I’m woken at dawn with roiboos tea and rusks. As the pale flush of first light tints the sky we hit the road in search of wildlife, driving up hills and down into valleys with the early chill on our faces. Our headlights pick out a dozen impala performing their morning ablutions. The sky above the Eastern Cape slowly brightens as Africa awakes.
In the soft early light we come across a herd of mature female elephants with several young. They’re placidly grazing within a large cluster of acacia thorn. The tiniest jumbo lifts a wriggling trunk to sniff in our direction. We stop the vehicle and kill the engine. The adults seem unconcerned by our presence as they continue to busily strip branches with persistent, irresistible force.
Our guide Lucky says an elephant’s trunk is an uncontrollable muscle at birth. Baby jumbos breast-feed for months while learning how to dig out roots with a hefty kick and learning how to train their flexible trunk to tug leaves off trees. When much bigger and stronger they learn the trick of pushing over and uprooting entire trees to get at tasty young shoots on higher branches.
We watch the elephant breakfast for some time while sitting quietly in the Land Rover, enjoying the peace of the African bush at dawn. Then the radio crackles. It’s time for us to move on so other Shamwari guests may also enjoy such wonderful moments undisturbed.
Shamari Game Reserve was created in the early 1990s when entrepreneur Adrian Gardiner first began buying up farms to return to native bush. The Shamwari mission statement was to “conserve a vanishing way of life”.
The 20,000 hectare reserve is near the Eastern Cape city of Port Elizabeth in South Africa. It opened after expensive years of preparation that included restocking the land with wildlife that originally roamed free before the arrival of commercial farming, which meant fences were erected and the shooting began. Extensive research lay behind Shamwari’s restocking, including reference to local wildlife sightings recorded by 18thC white explorers.
One of the reserve’s drawcards is being free of malaria. It has several lodges and also offers a weekend “explorer camp”. Long Lee Manor is a grand country house, Bushman’s River a restored Victorian homestead and Riverdene a colonial house. Eagles Crag is “for the most discerning of travellers”. Bayethe with thatch and canvas is the most African in flavour. The former Lobengula Lodge, a converted old farmhouse, now goes by the totally naff name of Villa Lobengula. Sarili Lodge is for families or small groups.
Our breakfast is spiced up by a ranger’s tale of being bitten by a puff adder. After breakfast, lo and behold, we see three snakes in rapid succession, the first a small grey puff adder wriggling across the path as we walk towards our vehicle. We drive out of camp to see a far bigger puff adder beside the road and then, minutes later, see a slender green mamba slither rapidly for cover.
Later in the day we find a pair of rhino busily scratching themselves on sturdy hardwood fence poles, relics from earlier farming days. The itchy pair make a fitting image for Shamwari’s ‘return to the wild’ mission statement.
Find out more about Shamwari Game Reserve