Thursday, April 25, 2013

Amakhala Game Reserve – Jeremy Williamson

Are the Eastern Cape game parks good enough for the wildlife enthusiast ?
Lana and I decided to find out. We had previously visited a couple of the wildlife venues in the area, one being the rather well known Shamwari Game Reserve. We needed to know if the other game parks in the area were any good with respect to the game viewing ? Arrangements were made to visit Lodges in the Amakhala Game Reserve for a few days so that we could really get a ‘feel’ of the game viewing potential of that reasonably new protected area. 

Imagine a group of local farmers, mostly 5th generation family from the 1820 Settlers, all neighbouring farmers, having a meeting where they unanimously decided to pool their resources , remove the fences, restock with wildlife and create the wonderful Amakhala Game Reserve. At approximately 7000 ha in size with some of the properties across district roads and even across the N2 main road, there is fragmentation, but this has been turned to the advantage of game management.
Certain species can thus be separated. One would not be too keen for the prized disease free buffalo, at  around R300,000 each, being on the evening menu of the lion pride. Amakhala Game Reserve management are in the process of restructuring, with the moving of their lion to the main, largest sector and the buffalo to a separate protected environment. This concept could possibly also be applied to their cheetah, these wonderful cats always seem to be on the losing end when in cohabitation with lion in a reserve, slowly being decimated by the competitive larger cats. They have plans too for leopard.

The Amakhala Game Reserve main section is an ideal size in many ways. Small enough, for one to be able to reach an extremity during the course of a single game drive, but not too small that one  has to repeatedly traverse the same area.  The five game drives we enjoyed on Amakhala were all so different and we certainly saw a wide diversity of species.  This diversity so adds to the game viewing. A Big Five destination with the elephant, rhino, buffalo and lion readily seen. Leopard are rather secretive here in the Cape, a legacy of persecution by  farmers. This is changing though as Amakhala Game Reserve is really within a vast protected area, with game parks neighbouring the reserve and beyond, securing a  vast area for conservation which in time will join up with the Greater Addo Park and include a very broad diversity of species, all in a secure relatively safe habitat. From springbok and cape oryx which generally hail from the further western drier areas of the country to impala, hartebeest, eland, blesbok and the less often seen waterbuck, duiker and kudu. There are many others too. I loved it, ostrich mixed with giraffe and zebra, I noted that virtually from any vantage point in the Park one could stop and find some animal within view. 

The diverse biomes within the Amakhala Game Reserve have a very high carrying capacity for  wildlife in general, which in turn offers the excellent game viewing visitors are able to experience here. No wonder, in days of yore, that this area was regarded as one of the best hunting territories , full of loads of animals.  Thanks to the likes of Adrian Gardiner who created Shamwari Private Game Reserve and now these descendants of the 1820 Frontier Settlers who have created Amakhala Game Reserve, the area is returning to how it once was. Their management plans for the future will make this reserve even better and it’s pretty good now.

Besides the open vehicle guided game drives guests are offered a cruise on the Bushmans River. This large vessel is ideal for bird-watching  and to see the odd animals coming to the river to slake their thirst. The scenery is just too beautiful too. For the more active, one can take to the canoes and get some exercise whilst enjoying the environment.
Dense sections there are,  from the compact Albany thicket biome to open grasslands and the nutritious succulent Spekboom.  Not too sure I can get me mind around the English name for that schrub, Porkbush.  Recent research has shown the Porkbush to be an excellent 'carbon sponge' as it has the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. Carbon is one of the major greenhouse gases which are responsible for the warming of the earth's atmosphere; it is produced in excess by the burning of fossil fuels. Currently, humans are producing atmospheric carbon faster than the environment can absorb it, causing a deficit which remains in the atmosphere and causes heat from the sun to be trapped, instead of being radiated back out into space. The porkbush has the unique ability to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than most other plants and it does so particularly efficiently. A stand of Pork bush consequently has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest and the animals love feeding on it! 
So is the Amakhala Game Reserve a worthwhile game viewing destination and in particular of the high profile animals?

The answer is simply an unequivocal  - Yes !
Leopard as at so many venues, such as the game parks in KwaZulu-Natal, are present but rarely seen. One would need to visit Lodges within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve for a few nights stay, to be assured of seeing this cat along with the rest of the Big 5.  There will however be a change (for the better) in the game viewing experience when the lion are released into the main game reserve section at Amakhala.

There are presently eleven commercial Lodges in the Amakhala Game Reserve. From purpose built to converted Homesteads, each has it’s own unique character and attributes. Lana and I visited three of the Lodges and we managed to pop in and visit another three. In time we will report on all the venues in the Amakhala Game Reserve. Here are the links to the three reviews we have written and then some photographs of the three Lodges we only briefly visited.

Bukela Game Lodge 
Click here to read our review

Woodbury Tented Camp - Amakhala Game Reserve

This is a three star venue - lovely outlook

Woodbury Tented Camp view deck

Hillsneck  Safaris’ Tented Camp - Amakhala Game Reserve

This is a four star superior tented camp with the most wonderful outlook over the plains below. Set on the bank of the Bushman's River in the heart of the Amakhala Game Reserve, Eastern Cape.

Honeymoon suite lounge area

Hlozi Game Lodge - Amakhala Game Reserve

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