Five minutes into our first game drive, we spotted the reserve’s lions near the remains of a two-day-old kill. In a sudden fit of kittenish playfulness, the black-maned male and the lioness played together before loping off into a thicket. The young bull elephant we saw half an hour later was pushing over acacias to get at the roots. He obviously hadn’t breakfasted as well as Safari Lodge’s guests as our ranger, Zisile Ngquse, explained the bitter roots were a digestive aid for pachyderms.
Amakhala Game Reserve was created near Grahamstown in 1999 when a number of farmers, many of 1820 settler descent, joined forces and took down inner fences to form a 7 500-hectare reserve. Game which had been absent for over 100 years now roams freely in an area that includes the Bushman’s River valley and rolling hills of grassveld and savanna. Apart from the Big Five and a good number of giraffes, there are healthy herds of zebra, wildebeest, red hartebeest and other antelope. The lions are kept in a separate section from the lodges. The animals are under the care of veterinarian and co-owner Dr William Fowlds, who is part of Vets Go Wild, a training course for veterinarian students interested in wildlife conservation.
Lion, elephant, black and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, eland, black wildebeest, waterbuck, red hartebeest, mountain reedbuck, gemsbok, blesbok, nyala, impala, bushbuck, duiker, warthog, otter
Fish eagle, southern boubou, oxpecker, yellow-throated longclaw, ant-eating chat
Two offer four-star accommodation and are geared to host families. Leeuwenbosch is a gracious heritage home beside the N2, while Woodbury Lodge has stone and thatch cottages nestled on the slopes of a koppie overlooking Bushman’s River valley. Safari Lodge and Bush Lodge (4,5 and five-stars respectively) are in unfenced ‘soft’ game areas, so you could meet a bushbuck on your way to the dining room. Bush Lodge has luxuriously appointed, large tents on platforms under thatch with views of a waterhole from private plunge pools. Safari Lodge’s bungalows have one canvas wall that can open up on the side facing a small valley with a waterhole, so you can view game and birds from a lounger beside your own plunge pool. (There’s no cellphone signal at the camp). All units have air conditioners and heating.
Leeuwenbosch has a special programme for kiddies and nannies are available.
The post-game-drive buffet breakfast at Safari Lodge is a real treat, with everything from fruit, nuts and yoghurt to platters of cold meats and cheeses, as well as cooked dishes. A light meal is served before the afternoon game drive and excellent dinners in the evening.
Ad hoc choir performances; boma braais and stargazing in summer.
The rangers are knowledgeable and network via radio to guide guests to the best spots to see the Big Five.
SA residents pay from R1 050 a person a night sharing in four-star accommodation to R1500 at the five-star Bush Lodge from May to September. Rates include accommodation, meals and two game drives a day. Children under 12 are charged half price.
R2 280 to R4 180 a person a night sharing; children under 12 are charged half price.