Just 40 minutes from Port Elizabeth, Amakhala Game Reserve is a small, relatively new private game reserve in a malaria-free area. Established towards the end of 1999, it was recently voted the best game reserve in the Eastern Cape.
Considering the wonderful game viewing opportunities in KwaZulu-Natal, I was sceptical that Amakhala would surprise me. How wrong I was. I’ve been to and through the area several times, but not in the company of armchair historian Malcolm Kinghorn of Shield Tours, who ferried us there.
Our education began before I’d left the airport building and laid a great platform for our stay.
There are many signs proclaiming the area to be frontier country, and we learnt about this fascinating time during our stay.
The reserve was established by – and is on the land of – 1820 settler descendants. But they, along with the Xhosa and San before them, are dwarfed by the ancient history of the area. This is where South Africa’s first dinosaur fossil was found in 1845.
This is also frontier country for climate and flora. There are diverse ecosystems and even weather patterns within the reserve – very different from KZN and Kruger, for example – and it’s very pretty too with hilltop vistas over plains and horseshoe bends of the Bushman’s River.
Shrubs and bush, rather than tall trees, dot the landscape, which tends to make game spotting easier. We counted ourselves fortunate – the guide could scarcely contain himself – to encounter a rare and elusive brown hyena, plenty of antelope, the most handsome lion I’ve ever seen, and an angry bull elephant.
We also cruised the river, thoroughly entertained by Lukhanyo Toli, who could be a stand-up comedian but instead is blossoming at Amakhala.
And that is an enduring impression of the place. I’ve always found the Eastern Cape to be a warm, friendly place which has attracted warm infectious folk such as Lukhanyo and enthusiastic Aussie guide Harvey England.
With careful management and friendly co-operation between stakeholders, Amakhala has a welcoming and relaxing vibe that we savoured almost as much as the food.
There are 11 lodges on the reserve that range from tented camps and farmhouses to luxury chalets. Each is discreetly hidden from the other, and all offer excellent service, copious amounts of food and drink, and game drives interspersed with reflective “recesses”.
We stayed at Bukela Lodge, part of the Lion Roars Collection. It is an unfenced, intimate camp with four spacious, luxurious thatched chalets, each private and with its own deck, outdoor shower and spa bath.
It has also been awarded the Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa label for commitment to fair work conditions, ethical business practices and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.
The rates at Bukela are R1 980 per person sharing per day, with all meals and two game activities.
Contact Amakhala Central Reservations at 046 636 2750 - Saturday Star