Where the bugs don't bite

It may not have marauding lion packs, but the Shamwari Game Reserve offers something its wilder rivals just can't guarantee: a Malaria-free encounter with the 'Big Five'

Disease. Not the first thing that springs to mind when considering where to go big-game watching. More likely, you'll check out the likelihood of seeing the 'Big Five' (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) and ponder the level of luxury you can afford. Malaria prophylactics are way down the to-do list, along with cancelling the papers and buying super-strength sunscreen.

Disease. Not the first thing that springs to mind when considering where to go big-game watching. More likely, you'll check out the likelihood of seeing the 'Big Five' (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) and ponder the level of luxury you can afford. Malaria prophylactics are way down the to-do list, along with cancelling the papers and buying super-strength sunscreen.

It seems an immutable law of game watching in South Africa that the best game hangs out in the most remote and malaria-ridden regions. For many people (pregnant women, young children and those with certain medical conditions) these are no-go areas, not because they will definitely contract malaria, but because the consequences are so serious if they do. For others, the decision is not so clear cut.

Whether you are allergic to anti-malarial drugs, wary of their side-effects or unconvinced of their efficacy as the malaria parasite becomes increasingly drug-resistant, the end result is the same. If you want to stay in malarial areas, you must indulge in a tedious twilight ritual of anointing your body with insect repellent, donning trousers, long socks and a long-sleeved shirt. With the best will in the world, though, there's always a chance that a malarial mosquito will break through the defences.

Many people consider this a price worth paying to watch animals in some of the most stunning scenery on the continent. If you don't, there is an alternative.

Most of South Africa's good game viewing is in the north and north-east of the country, deep within the malarial belt. However, there is a malaria-free zone close to Johannesburg (which most British tourists tend to avoid because of its reputation for violent crime) that includes Pilanesburg National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve and a massive conservation project, the Shamwari Game Reserve.

Shamwari is the brainchild of Adrian Gardiner, a South African businessman who, in 1991, bought an 1820s British settler's farmhouse as a country retreat. His aim was to create a reserve there and return the land to what it was before the British settler cultivated it and shot all the game.

Some species had hung on in spite of the farmers - kudu, duiker, bush buck, baboons, bush pigs, and the ubiquitous vervet monkeys, nestling in swaying bushes. Leopards too, due to their shy nocturnal habits, still hunt here and the conservation unit at Shamwari has re-introduced several creatures, both great (elephant, hippo, zebra, giraffe, rhino, warthog and buffalo) and small (such as the flightless dung beetle).

They also have lions, but these are kept within an enclosure, built to reassure local farmers that the big predators could be safely contained. Visiting them is a little like touring Woburn or Longleat but some might consider the absence of marauding lions a blessing. Not these guys. The staff are eagerly anticipating the release of a pride into the reserve later this year, along with cheetahs.

What struck me as I arrived (after the initial shock of seeing a white rhino grazing, unconcernedly, just by the turning off the main road) was how pristine the animals looked. In this managed environment, it would be cruel to leave sick or wounded animals untreated, although vet Johann Joubert, cheerfully announced "the lions will soon do that job for me".

This could be seen as just a rich man's hobby (black rhino, for instance, cost around £20,000-25,000 each and the reserve has nine) but, far from seeing tourists as a necessary evil to finance the conservation work, the reserve is constantly improving the facilities to make your stay as relaxing and luxurious as possible.

The amiable manager, Joe Cloete, runs a tight ship, overseeing Shamwari Lodge (which, with its thatched roofs, is evocative of traditional bush camps) and the four other former farmhouses which now serve as accommodation: Long Lee Manor, Highfield and Bushman's River Lodge and Carn Ingly. Except for Carn Ingly, which has a rather cottagey feel, the farmhouses have all been restored in grand Out of Africa style, retaining the original features wherever possible.

The recommended activity is early morning and evening game drives, in the company of a young team of rangers committed to showing you the animals you hope to see. There's plenty of time left for unwinding by the pool or training your binoculars on the near-distance. If you are of a restless disposition, you can explore the multicultural village, which offers insights into the architecture and customs of the Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulus, or The Born Free Foundation, where lions and leopards, maltreated in captivity, have been resettled.

Even after a short spell in the bush, the success of the Shamwari team's conservation mission becomes apparent on the drive back to the nearby town of Port Elizabeth. The roadside dairy farms look forlorn and strangely denuded of vegetation and, suddenly, ecologist John O'Brien's dream of extending the reserve as far as Grahamstown, 68km away, seems incredibly attractive.

Diona Gregory travelled to South Africa with SARtravel (020-7637 3560, e-mail: info@artravel.com) which offers tailor-made southern Africa itineraries.

South African Airlines (0870 747 1111) flies daily from London Heathrow airport to Cape Town from £549 return or to Johannesburg from £462. Onward domestic flights are available from both these cities to Port Elizabeth airport, 50 minutes drive from Shamwari Game Reserve, or alternatively, you can travel from Cape Town by bus.

Accommodation starts at £168 per person, per night, including meals and game drives (tel: 00 27 42 231111, fax: 00 27 42 2351224, www.shamwari.com).

For more information, call Addo National Park (00 27 42 6400556), or Pilanesberg National Park (00 27 14 5355355/6/7/8) or click on www.tourismnorthwest.co.za

News
Howard Marks who has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer aged 69
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us