Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge

Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge: Our full report

9 suites
Traveller's rating
Excellent (99%) From 23 reviews
Best for aged 16+
All year

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is a relatively game-rich area of South Africa’s Eastern Cape. There are four small, very comfortable lodges here and of these, the Great Fish River Lodge has perhaps the most spectacular setting: on the sides of a gorge overlooking the river. Great Fish River has been designed in a fairly ‘classic’, slightly historical, African style, and is best suited for adults, or families with older teenagers.

There are nine comfortable thatched suites at Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge, six on the south side and three on the north side, all overlooking the Great Fish River.

Each has a large bedroom with double or twin beds and high quality linen, a comfortable seating area, personal bar and a private balcony with big foldaway glass doors looking out on great views. There’s a sense of elevation to the views here which is really absent from Kwandwe’s other lodges.

Each suite at Kwandwe Great Fist River Lodge has an en suite bathroom which features a traditional roll-top bath, a big indoor and an outdoor shower (both enclosed), separate WC and twin wash basins. All suites are equipped with fans and air-conditioning. Outside there is a plunge pool on each suite’s private covered veranda.

The main areas at Great Fish River Lodge include a very comfortable lounge, with several separate areas, a library with a little TV, a dining room - all three of them featuring a fireplace - and a safari shop, bar and boma for open air dinners.

The lounge is decorated with old leather furniture and African prints. The floors are a combination of polished cement and reclaimed yellowwood floorboards on top of which are laid Persian-style rugs. The walls are made of stone and dominated by a large fireplace – whilst above is a very high, thatched roof. Clothing, books, gifts and African crafts are for sale in a well-stocked safari shop.

In Great Fish River Lodge’s dining room you will find individual wooden tables with comfortable high-backed chairs, old mirrors and black and white photos – many of which stem from local history. Against the wall are antique wooden cabinets stocked with jars of jams and pickles. Large wood and glass folding doors open out onto a vast wooden deck with more seating areas to relax and enjoy the views.

Outside on the river side of the lodge is a wide, wooden deck and from there boardwalks overlooking the river the lead to some of the suites. Paths on the ground are gravelled, and lined by tree trunks. Periodic concealed low-levels lighting shows the way at night. Although most of the lodges and the suites is broadly on one level, this lodge isn’t wheelchair-friendly.

Pole constructions, thatch roofs and the rustic wooden outside areas combine unusually with the elegant décor inside Great Fish River Lodge. Venerable details like candelabras, old yellowwood floors, zebra skin rests, leather chairs, ostrich eggs and old traveling cases add to a fairly exclusive air with a tinge of understated glamour.

Kwandwe Reserve is one of the best destinations for wildlife safaris in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, and especially notable for the high standard of its guiding. This is supported by active guide training programmes and notable in our experience not just for the knowledge of the guides, but also their responsiveness to the needs of their guides.

Activities from Kwandwe Great Fish River concentrate on guided walks and 4WD safaris. The latter are usually for up to six guests and take place during the morning and late afternoon/early evening – going on into night drives. There’s also the option for guided nature walks and picnics whilst for a more relaxed day, you might like to go fishing at the lovely Great Fish River, after which the lodge was named – and perhaps have a boat ride on Galpin Dam.

The Kwandwe Reserve gets relatively little rainfall and partially as the result of this the natural vegetation is mainly fairly slow- and low-growing trees and shrubs. Hence it’s a reserve where any larger animals – like rhino, buffalo, elephant and giraffe – can often be spotted at quite a distance with relative ease. For example, one morning on our most recent visit here, quite close to the Great Fish River Lodge, we spotted three black rhino in a thicket from a distance of 3-400m and were then able to get within 30m-or-so of them before they left us quickly.

Additional activities, which have to be booked separately, include big game walking safaris, rhino darting, rhino monitoring and private safaris with an ‘exclusive-use’ vehicle and private guide.

Our view

Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge provides the same fairly luxurious facilities, excellent food, great guiding and generally high quality experience as Ecca Lodge. However, it is of a more classical, less contemporary design; it’s slightly larger; and it only accommodates older children: no under 12s here. In short, it’s one of the Cape’s highest quality game lodges.


Location: Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Ideal length of stay: We’d recommend a minimum stay of three nights here. Four or five nights would be better, allowing you to relax as well as spot game.

Directions: It is an easy self-drive of 30 minutes from Grahamstown, or one and a half to two hours from Port Elizabeth Airport (160km) to Kwandwe. After arriving on the reserve, leave your car at the car park at Heatherton Towers (reception) and you will be driven 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 you can take a private 20-minute charter flight.
Chauffeur-driven road transfers are possible and can be arranged on request.

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

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: Quintinn van Rensburg, the current (2013) head chef, has great experience and fuses classic French cuisine with the traditions and flavours of the Karoo. The wine cellar offers a selection of premier South African wines.
With prior notice, the kitchen team will take most special diet requests in their stride – however, if you need kosher food then can be arranged but at an extra cost.

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: Meals can be served on your private deck, in the dining room or open air in the boma. Travellers who like to enjoy their meals out in nature might make use of the options of bush breakfasts, dinners and sundowners and picnics on the reserve. Poolside butler service is available.

Special interests

Honeymoons: Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge is a lovely destination for a honeymoon in South Africa. You’ll enjoy your own plunge pool, veranda and breathtaking views. Kwandwe boasts good game, top guiding and a stunning location, and offers luxury and privacy for a romantic honeymoon.

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Birdwatching: Kwandwe Game Reserve is well known among birders as it’s home to many endangered species like black stork and of course blue crane, South Africa’s national bird after which the reserve was named: ‘Kwandwe’ means ‘place of the blue crane’ in Xhosa.

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Wildlife safaris: Great Fish River Lodge is a comfortable, elegant base from where to explore the Kwandwe Reserve, which hosts a good range of large mammals including the famous ‘big five’. Guiding standards are very high in Kwandwe, partly thanks to the reserve’s own training programmes.

See more ideas for Wildlife safaris in South Africa

Luxury: Floor-to-ceiling framed glass doors offer unmatched views and sumptuous, but understated, furnishings lend a luxurious feel to Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge. You can expect an elegant and sophisticated ambience and uninterrupted wilderness: perfect for an outstanding luxury safari.

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Attitude towards children: Children aged 12 years and older are welcome.

Property’s age restrictions: Minimum age 12 years


Power supply: Mains Electricity

Communications: There is a telephone at Great Fish River Lodge and good WiFi access in all rooms and the main lounge.

TV & radio: There is a little TV in the library.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: No

Medical care: 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: Security staff always escort guests to/from their suites from dusk to dawn, whilst trying to monitor animal activity within the vicinity of the lodge. 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! Note also that some of the boardwalks have very steep drops below them and only one guiderail to hold.


Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Included

Money: All suites possess digital safes.

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

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