Out and about at the Eastern Cape’s diverse Game Reserves

BY GRAEME LUND, JESICA SLABBERT, MARC JACOBSON, DARREN JOHN, WENDY COLDREY, AMBER KITCHING, LIANDè BARNARD, - JULY 11, 2017

Smelling an elephant before the sighting itself, seeing the Milky Way as a bright winding python in the night sky, wiping your face with a warm, damp cloth after a cold, dusty game drive, a gin and tonic on a veranda in the heat of the day, the absolute quiet of a deep, dark night, a rare steak in a candle lit restaurant and rising early, on a cold morning, to wind your way through the misty bush in search of the lion you heard roaring the night before. These are my favourite things about game reserves.

The Eastern Cape has such diversity for any game enthusiast. From the world famous game reserves, managed by the South African National Parks (SANParks), to the vast wildernesses run by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA); from the rugged coastline to the deep valleys and high mountains to the many award-winning private lodges, there are few places in the world to compete with this region.

At Home Food and Travel magazine, we love to go on adventures, and visiting the privately-owned game reserves is one of our favourite activities. This month, we sent our team to discover what is on offer and in so doing, found that each game reserve we visited, had its own character and defining feature.

Pumba Private Game Reserve

Highlands, Makana Municipality; Tel 046 603 2000

By Graeme Lund, Director at Ricochet Publishing

Located off the N2, about 100km’s East of Port Elizabeth, this magical reserve is easily accessible, is home to the Big Five and offers an old-fashioned safari experience. In fact, the Water Lodge at Pumba Private Game Reserve offers all the things that I enjoy most about private game reserves.

The Water Lodge, so named because it situated on the banks of a lake that is home to hippo and a myriad of wading birds and is frequently visited by all the big game. No other lodge in the Eastern Cape offers such a vantage point for game viewing.

Each of its 12 secluded chalets, the restaurant, the bar, the lounge and the pool deck, face towards the lake and any sighting of elephant, lion, martial eagle or giraffe is greeted with excitement. I love this location and you will find me sitting at one of these viewpoints with a mug of coffee, cup of tea, frosty beer, ice cold G&T, glass of wine or tumbler of whisky, depending on the time of the day, just taking in the view.

The restaurant is excellent. The breakfast spread is a work of art, lunches are delicious and dinner superb. In the interest of good journalism, I ensured that I sampled (and ate) as much as possible and, thus, can fairly state my compliments to the chef!

Pumba Private Game Reserve is part of the Port Elizabeth Hotel Group and so hospitality is in their blood.  Expect excellent service and you won’t be disappointed.

The chalets are some of the best I have ever had the pleasure staying in. I can add one other item to my list of favourite things to do and that is taking an outdoor shower. If you have never had a hot outdoor shower, then you are missing one of life’s great pleasures and each chalet comes with a hot tub, as well as an indoor (quite unnecessary) and awesome outdoor shower.

Game viewing occurs at sunrise and again late in the afternoon. Our guide was friendly, addressed us by our names throughout, knew his stuff and loved what he did. On the evening drive, we stopped in the bush and enjoyed sundowners and snacks.

I can now happily tell my boss that on this job, all I did was eat, sleep, drink and relax and it was my pleasure to do so. Please, sir, can I do it again, and soon…

For more information: www.pumbagamereserve.co.za  

Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve

R72 Port Alfred; Tel 083 616 0605

By Darren John, owner of Wedding & Function Eastern Cape

The Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve ranks as one of my top experiences, if not the outright winner! Located midway between Port Elizabeth and East London, close to Port Alfred, Oceana is conveniently placed for an unforgettable getaway. From the moment you arrive, you feel like royalty, merely by being present at this exclusive establishment while the warm and welcoming staff make you feel at home.

What makes this game reserve unique is that it is located on the beach. There are perhaps a handful of such big game lodges in Africa - and even less, that can compete on the level of luxury to be found in this spectacular lodge.

The Luxury Suites are incredible – spacious, impeccably appointed, with private deck and panoramic views of the wildlife; beach and ocean. There are four of these and they come highly recommended. Other accommodation includes three Lodge Suites and the private house that can accommodate up to six guests.

The restaurant serves a variety of fantastic cuisine, whether it be for breakfast, luncheon or dinner. Each course is a masterpiece and each mouthful heavenly. Meals are complimented with a select wine list and a sunken bar that will help you unwind.

The Treatment Spa will free your mind of worldly cares while a game drive will rejuvenate your soul. Other facilities include a gym with the best view in the world; a cosy game room complete with a shuffleboard and pool table while a sparkling swimming pool will cool you down after a visit to the nearby beach or an afternoon’s wildlife viewing.

Oceana is an absolutely stunning place to visit that will leave you with unforgettable memories and the overwhelming desire to return!

For more information or to make a booking: www.oceanareserve.com or reservations@oceana.com

Shamwari Game Reserve

R342, Paterson; Tel 042 203 1111

Written by Amber Kitching, Digital Manager at Ricochet Publishing

Feet up, leaning back on a lounger next to the pool, impala running in the distance and a family of jackals chasing each other around the dam; this is just one of the scenes I recently experienced at Shamwari Game Reserve.

With 25 000 hectares of beautiful Eastern Cape bushveld, six luxury lodges and a seasonal, luxury explorers camp, and home to the Big Five, Shamwari Game Reserve has a safari experience to suit every need.

Each lodge has its own style, view and activities, but at each one, you will be met with smiling staff, delectable food and a unique boma where every second evening, a truly South African braai menu is served.  My friend and I were spoiled with kudu steaks, roosterbrood and homemade Amarula ice-cream that left us stuffed, but still wanting more!

Mention Shamwari anywhere around the world and people will recognise the name as belonging to a prestigious private game reserve. Shamwari was the first such game reserve in the Eastern Cape and set the benchmark for not only luxury accommodation, but also for conservation.

Shamwari is a driver of wildlife rehabilitation and hosts two Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education facilities. A visit to the Rehabilitation Centre and Born Free showed us the passion and care of the staff members. The reserve not only offers luxury safaris, but is also about giving back to nature and wildlife. 

I will visit Shamwari again in a heartbeat, assured that my stay will be truly luxurious and will contribute to the conservation and rehabilitation efforts of the reserve. 

For bookings, visit: www.shamwari.com 

Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve

Chintsa West, East London; Tel 043 734 3234

By Wendy Coldrey

From the moment we arrived at the 4-Star Inkwenkwezi Private Game Lodge, their friendly staff made sure we had an enjoyable stay.

Located in a beautiful valley just 30km outside East London, this is the region’s most northern game reserve and borders the Wild Coast. As such, it has the mildest and most pleasant winter weather.

Their luxury tented accommodation is amazing. It had all the facilities for a comfortable stay including a bar fridge, air conditioning, mosquito spray (just in case), electric blankets on comfortable beds and a stunning bathroom that felt like you were showering outside on the bushveld.

After a walk to their game viewing deck and pool area, we joined the afternoon game drive where we had many photo opportunities and spotted from buck, zebras, ostriches, giraffes, warthogs to different bird species. Thereafter, we had a chance to enter their lion enclosure – which was quite an experience.

Later, in the evening, we went for sundowners on top of the mountain and learnt about the starry night sky above. After freshening up at the tent, we were escorted to dinner where we enjoyed a delicious three-course meal next to a warm fire.

The following morning, we woke up early for an invigorating full English breakfast. We then revisited the lion enclosure and elephant sanctuary. Later, we had a three-course buffet luncheon at their Emthombeni restaurant, before leaving – we will return soon.

For more information: pgr@inkwenkwezi.co.za or www.eastlondon-info.co.za

Kuzuko Lodge

N10, Addo; Tel 042 203 1700

By Liandè Barnard, Editor of Home Food and Travel magazine

The 5-Star Kuzuko Lodge has two defining characteristics firstly, and most notably is that it rests high upon a mountain, with, arguably the best views of any game reserve in the region. Secondly, is that the lodge is part of the northern region of the Addo Elephant National Park and so the conservation and game management is of the very highest standards.

Each luxury chalet has a private veranda from which to enjoy the view across the plains and mountains of the Karoo and a busy watering-hole below. They also have en-suite bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, TV with select satellite channels and a well-stocked mini-bar among other amenities.

The chalets are either double or twin-bed and have comfortable sleeper couches for those travelling with kids under the age of 12 – who sleep and eat free of charge when sharing with an adult.

No trip would be complete without enjoying a ranger-led game drive where the Karoo landscape can be savoured while viewing a diversity of wildlife and spotting the big five. The highlights from our drive included sightings of lion, kudu, eland, springbok, warthog, buffalo and a number of birds. It ended off with drinks as a beautiful sunset disappeared beyond the Karoo plains.

After all the excitement, we tucked into a four-course dinner that was really fit for a king -making it once again clear why this establishment calls itself a ‘place of glory’.

Their Wellness Centre offers speciality massages, facials, reflexology and manicures and pedicures. Treatments can be enjoyed there, around the pool or in the privacy of your chalet and couples can also experience treatments together.

For more information: kuzuko@legacyhotels.co.za or www.kuzuko.com

Kragga Kamma Game Park

Kragga Kamma Road, Port Elizabeth; Tel 041 379 4195

By Marc Jacobson, Journalist at Ricochet Publishing

Nestled in the western outskirts of Port Elizabeth, the Kragga Kamma Game Park is the game reserve closest to an urban area - situated just six kilometres from the suburb of Kamma Park, and offers a quaint wildlife experience.

Close, but seemingly far from the city, Kragga Kamma Game Park offers luxurious self-catering accommodation. Conveniently, there are also built-up pathways intertwined between the accommodation, game viewing enclosures and the Game Park’s Bush Café.

The Bush Café offers breakfasts and lunches, and while the guests enjoy their meal, they can overlook the cheetah enclosures adjacent to the restaurant.

The varied accommodation includes lodges, cabins, chalets and safari tents.

What I loved about my stay was that I could observe various game roaming the veld from the comfort of my own balcony. Kragga Kamma Game Park is home to various African wildlife including giraffe, white rhino, buffalo, cheetah, zebra, wildebeest and warthogs, only to name a few. They also offer guided two-hour game drives, as well as a self-drive option for those who wish to navigate the reserve’s roads themselves.

I also enjoyed walking between the cheetah enclosures, as well as going on their 400-metre, treetop suspension bridge known as the Monkey Walk.

For more information or to make a booking: info@kraggakamma.co.za or visit www.kraggakamma.co.za

Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris

Greater Addo; Tel 083 283 2359

By Liandè Barnard, Editor of Home Food and Travel magazine

If you’re looking for an escape where you can relax and recharge in an environment that is remote and wild, then Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris is the place to visit.

This lodge offers the best encounters with elephants and, although not the furthest from an urban centre, it feels very remote.

The accommodation consists of canvas roofed wooden cabins that are elevated to ensure uninterrupted views of the surrounding bush. Much like that treehouse you wanted as a child, but far more luxurious with crisp, white linen, a small kitchen with a bar fridge and coffee making facilities, and - my favourite feature in the room, a fireplace. 

The deck has an outside shower, a heated spa bath, and comfy chairs for a relaxed view of the magnificent scenery. One can also spend hours unwinding next to the main lodge’s pool.

Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris recently added three self-catering rooms in what is now called the Old Oak Farmstead. The farmhouse comprises of three comfortable, farm-style bedrooms, each with its own clean en-suite bathroom, a large living area, kitchen and a spacious patio leading onto a pool and braai area.

We were treated to a sunset game drive where there were plenty of photo opportunities as we spotted zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, kudu and bushbuck, amongst others, in the unspoilt bush.

We were also introduced to the three bachelor elephants, Thaba, Mukwa and Duma, for our elephant encounter. We had so much fun getting up close and personal with these majestic animals and observing them within their natural environment.

The combination of great food, excellent accommodation, friendly service and plenty of adventure made for an unforgettable stay.

For more information: book@addoelephantlodgeandsafaris.co.za or www.addoelephantlodgeandsafaris.co.za 

Intle Private Game Lodge

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Old Loerie Road, Thornhill; Tel 041 450 0310

By Jesica Slabbert, Journalist at Ricochet Publishing

For those not wanting to stray too far from the city, the 5-Star luxury Intle Private Game Lodge, is a great choice to savour the country air surrounded by magnificent mountain and ocean views as well as wildlife that can be seen right outside your window!

On my recent visit, I was welcomed by the owners, Tracy and Eric Roelofsen, who made sure I had a comfortable stay. Situated mid-way between Jeffreys Bay and Port Elizabeth, Intle Lodge offers 11 luxury and spacious suites that cater for romantic couples, families or groups.

Spacious, contemporary and beautifully furnished with huge beds, each suite has DSTV, air-conditioning, en-suite bathrooms and other amenities as well as private patios that offer either coastal or mountain views.

This lodge is all about elegance. From the design and layout to the facilities, services and activities, Intle Lodge is gorgeous.

Dining at Intle Lodge is an experience! I was treated to a delicious three-course dinner at the Lodge’s SigNature Restaurant and a yummy breakfast the following morning. As you dig in, it’s not uncommon to look outside and see herds of wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and waterbuck grazing by.

There is lot’s to do at Intle Lodge and the surrounding Baviaanskloof area – I am going back for their scenic game drives.

For information, visit: www.intlegamelodge.com  

Contact Franchisee Liandé Barnard
Eastern Cape contact number 086 163 6845
Eastern Cape email address exec4@ricochetpublishing.co.za