Situated in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Kwandwe’s Great Fish River Lodge is the epitome of a glamorous stay, coupled with plush accommodation, hospitable service, fabulous cuisine, and incredible wildlife sightings.

Departing Cape Town International Airport on my Airlink flight to Port Elizabeth, which takes just under 1 hour, I’m excited to be transferred to Kwandwe, a member of Classic Portfolio, in absolute style. 

Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge - Image by Heléne Ramackers (1)
Arriving in style at Kwandwe with their Bell 505 helicopter. Photo by Heléne Ramackers

Today, I am taking flight in a Bell 505 helicopter, a wonderfully convenient and seamless mode of transport, allowing for a different perspective of the impressive coastline and the farmlands en route to Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. With an average flight time of a little over 40 minutes and a cruising altitude of 1500 ft, guests are in for a treat when choosing this mode of getting there. Captain Van Zyl Fölscher flies the helicopter with great aplomb, and he lands the green bird flawlessly on the airstrip adjacent to the lodge. 

Kwandwe - South Africa
The views over the Great Fish River are magnificent. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

I am collected by Ryan Hillier, who drives me to my accommodation for the next three nights, the spectacular Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge. Guests visiting Kwandwe Private Game Reserve are spoilt for choice when it comes to options of where to stay – there is the vibrant Ecca Lodge, the chic Melton Manor, the charming Uplands Homestead and Fort House, the ultimate safari villa.

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - Great Fish River Lodge 08
The dining room has been fashioned with beautiful accents of green. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

Arriving at Great Fish River Lodge, I am warmly welcomed by Fikile, Shannon, and Harry, and as I step out onto the main deck, I catch my breath – the views of the perennial Great Fish River are magnificent! Getting to the lodge early definitely has its advantages – I am treated to a delicious breakfast before being accompanied to my room by Fikile. As he swings open the large wooden front door of Room 8, I am entranced by the stunning interiors, which are the handiwork of Tracy Mills from Tracy Mills Interiors

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - Great Fish River Lodge 18
The rooms are a breath of fresh air. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

Tracy’s brief from her client was to bring the outside in while reflecting the many colors and tones of the bush. She did this with a fresh and contemporary take, using light wood and brass with clean, simple lines. Sourcing quality furniture with comfort as key, luxury layers, and natural fibers, she achieved the goal of providing deep comfort and luxury in a simple, uncomplicated, and easy-to-enjoy way. 

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - Great Fish River Lodge 05
Comfort is key at Great Fish River Lodge, with stylish interiors by Tracy Mills. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

“Guests visit Kwandwe to soak up the bush, marvel at the wildlife, and take home Africa in their soul,” Tracy discloses. “My job is to enhance that experience. We concentrate on ensuring easy flow between the areas, and interactive but relaxed spaces. I always keep myself in check – going back to what works while incorporating African designs and supplies. We were excited to commission beautiful traditional, beaded, and stitched panels for the curtains, gorgeous forged lamps and hooks, crafted bespoke lampshades, reclaimed frame mirrors, and hand-printed African cloth to integrate along with timeless, classic natural linens, leather, and velvets.”

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - Great Fish River Lodge 16
Complementary colors were used to bring the outside in. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

Remaining mindful throughout the planning of Great Fish River Lodge’s interiors, Tracy ensured that the end result was striking without being over the top. “Our job is to enhance the guest’s experience,” she says. “The interiors should not be the main event and they definitely should never detract from the surroundings.  At the same time, Kwandwe’s guests naturally have high expectations of comfort and luxury, so we concentrate on timeless fabrics, huge beds with beautiful linens, deep sofas and armchairs, and subtle but important attention to detail. And – it has to be said – having a client like Kwandwe who understand their guests and are passionate about meeting their guest’s needs in a very real way – not distracting with bells and whistles – but genuine service and comfort is very refreshing.”

Kwandwe Private Game Reserve - Great Fish River Lodge 13
Each room has a private plunge pool, perfect for hot summer days. Photo courtesy of Kwandwe

After enjoying a dip in my private plunge pool, I walk to the main area for lunch. Chef Busi and her team have cooked up the most delectable ostrich fillet kebabs with caramelized onions, hummus, smoked bacon with Carara chutney, and drizzled with chili coriander oil. My go-to dessert for the duration of my stay is the smooth and creamy melt-in-your-mouth vanilla ice cream. The meal presentation is superb, and one can see that a lot of love and care goes into not only the meal preparation, but also being thoughtful about what guests enjoy, or don’t. Dinner is another feast for the tastebuds, and I choose beetroot carpaccio, beetroot crisps, goat cheese croquettes, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil for starters, and for the main course, I dine on buttermilk marinated venison loin, roasted pearl onions and jus infused with berry. Dessert? Ice cream of course!

Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge - Image by Heléne Ramackers (5)
A lion cub from the South pride relaxing in the shade. Photo by Heléne Ramackers

Twice daily game drives are conducted through the reserve, which spans almost 55,000 acres. The vastness of the terrain adds an interesting dimension to locating wildlife, and with an abundance of fauna and flora, the search is on for what is out there. In the driver’s seat is guide Tristan Stead, with tracker Sibo in the front deciphering which footprints belong to which animal. Drives are filled with happy chatter, loads of laughter, and wonderment when we set eyes on the South pride of lions, the rare sighting of a caracal one evening, plenty of giraffes, a family of bat-eared foxes, six different cheetahs, and the most elusive of them all, a leopard named the Fort Dam female. 

Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge - Image by Heléne Ramackers (2)
Kwandwe is a beacon of conservation. Photo by Heléne Ramackers

A beacon of conservation, Kwandwe pride themselves on improving the longevity of endangered and critically endangered species. “One passion project is the conservation efforts of black and white rhinos on the reserve,” General Manager Jean-Pierre Maree tells me. “We are very proud of the success we have achieved thus far through the Kwandwe Rhino Conservation Trust, and seeing these animals in the wild where they belong is something we don’t take for granted.”