This post was originally from March 2, 2020
This past weekend has been one of the most magical weekends of my life. Where do I even start?
As some of you may know, last year I started working with Lena & David from the Divergent Travelers. They have a really successful blog and I’ve been able to work with them, writing a few articles here and there. Before we left for this trip Lena contacted some private game reserves outside of Port Elizabeth on my behalf. She pitched having me go to one of them in return for an article and social media exposure. We hadn’t heard back before we left, but during this past week Lena got a response, and on Friday Kris and I were being picked up by a very official man wearing a suit.
This isn’t just any game reserve – it’s a private luxury one! It’s called Shamwari Private Game Reserve and it’s so exclusive that one night can be up to $2500 per person!!! Having this opportunity made me pee my pants a little. When I told locals which reserve we would be going to, they gasped as this is where the celebrities usually go. Needless to say Kris and I have been beside ourselves.
We were both a little worried because neither of us has packed nice clothes. My fanciest outfit consists of elastic-waisted jeans and a grubby T-shirt! But having spent the last week in a house full of 25 youngsters, Kris and I were thrilled at the idea of getting out of the frat house as we call it, and sleeping in a real bed. (My bed in the frat house has 3 legs so it wobbles quite nicely)
Once we arrived we were treated like royalty. I have never in my life had the service like we did there. Every minute detail was accounted for and each staff member went out of their way to make us feel like a million bucks. You could see that each staff member was passionate about whatever area they worked in and it made our experience out of this world!!!!
A little about the reserve … Shamwari is massive – the land is 27000 hectares! They focus on conservation and biodiversity. Historically the area was rich in wildlife but became completely decimated by hunters and settlers, becoming a lifeless dustbowl. Over the past 20 years they were able to revive the land and reintroduce wildlife – turning it into a thriving example of conservation.
There are 7 different lodges on the site. Each lodge has a different look – a different personality with its own character. Over the course of our 2 night stay we were given a tour of each of lodge. One was more colonial, another more rustic (in a luxurious way of course) and one that caters to children with its own outdoor jungle gym complete with a zip line! Guests have so many options to find the lodge that suits them best. The lodges are also very far from each other, so as we drove between lodges we were dazzled by our own personal game drives complete with amazing wildlife sightings.
We stayed at 2 different lodges. Our first was called Sindhile – meaning survivor in Swahilili. There used to be a leopard in this territory that fought off many of its rivals. It became the dominant cat in the area for many years and thus they named it Sindhile. After it’s death they wanted to dedicate the area to this cat, which is why when they built this lodge at the end of 2019 they proudly named it Sindhile.
Sindhile was just built so it has all the new bells and whistles. It’s concept is based on a tent but inside I’ve never seen anything more luxurious. We had our own heated pool, indoor and outdoor shower, a bathtub that opened up so you could be outside, the largest most comfortable bed, the bar area had the most delicious cookies and everything imaginable right down to a lime for your drinks. There was a care package on the bed full of anything you might need on your safari – sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, after sun – all in glass containers from a high end company. At night they do turn down service and give you night cream and a card with the weather for the next day. The decor was to die for and the entire side of the tent was floor to ceiling windows which you could open up with the most spectacular view of the vista. Truly my words can’t do it justice. It was truly zen and I can’t even imagine a place more beautiful!
The second night we stayed at Eagles Crag. This one had more of a tree house feel in the main dining area and the rooms were once again as luxurious as ever.
In total we were able to do 4 different game drives. They lasted approximately 4 hours each time and our rangers were out of this world. They are the most top notch rangers with the most experience and an insane amount of knowledge. At sundown we would stop for snacks and drinks where our ranger prepared quite the spread.
Speaking of spread … the food! I have never seen so much high quality food in all my life. The cooks would come out of the kitchen to meet us and talk about our dietary restraints. The stuff they made Kris was out of this world. It didn’t look remotely gluten free. Kris would question it because it was so good. So let me give you a play by play on how much food was served. We would meet at 5:30am and there would be tea/coffee, fruit and delicious snacks. Then after the safari they would greet us with a hot towel and either Nutella hot chocolate or apple tea. Then we’d have breakfast. We walked into the dining area and there would be a buffet like spread with everything you could think of. Cinnamon buns, croissants, cheeses, meats, granola, yogurt, fruit…you get the point. So the first morning we filled our plates and sat down. However waiting for us at our table was our personalized menu with a full breakfast meal of choices. Hellooooooo!!!!! Next would be lunch with a a multi course tapas menu with deserts. Then dinner would be another full meal with starters and deserts all personalized to our diet. This place would be any ‘foodies’ paradise! Apparently the process for the chefs to get a job here is quite rigorous. They have to go through a cook-off like you’d see on TV. Unfreakingbelievable!
Now back to the game drives…I’ve done safaris before but these ones were unique in that because it is on a private reserve there are very few safari vehicles anywhere. You might see one or two here and there but on past experiences when a ranger calls the others you’d have at least 15 vehicles all packed together trying to jostle for the best position near the wildlife. Here we were usually completely on our own. We saw everything from rhinos, to lions, to elephants, to cheetahs. You name it-we saw it.
We were also given a tour of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (where they care for sick or injured animals and release them back into the wild) and Born Free. Born Free is another spectacular organization. They work alongside Shamwari but are a non profit that rescue big cats from terrible situations like circuses and abuse. They can’t release the cats back into the wild because they don’t know how to hunt or fend for themselves. Instead, they live their entire lives in massive enclosures where they are free to roam. I was so touched by this place that I couldn’t help but ‘adopt’ a lioness who was found in France living in an apartment under terrible circumstances.
I could probably write about my Shamwari experience for days as it was more than I could have ever anticipated. It just goes to show you what money can buy! I feel soooooooo lucky to have been able to do this through the Divergent Travelers.