With all the safari parks concentrated in the northeast of South Africa, Eastern Cape is not really getting its share of tourists from safari. However, that doesn’t mean the province is short of wildlife. Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth is the third largest game reserve in the country. Mount Zebra National Park near Graaf Reinet is also worth visiting. Among the parks in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari has a special place. If Oscars were given to safari parks, Shamwari would be the Meryl Streep of South Africa. Ever since its establishment in 1992, it has received many awards including Best Conservation Practice. Through the copious amounts of funds it receives, it is able to serve as a sanctuary especially for big cats harmed in zoos all around the world.
When the land was purchased in 1990, it was only 1200 hectares. Despite the financial difficulties, the owners managed to expand the park to 25000 hectares in 25 years. It was also thanks to the neighboring farms that gave up some of their lands. There are six lodges and one campsite, as well as rehabilitation centers and conference halls.
The park takes its fair share from Eastern Cape’s unique vegetation with evergreen terrain on one side and mountains on the other. There are several rivers of various lengths with a lot of waterfalls. That’s why it’s one of the few game reserves in South Africa that has sufficient water resources all year round. The longest river in the region is the Bushmen’s River that runs through the park for 27.6 km.
Shamwari traverses a variety of geological formations such as Bokkeveld shale, Witteberg quartzite, Karoo sandstone, and formations around the river beds.
A major source of the astonishing wildlife in Shamwari is the conservation efforts that helped reintroduction of carnivores into the area. Previously, the wildlife in the Eastern Cape was extremely damaged due to wars and hunting.
The park owns two important facilities that are responsible for the protection and well-being of animals.
The Born Free Big Cat sanctuary aims to rescue big cats around the world that were held captive and abused. The sanctuary takes care of the welfare of rescued lions and leopards while allowing the visitors to get a grasp and get educated about these magnificent animals. It consists of two parts: The Jean Byrd Centre that focuses on educating people and The Julie Ward Center that takes the guests on a tour to see the animals in their natural habitat.
The Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre provides the same type of service for all the other rescued animals. The wildlife conservationists talk about the rescuing process while introducing the recovering animals to the visitors. Once the recovery is complete, the animals are released into the wildlife to roam freely. Rhinos are regularly found here for protection from poaching.
Outside the rehabilitation centers, all members of the big 5 are commonly sighted. Elephant, giraffe, lion, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, hyena, white rhino, and hippo are easy to spot, while leopard, cheetah, and black rhino are more elusive.
Because of the abundance of water resources, Shamwari has become an ideal destination for birdlife. There are currently 275 species, including indigenous species like speckled mousebird and hamerkop.
Shamwari Game Reserve is awarded not only for its wildlife conservation but also for the variety of its activities.
Interactive game drives are organized twice daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. With their extensive knowledge, the rangers are ready to take the guests to the best viewing spots while educating them about the park’s geography and history. One way to customize the drive is to inform the rangers about your special requests (the animals you especially want to spot). The game drives take approximately 3-4 hours, so lunch and snacks are provided during the tours.
A safari experience can never be complete without a walk into the wild. The bush walks are led by experienced rangers who will show you animal tracks, dungs, bird sightings, and animal migrations. There is more; the rangers are often accompanied by people of San Heritage, an ethnic group facing extinction. These master trackers will give an incredible demonstration of the hunter-gatherer techniques like fire-lighting and arrow-making.
A big advantage of Shamwari is its ability to include kids in the activities, making it an ideal destination for family holidays. By involving them in safari tours, the management aims to educate young generations and encourage them to participate in conservation activities.
Children older than 4 years are able to both visit the sanctuaries and join the game drives. Those younger than 4 will be accompanied by children’s coordinator and taken to Riverdene’s adventure center for various activities from zipline to rock climbing. You can also request childminding personnel for your children so that they can be accompanied while you are enjoying the safari experience.
Eastern Cape enjoys a mild climate throughout. The winter temperature is between 7 and 22, while summer temperatures can go up to 36.
Unlike many other parks in South Africa, game viewing is not affected by the season since there is always sufficient water resources.
The closest city to Shamwari Game Reserve in Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in the country. There are several domestic flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and other cities.
Shamwari offers air or road transfers from the airport at an additional cost. The lodges have their private airstrips for the air shuttles.
For the self- driving directions to each lodge or campsite, go to shamwari.com/our-lodges
Tips & Things You Might Need To Know
Explorer camp is the closest campsite to the areas allocated to bushwalk tours. We suggest that you book your accommodation at this campsite for easy access to these tours since the other lodges are a bit far away.
Shamwari is in a malaria-free zone, eliminating the fear of getting sick from mosquito bites.
Don’t forget to check out special packages such as photographic tours and bush weddings.
Although you can drive to the parks with your own vehicle, self-driving and day drives are prohibited inside the wildlife area.
Did you know you can volunteer at the conservation center? If you want to spend your gap year, sabbatical or holiday more productively, visit www.shamwariconservationexperience.com for the application procedure.
Although the safari vehicles are open on all sides, that doesn’t mean you can leave the vehicle whenever you want. avoid approaching the animals or trying to attract them by making a noise.
The lodges and campsites in Shamwari are unfenced, so animals can go in freely as they wish. That’s why you must be careful and avoid walking around at night.