We spent two nights at the lovely Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve which is located the Eastern Cape’s Great Karoo. We experienced luxury, history and a personalised safari experience as well as a wonderfully comfortable room and fabulous dining experiences.
When on a road trip it’s almost inevitable that there be a curve ball of some kind… and this trip was no different! But thankfully we carried on towards Graaff Reinet and the Great Karoo for our first stop, the Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve. Being later than expected, we were both surprised and delighted at the concerned phone call we received from Jaunita, enquiring if we were ok, she laughed and commiserated with us about said ‘delay’. This level of personal service was experienced at every level.
From the high tea on our late arrival, wonderful game drives (first time sightings of aardwolf and bat-eared fox) and intimate dining experiences, to the infinite patience of Lesley our ranger when being asked to stop a zillion times for that perfect photo opportunity. Lesley’s passion for this land is inspiring, having grown up in the area he has an incredible knowledge of both fauna and flora as well its fascinating history.
Our home for the the two nights was Mount Camdeboo Manor, one of four Cape Dutch houses nestled in a valley surrounded by the Sneeuberg Mountains. Camdeboo Manor – the original Groenkloof house – dates back to the early 1800s, evidence of which can be seen in the gleaming Oregon floorboards and thick walls. Our room was beautifully appointed, luxurious yet understated with a wonderfully spacious bathroom and private outside area.
The expansive lawns and out door area a great space to breathe in the fresh country air… or take the opportunity of having a soothing hand massage – thanks to the lovely Lola Zitshu, the young spa therapist that was trained and placed by the Eastern Cape NPO and job placement organisation.
The gardens are also where breakfast and high tea were served. The fresh homemade lemon juice an absolute hit, as was the fresh locally sourced ‘contemporary Karoo country cuisine’ – thank you Charles and the team! What I loved most about the food is the fact that most of the ingredients are either grown on the property or sourced from neighbouring farms and local suppliers. Think organic Karoo chickens and Karoo lamb (special because of the wild herbs they eat when grazing). As well as some great local ‘Charles’ specialties like pickled agave buds (produced locally from what used to be tequila factory), spekboom and venison and of course wild herbs like the kapok bos.
Our second morning game drive saw us emerge out of the misty valley through the Groenkloof Gorge, following a similar path to that of a British column under the command of Colonel Harry Scobell.
They had received word that a small Boer commando under the command of Commandant Lotter were taking refuge in a sheep kraal. This was where we stopped for our morning coffee and where Lesley told the account of the Battle of Groenkloof, a quick, yet bloody battle that resulted in the death of 10 British troopers, 13 commandos and the capture of Lotter and his remaining men.
The bullet holes are still visible in the corrugated roof of the kraal, as are metal buckles and buttons – I hold them reverently. We enter the enclosed memorial site for the British soldiers that perished, and I sadly consider the futility of war.
Mount Camdeboo employs approximately 50 staff members, the majority of which are from the local community, with some, like chef Margaret having grown up on the farm. I loved the friendly manner and smiles we were greeted with… always. The way that nothing was too much effort and how we were made to feel comfortably ‘at home’.
The 14,000 hectares of Mount Camdeboo were once farmland, overgrazed and in need of restoration. Conservation and sustainable utilisation is key, and an integrated ecological management plan ensures the restoration of the Karoo fauna and flora, such as the endangered Cape Mountain zebra, cheetah and blue crane. Vegetation ranges from the dwarf shrubland of the Nama Karoo, dense bushveld and forested ravines, hillsides dotted with of aloes and spekboom to the expansive grasslands of the mountain plains.
Once out in the reserve we experienced their commitment to conservation first-hand, with Les our ranger explaining the intensive rehabilitation that has taken place to restore the overgrazed farmland to its natural state. He tells us that conservation and sustainable utilisation is key, and that an integrated ecological management plan ensures the restoration of the Karoo fauna and flora, such as the endangered Cape Mountain zebra, cheetah and blue crane. We track Thandeka the female cheetah with little success… us getting just a fleeting glance of her. The cheetah are collared for monitoring purposes, and to put the surrounding sheep farmers at ease.
Les also tells us about the spekboom project (in partnership with C4 Solutions), where they plan is to plant up to 110 hectares with about 2500 spekboom cuttings per hectare, each being GPS plotted for future research and studies. Spekboom, Portulacaria afra, (also known as ‘elephant’s food’) has huge carbon- storing capabilities and is often planted to offset carbon emissions – it is thought that each hectare of spekboom can ‘capture’ four tons of carbon.
Our experiences at Mount Camdeboo were as diverse as the landscape and vegetation, as special as the sightings of aardwolf and bat-eared fox, and as memorable as the silhouette of an Oryx or other antelope against the setting sun.
A place of big skies, wide open spaces, spectacular sunsets and wonderful biodiversity.
Responsible Tourism best – the local employment
Personal best – the fact that we arrived as guests and left as friends… thank you Les, Jaunita, Charles and the team!
Read more about our roadtrip HERE