The Eastern Cape is known as the Adventure Province of South Africa. A major reason for that is the area’s great game reserves! All are malaria free, so they are an excellent option for families.
Many of the province’s reserves are located close to Port Elizabeth Airport, so the accessibility is good too. And as Port Elizabeth itself is the gateway to the Garden Route, a safari in this region combines really well with a trip along the coast to visit a range of Garden Route attractions.
Our favourite three safari areas in the Eastern Cape are the game reserves of Kariega, Shamwari, and Kwandwe, closely followed by Amakhala, Pumba, Lalibela, and Addo Elephant National Park. We’ll look at the Top Three first.
Kariega is situated just 80 minutes’ drive from Port Elizabeth and covers over 10,000 hectares. Its name is inspired by the Kariega river that flows through the reserve and attracts a wide assortment of wildlife. It also has five different eco-systems. All Big Five species – lion, rhino, leopard, elephant, and buffalo – are in residence here, alongside zebra, giraffe, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, and many more! The birdlife is equally impressive.
There are five properties in Kariega. Each has a character of its own, but common to all are luxurious accommodation, superb service standards, and exciting activities including game drives, guided bush walks, river cruises, canoeing, and fishing. The reserve is less than a quarter of an hour from the beaches of Kenton-on-Sea, on the Indian Ocean, and a few port towns are well within driving distance too!
The private game reserve of Shamwari also has a variety of properties, ensuring that there is something to suit all types of traveller. This is Big Five territory too, and the sprawling bushveld is home to many other species – cheetah, zebra, giraffe, wild dog, and lots of different types of antelope! The reserve is also a haven for birdlife.
Among the activities available here are game drives, game walks, and visits to three local wildlife centres – the Shamwari Rehabilitation Centre, the Dr Ian Player Rhino Awareness Centre, and the Born Free Foundation Animal Research & Education Centre. So this is certainly the reserve for travellers with a keen interest in animal welfare. Shamwari is 75 kilometres from Port Elizabeth – and we can’t resist mentioning that one of the family-friendly lodges has a zebra seesaw!
Another reserve we revere is Kwandwe. Situated a little farther from Port Elizabeth than Kariega and Shamwari (160 km), this safari area is worth the extra travel time for its pristine wilderness! The scenery here is truly spectacular, not least the Great Fish River that rushes through the plains throughout green season and dries to immense sand bars during the dry months. Wow!
The wildlife of Kwandwe is also very special. All Big Five species – including both black and white rhino – may be viewed here, in addition to numerous other predators and herbivores. The birding is absolutely fantastic, with highlights such as fish eagle, malachite sunbird, and the stunning blue crane that inspired the name of the reserve. Kwandwe contains four properties, including two villas for exclusive use. Once again, there is something for everyone, and activities include game drives, nature walks, boat trips, and fishing. And for kids, there’s the ace Blue Crane Conservation Club!
Now we’ll take a look at three reserves and one national park that just missed a place in our Top Three!
Amakhala is 70 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. This game reserve covers over 7,000 hectares and boasts 11 properties ranging from restored country houses to classic tented camps. There’s a good mix of prices too, with 3-, 4-, and 5-star accommodation available.
All Big Five live here, along with other popular species such as cheetah, giraffe, zebra, and plenty of antelopes. Until the year 2000, the land was used solely for farming, but since then the wildlife that originally thrived in the area has been reintroduced, very successfully. Activities in Amakhala include game drives, walking safaris, and horse trails!
Horse riding is also possible close to Pumba, as is golf! Within the reserve, visitors enjoy game drives, walking safaris, fishing, stargazing, and archery. The Big Five are in residence here too, in addition to cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra, oodles of antelopes, and, very excitingly, the rare white lion! There are over 300 bird species also.
Pumba has just two properties, Water Lodge and Bush Lodge. Guest accommodation at both lodges consists of very luxurious thatch-and-glass chalets! We recommend this reserve for travellers hoping to combine safari activities with some fine dining and R&R. Food and drink is very well presented here, and the Soul Spa is perfect for a little pampering. Pumba is just an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth.
Lalibela is also just one hour by road from Port Elizabeth. This reserve covers 9,000 hectares and contains five distinct biomes! Sightings of all Big Five species are common on game drives, and you can also look out for cheetah, hyena, giraffe, zebra, hippo, and plenty of birdlife.
There are three properties in Lalibela, all constructed in a classic safari style. Adventurous travellers love Tree Tops, with its tents perched high up in the woods! The other two offerings, Lentaba and Mark’s Camp, are very comfortable and include family-friendly accommodation. Lentaba is situated on a hillside, while Mark’s Camp surrounds a busy waterhole – so all properties boast fabulous views!
Finally, there’s Addo Elephant National Park, which is 72 kilometres from Port Elizabeth. As its name suggests, this is a wonderful place to see the grey guys! Set up in 1931 to protect just 11 elephants, today the park boasts over 600 gentle giants. And there’s a lot of other wildlife to see, such as lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo, zebra, hartebeest, antelopes, and hundreds of birds.
In fact, Addo boasts not only the Big Five, but the Big Seven! With the park’s expansion to incorporate Woody Cape Nature Reserve, it gained a marine reserve too. Here you can see whale and great white shark, as well as penguins! Addo contains a range of accommodation options, from B&Bs and guesthouses to lodges and hotels.
Whatever type of safari experience you are after, the Eastern Cape is sure to satisfy with its mix of reserves and parks. For more information, please get in touch with a member of the YZ team!