch menu available, for whatever takes your fancy (if you can still eat after the huge breakfast) and then in the evening there will be either an inside meal on some nights, or an outdoor braai (BBQ). At the BBQ you can try various different meats, and they cook them up for you. It was delicious, and you certainly work up an appetite bumping around in the truck! There is also a constant flow of lovely wine and other drinks. The staff are so attentive, and anything you ask for is not too much.
We were there for 3 nights, went on 5 safari’s and loved every minute. You don’t have to go on them all, but mostly we felt there were too many potential experiences to miss. In between safari you can relax in your lodge, have a little nap in the sun, or visit the spa. The ‘stress release’ massage was had by 2 members of our family group and was exactly what we needed between safari’s, after our first 5am start! Whilst on the safari, you will stop for tea/coffee and biscuits in the morning and ‘sun-downer’ drinks in the evening. The ranger will set it all up and give you whatever you want. Watching the sun go down on the safari, with a good drink in hand is truly amazing.
There are other lodges around Shamwari, but I would specifically recommend Baethe. Jaques our ranger, and Penny the manager really made our stay special. On our last night, they organized a special campfire for us with lovely snacks and drinks. It was a complete surprise and just topped off our whole experience. It still makes me smile when I think about our time at Shamwari – and although we were paying guests it just felt so much more than that, we were a *part* of the game reserve during our stay and I truly wish that there was a better way that I could show Jaques and Penny how grateful we were. I would say it’s a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, but actually I hope that one day I get the opportunity to return!
A final few points of info:
• We were there in November, so I’m not sure what it’s like at other times in the year but bring warm clothes. You will need trousers and a warm jacket, at least, as early morning and late evening are quite cool, compounded by the wind flowing through the truck. The truck does have warm fleecy ponchos and waterproof ones should you need them (they really do think of everything at Shamwari)
• The birds and insects can be noisy, for us this was great, as waking up at 5am and hearing them is spectacular as the sun comes up. But for anyone not doing the morning safari you might want earplugs!
• Bring some money with you if you visit the Born Free sanctuary (they rescue big cats from poor lives). Otherwise, after visiting, if you don’t have cash on you to donate to the Born Free foundation you will feel like the worst person ever (this is from experience)! Not that they ask you for donations at all, it’s just something that you want to donate to, when you see the great condition the cats are in now, and the terrible backgrounds they had.
• The area that Shamwari is in does not require you to take malaria tablets. The room is also supplied with insect repellant (though we did not need it at all when on Safari).
• Support the South African Anti-Rhino poaching groups and donate when you can. A rhino died 2 days before our arrival due to the poachers taking her horn and letting her bleed to death. Thankfully the baby survived, though also without its horn. The loss of an animal due to poachers had a devastating effect on the staff at Shamwari, and so I want to raise awareness to help stop poachers depleting this species that’s already endangered.
• Bring binoculars (you can also hire them) and a camera. We had one set of binoculars, and really should have had 6, as we kept fighting over who got to scan for animal sightings!
• You are out in a huge park, with no toilets nearby, so be prepared to nip behind a bush (after the ranger checks for no animals) if you need to go!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC