The 2,5 hour drive to Shambala Private Game Reserve started off with a surprise breakfast pack prepared by the Saxon Hotel chef with fresh muffins, fruit, sandwiches and juice. Having been worried about how I would last until Vaalwater without some sustenance, this was a welcome treat before I settled into my book.
Before long, we approached the impressive entrance to the game farm, splashing through the little stream that runs across the access road. Here we were welcomed by the Assistant Lodge Manager as well as our Game Ranger for the trip. We then proceeded to the picturesque 30 minute drive through the Game Farm to Zulu Camp, which turned into a mini game drive with sightings of antelope and rhinos. We also learned a few valuable tips for if we ever had to encounter a rhino on foot – Tip: if a rhino levels its horn with the ground and stomps like a bull; you are in trouble!
The rest of the Shambala team welcomed us at the lodge with warm towels and a welcome glass of chilled French champagne and heated towels to refresh with – who ever said one can’t have creature comforts in the bush! The chef on duty then proceeded to talk us through the options in the buffet lunch that he prepared for us, which consisted of crispy fresh salad, perfectly cured springbok, a delicious salmon and amazingly tender lamb. This was naturally accompanied by an expertly mixed gin and tonic.
After lunch, and a quick freshen up, we departed on an afternoon game drive. What I found astonishing is the continuous stream of information from our ranger Sean – ranging from the medicinal uses of the leaves of a tree on the roadside to the reasons behind the distinctive colouring of certain animals – his love for the surroundings apparent. The excitement was raised even more when we arrived at the Douw Steyn Dam, which is a man-made dam named after the owner of the reserve, for a sundown cruise with some more gin, as well as hippos and crocodiles. Naturally all of this would lead to an impromptu photoshoot with the picture perfect sunset in the background to up our selfie game.
Just when I thought the day could not get any better, it was time for my guilty pleasure – a spa treatment. The spa is situated 5 minutes away from Zulu Camp and the isolated environment is really conducive to a relaxing break-away and pampering session. I could easily have spent a few more hours at the spa getting in touch with nature and myself as Fiona gave me what was no doubt one of the best facials I ever had.
For dinner we were treated to a bush-braai where I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautifully set table – not my usual experience when it comes to a braai! The spread of food would make any Afrikaans mother proud – there was more than enough to satisfy the hungriest diner, from a perfectly cooked lamb chop to an exemplary braaied chicken. All this was followed by malva pudding and homemade custard straight out of ouma’s kitchen.
After a few glasses of wine around the fire, sharing our experiences of the day, we finally got to bed. The chalets are beautifully appointed and would make any luxury hotel envious. I woke up well rested to the calls of the baboons in the vicinity; in time for a quick coffee before we departed on an early morning game drive.
This drive was easily the highlight of the trip to me. We got to go to the buffalo breeding camp and I must say it is a special feeling to be surrounded by these majestic animals. We then set off on a search for the lions on the reserve. They were eventually located near the dam, and when we stopped the vehicle right next to them, I got a rush of adrenaline to be so close to a pride of lions! While we were within spitting distance from them, Sean told us a bit about the history of the pride – originally there was only the four adults, but as things happen in nature, the cubs joined soon after. An interesting fact we learnt was that lions can’t purr – can you imagine what that would sound like though!
Back at the camp we had a delicious breakfast with freshly baked bread and pastries before embarking on the next part of our Shambala journey. It is amazing to think of everything we experienced so for – and this was only the first 24 hours of our experience at Shambala Private Game Reserve!