S(h)plendid Shamwari

Shamwari means ‘my friend’ in Shona and it stands up to its name, with friendly staff who make sure your every need is met. This is safari luxury of the highest order, set against a backdrop of the beautiful rolling hills of the Eastern Cape and home to a huge array of wildlife, including the ‘big five’.

It’s hard to know where to start my writing about it: the bush, the decadent accommodation, the food (oh, the food!) but, I guess I should start with the main reason people go to Shamwari: the game drives (two daily, one early morning, one late afternoon). Our guide, Mino, was amazing. A fountain of knowledge of both the fauna and the flora, an incredible spotter of game and an all around nice guy. We loved him.

Despite the fact that I’m born-and-bred South African, I have never seen lion in the wild. An hour or two after telling Mino this, we sat in awe of an entire lion family lounging about. What an extraordinary privilege. Another half hour later (and a spectacular drive through the bush, dotted with buck, tortoises, jackals and more), two cheetah dudes paid us no attention while we ogled them.

As the sun set in the west, turning the sky spectacular shades of pink, we passed a giraffe, his sunset silhouette like something out of a safari brochure. Before we headed back, a herd of elephant, including the tiniest one I’ve ever seen (7 1/2 weeks old) slowly melded into the dusky bush. How are those enormous creatures so quiet? Spongy feet, that’s how!

We stayed at Long Lee Manor, which made me feel like I should be dressed in cool cream linen outfits, saying ‘I had a farm in Africa’. It’s elegant and spacious, with a rim pool in its centre (above a watering hole) that all other rim pools should aspire to. The enormous en-suite rooms, each with their own veranda, overlook the game-filled plain and they have every comfort in them (think percale linen, warm blankets as light as a cloud, indoor and outdoor shower and coffee machine) and enough room to dance a vigorous waltz in (if one wished to do so).

Let’s talk about the food. Oh, the food! Throughout the day, head chef, Richard, and his staff whip up incredible, tasty meals that are beautifully presented: any breakfast your heart desires (for me, on day 1, a cooked breakfast; day 2, a pudding breakfast a.k.a. Flapjacks served with a bowl of Nutella, honeycomb butter, cream and berries). Lunches were tapas style: make-your-own salad to start, followed by four or five flavour-filled tapas dishes. Dessert was ice-cream.

The ice-creams and sorbets deserve a full paragraph of their own. I could probably write a whole blog about them. Served in the most beautiful icy granite stone bowls (so clever, especially in mid-summer heat), creamy coffee ice cream, fresh blueberry, watermelon and strawberry sorbets were on offer during our stay. I could’ve lived on them alone. Divine.

Dinners were equally as superb – night 1, an a la carte menu and night 2, a braai in the boma which, to me, looked like something out of Survivor, but was way more friendly and with far better food! Under the star-spattered sky, it was perfect.

I think I’ve gushed enough. Bottom line: Shamwari is superb. I’m not going to lie, it’s not cheap, especially if you’re South African but it’s the kind of place that should be a treat anyway: think anniversaries, ‘big’ birthdays etc. And if you’re on USD or UKP: go, go, go! The perfect, malaria-free, safari holiday.

Wheelchair accessibility

Long Lee Manor at Shamwari is the poster child for accessibility. Despite being spectacularly perched on a hill to allow for maximum ‘sweeping plains to the hills’ views, I could get everywhere, via gently sloping, easy-to-manoeuvre ramps. I fit at the tables in the restaurant and I could get everywhere everybody else could, and that’s pretty rare!

The universally accessible room truly is fantastic, with a huge bed which is a good height for transfer and a private veranda on which to sit and watch the birds and a rather friendly tortoise who happened to amble past.

The bathroom, too, is huge and fully-accessible, including grab rails, and even a shower commode. They have thought of everything. The only thing missing was being able to get under the basin but they were so keen for input, so I’m sure they’ll sort that out.

The game drives, something that is challenging for those of us in wheelchairs, due mainly to the height of safari vehicles. Mino was incredible. He took the time to listen to what I needed and we had a dedicated vehicle to allow us the time to get me in and to spare any embarrassment (it’s not graceful, getting a 6-foot quadriplegic into a game driving vehicle!). Mino and a colleague lifted me into the car as if I was featherlight (I’m not), strapped me in so I felt completely safe and made sure I was comfortable throughout our drive. Just wonderful.

And I think I must end here, although I could go on and on. My final note: I was made to feel welcome and heard and every effort was made to ensure my experience was as good as (if not better than), everyone else’s and, despite it being pretty much the most accessible place I’ve been, they were so keen to hear my opinions and suggestions (which is why I was there), so that they can improve even more!

Five stars to Ilze-Marie, Mino and all the other lovely staff at Long Lee Manor. What an absolute treat.

*We were hosted by Shamwari for two nights.

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