The tourism industry has, without doubt, been one of the industries hardest hit by the Covid 19 pandemic and, in South Africa, it is perhaps the up-market game reserves that have suffered most of all.

Relying mainly on the overseas market, which has all but evaporated, many of these establishments have been struggling just to keep afloat.

With enormous overheads, which include permanent APUs (anti-poaching units), coupled with devastating drought conditions in some parts of the country, it has been a year-long battle for survival for many of these reserves.

That is the bad news.

There is some unexpected good news, however – if you are a local

In the absence of overseas visitors, a number of these exclusive game reserves are turning their attention to the local market and offering very generous specials to South African citizens.

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For most of us, a stay at an up-market game park in our own country is an experience we could only ever dream about, but now, with unexpected thanks to Covid, it is within our reach.

Amakhala Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape, less than an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) is one of the reserves that is attracting local visitors by offering very generous and attractive packages.

Amakhala Game Reserve Woodbury Lodge Pool
Amakhala Game Reserve Woodbury Lodge Pool
(Image source: www.amakhala.co.za)

3 Unforgettable days

Using a special occasion as an excuse to take up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, my husband and I spent three unforgettable days at Woodbury Lodge in the Amakhala Reserve on the Makana-Gqeberha (aka Grahamstown-Port Elizabeth) road.

The package we took included three meals and two game drives each day. Although still a stretch on our budget, it offered incredible value for money and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Right from the outset it was clear that, even though we were paying substantially lower rates than normal, our experience would be no different from that of regular guests. The welcome was warm and friendly, the accommodation luxurious, and the staff went of their way to ensure our comfort.

Covid protocols all observed

Covid protocols are observed in the most unobtrusive way and we never saw a single staff member without a mask. Yet, the atmosphere of the Lodge is relaxed and laid-back and, in no time, you are made to feel equally relaxed and at home.

Amakhala Game Reserve Woodbury Lodge Bedroom
Amakhala Game Reserve Woodbury Lodge Bedroom (Image source: www.amakhala.co.za)

The game drives were the highlight of our visit

Sibella was our personal nature guide who drove us on all six of our excursions. Despite looking young enough to still be in school, she had a chance to demonstrate her jaw-dropping driving skills when she was forced to reverse down a steep, winding dirt track (at reasonable speed) ahead of a rhino, intent on following us down.

Sibella also quickly picked up that we were not solely interested in viewing just the Big 5 (which they do have). So, although we had some magnificent, and heart-stoppingly close encounters with lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino, she also searched out the smaller creatures, sharing her extensive knowledge of termites, meerkats, birds and even the plants on the reserve.

She stopped for dung beetles and tortoises, for mongoose and monkeys and each drive was a completely different experience and memorable in some way.

A lion at Amakhala Game Reserve
A lion at Amakhala Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape
(Pic by Ed Richardson)
A kudu calf drinking
A kudu calf drinking from its mother at Amakhala Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape
(Pic by Ed Richardson)

With a game drive before breakfast and the evening drive leaving in the late afternoon, there was plenty of time between outings for rest and relaxation.

Each suite at the Lodge has its own private outdoor sitting area, with stunning views of the reserve where it is easy to spend a couple of hours lazing in a comfortable chair with a book and a pair of binoculars.

Otherwise, there is a swimming pool, with equally stunning views from the loungers or the option of finding a quiet, shady spot to just enjoy the sound of the birds in the surrounding bush.

The meals were served outdoors whenever the weather permitted and eating al fresco added to the whole ‘bush’ experience. Every meal was delicious and different, with lots of fresh salads and vegetables and home baked bread.

A black-backed jackal hunting prey
A black-backed jackal hunting at Amakhala Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape
(Pic by Ed Richardson)
Elephants play fighting
Elephants play fighting – one has grabbed the other’s tail at Amakhala Game Reserve, in the Eastern Cape
(Pic by Ed Richardson)

Every effort was made to cater for guests with special dietary requirements

Perhaps the only experience we missed out on, this time no thanks to Covid, was the cosy pre-dinner chats around the fire with the manager and the nature guides.

In normal circumstances, they would also have joined us for dinner and shared their knowledge and anecdotes about their experiences on the reserve. Under Covid protocols, the staff must distance themselves from the guests.

If you have a celebration coming up and you can stretch your budget a little more than a little, now is the time to do it. This is an opportunity that may never present itself again – it’s not often that our humble rand can buy us a truly exceptional experience in our very own beautiful country.

Specials & bookings:

Your dream safari adventure awaits with our SA Resident Special – valid until 30 September 2021!

Rates start from as little as R 1,158 per person per night sharing! 

HOW TO BOOK: 

Speak to one of the  safari specialists to book your stay:
(e) : reservations2@amakhala.co.za
(t) : 041 450 5658

TERMS & CONDITIONS APPLY: 

  • Include: accommodation, all meals and 2 game drives per night stayed
  • Excludes: all beverages, transfers, telephone calls, laundry, any items of personal nature and conservation levies
  • Valid until 30 September 2021
  • This special may not be used in conjunction with any other special
  • Subject to availability

CONSERVATION LEVIES: 

  • All visitors: R140 per night
  • Children under 12 years: R70 per night

AGE CATEGORIES: 

  • Bukela Game Lodge and Bush Lodge             12+ years welcome
  • Hlosi Game Lodge      All ages welcome (Children’s Programme)
  • HillsNek Safari Camp 6+ years welcome
  • Safari Lodge   9+ years welcome
  • Woodbury Lodge       6+ years welcome
  • Leeuwenbosch Country House          All ages welcome
  • Woodbury Tented Camp       6+ years welcome
  • Quatermain’s Camp   12+ years welcome
  • Carnarvon Dale          9+ years welcome