This is how my husband, Nalen, and I spent our first morning at Fort D’Acre Reserve, a private game reserve nestled 25km outside Port Alfred, on the way to East London.
After a gruelling few months of covering the municipal election campaigning, the actual poll day and coalition negotiations thereafter, I was looking forward to a relaxing time away from the daily grind.
As we entered through the gates of Fort D’Acre Reserve after a two-hour drive from Port Elizabeth one Friday evening, there to greet us was a herd of nyala.
I knew immediately that it was going to be a weekend to remember.
Situated on a stretch of about 1 200ha is a newly revamped lodge which accommodates eight adults and two children.
Our hosts for the weekend were managing couple Werner and Nicole Erasmus, who were truly amazing throughout our two-day stay.
The reserve is a family-owned establishment owned by Rory and Mel Gailee, who split their time between the reserve and their farm in Cradock.
Nicole explained the sea-facing lodge underwent a five-month revamp last year, which saw the entire structure stripped to a shell for the massive refurbishment.
This was to modernise the establishment to attract more visitors, offering luxury accommodation without losing that at-home feel that allows you to kick off your shoes and be one with nature.
Now, for those who know me, I am not a big outdoorsy person and I am usually afraid to go anywhere where there is a possibility of coming into contact with a snake.
But entice me with the promise of being able to spot a few giraffes and I am always game (pardon the pun).
Fort D’Acre boasts an array of wildlife such as Cape buffalo, giraffe (yay), zebra, wildebeest and many antelope species.
When Werner took us on a game drive around the reserve on the Saturday afternoon – as the sun was about to set – we were fortunate to see almost all of the animal species.
Much to my delight, we got really close to a group of giraffes – they’re quite the inquisitive bunch – close enough to take a few selfies.
After the 60-minute drive through the reserve, spotting animals at almost every turn, I thought there was no way I could top my afternoon.
But then Werner took us to the reserve’s beach lapa to overlook the ocean.
It was the highlight of our weekend.
“Sometimes, you can see whales from out here,” Werner said.
It truly is the best of both worlds at Fort D’ Acre as only metres from grazing wildlife is a beach with private access for the exclusive use of their guests.
The establishment has the makings of everything one requires for a quiet, relaxing weekend away.
It is a stone’s throw from the popular Fish River Sun golf course and a mere 20-minute drive from the Royal Port Alfred golf course, but it also has facilities on the premises to ensure you enjoy your stay.
Whether you want to enjoy a cocktail by the poolside, or put a few chops on the braai in their outdoor or indoor braai facilities, it is all available for the guests to use.
On the Saturday night, Nicole and Werner hosted a braai for us and the four other guests staying there over the weekend.
We sat around the fire on a beautiful August evening, sharing stories with the hosts and other guests.
Nicole said the premises has been used for a couple of weddings.
“We can accommodate 100 people for a wedding ceremony at the beach lapa.”
They also hosted a wedding reception in a marquee which accommodated about 80 guests.
While they do host a few local guests, Nicole said they were fortunate to attract a number of international visitors.
It is a bed and breakfast set-up, but light dinners are available on request, and there is a full kitchen in the lodge for the guests’ convenience.
So, if you are looking to explore the natural beauty along our Eastern Cape coastline, spend some time at Fort D’ Acre Reserve.
Managing couple guided together by love of nature
YOUR HOSTS: The managing couple at Fort D’ Acre Reserve, Werner and Nicole Erasmus, oversee a staff complement of 10 people
They were employed at different lodges, situated on the same game reserve, when they saw each other for the first time.
“I was guiding a group and she passed us in another vehicle – also guiding a group – when I saw her for the first time. “I thought ‘oh, she’s cute’.” That is how the love story of young managing couple of Fort D’ Acre Reserve, Werner and Nicole Erasmus, began.
Both started out in the industry as guides at various lodges in the Eastern Cape, and even in Dubai.
The couple later moved up the ranks and now manage Fort D’ Acre reserve, which has a total staff complement of 10.
The couple, both originally from KwaZulu-Natal, have been managing the reserve for about 16 months.
They have been married for about three-and-a-half years.
Nicole says Fort D’Acre is the closest she has ever lived to a town – only 25km away from Port Alfred – since she started out, initially, as a guide.
“At the different lodges we worked we were always a distance of about two hours away from any shops,” Nicole said.
They enjoy the tranquility that comes with living on a reserve.
After spending about a year working at a reserve in Dubai, the couple decided to look for jobs at a smaller establishment, something easier to manage with the hopes of eventually expanding their family.
“We were looking for something that was on a smaller scale, easier to manage, with enough space if we decide to raise a family,” Nicole said.
She said their move to Fort D’Acre was a positive adjustment because, for the first time as a married couple, they had a cottage with an additional room to be able to invite family members to sleep over.
“I also have my own kitchen! I’ve never had my own kitchen.
“At all the places we stayed before, we always just had rooms, with not much space for anything else,” Nicole said.
She was also excited about being able to have her dog stay with them for the first time.
There are three dogs on the premises.
SA’s oldest pub, and giant pineapple
Traditionally, we spend our holidays either in the Southern or Western Cape, and if we decide to head east, we go from Port Elizabeth straight to the Wild Coast or to KwaZulu-Natal.
So, when we spent our weekend at Fort D’Acre Reserve, in the Ndlambe region, last month, every experience was bound to be a new one.
We were advised by our hosts that we simply had to try the pineapple juice at Nature’s View farm stall and check out the charming village of Bathurst.
After tasting, arguably, the best pineapple juice ever and stocking up on a few preserves, we drove for about 40km to Bathurst.
We, of course, had to stop and take a picture of the Big Pineapple, the largest artificial pineapple, on one of the pineapple farms, but it was the Pig and Whistle pub that we really wanted to see.
It is reputedly the oldest licensed pub in South Africa, established in 1832 by Thomas Hartley, a blacksmith who came to South Africa with the 1820 British Settlers.
It has the feel of a traditional English pub, offering delicious pub grub such as pot pies and jumbo burgers, and good beer too.
People travel from far and wide for their famous Sunday roast lunches and live music, we were told.
The pub also does a lot to raise funds for their local school.
Visitors can buy a wooden carving of a cow, have their names written on it and it will be mounted on the wall for R250.
The proceeds go to the school.