Eastern Cape Safari
Back in 2016, I (Danica) was blessed to spend three nights at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. During my stay, a considerable amount of time was spent learning about conservation efforts, anti-poaching and sustainability of local communities.
Kwandwe is a property we have worked closely with for many years, sending our guests there and always getting great feedback. I’ve not personally been so it was a good way to see for myself just how good it is as a safari experience in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. South Africa has always been the number one luxury safari holiday destination for our guests who are wanting great value for money, all round experience with Africa wildlife safaris, classic safari style and freedom to explore.
The Eastern Cape, where Kwandwe is located has also been a destination within South Africa that’s popular for a number of reasons:
- Malaria free – so great for families or those not wanting to take any medication (malaria tablets)
- Easy reach – it’s at the most northern point of the Garden Route and thus a great start or end to a South Africa self drive safari holiday or you can fly in and out
- Wildlife safari – with a fascinating bio-diversity there are wonderful wildlife sightings and landscape here is vastly different from other regions of the country
- Conservation efforts – Many of our guests are savvy and want to ensure they do their bit to protect Mother Nature’s animals and her landscapes. By staying at Kwandwe, guests are contributing to efforts to protect animals and landscape and ensure a bright future for the families of staff (education facilities)
- Family friendly – The Eastern Cape is of course family friendly because it’s malaria free and easy to reach but more than that, properties here know how to embrace and welcome children not just ‘accept’ them as part of their policy.
On the downside, the Eastern Cape has not been our number one safari region within South Africa in the past, primarily because of the small reserves, endless fences and thus a more zoo like feeling compared to other areas like the Greater Kruger and Sabi Sand Private Reserve.
Having said that, I found the ultimate solution to ensure we put the Eastern Cape back on our safari holiday destination agenda.
More on Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
South Africa’s largest private wilderness reserve (54,000 acres), Kwandwe is home to an abundant diversity of wildlife and wilderness. Accessible by road (easy 160 kilometres on excellent roads) or light aircraft from Port Elizabeth (landing at the private airstrip or tarred runway), it’s quick and effortless plus when you fly you don’t see the fences between all of the smaller properties which can be off putting.
So I flew in from Port Elizabeth on one of the most gusty days of the year… stomach contents in tact I disembarked and was immediately greeted by Nico who was to become my friendly, knowledgeable and passionate guide. He and all of the guides at Kwandwe really make the experience what it is! We always say a guide can make or break a safari holiday experience. We were road transferred from the airstrip to the reception building on the property. Here you sign in, meet some of the team and get to see wildlife immediately – giraffe tend to hang about! There is a stunning curio (gift) shop that I now have shares in thanks to many purchases in time for Christmas.
Onwards in open sided 4×4 game viewing (6 seater) all the way to camp. Being such a massive private reserve, you rarely see other vehicles unless it’s another safari vehicle and you are together sharing a sighting. You arrive at your accommodation, now this place has four separate properties on offer and each one really blew my mind, exceeding expectations and opening up so many more possibilities for our guests seeking a South Africa luxury safari holiday.
Starting with the property I stayed in, Great Fish River Lodge and nobody could be disappointed with this place. As the name says, it’s located on the steep banks of the Great Fish River which is always busy with visiting wildlife, especially the elephants. There are nine suites so that means you are only ever one of 18 guests in camp! Such a wonderful, intimate experience for any luxury safari holiday seeker that’s for sure. This property caters for children 12 years and over. What impressed me was the distance between suites, the inclusions in the rooms and the sense of space and bush immersion. As you expect, luxury oozes here with your private deck, plunge pool, sun loungers, outdoor shower and inside gets better… massive bedroom, mini bar area, sitting area and bathroom – big bath tub, double sinks and toilet separated by a half wall (one of the down sides for me as we often get guests wanting twin share but separate toilet so both guests can be getting ready at the same time).
It’s quite a walk to suites at the end of the line and there are steep steps to access the property.
So you arrive at the lodge to smiles and waving staff (always a pleasure) and refresher towels and cold drinks. Down the steps, into the lodge and there’s bathrooms to your immediate left and a mini curio shop to the right. Not the most overwhelming wow entry I’ve ever seen but it certainly means nothing when you take a few more steps in to your right and see the open plan lounge, fireplace, bar, dining and full length deck. Decor is very stylish and furnishings encourage a casual elegance – visiting family or friends feel.
For our gourmet guests, you will love the food here, it’s a real affair for the tastebuds. Portions are generous, presentation is stunning and the flavours are beautiful. Staff are really friendly and always keen to ensure you have enough to eat and drink.
For the practical planners amongst us, laundry is included and there is wifi, but it’s limited and slow due to remoteness so don’t expect fast connection. Switch off here, you won’t be disappointed!
And now the activities on offer. Regardless of which property you choose, you will be offered game drives in open sided 4×4 vehicles, walking safaris getting you close to rhino and elephant in particular plus fantastic rhino conservation safari opportunities.
There are also opportunities to visit the community initiative that supports staff and their families. We sang with the kids, played in the courtyard and walked away with warmth in our hearts for the efforts Kwandwe go to for their team. You can also have in room spa treatments and from personal experience, getting a relaxing massage on your deck with the sounds and smells of the bush is really something special.
Kwandwe accommodation options
Kwandwe Ecca Lodge is set in an acacia, aloe and spekboom studded valley. There are just 6 suites and a total of 18 guests because 3 rooms are for families. Great news is from 2017, family suites will come with a private safari vehicle, guide and tracker. Children are welcome at all ages and this place is ideal if you have 2 children under 16. Over 16 it would be better to get 2 rooms over at Great Fish River Lodge.
You arrive here and it’s immediately apparent you’ve got a special few days ahead. Staff are welcoming, the lodge is beautiful, rooms are more contemporary in style with massive entry area and day beds which convert to kids beds, deck, outdoor shower, bedroom area, ample storage for luggage so you are not tripping over bags and an awesome bathroom. I immediately wished Jonathon and the kids were with me because it is perfect for a luxury family safari in South Africa. The rooms and main area are linked by boardwalks and distance is minimal. Safety is paramount here so nothing is ‘high’ thus children can’t fall far!
The other two properties are exclusive use which really suits us for the multi generational family safari holiday seekers or groups of friends on safari.
Melton Manor is the more glamorous of the two with 4 bedrooms, modern farm house feel, communal living around the central courtyard which boasts a large pool. Up to 8 can stay and you get a team of staff at your service – private safari vehicle, guide, tracker, chef and butler. I arrived here and immediately wanted to be with my friends who also have small children because I could just imagine shared safari experiences, time out by the pool with the kids and nights around the campfire with drink in hand (and kids asleep!).
Finally, there is Uplands Homestead and for me, it’s the no brainer family safari holiday destination. Again, it’s a farmhouse and originally build in 1905, it has been restored with the old charm in tact. Only 3 rooms and 6 guests, so you really do get the ultimate private safari holiday that is completely catered to your needs – private vehicle, guide and tracker, chef, butler and team of staff.
Children are so well catered for – there is the eco-nect kids safari program, Blue Crane Conservation Club that takes kids on poo safaris and spoor (footprint) tracking, a Hooves and Stripes adventure for kids under 6 years. Then there is Minnow’s fishing trip, daily treasure hunts, creature cookie baking, pizza making, African bedtime stories with cookies and milk, finger painting, clay making, beading, face painting and sand art. Who wouldn’t want to be here with the children??!
Top Tips on Kwandwe Game Reserve
- There is never a bad time of year to be here except June.. because it’s closed for annual maintenance and refurbs.
- It’s a really beautiful, mild climate and even in winter, you’ll get away with a warm fleece
- Rain is hard to come by, so it’s often dry and means you are not likely to get wet!
- Malaria free of course
- You can also get a local professional photographic guide, Mike Dexter if you are seeking a photographic safari (additional fee – worth every penny if you’re there for those great shots and want a little help to ensure you capture them)
- There are some great ways to volunteer here during your stay – like taking a gym class, teaching computer skills, gardening, maintenance or painting! If you don’t want hands on, you can donate money to help specific initiatives and items purchase like water tanks, toilets, desks and more!
- Passionate management – It’s hard not to be impressed by the management team Graeme Mann and Angus Sholto-Douglas. Between them they have years of safari guiding experience and know first hand the importance of great guides. Family friendly, really personable and great fun too.
- Privately owned – The Chouest Family really care about the place, its wildlife, wilderness and people but they do not play a role in the day to day operations so you won’t see or meet them unless you are extremely lucky to arrive when they do!
Sorry for the long blog, but these notes are worth sharing rather than sitting idle in my notebook. If you want to go on a South Africa safari holiday, don’t hesitate to call and ask for Danica if you want to chat about Kwandwe and many other great properties.Let’s Chat