As soon as you “sign up” for a visit to the Shamwari Game Reserve with Gap Africa you know that you are in safe hands, and can rest assured that your trip will be an adventure with all the support and guidance that a school leader needs. From the moment you arrive you are greeted by friendly staff who go far out of their way to ensure that the whole group is comfortable in the surroundings, safe, and able to experience the great wonders of the reserve.
The accommodation in the volunteer centre is a pleasant surprise, no dusty flea pits here, but clean functional rooms – all with en-suite facilities complete with showers and in-room safety deposit boxes. All of the rooms are also spacious and easily accommodate multiple students. In addition to the regular room cleaning service, students are able to make use of the highly efficient laundry facilities, helping to cut down on clothing requirements and easing the baggage restrictions on the airline.
Adjacent to the accommodation building, the volunteer centre houses the well-equipped kitchen, dining area, lecture room and the recreational room. Meals are organised and prepared meticulously, and cater for every nutritional requirement of the group. The food itself is typically South African and portions are intended to set everyone up for a hard day of work in the fresh air.
During the day, an expedition team can look forward to a real conservation experience that has a clear purpose. Whether it is cutting down trees, mending fences or relocating animals, the aim of each activity is explained and each student is encouraged to participate to the best of their ability. Whatever the activity of the day, the Shamwari reserve doesn’t disappoint and even the most humble of tasks, such as road repairs, take on a whole new context and level of excitement when you know that elephants may be around the next corner. And if it’s wildlife that you crave, then I really can’t think of anywhere better to spot the big five and seemingly endless other species – all set against the backdrop of some truly stunning scenery.
Evenings are a true delight and students are free to use any of the facilities available. Although a TV occupies a corner of the recreational room, it seems out of place and students usually spend time either playing games, such as pool or table tennis, or walking in the evening air – most usually just sit around an open fire discussing the events of the day.
For the duration of your stay on the reserve the rangers become part of the experience and fully immerse themselves in the activities, picking up on the ethos of the group and working with you as part of the team. With any exotic destination, school leaders need to think carefully about the back-up that can be given in the event of an accident, and in this respect the Shamwari reserve is ideally suited; rangers are trained in first aid and emergency procedures and additional help is always on-call if required.
As a school we have been fortunate enough to visit the Shamwari reserve over several years and each trip has left us with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Shamwari is an outstanding destination and educational visits here are just the way they should be; adventurous but with clear purpose, a little bit scary but safe.
Mr M. Stapleton
Kesgrave High School