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
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
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

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?