South Africa animal magic in Mount Camdeboo game reserve
By Olivia Greenway
With several thousand game reserves in South Africa, if it’s your first time, how on earth do you decide which one to visit? High up in the Sneeuberg Mountains, in the little-visited Eastern Cape and perched as if held in a giant’s palm is a rather special reserve named Mount Camdeboo. The most exciting way to get there is by small private plane. Flying over acres of red soil and bush, with little else, you appreciate how remote it is. As we landed on the tiny grass strip, giraffe and ostrich ran for cover.
Camdeboo is an owner-managed small collection of luxuriously restored old Cape homesteads, with friendly, welcoming staff. You imagine you are staying with a rather well-off friend, instead of in paying accommodation. The main building, Camdeboo Manor dates from the 18th century. Polished wooden floors keep the heat at bay, together with the thick walls. Large fireplaces are for crowding around during the cooler months, when log fires are lit. With a large-open plan lounge area, it feels like a home from home. It has three double bedrooms, each with luxury en-suite bathroom and separate sitting room area with French doors leading to the garden. A feature of the place is the excellent home made food, to suit all diets. Meals are served in the main dining room or sometimes in the evening, outside in the “boma” – where candle-lit lanterns and barbecued food will lull you into relax mode.
Surrounding the main lodge are formal gardens scented with English roses and jasmine and outside seating areas with sun shades. Partly back-dropped by mountains, the birdsong and the isolation of the place should slowly work their magic on you. Sit here in the shade with a book, or have a swim. An interesting diversion is to the site on the property of a famous Boer battle. 300 British troops surrounded a small contingent of Boers in a sheep kraal, which is still standing today. The men were captured and their leader Commander Lotter was taken to nearby Graaff-Reinet and executed.
Game drives are available from early morning until the evening. You pick and choose which ones you want to join, or may go on them all. A small group is taken by adapted jeep with an experienced guide to track down some animals and birds. Refreshments are on board and so are blankets if the weather turns cool. On an evening ride, I was five feet away from a white rhino and I will never forget the sunset we witnessed, drink in hand, the bright orange orb slowly disappearing from the horizon. Cheetahs may be tracked on foot which is quite thrilling. Safely in the jeep, we also saw springbok, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and kudo as well as mountain eagles, a secretary bird and long tailed warblers. But this is not tick box tourism; it’s an appreciation of wildlife in all its natural African glory.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” could so easily be “Camdeboo”.
During the South African summer, direct flights are available to Cape Town which may be a better option. You can then fly to Port Elizabeth and get a private charter to the reserve, or take your time, hire a car and drive along the Garden Route from Cape Town, spreading the 10 hour drive over a couple of days.