Jonny explores the safari reserves of the Eastern Cape (South Africa) – December 2010
No holiday to South Africa would be complete without a wildlife safari, and time on safari is often the highlight of any trip. Fortunately South Africa offers some of the best game-viewing in Africa.
As part of a wider self drive tour of the Cape regions of South Africa, I re-visited the malaria free game reserves of the Eastern Cape to bring myself up to date on this area.
A self drive holiday in South Africa can easily combine the malaria free game reserves of the Eastern Cape with a visit to Cape Town, the Cape winelands and Hermanus, as well as touring along the Garden Route and into the Karoo Desert. The roads are well maintained, signposted, and relatively traffic free compared to the UK. The politeness of SA drivers in pulling over to allow you to pass always amazes me. If you are worried about driving in SA, the local car hire companies can provide SatNav units and mobile phones can be hired so you can plan your route and call ahead to your destination.
There are a wide variety of game reserves in the Eastern Cape from the large Addo Elephant National Park through to smaller private reserves like Lalibela. In general, your game viewing in the Eastern Cape will be excellent although due to the region’s recent farming history, leopard sightings are rare.
Although Shamwari Game Reserve pioneered the private game reserve concept in the Eastern Cape, my favourite safari property is the Kwandwe Reserve near Grahamstown. The guiding is top quality and being the largest reserve in the region, it does, to my mind, offer the best overall wildlife experience. The reserve has four lodges with Ecca being especially good for families. Children are also accepted at both Melton Manor and the Uplands Homestead which are booked exclusively, but not at the Great Fish River lodge.
The Addo Elephant National Park has been expanded enormously in the last 10 years to incorporate areas from the Zuurberg Mountains in the north, and to the south a corridor of forests and plains heading all the way down to the Indian Ocean coastline. With the inclusion of marine protected areas, the expansion has meant not only that the Greater Addo Park contains five of South Africa’s seven major vegetation zones (biomes) but also that it is probably the only park in the world to house elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, whale and great white shark in their natural habitats.
Throughout the Eastern Cape, most of the safari lodge accommodation is geared towards a comfortable, pampered stay. Simple, cheap accommodation is limited to a few guesthouses outside of the reserves and self-catering Restcamp accommodation within Addo itself. Whilst Kwandwe and Shamwari are amongst the more expensive reserves to visit, some other good options are less expensive. Kichaka is a relatively new lodge that offers five star standards at an affordable price, whilst Lalibela in particular offers excellent value, including family friendly accommodation. In Addo, which is understandably famous for its elephant populations, Riverbend Country Lodge is a beautiful property ideal for families with young children or for those looking for a more relaxing style of safari.
Getting off the beaten track, a safari to the incredibly scenic Samara Game Reserve in the Camdeboo Mountains of the dry Karoo provides a surprisingly rewarding contrast to the better watered and more frequented game reserves nearer the coast. Samara cannot stand alone as a big game destination (and is often combined with one of the more traditional big five reserves) but a visit is well worthwhile to experience a side to South Africa not usually seen by most visitors. The scenery is stunning and a key activity is being able to track cheetahs in the wild.
Having visited South Africa before on a number of occasions, I knew that the Eastern Cape wasn’t going to be as wild as other parts of safari Africa. However, in addition to excellent lodges, great wildlife viewing and superb safari guides, I was reminded how you just can’t beat South Africa for the diversity of its scenery – bush, beach, mountains, desert – all of which is accessible by self-drive. Add to this warm hospitality at every turn, and a culture of fantastic food and wine, and it is easy to appreciate why South Africa is considered by many as such a first class holiday destination.
For further information on South Africa holiday options please call us on 01787 888590 or contact us to speak to one of our experienced safari specialists.
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