Shamwari Game Reserve, a 25,000 hectare game reserve located one hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, is one of South Africa’s largest private conservation initiatives. It is home to the Big Five, as well as hundreds of other animal species, and six different five star lodges. Here is my review of Bayethe Tented Lodge where I stayed for two nights at a solo traveller.
Bayethe Tented Lodge tents
The 12 tents at Bayethe Tented Lodge have more in common with a luxurious hotel room than anything you would associate with camping. While the walls of the tents are canvas, the roof and supports are fixed which means there is no danger of water leaking onto that comfy bed. Each tent has a plunge pool, a private deck, en-suite bathroom with indoor and outdoor shower, mini-bar and coffee machine with complimentary treats. The plunge pools are too cold to use in winter, but no doubt they would be fantastic in summer. The tents are secluded and surrounded by greenery which means you often get animal visitors. I disturbed a family of monkeys when I stepped outside to use the outdoor shower. We both let out surprised squeals (sorry about that, monkeys). There were also warthogs doing the lawn mowing outside my tent one day.
Bayethe Tented Lodge activities
Each day follows a set program which is provided in your room on arrival although the timing for this can change slightly. For example, dinner was 7.30pm when I stayed instead of 8pm as per the website, but otherwise the winter program was the same as the one below. In summer, the timings are different with an earlier wakeup call and later second game drive and dinner since the days are longer. The summer program gives you more time to enjoy the lodge and its facilities, including the pools. However, you have to get up at 5.30am for the first game drive.
I didn’t have much time to relax or enjoy my beautiful room on the winter program as we started the day early and there wasn’t much time between arriving back from the second game drive and dinner. However, I appreciated the morning sleep in and cooler weather on the drives. I would stay in winter again for these reasons and also because the animals are more active at this time of year.
06h30 Wakeup call
07h00 Breakfast is served
07h30 Depart for morning game drive
10h30 Return from morning game drive
11h00 Requested check-out time
12h30 Lunch is served until 14h30
13h00 Recommended arrival time
14h30 Afternoon tea
15h00 Depart for afternoon game drive
19h30 Pre dinner drinks
20h00 Dinner is served
Bayethe Tented Lodge restaurant
All meals are included in the rate plus afternoon tea is served in the main lodge, before the second game drive, each day. Drinks cost extra but prices are reasonable for accommodation of this calibre. A glass of South African wine is around AU$4. Wines by the bottle were also well priced. Breakfast is a cold buffet with meats, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, juice, etc accompanied by a hot a la carte menu offering dishes such as a traditional cooked breakfast, pancakes and French toast. Breakfast is served before the game drive in winter; in summer it is after the drive at around 9am.
Lunch is a la carte and served outdoors on a deck overlooking the waterhole. People are seated with their travelling party; in my case a table for one. This was a bit lonely on the first day, especially with everyone chatting on the other tables about what they had seen on their morning game drive. I dined early for lunch on the second day, before everyone else arrived, which was lovely and peaceful rather than lonely. I really enjoyed this experience. Keep an eye on the waterhole in case some visitors drop in for a drink.
Lunch can stretch to four courses if you’re really hungry, with a soup to start followed by the likes of pear and blue cheese salad (pictured) and a gourmet lamb burger. There might also be a steamed chocolate pudding served with rum and raisin ice cream for dessert. However, like me, most people seemed happy with two courses. Dinner alternates between a brai, the South African equivalent of an Aussie barbeque, and a five course a la carte menu. This is the same at all of the Shamwari lodges, not just Bayethe. There are pre-dinner drinks listed on the program but these are not included in your tariff.
In summer, you may prefer to sit on the deck of your tent and watch the sun go down (very romantic!). In winter, it’s lovely to sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine in the main lodge. However, it’s also fine to simply turn up for dinner at the appointed time. The a la carte dinner is served inside the main lodge at a table with your travelling party. In summer, the brai is served in a special outdoor area; in winter you order your brai meat off a menu and it is plated up for you in the kitchen with a selection of side dishes served family-style. Whether it is summer or winter, the brai is eaten with the group in your safari vehicle and your guide.
Bayethe Tented Lodge game drives
On your first game drive, you will be allocated a ranger who will take you on drives for the duration of your stay. The other people in your vehicle remain the same too, aside from comings and goings based on the arrival and departure of guests. During my two night stay, I did one game drive with a family from the UK, one on my own with the guide while we waited for new guests to arrive, and my final two drives were with two couples travelling together from the USA. On the evening drive, you stop somewhere for sundowners and snacks (your drink choice is pre-ordered at lunch).
You don’t have to do much while you’re on safari other than listen to your guide and enjoy watching the animals. Here’s just a small sample of what I saw during my four game drives. Every drive is different as, even though you might see the same types of animals, they will be behaving in a different way or in a new area of the reserve.
If you find yourself hoping the guide will find lions so they can eat an annoying person in your safari group, remember you can always ask to swap vehicles. Just do it discretely to avoid hurting people’s feelings. A quiet word to your guide or the front office should do the trick, provided there is space available in another vehicle.
I wasn’t sure if my first safari experience would live up to the hype – and it didn’t. Staying at Bayethe Tented Lodge exceeded everything I had been hoping for and more. Seeing so many African animals up close, staying in a tent surrounded by nature and experiencing the culture of South Africa first hand, was beyond compare. Next time I will bring someone with me to share this amazing experience.
Disclosure: The writer stayed as a guest of Shamwari Game Reserve.
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