* This article first appeared here in ASPIRE LIFESTYLE
There was a nervous gasp and a startled look on two of the guest’s faces. They told us that they’d just seen a flash of yellow fur dart past them in the bush. Our guide’s face quickly lit up.
“It could be the two cheetah brothers! Shall we walk back through the bush to see if we could find them?”
It was anxious, but quick yes from us. Back into the bush, we went in search of the fast felines. While we weren’t able to confirm the sighting, it was a distinct possibility they’d crossed our path. We were after all in a free-roaming game reserve…
As the name aptly suggests, The Pioneer trail is the first of its kind in the Western Cape: a rare chance to combine both Big Five territory with the UNESCO Heritage Site (bestowed by virtue of the prolific fynbos). It is a mythically beautiful environment where spinning top cone bushes, gorses, and proteas replace the usual acacia and veld bushes. The Pioneer Trail takes in four days of the wilderness: just over 20 kilometres of hiking and overnighting in three distinct camps.
Gondwana is a 11000 hectare property, 4h30 from Cape Town or a 45-minute skip from George Airport, and the reserve is a prime example of rewilding in South Africa – private reserves working at restoring land to what it once was. The challenge of rewilding pertains not only to fauna but also flora – and all this we were about to witness in person.
After a welcomed lunch platter, a quick orientation, and signing of my identity form – another gentle reminder that I was about to walk in the wild – our two guides whisked us off to our first camp. East Africa took the shape of four luxury tents arranged around a communal area featuring a central dining room, lounge, and boma.
Since the rates are fully inclusive of all meals and drinks, it was time to enjoy a G&T (or two) and start to acclimatize to the wild new surroundings. As always, it was around the campfire where the stories flowed and our guides Andre and Christiaan both shared the hardships faced over COVID – circumstances that lead them both to Gondwana, a place they’re both proud to now call their bush home.
After a bountiful braai, followed by a bath in the Victorian claw tub in my tent, it was time to surrender to sleep, with the bush providing a natural soundtrack.
After a magnificent night’s sleep, it was a brief breakfast with entertainment. – a troop of baboons exploring the adjacent cliffs. While adults gleaned in the morning, the youngsters jousted rather precariously along the steep banks.
Since it’s slack packing all we had to carry was a backpack with water and lunch. The Pioneer Trail ascends fynbos-covered hills and then descends into hidden valleys. The trail has cleverly been designed so that the sun is always behind – much appreciated in the summer sun.
Walking our guides was a bush education of note. The two were so enthralled by the bush, that at times animated discussions ensued around something they’d spotted and would take a few minutes before they’d remember us standing observing. We’d then be brought into the deliberations around their discoveries: “It could be a love scene, murder scene, anything…”. It was bush forensics at its best.
Arriving in the evening at Camp Mozambique was welcomed after the day’s walk. The first port of call was an afternoon nap, then emerging to the smell of a seafood spread had more than one of the guests drooling.
The second day’s hike was a shorter 8km saunter, most of which took place over the plains with various game sightings. The walking also came more naturally, and I came to appreciate the bush therapy: having to keep the focus on footing and constantly being alert takes your mind away from what usually plagues it. There’s also less of the reach-for-phone reflex. With little or no signal there’s no need.
Walking past a wild dam, Andre invited any of us to take a dip. After he assured me there were no crocs or other treacherous creatures, two of us dived to enjoy some respite from the heat.
Eventually, we walked into camp Morocco – greeted by a feast of North African fabrics and colour. The décor and finishes at all three camps were collected by the owners on their travels, adding to the personal touch.
Feeling like we’d earned the right to now trade in the hiking boots for a comfy seat on the game vehicle, we relished the chance to jump on a cruiser and head out for a three-hour game drive. Andre tried his best to appease my constant fascination with elephants, as we meandered down the dirt roads.
Eventually, in the waning light, he parked the vehicle. “If we see them at all, it will be from here.” The hills rippled out in the distance before us, and lo and behold, after 20 minutes a line of elephants traversed one of the distant hills.
Sitting on the vehicle on the transfer back to my car, I had a niggling sensation – a desire to jump off the vehicle and get back into the bush in my veldskoene. Sadly, the city was calling and with it the end of this wonderful wilderness sojourn. One that brought together unique big five territory, luxury camping, and many unforgettable moments in the bush. gondwanagr.co.za