Location: Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, Eastern Cape
No of Rooms: Kwandwe Ecca Lodge: Six suites. Kwandwe Great Fish River: Nine suites. Kwandwe Melton Manor: Four suites. Uplands Homestead: Three suites.
One Stop Reason To Go: Ecca Lodge is safari with a difference.

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Kwandwe Private Game Reserve flanks both the north and south banks of the Great Fish River and is a conservation victory boasting 22,000 hectares of former farmland that has been restored and restocked with wildlife. This pristine wilderness area is home to Africa’s Big 5, and is the perfect start or end to a journey along the breathtakingly beautiful Garden Route.

Kwandwe, meaning ‘Place of the Blue Crane’ in Xhosa, is home to a population of these rare birds, which despite being South Africa’s National Bird are highly endangered. The Reserve is also sanctuary to other threatened species such as Knysna woodpecker, Cape grysbok, black wildebeest, crowned eagle and black-footed cat.

&Beyond Kwandwe’s vast landscape is affected by the ocean, being close to the sunny coastline and with south-facing slopes capturing moisture from the sea breezes resulting in denser or taller vegetation and brightly coloured lichens. In contrast, the north-facing slopes tend to be drier and more open and feature striking aloes, which flower in spectacular profusion during the winter months (June to August).

The wide open spaces and tranquil scenery belie the area’s turbulent history, and relics of the rich historical and cultural legacy can be found both on the reserve and nearby. At an additional cost, guests can spend time with Kwandwe’s resident historian and raconteur, Alan Weyer, and learn all about the history of the Eastern Cape, with insightful visits to ancient San (Bushman) rock art sites and neighbouring forts and military towns, such as Fort Beaufort and Grahamstown. This is the ultimate historic Big Five safari.

Ecca Lodge: An innovative, stylish and intimate farmhouse, Ecca lodge is emblazoned with giant Warhol-like prints, retro light fittings, and shades of olive, rust and burnt orange. It is witty, welcoming and skillfully appointed and a million miles away from the staid ideas of moustaches and khaki often associated with the safari lifestyle.

Situated on rolling slopes overlooking a beautiful acacia and aloe-studded valley with a backdrop of steep shale cliffs, the views are breathtaking, particularly when the spekboom trees are in bloom. Six suites of inventive architecture feature walls of wood panelling interspersed with mesh-covered stone gabion and pagoda-style corrugated iron roofs. The suites are extremely spacious, with generously proportioned living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. Glass doors slide back, leaving gauze doors to admit the cool inviting breezes and fragrances of the bushveld. Wraparound wooden decks lead out from the sitting rooms and bedrooms, to private plunge pools and outdoor showers.

Highlights of the guest area are the open interactive kitchen, a gorgeous rim-flow lap pool lined with shaded decks and teak loungers, and the nearby interpretive library.

Ecca Lodge is a 15-minute drive from the historic Heatherton Towers, which houses the well-stocked Safari Shop.

A safari lodge with an attitude, Ecca Lodge is seriously modern and trendy. Shut all the doors and draw all the drapes, and guests could be in a funky cosmopolitan penthouse, except that night noises at Kwandwe aren’t traffic and sirens but yipping jackals and the crazy chorus of frogs in the reed beds along the Great Fish River.

Great Fish River Lodge is set along the lush green banks of the river after which the lodge is named. From the Lodge’s expansive viewing decks, guests can observe majestic kudu making their way down through the euphorbia and aloes to a sandy cove to slake their thirst, or watch Cape clawless otters swimming in the river below.

The guest area features a steeply pitched thatched roof, soaring overhead and adorned with imposing chandeliers. Large fireplaces with massive stone chimneys cast warmth and light over the richly woven rugs, yellowwood kists and wardrobes, hand-stitched damask linen and the antique china, pewter, and silver typical of a Settler farmhouse from the 1820s.

The nine luxurious suites all boast overhead fans, air conditioning and en-suite bathrooms, complete with bath and indoor and outdoor showers. Floor-to-ceiling doors fold back to reveal an uninterrupted wilderness, offering unmatched views over the wild landscape beyond. Each suite has a spacious thatched veranda and private plunge pool with terrace.

Delicious Pan African meals are served on private decks, in the candlelit dining room, or in the boma under a magnificent starlit sky. Friendly, attentive staff ensures a welcoming, memorable Kwandwe experience.

Melton Manor: With sweeping views of the afromontane forests, Melton Manor is a sole-use safari villa with four en-suite bedrooms. This spacious contemporary Frontier farmhouse is u-shaped and characterised by high ceilings and deep, cool verandas overlooking the central courtyard and its large, inviting swimming pool.

Handmade clay chandeliers and Nguni cow hides sit comfortably with painted vintage ball and claw armoires, all anchored with fabulous dry packed sandstone walls to create a stunning interior.

The bedrooms each have their own spacious bathroom with big tubs facing the bush beyond and innovative ‘butler hatches’ for discreet room service – or if guests are feeling more sociable, the interactive, contemporary kitchen is abuzz with chefs cooking up wholesome and always delicious farmhouse dishes with Eastern Cape flair.

The guest areas feature fireplaces for evenings spent relaxing with a glass of wine or reading a good novel.

Uplands Homestead: This offers an alternative safari experience. Available only for the sole use of a group or family of up to six people, it is a sensitively restored 1905 farmhouse featuring three spacious en-suite bedrooms with private balconies.

This homestead is situated in a remote and tranquil valley festooned with hundreds of aloes and ringed by beautiful, undulating hills. It is the perfect place for a private safari, with a romantic Out of Africa farmhouse ambience.

Uplands Homestead is furnished with antiques and memorabilia reminiscent of a Settler home from the 1820s. Rugs and fine damask linen, antique mirrors, yellowwood kists and wardrobes, antique silver and porcelain dovetail effortlessly with stylish modern elements such as exquisitely appointed bathrooms, air-conditioning and a contemporary farm-style kitchen.

There is also a full size swimming pool and gazebo. Uplands Homestead includes a dedicated ranger, tracker and chef team, as well as a private open 4×4 safari vehicle.

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