Kwandwe Ecca Lodge

Kwandwe Ecca Lodge: Our full report

Rooms
6 suites
Traveller's rating
Excellent (100%) From 7 reviews
Children
Excellent for children.
Open
All year

Kwandwe Ecca Lodge is a small, modern safari lodge in South Africa's Eastern Cape which has been designed to be chic, luxurious and family-friendly. It is situated on rolling spekboom hills within Kwandwe Game Reserve, one of the top reserves in the area.

There are six spacious suites at Ecca Lodge, which are all air-conditioned and equipped with fans. Every suite has got a living room with minibar and a separate bedroom (twin or double configuration). The large en suite bathroom features an indoor shower, separate WC, twin hand basin and hairdryer.

The suites at Kwandwe Ecca are very stylishly furnished with a mixture of clean, trendy pieces and some venerable old collectables from the area. Natural textures and hues of burnt orange, olive green and rust dominate the interior design. The walls are made of wood panelling, interspersed with mesh-covered stone gabion and pagoda-style corrugated iron roofs.

The bedroom, living room and bathroom of the suites at Ecca Lodge all have sliding doors leading out onto a large private veranda, decorated with cacti and indigenous succulents in tall clay pots. In part of this large wooden deck is a private plunge pool and an outdoor shower.

Ecca's main areas are predominantly made of glass and stone and include a lounge, dining area, bar area, library, common veranda and swimming pool. Most of these offer lovely views, especially when the spekboom trees are in bloom, reaching over the valley until the steep shale cliff-faces in the distance – all within the Kwandwe Game Reserve.

On the orange, brown and olive green sofas and chairs in the lounge you can while away time with various wildlife books and games from the large coffee table. The floors are polished concrete and the walls are stone with a big fireplace dominating one side. Big glass sliding doors lead outside onto a deck furnished with more comfortable sofas.

The dining area is open to the kitchen and is furnished with modern dark wood tables and very comfortable high back chairs upholstered in a bright orange and red striped fabric. Glass sliding doors lead out to more tables on the patio.

There is a small library room, with a television where you can sit and enjoy wildlife DVDs. In one corner of the library are some shelves where a few curios and some Kwandwe merchandise are for sale. More Xhosa craftworks can be purchased at Heatherton Towers, the main reception of Kwandwe Private Game Reserve.

Outside Kwandwe Ecca Lodge’s main area, and set away from it, is a long, narrow rim-flow swimming pool surrounded by a wooden deck with a few teak loungers and umbrellas.

Ecca's original, inventive architecture and décor – which varies from giant Warhole-like prints to retro light fittings – make it a really stylish lodge and one that various members of our team have all liked on their visits to Kwandwe over the years.

On our most recent visit here we were impressed by Ecca's flexible approach towards dining arrangements for our two children, aged four and under 12 months. We arranged for them to eat much earlier than most guests, and this wasn't the slightest problems.

Most of Kwandwe's safari activities are included for guests at Ecca Lodge, and they focus mainly on game drives in open-topped 4WDs – typically one drive during the morning, and another in the late afternoon which can continue into the early evening for a night drive. Guided nature walks, picnics, fishing and boat rides on Galpin Dam are also offered. In the morning it may also be possible to visit the nearby Mgcamabele Community Centre.

Our own most recent experience here is of really excellent, very responsive and flexible guiding – as well as plenty of game to see. Kwandwe Ecca has a very clear policy regarding children on game-drives – see our section on 'children', below, for details.

In many of Africa's reserves, activities usually start at the crack of dawn – to try to catch site of any predator activity. Note that in the cooler months here, the middle of the day can be just as good a time to go on safari as the early morning or late evening.

Extra activities which may be possible – and would usually be booked in advance, and paid for as an extra – include rhino darting, rhino monitoring and 'big game walking safaris'. The latter is a walking trip accompanied by an armed specialist ranger and a tracker team, with the aim of tracking and getting close to some of the reserve's larger game. The lodge normally also has private guides and vehicles which can be booked at additional cost.

Our view

Ecca Lodge’s's inventive architecture and décor, combined with excellent facilities, made the lodge immediately appealing to us on arrival: trendy and yet never stuffy or intimidating. When we visited recently, as part of a family, what stood out was the quality of the service; the excellent food; the highly flexible and genuinely friendly staff; and the first-rate guiding. We think of this as a great lodge for couples, and probably the best safari lodge in the Eastern Cape for families.

Geographics

Location: Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a minimum of three nights here, and four or five nights wouldn’t be too many if you wanted to relax as well as spot game.

Directions: Due to excellent roads it is an easy self-drive of 30 minutes from Grahamstown, or one and a half to two hours from Port Elizabeth Airport to Kwandwe (160km). You leave your vehicle at the car park at Heatherton Towers (main reception) and will be transferred from there to your lodge in an open-topped safari vehicle. Alternatively there are daily scheduled flights from Port Elizabeth Airport to Kwandwe airstrip, or take a private 20-minute charter flight. On request, chauffeur-driven road transfers can be arranged.

Accessible by: Self-drive or Fly-and-Transfer

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: We found the chef at Ecca Lodge very accommodating and flexible with regard to the timing of breakfast and lunches, children’s meals times – and very good at catering to specific food requirements. (Note that if you need kosher food, then advanced notice is necessary, and there may be an extra cost for it.)

On our most recent visit to Kwandwe Ecca Lodge breakfast was a modest but very fresh spread majoring on a choice of fruits and cereals, and then hot breakfasts cooked to order. The bread rolls and muffins were all freshly baked. The omelette was particularly good, chosen with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and mozzarella cheese (one of several cheese options). A ‘lodge special’ BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato roll) was also on offer, and freshly-squeezed juices of the day were watermelon & paw-paw, apple and mango.

Lunches, which for some became brunches, were typically a small choice of dishes served to our table. The choice wasn’t vast, but the chef clearly focused on very fresh ingredients and clean flavours; the dishes were delicious as the result. At one serving, they included: chick-pea salad, beetroot salad, both vegetable & beef fajita wraps and a handful of small dips, crudités and warm bread rolls. Dessert was banana slices in toffee with ice cream.

Just in case we were hungry, afternoon tea was on offer, with a small selection of cupcakes, sandwiches, biscuits and some mixed fruits

With the same approach of fresh ingredients and clean flavours, dinner on one occasion was a starter of tempura prawns with pickled cucumber and herb salad – which was crispy and delicious; a main course of duck and noodles with stir-fried vegetables with ginger and orange sauce – which maintained its separate flavours and crispness very well; and a fairly sticky malva pudding with crème Anglaise.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Drinks included: House wines, beers, local spirits, soft drinks and bottled water are included.

Further dining info: Travellers who like to enjoy their meals out in nature might make use of the options of bush breakfasts, dinners and sundowners, as well as picnics in the reserve.

Special interests

Family holidays: For South Africa family safari holidays with small children, Ecca Lodge should be top of your list. This Kwandwe lodge is a bit more pricey but caters exceedingly well to families with children, with special activities like 'frog safaris' to seek out local amphibians.

See more ideas for Family holidays in South Africa

Birdwatching: Kwandwe is an attractive destination for South Africa birdwatching as the guidng is good and it is home to many key species like black storks, martial eagles and the stunning blue cranes, South Africa’s national bird, after which the reserve was named.

See more ideas for Birdwatching in South Africa

Wildlife safaris: From the family-friendly, stylish Ecca Lodge you can go on 4WD wildlife safaris and guided walks in the Kwandwe Game Reserve. What families might like is that safaris start a bit later here. Even small children can participate in spoor tracking or drives to see hazard-free wildlife.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in South Africa

Children

Attitude towards children: Children are very welcome here, and in our experience of the staff are genuinely happy to have children, and to work around their needs. That said, between its six rooms, Ecca can usually accommodate a maximum of four children.

Property’s age restrictions: None

Special activities & services: Families coming here should carefully study the rules regarding childrens' participation on game drives issued by the lodge, and ask us to clarify any details to them in writing if necessary. However, when one of the Expert Africa team last visited, in May 2013, with two young children, the rules were:

  • Normal game drives with adult guests can include children aged six to eleven, at the lodge manager's discretion. In practice, we believe that this will usually be determined by the child's behaviour, his/her impact on any other guests, and any safety concerns.
  • Families with children aged five years or under cannot participate in normal game drives with other guests. They can request a vehicle for their sole use, which will allow the whole family to head out on safari. The lodge will try to make such a private vehicle available at no extra cost. This is usually possible, although it may result in having activities at times when the vehicles aren't otherwise in use – say during the middle of the day.
  • Alternatively, there's always the option for families to book a private vehicle at a desired time – for which an extra charge is applicable.
  • Child-minders, who are all first aid trained, are available with prior arrangement at no additional cost – so younger children can be left at the lodge whilst older children and adults go out on safari.
In practice, visiting when the lodge was relatively quiet in May, and the weather was relatively cool … we found game drives in the middle of the day were as productive in game terms, and rather better for the children, than trying to get up with the morning light and head out swiftly.

Back at Ecca Lodge itself, the interpretive centre includes a play area for children. All children staying at Kwandwe receive a backpack with bug collectors, magnifying glasses, a booklet for identifying wildlife and a craft pack made by the community centre – for girls a journal making kit and for boys a door sign making kit, and at the end of their stay a “Rangers in Training" certificate.

Children can participate in a variety of specially-designed activities such as “poo safaris", spoor tracking, Minno's fishing trip, creative activities, treasure hunts, baking, cooking, DVD-watching and bedtime stories with milk and cookies. One of the options here is a daily one-hour morning game drive after breakfast (with or without parents) called “Striped and Hooves adventure" to view hazard-free wildlife like giraffe, zebra or warthog.

A children's menu is sent to parents to choose meals in advance and separate dining can be arranged.

Equipment: One child can be accommodated in a triple suite. In quad rooms two children (16 or younger) can share with two adults in the separate lounge area. Cots with mosquito nets are available for children aged 0-2 years, children aged 3-16 years can sleep on individual single beds. Furthermore the lodge is equipped with high chairs.

Notes: Children must be under supervision all the time because of game risks. Child rates apply until the age of 16, children under six years stay free.

Infrastructure

Power supply: Mains Electricity

Communications: Telephone and wireless internet access are available in the rooms. There is no cell phone reception at Ecca Lodge, but we got cell phone signal on a hill very close to the lodge. So although patchy, it sometimes is accessible.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: No

Medical care: Lodge manager and all rangers are fully first aid trained. The nearest place for serious medical care is Grahamstown Hospital, which is 40km, about a 40-minute drive, away.

Dangerous animals: High Risk

Security measures: Fully trained security staff monitor animal activity within the lodge areas, and always escort guests to/from their suites from dusk to dawn. Since the lodge is not fenced, guests should be vigilant at all times and never walk around the lodge/camp on their own at night!

Extras

Disabled access: On Request

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: Each of the suites has a safe.

Accepted payment on location: United States Dollars, United Kingdom Pounds and South Africa Rand are all accepted as well as Visa, MasterCard, and Amex.