To get up close and personal with the big five in an intimate, malaria-free safari camp in the African bush, with a bespoke luxury experience designed for honeymooners.
There are few scenarios more exhilarating than sitting just metres away from a stretching and joshing pride of lions. But within minutes of an evening drive, that’s exactly where you can find yourself. A safari is typically deemed an ‘adventure honeymoon’ but Shambala’s take is more nurturing, therapeutic and beautifully peaceful.
Set the scene:
Nurtured and monitored by a by a team of dedicated rangers, Shambala Private Game Reserve covers 10,000 square hectares of river-crossed, bolder-laden African bush at the base of the Waterberg mountains,
After a three-and-a-half scenic drive from Johannesburg, guests are greeted by a gigantic honeycomb gatehouse at the mouth of the reserve, alongside a cold beer and dedicated ranger for the trip. The main accommodation is a half an hour drive from the entrance gates so a mini game drive is first on the agenda. At Shambala, the animals aren’t tagged or tracked, so a ‘stumble upon’ organic-style safari is really what gives this place its authentic charm – you certainly won’t have the same day twice.
The reserve covers as far as the eye can see, with an abundance of trees and green, sweeping plains, rivers and the Douw Steyn Dam. Despite these vast landscapes, wildlife encounters feel wonderfully intimate. The moment when the jeep engine cuts next to a rhino mother and its baby, contently grazing on grass, and you can hear every bite and every chew is pure magic. A welcome addition to the peace is the fact that the only guests on the reserve are those staying, so you’re likely to have a game drive to yourself – or at least not bump into any other guests on the way.
Days are mainly spent on game drives (early mornings are a given for the best chance of a wildlife encounter) alongside bush walks, fishing trips, sundowners on the Dam and stargazing, with a trip to the spa for some down time.
There are just eight rooms in Zulu Camp at Shambala, all sleeping two. Each is a thatched ‘chalet’, made with traditional Zulu materials such as dark wood and woven grasses, featuring a gigantic sink-into bed with the crispest white cotton. sheets, private paved terrace and open air rainforest shower shielded by a thatched screen. All are dotted around the main camp and a wooden walkway, but each feels perfectly private for honeymooners. For more privacy, book rooms 5-8, as these are set away from the main area. Each room comes with its own butler too, who can be called on any time of the day or night.
Food and Drink:
Menus don’t exist at Shambala, which only adds to its exclusive appeal. The chefs will work to your taste using local, seasonal ingredients and traditional techniques. You can expect the most delicious plates including fresh fish, waygu beef, fresh salads and vegetable risottos with pitch perfect South African wine pairings. A traditional South African braai is not to be missed, cooked over hot coals in the main area of the camp and enjoyed buffet-style over-looking the camp’s waterfall, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a monkey or two.
Dinners are typically taken in the dining area, which is partially open, overlooking the waterfall, but breakfasts and lunches can be arranged in the bush. A morning bush walk, led by a ranger, is a must-do, finishing with breakfast (think mimosas, freshly baked pastries and fruit platters) at the shoreline of the reservoir that families of hippos call home.
Experience is at the heart of what Shambala does, and that’s not only for its guests. There are multiple initiatives that give Shambala its global praise for animal welfare. Not only are the animals untracked, but rangers are carefully trained to give minimal disruption to animals with vehicles and lights, and the reserve has a comprehensive anti-poaching unit, with prudent practices in place including asking guests not to share any rhino sightings on social media.
Today, Shambala Private Game Reserve is privately owned alongside sister property The Saxon in Johannesburg, which keeps it feeling intimate and exclusive.
What’s more, to give you an idea just how special the tranquillity is at Shambala, Nelson Mandela chose it for the location of his own private retreat, where he wrote chapters of A Long Walk to Freedom, and welcomed esteemed guests from across the globe. Today, Mandela’s residence can be hired in its entirety.
The Shambala spa makes for a peaceful reprieve between game drives. Set in a private area of the reserve, each treatment room – in keeping with the Zulu style of wood and neutral linens, leads out onto a terrace, perched on a mountainous edge, so it feels as though newlyweds are still on that post-wedding high, suspended in mid-air. The menu itself is carefully curated; there is of course all the expected traditional massages, but there’s no better way to start your journey post-flight than the ‘Shambala Signature Journey’, featuring exfoliation and a muscle-restoring massage. Ask for the treatment to take place on the terrace, where there’s certainly no need for twinkly spa music; the natural sounds of the African bush is enough to send you into a soothed state.
Shambala is located three-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg international airport in the Vaalwater area of the Limpopo Province. The drive is scenic past mountainous landcape and lush greenery, and it’s not unusual to spot an impala or giraffe on your journey. Shambala itself is nestled within sweeping mountains; each corner turned is another area and terrain discovered – within the thirty minute journey from gatehouse to Zulu camp, the dirt track twists its way through open plains with grazing rhino, watering holes – look closely for twitching hippo ears – and densely forested areas, where the elephants in particular take shelter from the scorching sun.
Being so reliant on a happy habitat, Shambala takes both eco and wildlife welfare rightfully seriously. For example, it is partnered with the EMS foundation, which aims to ‘alleviate and end suffering’ across underprivileged groups and wild animals. Initiatives have included donating thousands of desks and over 600 pairs of shoes to children in the Vaalwater area of the Limpopo Province very close to the reserve, many of whom do not have access to shoes and walk for hours to reach their schools. Recently, the EMS foundation planted a vegetable garden at one school in Vaalwater, so that the children had access to fresh, nutritious food.
Shambala is located three-and-a-half hours from Johannesburg international airport in the Vaalwater area of the Limpopo Province.
All-inclusive stays at Zulu Camp at Shambala Private Game Reserve start from £630 per person
Virgin Atlantic flies direct between London Heathrow and Johannesburg with return fares from £587 per person, including complimentary food, drink, inflight entertainment and taxes.
For further information visit www.virginatlantic.com or call 0344 8747 747. This fare is available for selected departures in 2023 and is for seven nights. Prices given are correct as of 24th May 2022 and are subject to change.
Related Article: Honeymoon Review: Anassa, Cyprus