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EXPERT REVIEW You know that safari experience you've always imagined, with non-stop animal sightings, a wilderness all to yourself and nights in a romantic safari lodge? This is it.

Eco


Overall eco rating


When your business is built around the success of a complex ecosystem, you probably have a deeper insight into sustainability than most. The people at Shamwari understand the value of nature.

It is probably fair to say that the animals come first here, but the reserve is also committed to providing environmental education and improved social equality and reducing the impact on the environment from their buildings and vehicles.

Sarili Lodge is the newest accommodation and its eco credentials continue an upward trend compared to older buildings. The water related aspects of the lodge are particularly notable in part driven by the Greenleaf standard but also reflecting the importance of water in this dry region.

  • Greenleaf accreditation requires above average green design and construction practices with a very high standard for water related issues
  • Solar panels provide hot water for guests and heat the pool
  • Energy efficient lighting and above average thermal performance of glazing and insulation for South Africa
  • Runs educational activities with deprived local communities - 700 children per month visit the Born Free Foundation
  • Malaria Free
  • Has won at least one major awards for its conservation and green efforts every year since 1996
  • Large wildlife department includes vets, ecologists, environmental scientists and other qualified naturalists
  • Joint venture with Born Free Foundation houses mistreated big cats for life
  • Animal rehabilitation cares for abandoned young and takes in wildlife from the region outside Shamwari

People

South Africa has problems with poverty, unemployment and social inequality but is striving to overcome them. Shamwari seems to be making a genuine difference and improving the life opportunities of the local community.

  • Employs large numbers of people from local communities - unemployment rates in rural South Africa can be very high
  • 80% local employment and procurement uses local companies where possible
  • Donates excess food to a local orphanage
  • Runs educational activities with deprived local communities - 700 children per month visit the Born Free Foundation
  • Participates in the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment programme
  • Malaria Free

Animals & nature

Shamwari Game Reserve is a pioneer of South Africa's high quality private game reserves. At the heart of the enterprise is the management, rehabilitation and development of the ecosystem to allow spectacular wildlife to thrive in a former farming area.

PETA assessment of cruelty free credentials of cleaning products and toiletries to come.

  • Has won at least one major awards for its conservation and green efforts every year since 1996
  • Large wildlife department includes vets, ecologists, environmental scientists and other qualified naturalists
  • Use part of the reserve to breed rare species predator free
  • Anti-poaching unit (sadly not 100% guarantee against poaching)
  • Joint venture with Born Free Foundation houses mistreated big cats for life
  • Animal rehabilitation cares for abandoned young and takes in wildlife from the region outside Shamwari

Environment & buildings

Sarili Lodge is the newest at Shamwari and incorporates a few features that make it greener than the other lodges. The design of the lodge has been influenced by the Greenleaf standard developed by Wilderness Foundations with help from one of Shamwari's founders.

  • Greenleaf accreditation requires above average green design and construction practices with a very high standard for water related issues
  • Another strength of Greenleaf is the need to submit proof of ongoing reductions in energy and water use to retain accreditation
  • A biobox collects water waste - resulting greywater is reused in gardens
  • Rainwater collection from all roof surfaces and dual flush toilets reduce consumption of potable water
  • Solar panels provide hot water for guests and heat the pool
  • Energy efficient lighting and above average thermal performance of glazing and insulation for South Africa
  • Construction uses local materials for thatched roof and built on site of a previous structure to minimise footprint
  • Recycling services can be limited in South Africa but Shamwari has contracted with a waste company in nearby Port Elizabeth
  • Vegetable and herb garden at Sarili provides a portion of food

  • Shamwari is working with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University to examine the possibilities for renewable energy, particularly solar, at safari lodges - it is a shame that this project did not include some form of renewable electricity generation
  • Safari vehicles could also be greener

Reviewed by

Tim Starley-Grainger


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


Less than an hour from Port Elizabeth Airport, Shamwari Game Reserve is one of the world's most famous safari experiences. TV shows are filmed here. Born Free has a big-cat sanctuary here. Millionaires and movie stars safari here.

The scene

Despite its popularity, you'll hardly see anyone on your visit, apart from the other guests in your lodge, your ranger and your lodge's staff. That's because, unlike many safaris, access to Shamwari is restricted to a very small number of people at any one time, ensuring you never get that '20 jeeps around a lion' experience. Over our three days here, we saw only a handful of other jeeps the whole time, and that was in passing, not crowded round an animal.

Its not just the exclusivity and privacy that makes Shamwari so popular. It is, of course, the animals. Thanks to its unique setting - hills, rivers, plains, valleys - this 25,000-hectare reserve is home to five distinct biomes (habitats), which support a huge variety and number of animals, including lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, elephants and just about any other big African animal you can think of, along with millions of smaller ones. You might not see The Big Five on every game drive, but you will definitely see dozens, if not hundreds, of animals on every one of these bouncy two- to there-hour jaunts into the wilderness.

Guests vary from teen families right up to retired couples, and everyone in between, but there are just seven lodges spread out on the reserve, most sleeping around 20 guests at most.

Sarili is the most intimate, sleeping a max of 10 guests, and its style appeals more to couples aged 30 to 50 and families.

If you want to combine Shamwari with another destination, we'd suggest flying into Cape Town for a few days there, then driving along the coast to Shamwari, but you'll want to spend a night en route, probably somewhere on the Garden Route.

  • One of just seven lodges spread out over a 25,000-hectare game reserve
  • Surrounded by woods and with views over a river
  • Less than an hour from Port Elizabeth and the eastern edge of the Garden Route
  • Sarili Lodge is perfect for couples aged 20 to 50, or families
  • Malaria-free
  • Five unique habitats on this private reserve
  • The Big Five roam the vast grounds of the reserve, along with thousands of other animals - big cats, small wildcats, foxes, jackals, elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, hippos, wildebeest, ostrich, springbok, eagles... the list is endless
  • One of the world's top safari experiences in every respect - sightings, service, accommodation, exclusivity, privacy
  • Perfect for families or small groups of friends

  • The nearest airport, Port Elizabeth, is probably not on your hit list of cities to visit, but you can easily add on a flight from Cape Town or Johannesburg, or else drive along the coast from Cape Town
  • Not for business people, however, the reserve does host small groups for company trips. You'll want to lose the suit and tie, though

The style

You feel right at home as soon as you step into this intimate rustic-luxury safari lodge. The living room's stacked-stone fireplace is glowing. The dining table is laid out with lunch. And your en-suite bedroom upstairs - one of the lodge's five suites - has views over woodsy, rolling hills, with a river below.

Thatched-roof, wood and stone floors, and smooth mud walls make this feel very Out of Africa. Wildlife motifs pop up here and there - in the handmade wallpaper on one wall, or in a locally made sculpture - but thankfully it lacks the creepy wall-hung animal heads popular in some safari lodges. Furniture is made of wood, but covered in textiles printed with African-toned colours, not chain-hotel beige.

Despite the homey feel, furniture and amenities are five-star - supremely comfortable mattresses, high-quality bedding, beautiful bathrooms - and views over the game reserve - from bedrooms, dining room and terrace - are simply unbeatable. Go for a swim, have a glass of wine on the terrace or slide open your room's glass doors for wildlife spotting any time of day.

  • All natural surfaces - thatched roof, wood and stone floors, mud walls
  • Wildlife motifs on handmade wallpaper and sculptures
  • Feels like a luxury hunting lodge - but without creepy animals heads or stuffed birds
  • Wonderfully inviting and homey, yet incredibly luxurious
  • If you like the intimacy and services of a luxury catered Alpine ski chalet, you will love Sarili, which has a similarly nature-nurture feel
  • Views over the river and rolling hills of the reserve throughout the house
  • Love, love, love the giant stone-chimney fireplace in the living room
  • Handmade sofas combine style and comfort, perfect for flopping on
  • Kick back on the terrace with Gin and Tonic, and watch out for wildlife by the river below

  • Bathrooms are beautiful, but some don't have baths
  • Each bedroom is different, so if you prefer the conformity of chain hotels, this isn't for you
  • This feels like a home, so apart from your bedroom and bathroom, there's nowhere to hide for privacy

The facilities

With just five luxury suites, Sarili Lodge is intimate, and comes with its own staff - friendly and warm, not subservient and browbeaten - who cook, clean and concierge. In addition, you will be assigned a ranger for the duration of your stay, and she or he (we had a blast with the jovial Philip) will share some meals with you and help plan your game drives and other wildlife- and nature-related activities, while your in-house staff organise spa treatments, either in your room at at the spa of Shamwari's Long Lee Manor, just down the road.

Game drives are very early morning and late afternoon, so around midday, you'll probably be sleeping, reading or watching TV in the living room. All meals are served here, and there's a full bar, including that safari essential - Sundowners.

  • Twice-daily game drives included in the price
  • All meals included in the price, with vast breakfasts, three-course lunches and dinners you'll never be able to finish
  • Some meals are served on the terrace, and there's usually a South African brai (barbecue) a couple of times a week
  • Five bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms
  • Beautiful, living room with stone fireplace - very inviting, with comfortable sofas
  • Flat-screen TV with satellite reception
  • Terrace overlooking the reserve and river
  • Indoor and outdoor dining rooms
  • Free Wi-fi
  • Air-conditioning, underfloor heating
  • Outdoor heated swimming pool with shallow area for children

  • No spa on site, although treatments can be taken in your room, or the staff will drive you the short distance to the spa at a neighbouring lodge
  • The intimate nature of Sarili means it's best booked by families or small groups of friends
  • The pool is small

We love

  • One of the world's premier safaris
  • Exclusive game drives shared only with the others in your lodge. You'll rarely spot another vehicle the whole time
  • Big Five safari, yet completely malaria-free
  • Intimate, luxury lodge feels like the home of a wealthy friend
  • Delicious food, and lots of it
  • Friendly staff who take care of you from dawn through to dinner

You might not love

  • Might not be good for honeymooners as there aren't many places to get away from the group
  • No spa on site, although treatments can be arranged in your room or at the spa of a neighbouring lodge
  • The pool is small

Reviewed by

Jill Starley-Grainger


Sarili Lodge at Shamwari Game Reserve

Shamwari, Paterson, 6130

South Africa
+27 (0)41 407 1000

Standard room rates from 850

Book it

booking.com

Eco

Luxury*

"Shamwari is a rare mixture of luxury game park and sanctuary. Here you can spot wildlife or do volunteer work at the Born Free Foundation, where lions and leopards that have been mistreated or abused in captivity, are resettled" The Guardian