Going on a Safari is something I only ever dreamed of doing, but when I got talking to Andre from The Safari Expert that dream quickly became a reality. When we booked my South African adventure, Andre recommended booking Amakhala Game Reserve and after checking their website and seeing their conservation efforts I thought it would be a great place to visit.
We chose to stay for three nights as opposed to the usual two nights as Leon and I are really big animal lovers. If going on a Safari is more of a ‘bucket list’ thing that you would like to do rather than being a huge animal lover who will get excited by a yellow mongoose or a rock monitor then perhaps the two nights would be best as you still get four game drives in.
Amakhala is a fully inclusive game reserve on the Eastern Cape in a malaria free zone. It has a range of ten different accommodation styles to suit your needs from five-star to three-star. As we were trying to keep costs down for such a large holiday we opted to stay in the ‘Woodbury Tented Camp‘ which is one of their three-star resorts. I can honestly say I’m not sure what makes it three-star, because if the treatment that we got was three-star then I can only imagine what their five-star accommodation is like!
Upon check in, we were greeted with two drinks and were shown our room while a member of staff brought our bags to our tent. The tent is more than large enough, with a stunning deck and view out on to the reserve (where we saw animals in the distance on more than one ocassion!). The tent has a seperate room for the shower and toilet area which come with hot water. The tent has electricity with plugs at each side of the bed, along with a fan in the corner as it is not an air conditioned accomodation. The itinerary for each day was more or less the same, depending on how you wanted to spend your time between drives.
Each morning you will receive a wake up call at roughly 5am, then you will meet down at the main lodge area, grab a cup of tea and then head out for 6am. We were at the perfect time of year to catch the sunrise at the back of the lodge which are honestly other-wordly. If you can get up for the sunrise, then definitely do! You keep the same driver for your time there usually, and we were lucky enough to get Hank as our guide who is incredibly passionate about animals. It’s lovely to see your guide get as excited about spotting an animal as you get! During your morning game drive you will stop during it to enjoy a tea or coffee, along with a light morning snack. It’s lovely to get out of the van and stretch your feet, and the mornings can be very cold before the sun comes up so it’s nice to warm the body as well. You end up heading back to camp around 9am where you can go to the main lodge for breakfast. There is a continental breakfast of cereal and fruit, and before you leave in the morning you can fill out a request for a hot breakfast should you wish (usually consists of omelettes, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, etc).
Once you are done with breakfast, you are free to enjoy your day around the camp until Lunch at 2pm. The early starts can be tiring, so it’s the perfect time to have a break. I also found that while I was freezing when I woke and at the beginning of the drive, the weather was usually beautiful come 10am so it was time to get out of my gym pants and jacket and into a more poolside friendly attire!
Lunch is served in the main lodge in a buffet style manner. It’s mostly up to you on what time you turn up – if you want to turn up at all. I found the quality of food to be beautiful while we were there and if you get lazy and end up arriving closer to 3pm don’t be surprised when you are left with the scraps as it can go quickly!
Your day between drives is yours to spend how you please – be it hanging by the pool or venturing further afield. One day we spent by the pool, the next we drove to Addo Elephant Park in between drives so it all depends on what you want.
The evening game drive kicks off at 4pm so it is best to meet around 3:45pm at the main lodge once again. There are tea, coffee and water stations at the main lodge all day along with a bar that you can help yourself at so make sure to stay hydrated between drives. The evening drive gives you the opportunity to spot the more nocturnal animals once the sun starts to go down towards the middle of the drive and I actually found there was better chance of spotting animals on this drive overall. Once again, once the sun goes down it can get quite cold so be mindful of this, I got brave and wore shorts on one of my drives,and swiftly regretted it! The driver does also bring blankets for you on every drive so it’s not the end of the world if it does get colder than anticipated for you. Just like the morning drive, you will take time out to have a small stop to enjoy a beverage of your choice – usually wine or beer along with nibbles such as Kudu Billtong and crisps. This little break also gives you a chance to get to talk to the other people in your jeep and get to know them a bit better.
The evening drive lasts until roughly 7pm and once it is over, you return to a blazing bonfire for all camp members along with a range of drinks to choose. I loved this part of the evening because it gave everyone a chance to talk and the atmosphere was always just so lovely between everyone and the guides – until someone says they spotted something you didn’t! Dinner gets called at around 8pm where you once again get an amazing choice of food along with wine in abundance (should you be so brave to go overboard with a 5am wake-up call in your future!). Don’t be worried if you are vegetarian or even vegan. There were at least 3-4 vegetarians while I stayed and they were catered to with almost better food than normal.
Once you are finished dinner you can excuse yourself whenever you please to go back to your tent for your morning game drive. The first two nights that we stayed were particularly cold, so not only did we receive a turn down service with a small chocolate on our pillow but they also turned on our electric blankets for us so it would be warm when we got to bed! It is the little things like this act of kindness that really set this camp apart from other places that I have ever stayed.
If a game drive every morning and evening isn’t enough for you, there are a few extras that you can do. Two that seemed the most popular while we were there were the Big Five Walking Tour that is done in between tours (note that no U16’s are allowed). Another popular extra was the Nocturnal Drive that lasts roughly 1.5 hours and gives you a better chance of seeing nocturnal creatures such as Hyenas, Porcupines, Caracals and more.
While we were there we took it upon ourselves to drive to Addo Elephant Park around 45 minutes away. We chose to take the N2 down towards Colchester and entered via the Matholweni Gate at the bottom of the park. Here you have to park up and fill out a permit before you are allowed access. Once you are in, you can drive around the park on the asphalt roads as you please. While we were there we saw a lion, upwards of 30-40 elephants, zebra, several types of antelope and more. We also know people who saw herds of Buffalo here so anything is possible – just be aware that you are in your own vehicle and be cautious around the animals. We exited by the main camp at the top of the park and ended up on the road by Shamwari Game Reserve to get back to Amakhala. This is easily one of the worst roads we have ever driven on and is solely for 4×4 cars, so if you have the time I would recommend going back the way you came via the N2 road to avoid giving yourself a severe headache from all the bumping up and down at 10kph!!
Personally, I got a bad case of the holiday blues after leaving Amakhala (even though I was still on holidays when I left!). Hank, our guide was amazing for all six game drives that we did, along with the rest of the staff who showed us
As a game reserve, they definitely don’t have as many animals as the likes of Kruger National Park or some of their other counterparts. It was frustrating at times to try and find the one lone Cheetah within their 18,000 acres but at the same time, that isn’t really their fault.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Amakhala for a Safari, especially if it is your first time going as I found it all such an easy experience with lovely people who really, really cared about animals.
Have you ever been on a Safari? If you haven’t, is it something you think you would do?