17 April 2014 by David Ward
Wexas Travel member Bryony Hedley shares her impressions of Shamwari Bayethe Tented Lodge in South Africa's Eastern Cape
Towards the end of 2013 I spent a whole week at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa's Eastern Cape - my fourth visit in as many years. That in itself speaks volumes about my feelings for this magical place.I first heard about Shamwari via the Born Free Foundation, and was inspired to visit after adopting one of their rescued lionesses, Shada. They have two rescue centres on the reserve, and I longed to see Shada in person. Little did I imagine I would fall in love not only with my cat, but also with Shamwari as a whole. With its green rolling hills, mist-draped valleys, and endless vistas, the landscape has a personality all of its own. And then, of course, there are the wild creatures that live in its midst. As a solo traveller, it's very important to make good connections - with the wildlife, the landscape, the people. The staff at my lodge couldn't have been lovelier - so friendly, warm-hearted, always smiling.
I stay at Bayethe Lodge every year, a heady combination of rustic beauty and luxury. The tents are huge, very private, and beautifully decorated in natural colours, with wooden floors, gorgeous bathroom, outdoor shower, and plunge pool on the deck for when it gets too darn hot! After a tiring day of early rises and two game drives, they provide a blissful haven. The main lodge is stunning, where you can eat either inside or outside, weather dependent. Every other night there is a braii - a traditional South African barbecue - where you can choose whatever meat you wish to be cooked for you, and top up your plate with all sorts of tasty salads and vegetables. And the South African wine is so delicious it just has to be drunk!
Each game drive is unique - you never know what you're going to see from one minute to the next. Being someone who's always needed a lot of sleep, initially I was apprehensive about the very early wake-up call. I needn't have worried. The pull of the wild is even stronger than the pull of sleep! Headman, who I've been fortunate to have as my guide every year, is a legend. He really knows his stuff. More than that, he FEELS it. He talks with such passion, and his knowledge is boundless. He seems to have a 'sixth sense' - to know exactly where the animals will be at any given moment. That said, he always makes sure to tell us before we start on each drive, "Let's see what the bush will provide today." No animal will just appear to order. And those who bring their 'tick list' with them, only intent on seeing the Big Five, should think again. Each creature, however great or small, is worth seeing, and as fascinating as the other. It's all about taking the time to stop, listen, and be quiet. Only then will you be able to truly feel the magic. I would highly recommend Headman to any future guests. Coupled with his immense passion for wildlife, he has a great sense of humour. We laughed heartily and often. I must also make brief mention of Mino, "The Only Indian Game Ranger!" He and Headman have a great working relationship, and a highlight of my last trip was when they took us on foot to see two cheetah brothers lying in the sun. What a treat.
So next time you're thinking of booking a Safari, you couldn't make a better choice than Shamwari. It's only an hour's flight from Cape Town, and an easy transfer - just over an hour by car. Try to visit the Born Free Rescue Centres while you're there. That too is a very special experience. I've witnessed many a guest thrilled and moved by the rescued cats' stories. I hope I've said enough to tempt your travelling taste buds. I'm already booked to visit again this year. I can't get enough of the place! But don't take it from me - go and see for yourself!
All images courtesy of Shamwari Game Reserve