Mount Camdeboo is a wildlife reserve set in a valley in the Karoo, three hours north of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. Less than a lifetime ago, the vast plain of Camdeboo, in the southern Karoo, thundered with the sound of hooves as three million springbok and wildebeest migrated to their winter grazing grounds. The herd was so enormous that it took three weeks to pass … these plains were then the Serengeti of South Africa.
Today, remnants of these mighty herds can be found in the high plateau grasslands of the Sneeuberg Mountains in the Great Karoo. Those who complain that the game reserves of the Eastern Cape are not wild enough should come here. The reserve is enormous – the perimeter fence is 94 kilometres long – and the game viewing against the backdrop of the Karoo mountains is quite exceptional. Nor is this a dry hinterland – the vegetation is amazingly lush and green.
Our drive begins down in the valley through riverine areas where you may spot rhino and giraffe, and continues through bush thickets, home of kudu, eland, duiker, blessbok, mountain reed buck and many more species. Then the landrover has a steep climb up onto the high plateau grasslands, a lost world where herds of black wildebeest, gemsbok, blesbok, red hartebeest and springbok graze, as black eagles soar overhead, cheetahs prowl and jackals howl.
These open plains make ideal hunting country for cheetah, which thrive up here. Some have been collared for scientific study and can be located using a transponder. Also in evidence is the rare Cape Mountain zebra – less than 2000 of these unusual zebra survive today. You may see many of the smaller mammals such as dassies, spring hares and vervet monkeys.
On a clear day you can see for 300 kilometres to the mountains behind Humansdorp on the south coast. The odd abandoned homestead reminds us of the early settlers who tried to make a life up here.
There are three houses dating from the 1800s in the valley, which have now been restored to offer accommodation. Camdeboo Manor has four bedrooms, The Courtyard has another four, and Hillside Manor has three rooms. All offer very comfortable accommodation with air-conditioning, and all have ample communal areas, gardens and large swimming pools. For honeymooners, there is a private romantic stone cottage, formerly a gatehouse. Camdeboo Manor is the best choice for couples; the other two are ideal for families or small groups. The food is of a very high standard, and much of it sourced locally – including delicious Karoo lamb.
The Karoo has a rich history. There are traces of the hunter-gatherers who lived here 125,000 years ago, then of the Khoi, who left their characteristic rock art, and then of the Boer farmers who trekked to the Karoo out of the western Cape. As the area has reverted to game, the remains of the settler farms have been preserved rather than obliterated and there is a rich history here. On the valley slopes, there is the site of a famous Boer War battle. A 300-strong platoon of the British 9th Lancers chased the Boer commando force up into these hills where they made their last stand in a sheep kraal. The men were captured, and taken down to Graff-Reinett where their leader, Commander Lotter, was executed. The graves of the British soldiers are still here, along with the sheep kraal and a memorial. The Boer dead were collected and reburied by their families.
When to go
The best months are possibly October, November, and February through to June. It can be rather hot in December and January with dramatic thunder storms. The mountains are largely dolorite, and the ironstone protrusions conduct electricity. The effects are spectacular.