Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity – Khalil Gibran
Some tours start with some passengers unknown to you ; the sweet responsibility ; but at the end of sharing 6 days in the bush one realizes what an opportunity you’ve had to meet them and to share time with them – differing personalities, but each with unique qualities!
We left Cape Town on Sunday 10th May (Mother’s Day) with a surprise gift hidden in each passengers tour presentation package (a slab of Lindt Chocolate to celebrate the day). Even the two men on tour were able to celebrate.
First stop was the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein where we settled in for lunch in the pub, with the pianist playing his honky-tonk tones in the background. There is always a good atmosphere here but pretty soon we all realized that we needed to continue our journey to our overnight stop in Prince Albert. We arrived in the small town just after 16h00 and settled in to two pre-booked guest houses– Saxe Coburg and the Karoo View Cottages.
Dinner was at a new restaurant, Simply Saffron, recommended by Julie of Karoo View Cottages. Here Hermon and Ridwan prepared a varying and different spicy dinner. When it was time to leave the restaurant shortly after 21h30 no-one argued – it had been a long day!
We had an early breakfast at our favourite restaurant in Prince Albert – Lah-di-dah, and with Yvette at the helm it is just the nicest place in town to enjoy breakfast (and to do a bit of “gathering”). So efficiently run, it is a place to return to time-and-again!
With our ultimate destination being Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, 56km from Graaff Reinet, we decided to take the scenic route through Meiringspoort pass with a lunch stop in Aberdeen at Pagel House. Here Lyn Dugmore runs a B&B and prepared the most delicious quiches and salad for us. She set up her table in the dining room. The ever so elegant steel ceilings, decor and large rooms are all reminiscent of the “Ostrich Palaces” built in the feather boom of the early 1900’s. We felt as though we had stepped back in time.
“Mount Camdeboo here we come” – everyone was so excited. We arrived at about 15h00 and were then taken to our pre-assigned rooms in Camdeboo Manor and Courtyard Manor. Our luggage was already in our beautiful rooms; High Tea was enjoyed and pretty soon we were ushered to the game drive vehicle for our very first viewing of the awesome animals and scenery in Mount Camdeboo. On leaving the manor we came around a bend and eye balled a herd of buffalo. Oh my goodness – scary but yet they looked so docile.
Sundowners were enjoyed on the game drive and dinner at the lodge. All too soon we were once again, all ready to ‘hit-the-sack’.
At Mount Camdeboo you are woken up just after 06h00 and after a cup of coffee and a rusk you join the morning game drive just as the sun rises. Amazing times for sure!! Les, with his intimate knowledge of the bush has to be the best game ranger I have ever come across!
Today Les took us up to the Battlefield site where the Battle of Paardeberg was fought during the second boer war in February 1900. Both British and Boers had many casualties. Sitting in the vehicle with Les relating both sides of the story had us all thoroughly engrossed!
Les is constantly on the lookout for the cheetah – they have acquired a new male cheetah on the reserve and have inserted a micro-chip in his neck to allow rangers to track his whereabouts. During this game drive we did hear a faint beep on the tracker but Les said this was not strong enough to explore!
Brunch is always enjoyed after the game drive and then it’s ‘free-time’ ; you can go for a massage with the African Angels (which 4 of our ladies enjoyed), or just sit quietly and absorb the silence of the area around you! At 15h30 it is once again time for high tea, prior to the afternoon game drive.
On our third drive we went along looking at giraffe ; kudu ; an enormous puff-adder, which Les gently prodded with a stick until it disappeared into the bush again ; mountain zebra in the distance ; we were lucky to see their rhino (de-horned because of all the poaching in South Africa) ; their two orphaned rhino calves have been safely kept in a boma since their mother was killed in poaching incidents) ; and still always looking for the elusive cheetah.
Drinks up on the Escarpment is always a highlight of your time at Mount Camdeboo and amazingly they time it perfectly – as you ride along the top of the escarpment the sun sets and the sky turns pink/orange/ oh just so beautiful!!
A special memory at Mount Camdeboo is their boma dinner – to enter the boma with a huge fire blazing in the center and be served dinner is an experience to remember for years. We all sat around the fire with Les and David with interesting stories emerging.
Eight of us skipped our game drive the next morning and headed into Nieu Bethesda. Some of the party thoroughly enjoyed this quaint town with the Owl House being the main attraction! Coffee ; a small bit of shopping ; “Hey I have to have this Consol Jar solar panel for the load shedding – and yes, it is more expensive than I would have paid in Cape Town – but it has traveled far to get here” is what was overheard. We then headed to the local brewery where the ladies imbibed in a tasting of beers. By 13h30 we had to get back on the road to Mount Camdeboo for the afternoon game drive.
Les took us down to the Boma to see their cheetah (she broke her leg in November last year) – the leg seems to be healing well and they hope to soon release her back into the wild! What they have to do is capture the male cheetah and put him in the boma ‘before’ they can release the female back into the wild. They just cannot take the chance that the female endures any further injuries – if she should damage her leg again – well, according to Les, this might result in her having to be put down. One of the ladies asked Les when he was putting the Male Cheetah into the boma to mate with the Female Cheetah with the broken leg………..oh dear, much laughter after this!
On our game drive on Wednesday there was a very good signal on the tracking device and Les had left us all in vehicle for about 15 minutes whilst he tracked the male cheetah down. He came back to the vehicle saying he (the cheetah) had just made a kill and was quite content. Les said that he would allow us to walk into the bush with him to see the cheetah. Five of us stayed behind – the other 5 did a bush hike but sadly the cheetah was far too illusive and kept a few paces ahead of the group. No luck this time.
Dinner in the dining room – Red Pepper Soup ; Beef Fillet ; Crème Brule with a cheese board (which, unfortunately no one touched!) and it was time again to get on the game vehicle so Les and David could take the Courtyard Manor people home to bed. (En route Les shines the ‘night light’ and we picked up a herd of buffalo and the rhino – all within 500 metres from the lodge!)
An early breakfast and, unfortunately, no game drive today as we are heading home! We travelled through Graaff Reinet to the Valley of Desolation and took a short walk up to the vantage point where many photos were taken!
On our return to Graaff Reinet a few ladies expressed interest in seeing the church – they were disappointed! The Church is currently being painted and access is limited to a small part of the church at present. Others sat and enjoy coffee (& cake!) and wine before we once again, headed to the coach. This time our final destination was Oudtshoorn with a lunch stop at Sophies Choice in Willowmore. Sophia also runs a wonderful restaurant and with us pre-ordering our lunch – on arrival it was ready! A lovely fire was burning and everyone felt warm and cozy after lunch.
We checked into Hlanganga Lodge in Oudtshoorn with their usual glass of bubbly to welcome us. A short rest and once again, we were back in the coach heading to Bello Cibo restaurant for dinner. The owner Gerby has a keen interest in Italian food (having worked in Cape Town in an Italian restaurant for many years).
On waking on Friday morning we all realized that our tour was indeed coming to an end. A fabulous drive along the Robinsons Pass going past Eight Bells Mouintain Inn and all too soon we were in Swellendam where we stopped at Tredici which is, indeed an excellent place to stop for lunch. Their staff are very well trained and the food is delicious.
Arriving back at the airport holding bay on a Friday afternoon at 16h00 had its challenges. One of our vehicles was held-up in Friday traffic which resulted in us having to wait for about 30 minutes. This was not too bad considering that in just on two hours we had people back to their homes ranging in places from Simonstown ; Kirstenhof ; Noordhoek ; Claremont ; Constantia ; Sunningdale and Century City.
All in all a wonderful 6 day trip away, encompassing peace, solitude, fresh air, laughter and fun with a great group of people. Thank you one and all for touring with us.