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WORDS: LOUISE LIEBENBERG IMAGES: SUPPLIED, NELSON MANDELA BAY TOURISM & SHUTTERSTOCK

The Eastern Cape is sought-after among international visitors for its many exceptional private game reserves. A big plus for this area, apart from its spectacular Big Five wildlife offerings, is that it’s entirely malaria free. Here’s our pick of 11 private game reserves which locals should not miss out on either, as they are all within doable distance of the Bay.

Shamwari Private Game Reserve

Claim to fame: Iconic Shamwari near Alicedale is internationally renowned and unique in that it was a pioneer in the Eastern Cape for the establishment of world-class private reserves.

Expect to see: Spotting the Big Five, along with a multitude of other animals, is virtually a given. In addition, more than 275 different bird species have been seen.

Need to know: In partnership with its famous Born Free Foundation, Shamwari has two centres worth visiting – the Julie Ward Centre for rescued big cats, and the Jean Byrd Centre and Sanctuary with educational facilities for schools and additional enclosures for rescued cats.

Accommodation: Sindile (luxury free-standing tents), Eagles Crag (nine suites overlooking lush vegetation and rocky cliffs), Bayethe (tented lodge), Long Lee Manor (the original Edwardian manor house), Riverdene (perfect for families), Lobengula (resembling a traditional African kraal), and Sarili (fully run on eco-principles). Shamwari also operates a tented Explorer wilderness bush camp from October to May.

SHAMWARI PRIVATE GAME RESERVE

Lalibela Game Reserve and Safari Lodge

Claim to fame: An hour from Port Elizabeth and Addo, Lalibela has no public roads running through the property, so only Lalibela guests have access to the wildlife area and you won’t encounter the public while on safari.

Expect to see: Lalibela has the Big Five as well as predators like cheetah, hyena, jackal and lynx. The reserve has large plains that are home to zebra, giraffe, warthog, impala, wildebeest, blesbuck and other antelopes.

Need to know: Large grassland areas mean a remarkable density of free-roaming lions can be sustained.

Accommodation: Kichaka Lodge (main lodge overlooking a large waterhole), Mills Manor (homestyle villa), Lentaba Safari Lodge (secluded, thatched chalets), Tree Tops Safari Lodge (tented camp), and Mark’s Camp (family-friendly lodge).

Pumba Private Game Reserve

Claim to fame: Pumba is known especially for its free-ranging, self-sustainable population of rare white lions.

Expect to see: The Big Five, white lions, hippo, hyena, cheetah, giraffe, various antelope and more than 300 bird species.

Need to know: Should you not wish to stay over, Pumba has one of the Eastern Cape’s most exceptional (and remarkably well-priced) day safaris, including a welcome drink, lunch, a 2.5-hour game drive and refreshments.

Accommodation: Pumba has two magnificent lodges – Water Lodge overlooking Lake Cariega, and Bush Lodge, boasting scenic mountain views.

Kariega Game Reserve

Claim to fame: Kariega is 10 minutes from Kenton-on-Sea and unusual in that two rivers – the Kariega and Bushmans – run through it.

Expect to see: The Big Five and a multitude of other wildlife and birds.

Need to know: Kariega was founded by the Rushmere family who, over 30 years, have dedicated themselves to transforming what was once largely farmland into a magnificent, 10,000ha reserve and conservation success story.

Accommodation: The reserve has five safari lodges to suit all needs – Settlers Drift tented lodge, Ukhozi Lodge, River Lodge, Main Lodge and The Homestead.

KARIEGA GAME RESERVE

Amakhala Game Reserve

Claim to fame: This large reserve about 65km from PE is renowned for its varied topography created by the Bushman’s River.

Expect to see: The Big Five, more than 16 antelope species, zebras, giraffes and many small, interesting species.

Need to know: Besides game drives, boat cruises and guided walks are offered.

Accommodation: Amakhala has accommodation to suit all budgets. Bush Lodge and Bukela Game Lodge are five star; Safari Lodge, Hlosi Lodge and Woodbury Lodge are four star, as is Hills Nek Safaris; while Leeuwenbosch, Carnarvon Dale and the Woodbury Tented Camp are three star.

AMAKHALA GAME RESERVE

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve

Claim to fame: About 22,000ha of pristine private wilderness stretching either side of the Great Fish River.

Expect to see: Kwandwe means “Place of the Blue Crane” and this reserve has a healthy population of the highly endangered birds. You’ll also find the Big Five, a variety of predators, as well as cheetah, kudu, springbuck, eland, red hartebeest, giraffe, black wildebeest and gemsbok. Aardwolf, aardvark and porcupine may be seen long after sunset.

Need to know: Kwandwe makes a special effort for kids and also offers a junior ranger programme.

Accommodation: Kwandwe has 26 rooms split across five distinct safari lodges and villas, making for one of the highest land-to-guest ratios in SA.

Kwantu Private Game Reserve

Claim to fame: Kwantu is on the legendary Sidbury Plains, in the heart of Frontier Country, on the banks of the Bushman’s River.

Expect to see: The Big Five plus zebra, giraffe, hippo, wildebeest, cheetah, warthog, lynx, caracal, jackal, meerkat and loads of antelope.

Need to know: Kwantu is fully halaal and alcohol free. It has a prayer room for Muslim guests and options for Friday Jumu’ah prayers.

Accommodation: There are fivestar accommodation options to suit couples, families and larger groups, and a variety of facilities, including a domestic animal touch farm, herb garden, reptile centre, museum, cricket field, tennis courts and more.

Budget beaters

Pabala Private Nature Reserve

Claim to fame: Pabala is about 30km from Jeffrey’s Bay, and more affordable and down to earth for locals than many of the five-star reserves in the province.

Expect to see: Pabala has no large predators and also doesn’t have the Big Five, but you’re sure to see a large variety of antelope, giraffes, ostriches and an abundance of bird-life.

Need to know: Pabala offers daily adventures through its activity centre, including game drives, extreme kayaking, hiking and night fishing, starting from a budget-friendly R250.

Accommodation: The Country House (a modern structure overlooking Gamtoos estuary), Farmyard Cottage (cosy, two bedrooms), Stone Cottage (rustic, sleeps five), and several permanent tents constructed on wooden decks (no electricity).

Kragga Kamma Game Park

Claim to fame: You really don’t have to leave the city for some excellent game viewing – Kragga Kamma Game Park is literally in Nelson Mandela Bay. It makes for an affordable, family-friendly day outing or you can stay over.

Expect to see: White rhino, buffalo, cheetah, giraffe, zebra, nyala, bontebok, lechwe and many more species, all the animals roam freely in natural surroundings.

Need to know: You can drive in your own vehicle along the park’s well-maintained roads – no need for a 4×4 – or choose a two-hour guided tour in an open Land Rover with a professional guide.

Accommodation: Kragga Kamma has two comfortable, family-friendly thatched lodges named Rhino and Cheetah, and two thatched cottages called Buffalo and Giraffe. They also have four log cabins and a safari tent.

KRAGGA KAMMA GAME PARK