* This article first appeared here in Sawubona Magazine
Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, Graaff-Reinet
Arriving in the Great Karoo Eve Palmer’s words from The Plains of Camdeboo were resounding through my head: “At first encounter, the Karoo may seem arid, desolate and unforgiving, but to those who know it, it is a land of secret beauty and infinite variety.” And for those who visit the Eastern Cape’s Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, there are certainly a few secrets worth sharing.
The land was purchased privately in 1996, and only a decade later welcomed guests for the first time. Today the Buchannan family are the proud custodians of 14 000 hectares of wilderness and have focused on restoring and rewilding the existing farmlands to their previous wild and untouched state. This includes the restocking of wild game that once freely roamed the plains; lion and elephant were introduced in 2019 after an absence of over 100 years.
For this visit, it was two exciting new sleep-out options that I’d be exploring. From the main lodge, one of the reserve roads snakes its way up the mountains, starting at the plain below of around 800 meters above sea level, and eventually taking you to an impressive height of double that. There, almost floating on the edge of the plateau, in a proud celebration of wilderness and design, floats the reserve’s new geodome.
This new edition features a bathroom, free-standing bathtub, and WiFi, and is powered by a solar-strip driveway – a first in South Africa and pioneered through the Canadian-based Solar Earth. The geodome is semi-futuristic in structure and uncluttered in design with minimalist decor that doesn’t distract from the surroundings. Outside you’ll discover a lounge, dining table, hanging chair, and then a wood-fired hot tub. And then most importantly, not another soul for kilometres.
I don’t recall the last time I saw so many stars. Nor realized how loud silence can be.
In addition to the Geodome, there are also two equally isolated cabins on the opposite side of the reserve, offering similarly sweeping views from their elevated positions – both replete with a fire pit, bush lounge, and wood-fired hot tub. They’re purposefully designed to have a very low impact on the environment; in a few years, they could simply be removed having left little trace.
Sitting at one of these on my second night, and realizing that for tens of kilometres, it’s just me – and the solitary male lion that I can hear roaring 200 meters from the pod – isolation has never felt as glorious, and certainly never as remote. newmarkhotels.com
Mount Bain Cabin, Bain’s Kloof Pass
Seeking refuge from the fast-paced city lifestyle, Cape Town couple Kerry and Dean excitedly purchased their dream cabin just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town. After adding some of their own touches to it, they generously decided to share their little piece of happiness with others and in March this year, Mount Bain Cabin welcomed her first guests.
The cottage perches on a steep ridge overlooking the Breedekloof Valley, standing as a guardian at the beginning of the historic Bain’s Kloof Pass. The panoramic views over the valley and surrounding mountains provide ample space for weary city souls to breathe.
The cabin provides every creature comfort, but then with a few extra lush additions: a wood-fired hot tub, suspended nets for star-gazing and an outdoor bath – all an extension of the invitation into an immersive nature experience.
If the weather serves up a scorching day there are a couple of enticing options to cool off. The cabin includes the use of floating pillows, an inflatable flamingo, and a SUP board – toss them in the car and head off to the nearby Witrivier (ask Kerry for directions). If you drive further up into Bain’s Kloof itself there are several scenic and hidden pools along the pass. To work up a sweat, take the short but rewarding hike up to the waterfall in the reserve itself.
Since you’re in wine territory, why not make a stop at Osptal on the route – the estate is minutes away and their Chenin Blanc will have you stopping back on the way home for more. Sitting on the deck at sunset making my lamb potjie, it is hard to imagine being happier anywhere else. mountbaincabin.co.za
The Voormanshuis, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Mere minutes from the coastal retreat of Hermanus lies one of the Western Cape’s best-kept secrets – the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Although the region’s wines are well respected both locally and internationally, driving through the Valley it feels distinctly quieter and less developed than other wine regions. And the valley doesn’t need any razzmatazz to impress – the premium wines and mythically beautiful scenery speak for themselves.
High up on the ridge, the Creation Wines is famed for its unsurpassed food and wines offerings, with few knowing that in addition to the epicurean delights the farm also boasts an exclusive staycation. The Voormanshuis is a modern cottage set in the vineyards and is both marvel and masterpiece. The wood-veneered cottage rises boldly from the vineyards on one of the estate’s upper ridges.
The striking exterior then echoes into a classy interior, where no attention to detail has been spared. Downstairs the Voormanshuis features a fully-stocked cellar, then climbing the stairs you’re welcomed into a large veranda with braai. Inside a spacious open-area living space and fireplace sit adjacent to an oversized window for gazing out. The two-sleeper is a sophisticated and romantic getaway and also fully off the grid.
If like me, you want to fit in a little fitness when away, then the entire estate is all yours for exploring. The cottage comes with two bicycles for exploring the farm’s backroads and trail runners: don’t forget your gear.
It may seem a bit surreal, returning home from a cycle, choosing a cold bottle of wine from your cabin’s private cellar, and then admiring the sunset from upstairs as the only guests on this world-renowned farm. It’s the kind of cabin fever that I’d willingly chose over and over again. creationwines.com