Picture: Shamwari Game Reserve
As I begrudgingly washed two days’ worth of safari sand out of my eyebrows after returning from an idyllic few days at Shamwari Private Game Lodge, I couldn’t help but take a moment to ponder how lucky I felt.
In a very short space of time, I saw elephants, rhino, giraffe and warthog – just on the drive from reception to Eagles Crag. It gets better. Eagles Crag is located in a dip, and while sitting on the back of an oddly comfortable safari vehicle, I could literally feel the temperature change as we approached our accommodation, like driving through a curtain of cool mist. If this was nature’s way of perking one’s senses, it definitely worked.
We were greeted by fresh lemonade from staff that seemed genuinely happy to have us. We received our jampacked itinerary and were escorted to our rooms. It’s a good thing I was given a time limit to get back to the entrance of Eagles Crag, because I would’ve gotten lost in that room.
My jaw dropped as the lodge manager casually showed me all the bits and bobs the room had to offer – a private patio with nothing but bush surrounding it, with a heated pool and outdoor shower, an indoor shower almost as big as my kitchen, a nap-worthy bath, massive bed, and a safari goodie bag. As if that wasn’t enough, all the usual perks were there too – electric blanket, air-conditioning, and all the adorable mini freebies, plus a gown and slippers, all of which contributed greatly to me feeling like the queen of the bush.
Picture: Shamwari Game Reserve
After a serious attempt to take it all in, we were ushered back to the welcome lounge to embark on another safari. Our game ranger, Raymond Simmons, has extensive knowledge on the animals that roam the Shamwari plains, as well as the plants on which they feed. Raymond’s passion for his job was palpable, and made the game drives that much more enjoyable. If I spotted an animal he hadn’t seen, I felt like a kid in primary school waiting for my gold star. And because of this, I learnt so much.
After driving for an hour or two, we sighted something most people don’t have the privilege of seeing, at least in the wild – a large male leopard, resting in the long grass of a ravine.
This, we were told, was quite rare, and some relief was expressed by Raymond and fellow ranger Abel at finding the “big boy” – apparently he was MIA for a while.
Our group was escorted to an open patch of land in Shamwari to take in the stars and full moon while sipping on red wine and sliced biltong, crackers and other delicious nibbles, with the howl of jackals in the background.
Back at Eagles Crag, snacks and welcome drinks by a cosy fire were interrupted by the news of the untimely death of music legend Johnny Clegg. It was surreal hearing the news so far away from city life, and in a way, it hit us even harder – we were immersed in natural African splendour, a life that Johnny aspired to portray, in great detail in his songs. When you hear Spirit of the Braveheart, you think authentic, African bush. So, in honour of the icon, we raised a glass of delicious Creation Merlot while wiping away tears to toast to his legacy.
Shamwari’s new general manager of hospitality, Theo Cromhout, has a penchant for good wine, and treated us to some old and new additions. We happily obliged to be Theo’s guinea pigs, and I am proud to report that even to my somewhat limited palette, the wine paired perfectly with our meals.
On day two, after another eventful safari, we were carted off to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, a tranquil place that nurses injured, sick, abandoned or orphaned animals in need of professional care.
The entire centre is designed in a way that minimises human interaction. Peering through wooden slats and fencing, we managed to catch a glimpse of some of the patients. This is because the main aim of the rehabilitation centre is to return each animal back into the wild. It is refreshing to see such a positive initiative done in a way that does not exploit animals’ misfortunes – guests may see all orphans, or none, but the animals are not there for entertainment value. The centre is more like an outdoor neonatal or ICU ward.
A trip to the wildlife centre is meant to be a humbling experience, and to provide insight into how destructive human beings have been towards Earth. This is clearly illustrated in a haunting installation that greets visitors outside the centre. Concrete pylons with plaques showing the year certain species became extinct feels like a graveyard. Although the plaques only scratch the surface of the thousands of species that humans have murdered, it is still a sobering reminder that you are at the centre to learn, and to be as neutral and respectful to nature as possible.
The sheer scale of human destruction was subtly laid out in a presentation to the media, conducted by ecologist John O’Brien, and head veterinarian Dr Johan Joubert. From exploring South Africa’s biodiversity, with the Eastern Cape having the highest number of plants in the country, making it a thriving biome, to tracking the first instances of poaching, exploring the technical side of Shamwari’s location makes for a deeper appreciation for the area, and what goes into running a private lodge with a big heart. It also brings home the lodge’s philosophy of not interfering with animals, if it can be helped. Clearly illustrated in the enclosures recovering animals are placed in, this is also evident in the way safari drives are conducted at Shamwari.
Raymond told us that they are specifically trained not to park near the animals during sightings, and have a limit on the amount of vehicles present in a specific area of the lodge. This mutual respect between animal and human is evident in the behaviour exhibited – guests should aspire to be nothing more than a fly on the proverbial wall, and take in the magnificence that plays out before them.
When presented with the option of visiting Shamwari’s on-site spa, or going on another game drive, I opted to stay in. My luxurious room was, after all, my temporary home, and with the tight schedule we were on, one doesn’t often get a chance to walk around and take it in. I took an informed decision to stay and process the elegant beauty of the Eagles Crag design and appreciate the little details, such as the patio outside the welcome lounge that mimics the design of an eagle’s nest, and the fact that the private patios’ decks are built around the trees. The design echoes the lodge’s ethics – leave something better than you found it, be present, and respect the environment. All aspects involved in the building and subsequent upgrades to Eagles Crag indicate that so much thought went into every nail and plank of wood.
Shamwari Game Reserve 2015
Nothing is there for show – everything has a purpose, and a reason for its design.
I ended up flying back home feeling like an aspiring game ranger/architect. And although I was only at Shamwari for a few days, this place left a mark on my soul that will have me forever yearning to return
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