Views over the lawn and pool where visitors can relax at Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER
Views over the lawn and pool where visitors can relax at Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

The Karoo is a special place. It pops with destinations that provide backdrops to getaways that will have you cruising down dust roads with wide open spaces laid bare before you.

Scattered across this expanse are historical towns that attract visitors with their charm and church towers attached to buildings dating back many years. They are places that have inspired artists in different forms and have made their way into folklore and ghost stories, from the disappearing hitch hiker of Uniondale to the many ghosts allegedly roaming the town of Prince Albert.

But, if you wish to find repose instead of ghosts, continue past this town at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains and instead make your way over the formidable Swartberg Pass, a national monument winding its way between Prince Albert and Oudtshoorn. Just before you reach SA’s ostrich capital, you will find a different Karoo escape — not a charming little town but a quiet break at Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve.

Nyala graze on the green lawns overlooking a swimming pool, barely acknowledging your presence. They appear nonchalant amid rumours that a leopard roams free, having last been spotted about a month ago. We are told to “stand still” should we spot him, a warning delivered in the same spirit the buck have embraced.

What started with the purchase of a barren farm in 1996, void of fencing and any infrastructure, led to the start of construction of facilities in 2002 and culminated in the birth of the luxury lodge as it stands today: nine en suite rooms with views over the mountains and river.

Apart from the grazing nyala, you may also spot other animal species, including eland, kudu, blesbok, impala, springbok, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest and zebra — all introduced to compliment the animals initially found on the reserve. You are more likely to see porcupines and jackal romping around while the shy caracal and leopard remain mostly hidden from sight.

In the cold Karoo winter the idea to swap out a room with a bath for a room with a fireplace will leave you content as the red embers glow, covering the king-size bed in the centre of your spacious room in a cloud of warmth. The lack of televisions in the rooms means sunny afternoons lend themselves to sinking into a porch swing with a view of the trees springing up from the Wynand’s River flowing through the property.

Crossing the Wynand’s River on a walk through the reserve. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER
Crossing the Wynand’s River on a walk through the reserve. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

Hiking paths carved throughout the reserve cut right into its heart. Here you can hop across rocks protruding from gentle streams and climb over boulders beneath the thick shade of overhanging vegetation. Spekboom and indigenous trees line narrow paths weaving through rock formations and the ever-present rhinoceros bush.

If nature is not motivation enough, a picnic in the Karoo thicket probably will. At the end of your hike, a glass of bubbles and a plate of fresh fruits, wraps, biltong, cold meats and cheese is all you need as you collapse into a camping chair, the sounds of crickets baking in the midday heat ringing in your ears.

On special arrangement a shorter night hike or stargazing can be arranged. The night casts a vastly different face on the vegetation and in the moonlight an assortment of stars appears, forming connect the dots pictures of Scorpio hunting down Orion between pastel swirls of the Milky Way.

Fires are ablaze in the casual lounge. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER
Fires are ablaze in the casual lounge. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

In the communal dining room with its large wooden table, three-course Karoo meals of typical boerekos are served by the kindly staff you will come to adore. Reflecting the industry in the nearby Oudtshoorn, you will find ostrich in all forms: carpaccio, bobotie and succulent fillet. Sweet potato soup is served for starters, pumpkin fritters as a side to chicken pie, malva pudding for dessert and mini vetkoek for breakfast alongside pancakes and an array of continental breakfast indulgence.

After dinner, wines sourced from vineyards in the region continue to flow generously in front of the towering double fireplace in the adjoining lounge. Arguably the most diverse of SA’s wine regions, the Klein Karoo Wine Route stretches from Montagu in the west to Outeniqua in the east: an unpretentious part of the world that continues to produce lovely wines despite the arid landscape.

As the wine settles in, the easy pace of this part of the world slowly catches up with you. The comfort food, the walks in nature, the touch of local produce and hospitality all melt into a glorious experience — if anything, it’s an experience you’ll find is worth taking on the Swartberg Pass for.

 

  • The writer  was a guest of Cape Country Routes
  • For more information or to make a booking visit capecountryroutes.com

What to do in the surrounds

 

Meerkat Adventures

If you head towards Oudtshoorn you can book a morning with Five Shy Meerkats on a meerkat conservation site 9km outside Oudtshoorn on the property of De Zeekoe Guest Farm, a sister property of Wildehondekloof. Pull up a chair and wait for the meerkats to sleepily emerge from their burrows as they warm their stomachs in preparation of a day of eating. While the meerkats are not touched or fed by humans, they have become accustomed to having people sit and quietly observe them.

Meerkats warming their tummies in the sun. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER
Meerkats warming their tummies in the sun. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER

Ostrich Safaris

Safari Ostrich Farm is a working ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn. It offers the only “ostrich tractor safari” in SA on which the knowledgeable guides explain all the aspects of ostrich farming and hand out food for you to feed to the birds. No ostrich rides are allowed here but you can stand on an ostrich egg, learn to tell the difference between real leather and imitation leather, pose for a photo op with ostrich-feather accessories and marvel at the wonders that have been found inside an ostrich’s stomach: what they swallow stays inside.

Ostriches following the tractor at Safari Ostrich Farm. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER
Ostriches following the tractor at Safari Ostrich Farm. Picture: SANET OBERHOLZER