I have been travelling in Africa for over three decades. In that time, I have been on countless safaris; by Land Rover, on foot, by canoe and horseback, up and down mountains and valleys. The sense of wonder and appreciation of natural beauty has never left me. There are, of course, individual animals which I prefer above all others. Some are large, very large and some small but all, for some reason or other, have endeared themselves towards me. I will start with the very large.
The African elephant is the poster boy for safaris. Huge and gracious, gentle and ferocious. I know he causes vast devastation wherever he goes. To eat one leaf on a branch, he will knock over and crush a century-old tree. And he eats a lot. On average, an adult will consume 150 kilos a day of vegetation. I have come close to these animals in the bush, sometimes steering too close and having to beat a hasty retreat. A recent invitation to Addo Elephant Back Safari Lodge near Addo National Park in the Eastern Cape was a chance to satiate my decades-long desire to touch and feel one in a natural setting.
Often in nature conservancy, there are moral debates. In this case, is this experience of going to ride on the back of an elephant little more than a circus outing by animals trained as performers? These arguments can never be won with each adversary tenaciously standing their ground. All I can say and write is that it was a wonderfully satisfying experience with no evidence that the elephants were stressed or distressed or unhappy in any way. They roamed the natural, mountainous bush setting with a couple of flyweights on their backs, eating at will. There was no saddle, and the handlers were mines of information about everything you ever wanted to know about elephants. In fact, that was one of the most satisfying aspects of the visit. The evident enthusiasm and love, yes, love, for their charges. We learnt a mine of information. An elephant's trunk has 50000 muscles and can hold 17 litres of water. Ears act as vast fans to cool themselves down. The exterior of their skin was a very hard leather, but the underside of their ears felt as soft as silk.
It is a difficult road to reach this exceptional Eastern Cape lodge climbing the rocky Zuurberg Pass, but that also is part of Africa; it should never be too easy. On arrival in this miniature Eden, it is another story. The rooms are made out of canvas and wood perched on stilts with wide decks maximising the mountainous and bush views. Every comfort is catered for with spa baths and Hemingway safari-inspired decoration. The public rooms and mess areas overlook a vast watering hole or communal bath for elephants if you prefer. No, this is no hardship, and that is the other side of Africa; you are here to enjoy certain romantic comforts!
Driving back down the pass, you can take a more conventional if equally appealing safari in the Addo National Park, originally designed to conserve a heavily poached elephant population but for the sheer sensual pleasure of being up close and personal to these magnificent creatures, I could not recommend this experience strongly enough.
Addo Elephant Back Safari
Shamwari Eagles Crag Lodge
Rates from R14 165.00 per person
Eagles Crag is nestled in a valley and provides the ultimate luxury for the most discerning of travellers to the Eastern Cape and Shamwari Private Game Reserve.
Each of the nine superior rooms has been built to maximize the privacy of the guest in the most tranquil of settings.
Kwandwe Melton Manor
Rates from R70 610.00 exclusive use
Kwandwe family-friendly "Melton Manor" with sweeping views of the river and mountains in three different directions, Melton Manor is a whimsical mix of old and new, a contemporary frontier farmhouse with a modern touch.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve offers guests a luxurious "Big 5" safari experience.
Kariega Main Lodge
Rates from R7 300.00 per person
Kariega Main Lodge offers families, friends and couples a relaxed and friendly environment to enjoy the African bushveld.
Offering 9,000 hectares of pristine African wilderness, incorporating the picturesque private Kariega Game Reserve and Bushmans Rivers.
Amakhala Woodbury Lodge
Rates from R4 220.00 per person
Amakhala Woodbury Lodge offers an intimate and tranquil experience of the Eastern Cape riverine bushveld at its best. Experience a memorable safari in an area steeped in history and beauty.
The Woodbury safari Lodge in the Amakhala Game Reserve has recently received a four-star grading in recognition of its standards.
Amakhala Safari Lodge
Rates from R6 980.00 per person
Amakhala Safari Lodge is an intimate thatched safari lodge with its unique air-conditioned safari huts offers all the comforts of a luxury 5-star lodge and is an undisturbed retreat where you can regenerate your soul and tune into the sounds of nature.
The Amakhala Game Reserve offers up one of the best lodges in the Eastern Cape.
Kariega Ukhozi Lodge
Rates from R9 200.00 per person
Kariega Ukhozi Lodge is a small luxurious and vibrant safari destination with modern African-style decor surrounding, perfect for those looking for something romantic.
The Ukhozi Game Lodge sits high on a hill overlooking the Kariega Game Reserve overlooking its rolling hills and valleys.
Amakhala Hillsnek Lodge
Rates from R6 980.00 per person
Amakhala Hillsnek Lodge is ideally positioned in a remote corner of the Malaria Free Amakhala Game Reserve offering up a private and intimate safari lodge experience.
HillsNek game lodge is the ideal "Big 5" safari destination for a small group of friends or a family group when visiting the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Shamwari Bayethe Tented Lodge
Rates from R11 875.00 per person
Shamwari Bayethe Tented Lodge is a splendid stone-walled and thatch-roofed lodge with a large deck area overlooking a waterhole.
The nine luxury suites at Bayethe Tented Lodge in the Shamwari Private Game Reserve are camouflaged under trees allowing for ample privacy and unsurpassed comforts.