Shamwari Riverdene Lodge: Our full report
Shamwari Game Reserve is probably the best-known private reserve in South Africa’s malaria-free Cape.Within it, Riverdene Lodge is the obvious choice for a family safari: it boasts a focus on children including a good swimming pool, a large playground on extensive lawns, and a playroom with activities. Plus, as you’d expect game activities on the reserve.
Described by the literature as a ‘restored frontier homestead’, Riverdene Lodge is a substantial, solid lodge – standing in the reserve behind reassuring, if slightly unsightly, fences.
Riverdene has nine rooms which are very comfortable and in many ways feel more like hotel rooms than ‘lodge’ rooms. These comprise:
- Six twin-bedded rooms, each for two people
- Three twin-bedded rooms with sleeper couches, each taking two adults and one child. Most of these have inter-leading doors so that parents can easily check on their children.
Fitted international adaptors, an international dial phone and an electronic safe are also provided in every room. Each room’s en-suite bathroom, which has a hatch to the bedroom, comes with a bath, his-and-hers washbasins, a hairdryer, a shower and a toilet in its own small room. A private patio opens out towards Riverdene Lodge’s garden and lawns.
The main areas at Riverdene Lodge consist of two elegantly furnished lounges, a dining room, a bar, a supervised play room and a gift shop. Outside, the lodge is almost ringed by lawns, one of which has a fairly basic jungle gym for children, and most of which are bounded by herbaceous borders. Riverdene’s gardeners clearly work hard and do a good job! There’s also a shaded seating area where lunch is often served, overlooking a large swimming pool with a shallow end.
Riverdene’s activities focus on 4WD wildlife safaris, which take place in the morning and evening, each lasting between three and four hours, including a stop for some coffee in the morning and sundowners at sunset. We found these very productive in terms of sightings – with particularly close and good sightings of both black and white rhino.
That said, the actual game drive areas are substantially smaller than the reserve’s whole area might imply, and so the rangers had a very good idea what animals they were likely to see where – and they used their radios extensively to fill in the gaps in this knowledge. These two factors mean that despite the excellent sightings, we had a consistent impression that this wasn’t a very ‘wild’ game viewing experience.
Having stayed at Riverdene Lodge with two young children, we understand why it is marketed as a family-friendly lodge. The lodge itself is quite large, with many communal areas suitable for children; this region is largely free of malaria; the outdoor lawns are fairly safe for children; there’s a games room; and children aged four years or over can join game drives.
Curiously for a family-friendly lodge, we didn’t find a very strong ethos amongst the staff of interacting with children, on the children’s level.
The lodge also has a ‘children’s coordinator’, although on our most recent visit (with two small children in May 2013) this seemed to be someone who arranged child-care. We wanted to keep our children with us, rather than leave them to play, and so we had remarkably little interaction with her. On the whole we found that Riverdene’s emphasis was very much on how to care for the children whilst we, the adults, went on safari. The idea that we were there purely to give our young children a safari experience was clearly not what they expected – and not what their systems were used to coping with.
See the section on Children, below, for more comments on Riverdene’s approach to families and children.
Shamwari’s fences mean that it doesn’t really feel very wild, which is why we would usually only recommend it for an introductory safari of just a few days. Riverdene is often cited for family safari holidays – and it probably will work for parents with older children, or those who want to leave their young children whilst they go out on safari. However, we found it to be less well suited to families with young children who want a family safari experience together.
South Africa expert
- Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa
- Ideal length of stay
- We think a few days are enough to discover the reserve, and get a taste of safari.
- Travel on the N2. If coming from Port Elizabeth, turn north onto the gravelled R345 after 65km (otherwise, from Grahamstown, after 58km) and continue on this road for 7km. Then follow the signs to Shamwari to the right.
Chauffeur services between Port Elizabeth and Shamwari can be booked directly via Shamwari Reserve.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- On our latest visit, in May 2013, the breakfast menu at Riverdene consisted of a cooked breakfast plus an extensive buffet. Hot breakfast was described as a ‘full African’ and faced travellers with the choice between eggs Benedict with kippers, or smoke venison, ‘build-your-own’ omelet, cream with scrambled egg with smoked salmon or smoked springbok, fresh bacon and pancakes. Ask for the flavours of the day of the chef’s smoothie! The buffet offered juices, a range of cereals and fruits, good croissants, muffins, jams and conserves. This was all very good and extensive.
Dinner is complimented by a list of carefully selected red and white (South African) wines available. Or for a taste of exclusivity, enjoy champagne and take your pick from a selection of Cuban cigars that are on offer from the humidor!
- Family holidays
- Shamwari’s Riverdene Lodge is suitable for travellers who want to leave small children at the lodge while on safari themselves (4+ are allowed on game drives). There are lawns, a small jungle gym and a playroom with toys, books, games, puzzles and a TV.
- See ideas for Family holidays
- Attitude towards children
- Riverdene Lodge officially welcomes families with children and is even sometimes referred to as ‘Riverdene Family Lodge’.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Special activities & services
- A special children’s coordinator discusses child-care options with arriving families with a view to looking after Riverdene’s younger visitors. We’re told that they can participate in various ‘sporting and arts activities’, which are supervised by the children’s coordinator. There is a jungle gym to climb and a supervised playroom where you will find toys, some craft materials, a couple of beanbag chairs, books, board games, puzzles and a flat screen TV with a selection of educational DVDs on conservation topics.
Our impression of the facilities here for children was that they fell far short of the impression given by the lodge’s marketing – although they did live up to their promise that ‘every child staying at Riverdene Lodge receives an age-appropriate gift pack’.
In terms of activities, children over the age of four are allowed to join game drives. Children under the age of four are not permitted on game drives – but can come to see the animal rescue centres on the reserve.
Our guide didn’t do well at guiding our four-year-old son (who has good English and very good wildlife knowledge for his age). He couldn’t or didn’t adapt his language, or the focus of his drives, to make any real concession to our son – which was disappointing. This was in sharp contrast to our experience at Ecca Lodge in Kwandwe.
‘One-to-one’ child-minding services require prior notice and are available at an additional cost. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t expect the child-minders to be qualified to European standards. Riverdene Lodge offers a special children’s menu, which was very good.
- A high chair is available.
- Generally recommended for children
- Yes, but with reservations. Riverdene Lodge does consciously cater for families with children – although we didn’t find that the reality here lived up to the very high standards implied by the lodge’s often-quoted marketing materials.
- Although Riverdene Lodge is fully fenced, we advise parents to keep their children under supervision.
Our travellers’ wildlife sightings from Riverdene Lodge
Since mid-2018, many of our travellers who stayed at Shamwari Riverdene Lodge have kindly recorded their wildlife sightings and shared them with us. The results are below. Click an animal to see more, and here to see more on our methodology.
- The internet is accessible via WiFi throughout Riverdene Lodge.
Each room at Riverdene Lodge has an international dial telephone.
- TV & radio
- Each room at Riverdene Lodge features a flatscreen TV which receives a couple of satellite channels.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Security measures
- Riverdene Lodge is fully fenced with a perimeter electrical fence.
- Fire safety
- You will find a little fire extinguisher in your room at Riverdene Lodge.
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
Other lodges in Shamwari Game Reserve
Alternative places to stay in this same area.