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Top 5 Private Game Reserves in South Africa

South Africa is beyond famous for its’ incredible game reserves and lodges. People flock from all around the world to experience Africa in one of our top class facilities. Some just back a tent and trundle off but others seek out SA’s most luxurious and exclusive wildlife experiences. As far as we’re concerned, we’d be more than happy to stay at ANY of these reserves, but here are our Top 5!

1. Singita – Sabi Sand

It’s no secret Singita has been winning awards for some time now and although all of their private reserves are spectacular, Sabi Sand is regarded as uniquely special. With three magnificent but warm lodges set on a massive plot of Big 5 rich land, it’s easy to see why Singita Sabi Sand was recently ranked number 9 in the Condé Nast travellers awards in the Middle East, Africa and India Ocean.

2. Londolozi

One of the original pioneering Private Game Reserves of the ecotourism industry in South Africa and an unashamedly family run, stand alone operation, conservation is at the core of their ethics. World renowned as one of Africas finest game lodges, Londolozi was the first game reserve in the world to be accorded Relais & Chateaux status, with each of its’ 5 lodges committed to luxurious accommodation, fine cuisine and exceptional service.

3. Thanda

Wildlife, romance and exclusivity meet at Thanda Private Game Reserve – an award-winning safari destination in northern Zululand.Originally purchased as degraded cattle farms, Thanda’s wildlife management has concentrated on an extensive rehabilitation project, which included reintroducing the Big Five. The newly added Luxury Tented Camp is the epitome of oppulent colonial safari-style, perfect for guests who are searching for an authentic safari experience!

4. Shamwari

Home to Africas Big 5 and is situated in the Eastern Cape of South Africa Shamwari has received numerous international awards, including the Worlds Leading Conservation Company and Game Reserve for many consecutive years.Luxury safari accommodation is offered in 7 different 5-star lodges on the 25 000 hectare reserve. From rustic treetop hideaways to colonial bush mansions, Shamwari will make your safari dreams come true.

5. Phinda

Phinda is unique in that is includes seven distinct habitats – a magnificent tapestry of woodland, grassland, wetland and forest, interspersed with mountain ranges, river courses, marshes and pans. At Phinda intimate encounters and rare discoveries can be experienced firsthand. With unspoiled beaches and spectacular reefs nearby, and an abundance of wildlife, Phinda offers the perfect bush and beach adventure. Six luxury lodges, each set in varying environments, provide exclusivity and privacy deeply set in the natural environment.

Reconnect at Rhino River Lodge

The African bushveld feels like a vast and never-ending space when you’re in the midst of it, but it’s at these times that you feel the most intimate connection to this natural environment and its inhabitants.

At Rhino River Lodge in Zululand, the small team aims to give each guest that uniquely personal nature high.
“We want them to get an intimate look at nature, so that all of our guests leave with a renewed appreciation of the bush, mindful of the importance of conservation and how it can play a role creating a space where people can relax, and hopefully re-awakening that childlike thrill of seeing a special nature moment – be it as simple as examining an intricate leaf or looking up at the stars, or as complex as negotiating a bush walk round an extremely rate and hugely endangered black rhino,” says manager Shona Lawson.

She’s one of a group of just 15 people who total the workforce at this quaint lodge within the 23,000 hectare Zululand Rhino Reserve. The lodge consists of four luxury en-suite rooms plus there are also two rustic family cottages that can accommodate up to four people.
Reserve manager Dale Airton leads the team with Shona, head ranger Isaac Gumede and support rangers Jenine and Jason take on the wildlife and bushveld challenges. In addition there are 3 trackers who also work on the grounds and 7 ladies who run the kitchen and housekeeping services. Continue reading

Wildlife from behind the lens with Pangolin

Fate was clearly at work the night that intrepid wildlife photographers Toby Jermyn and Gerhard “Guts” Swanepoel met around a campfire in Phalaborwa a few years back.
Their mutual passions and frustrations with the safari experiences they were being offered eventually led them to start their own photographic safari company, Pangolin Photo Safaris.

Although Toby says a photo safari can take place in any environment – urban or natural – he and Guts set up camp in The Chobe, where they can easily show off some of Africa’s best assets to their clients.

“We are lucky in The Chobe where it’s a photographer paradise,” Toby said, “The weather is great, the light superb and with the vehicles we have, getting photographers into position is quite easy. There are times, however when the animals don’t cooperate so you have to find other subjects. Our guides have been trained to look for photographic subjects that might not be of interest to a traditional safari-goer but will thrill a wildlife photographer.”
But what makes a photo safari different from a normal safari, one may ask? According to Toby it’s about spending time with other keen photographers who will be looking for subjects to photograph, rather than just trying to see as many animals as possible.
“Traditionally there was always conflict between birders and non-birders on a game drive with people wanting to see different things. That conflict now exists between photographers and non photographers. On a photo safari you can, for example, sit in front of a troop of baboons misbehaving for a long time getting lots of great shots without someone getting frustrated that we are not moving on.”
Because Pangolin is a company set up by photographers for photographers, they understand that clients want to be put in position to get that great shot. They welcome photographers of all levels or experience and even supply state of the art digital cameras free of charge to those who have yet to make the investment in their own camera. Continue reading

Just blending into the bushveld

You’ve got to learn to tread lightly and keep your senses on high alert if you want to experience the real Africa on foot.
That’s according to field guide Ivor van Rooyen of Zululand Walking Safaris.

With over 1600 hours of on-foot guiding and more than 10 years experience behind him, he’s the guy you’d want to listen to at all times during your adventure!

Zululand Walking Safaris is based at Leopard Mountain Game Lodge high up in the 23 000ha Zululand Rhino Reserve and was started by the local Vivier family who wanted to allow their guests to get a more one on one experience with nature. Together with Ryan Vivier, who has worked for the past 15 years in a Big 5 reserve doing guiding and conservation work, the two are in charge of the walking trails.

“We want our guests to experience Africa naturally, without the drone of a vehicles engine in the background. We encourage our guests to walk in silence and use their five senses to get the ‘whole picture”. Explanations about interesting things are done in whispers so that we do not distract from what is happening around us,” explained Ivor.

Zululand Walking Safaris is one of the few operators who are legally qualified to take guests into a ‘Dangerous Game’ area – that means a Big 5 zone!
“We do take firearms with us on the Walking Safaris but they are a last resort,” Ivor said, “The aim of the walking safaris is not to get close to dangerous game. We do come across dangerous animals but have never had an incident. We try and view animals without them being aware of our presence, for us a good sighting is to leave the animal without it knowing that we were there.” Continue reading

Rapt over Raptors

Deborah does an educational show

Wading through smelly guano and feeding dead chickens to large raptors is not everyone’s idea of a dream job, however, the Oertal family take great joy in their daily toils at the SA National Bird of Prey Centre & Wildlife Sanctuary (SANBOP).

Since 1996 Glodel, her husband Trevor and their children James and Deborah have been rescuing, rehabilitating and breeding birds of prey, as well as educating South Africans about these feathered marvels. Implementing four main aims of Education, Rehabilitation, Captive Breeding and Research, SANBOPC is dedicated to the conservation of raptors in South Africa and all over the planet. With centres based in Gauteng and the Free State, SANBOPC also have a mobile team that visits schools and other venues to give displays and teach people more about birds of prey as well as other animals.

Inca the South American Grey Eagle

Then and now

SANBOPC was founded in 1996 by a Trevor and Glodel Oertel, who are still actively involved today. “We have a small but dedicated and highly skilled team of handlers and falconers that work with the animals consisting of Mashona, Champion, James and Deborah,” said Glodel.
Trevor had been a falconer since he was a young boy and Glodel always had a passion for wildlife. The community became aware of their unique knowledge and love for birds of prey and often brought injured birds to their family to care for. “So we took our financial resources, travelled overseas and researched bird of prey centers and then established the first bird of prey centre in South Africa.”

Passion and Connection

“Besides their obvious beauty and awe inspiring design to function as such successful predators in the wild, it is also the unique personalities that each bird has that we love. It never ceases to amaze us how intelligent they are and the friendships and bonds that are developed between the falconer and his birds. The birds allow us to help them and teach us so many different things on a daily basis.” Continue reading