Discover The Shambala Private Game Reserve, South Africa

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Charlotte Ellis discovers the call of the wild at the Shambala Private Game Reserve, South Africa


Three and a half hours from Johannesburg airport lies the Shambala private game reserve. 12,000 hectares of red and green African bush inhabited by an army of impressive fauna and beast – including Africa’s Big Five. If like me, you struggle to visualise a hectare, the Shambala reserve would fit into New York City roughly 6 and a half times, which helps bring a little clarity to the proceedings. Shambala translates to – a mythical kingdom, a pure land, visionary and spiritual which is a pretty accurate summary of the experience that lies ahead.

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Arriving from freezing cold London (February) the delicious African heat and foreign birdsong is a blissful smack in face. And as you clamber into your Land Rover discovery, glass of cold South African fizz in hand, it doesn’t quite hit home that on that initial drive from the armed entrance gates of Shambala to the Zulu base camp (home for the night) that you might just encounter actual (real life) African wildlife. That is of course until you’re arms length from a  lion chomping a wildebeest rather contentedly under a tree. Then suddenly it’s all very real.

Maybe it was beginner’s luck that in under 4-minutes we’d made such a majestic sighting. But this is the wild and nothing can be predicted or planned, which in itself is absolutely exhilarating and what puts the African safari right up there on all of our bucket lists. From a baby (white) Rhino following its mother straight across our driving path, troops of baboons bounding through the tress overhead. Effervescent birds swooping past in all of their glory. Giraffe and Ostrich, Impala. Meerkats, Hyenas, Warthogs with their piglets. Elephants. A hareem of Zebra and aside form our whispered gasps of delight and the odd bird call there is heavenly silence. A million miles away from the noises and sounds of the city, the bush is peaceful and mesmerising.

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That’s the beauty of Shambala and the Zulu camp which is made up of just 8 exquisite suites that blend in perfectly to the bush, the beautiful Waterberg mountain range and the Frikkiesloop river. As far as camps go this one is small, bespoke, personal, you feel like you have the African bush all to yourself.

The Zulu suites are dome-shaped, lined with bamboo, I suppose you could call this next level glamping – with every modern luxury you could wish for. A king size bed, mini bar on tap, dark wood, colonial furniture, a palatial bathroom with more towels and toiletries you’ll ever get through and an outside shower, in case the rooms 4-man shower and bath isn’t enough – so you can really feel at one with nature.

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The expert staff are attentive and on hand – on arrival at Zulu, the very helpful Conrad asked us what we wanted for lunch and that any of our food or meal requests could be tailored without a bother – despite us being 3.5 hours drive from a city – ‘please let us know if there is absolutely anything you want’ as he was unpacking three days worth of vegan pudding for a guest.

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The food at Zulu is fresh, meaty, delicious. Lunch is platters of salads and veggies, succulent king prawns flown in that day and a rare fillet of Impala (gulp) in coffee sauce – which was delicious. And of course Conrad has the perfect wine recommendations to accompany every meal. The small open dining space at the Zulu camp overlooks a pool, accessible to hippos. Who laze there with their eyes on you, and if you fancy cooling off yourself there’s a small pool (not accessible to the hippos).

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During your stay at Shambala, three drives are included in your experience and a sunset river boat cruise where you’re sure to spot crocs and you can fish. There’s also the opportunity to go on an early morning bush walk. No car, just your expert game keeper and his rifle – just in case. We spotted lions on our walk which was a life affirming experience in itself – no rifles needed, we watched the lions from afar behind a bush as they basked in the sunshine.

One dinner at the reserve is a traditional South African ‘Bry’ – a South African BBQ. Cooked over a huge fire under the stars aplenty. From the wild to the wine-list, plants and stars – every memorable moment is guided with adept precision and passion by the Shambala staff. Treat yourself to a Honey Bush Facial or a Rolling Sands massage and the sounds of the wilderness at the Shambala Spa, with its own organic Kalahari beauty collection.

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Within the Shambala reserve is the 6-bedroom Mandela villa. The home of Nelson Mandela himself whenever he was visiting. It was made into a commercial property in 2001, so you can stay there if you wish. Sleep in Mandela’s bed, read the books in his library, work from his desk. Swim in his pool. A perfect rental for a special and intimate birthday celebration, it comes fully staffed so you don’t have to lift a finger. And has seen guests such as Oprah and Bill Clinton come before, documented with persona snapshots on the sideboards.

Round of your Afircan adventure perfectly with a must-stay at Shambala’s acclaimed sister city hotel, the Saxon. It’s where the glitterati lay their head when they’re in town and where Nelson Mandela completed his novel The Long Walk to Freedom. The main hotel houses the Luke Dale Roberts (of Pot Luck Club fame), restaurant, headed up by chef Candice Phillip. Make sure you’ve secured your reservation well in advance, there’s at least a three week waiting list for this buzzing joint.

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A second night calls for a table at the hotel’s Qunu restaurant. Offering traditional fine dining, the Aussie head chef has just introduced a specialised vegetarian and vegan menu, but all of the plates are like works of art. Make sure you try all three courses – the desserts are incredible and the chocolate tart dessert has been on the menu since day dot as requested by the regulars.

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The impressive 700sqm two-floor Saxon Spa is an oasis of wellness. The signature 90-minute Himalayan journey is the perfect antidote to the 3 hour drive from Shambala to the Saxon. There are three luxury villas at The Saxon that can be booked in their entirety for sole use by our guests who prefer the privacy and exclusivity of a garden setting. All of the villas have a large lounge and bar area  with grand piano, with butlers and a chef  on hand to cater to your every whim.

Make it happen
Cost: Stays at Zulu Camp at Shambala Private Game Reserve start from R 11,750/approximately £699 based on two peoples sharing a chalet including all meals, wine, sunset cruise, game drives and bush-walks. Exclusive hire of The Nelson Mandela Villa starts from R75,000/approximately £4,443 off peak, R85,000/approximately £5,026 during peak period. The Nelson Mandella Villa sleeps 12 adults and the price is inclusive all meals, wine, sunset cruise, game drives and bush-walks.

• Best time to visit
The best time to spot game is said to be June – September

• Fact
Shambala is a malaria free zone

• Weather
The weather is February is warm, with highs of 31 degrees come lunch time.

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