Sunday 11th May dawned with the promise of a break-away from the city to the Karoo. The 15 excited passengers on this tour were collected at their homes and transported to our meeting place at the Cape Town International Airport from where we left in our coach, direction Matjiesfontein.
It was exciting to see mild snow on top of the mountain range just outside of De Doorns. Arriving at the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein at 12:30 saw us all entering their pub for lunch. Johnny who is their resident piano player of note was already entertaining a group of people; the fire was crackling and very soon we all tucked into warm food. A short tour of the rooms of the Hotel with Johnny’s usual ‘ghost’ stories and we headed back into the bar for a bit of a sing along and ‘dance’.
Then it was time to continue our journey to Prince Albert, where we would spend the night. We had traveled 408 km and everyone was in high spirits. Accommodation was arranged at Karoo View Cottages, Saxe Coburg Lodge and Bougainvilla B&B. Dinner at the Gallery Café was delicious – this restaurant is consistent in Prince Albert and always offers excellent food. Oxtail, Lamb Shanks seemed to be the order of the day.
A good nights rest and we were all at Lah Di Dah for breakfast at 08:00. We ambled along Meiringspoort (A must do pass in the area); and eventually we were at the Blue Door Café in Aberdeen for a light lunch. The excitement was palpable and when Brian and I called everyone to board the coach there was no dawdling at all!! Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve lies 65 km east of Graaff Reinet and after driving the road through a number of other Reserves we encountered the Mount Camdeboo sign and this resulted in a loud cheer from everyone.
Whilst luggage was offloaded and moved to the various rooms and other Manors (Hillside Manor & Courtyard Manor), we met in the lounge at Camdeboo Manor where we were informed of how our time was going to be mapped out at the Reserve. This was followed by a sumptuous high tea. A short game drive of about an hour followed, with sundowners, within ear shot of the giraffe population – wow this is exciting – and we all returned to Camdeboo Manor for dinner.
Camdeboo Manor is where all meals, high teas and early morning coffee and rusks are served by wonderfully attentive staff. Dinner was in the dining room and not many waited too long to ‘hit-the-sack’ after unpacking for the 3 days ahead of us.
Day 2: Early morning wake up calls at 06:30 and everyone was ready-to-go on the two open game vehicles assigned to us for our stay at Mount Camdeboo. Les and David are outstanding game rangers who strive to give you the ultimate bush break – from explaining the fauna and flora to the habits of all the animals that live in this absolutely beautiful area. We were indeed fortunate to learn from them.
This morning David and Les enthralled us all with a history lesson of note all about the battles that were fought on the Camdeboo property. One in particular was the Battle of Paardefontein. They made the area ‘come-alive’ for us all and at the end of the talk we were able to view the grave site of the British soldiers!
On our return from the early morning drive you are treated with hot facecloths before being directed to the dining room for brunch. Then it is time to enjoy the Manor, have a rest or just enjoy the warm sun rays. A few ladies went for massages; hand and foot treatments and very soon we were, once again, summonsed to the table for high tea.
Our third game drive was exciting as we ended up with a spectacular evening sun set at a small dam, where the two rangers set up a snack and drink station on the back of one vehicle. We later returned to Camdeboo Manor for dinner! Little did we know but the Mount Camdeboo staff had been incredibly busy and by the time we returned to the lodge we were astounded by the dinner in the boma. We were directed down a lantern lit path into a fairy tale boma, complete with a roaring fire in the centre and Out-of-Africa style tables and chairs arranged in a circle. What a fabulous end to a great day.
When day 3 (Wednesday) dawned 11 people elected to spend the day in Nieu Bethesda leaving immediately after breakfast to cover the 120km (2 hour) trip (one way). They elected to spend a maximum of 2 hours in the town to ensure they were back in the Reserve at 3pm, in time for high tea and the evening game drive.
Five of us stayed in the Reserve and enjoyed the early morning game drive. David was the chosen ranger and he imparted his knowledge of the plants that inhabit the Camdeboo area. He stops the vehicle and explains everything so well! He even made us a cup of coffee at the top of the escarpment. A fabulous morning spent at Mount Camdeboo.
When the Nieu Bethesda people returned it was straight into High Tea and then yet another game drive. This time we were in for a treat!! Les was determined to find the cheetahs this afternoon. One cheetah is fitted with a tracking collar to monitor her movements, so you would think it should be easy. It still takes great expertise to actually find her with her four cubs and when the call came on the radio that Les had found her, the second vehicle was summonsed to the scene. We were all given strict instructions as to how to behave and then 16 people trod quietly along the dirt road behind Les and we ended up within 30 meters from the 5 Cheetah. Never before had I heard so many people, so quiet! The cubs were delightful as they played, oblivious to us and after about 15 minutes Les said we should all carefully and quietly board the vehicles again. What a life-changing experience to be up-close-and-personal with these magnificent creatures – absolutely fabulous!!
Before we returned to Camdeboo Manor we were driven up to the escarpment for a sundowner-of-note. The staff had previously taken up chairs / an umbrella (to add atmosphere) / and fabulous snacks! On our return we were served drinks in the lounge and then settled in to enjoy our dinner: What a fitting way to end our day – Fillet of Beef with fresh vegetables served in their dining room coupled with Crème Brulee made us all feel like millionaires. “Oh if only we could live like this ALL the time” was heard from many.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “All-good-things-come-to-an-end” sooner or later and on Thursday (Day 4) we took our leave of Mount Camdeboo after breakfast. Sad news awaited everyone when we informed them that one of the Mount Camdeboo Rhinos had been killed during our stay in the Reserve and that the staff had only come across the scene yesterday. Great sadness enveloped everyone and the common question became “When will something be done to combat this senseless killing?”
On our arrival in Graaff Reinet we headed up to the Valley of Desolation. A short walk and everyone was ‘oohing and aahing’ – what fabulous scenery! A short visit to the Church in the centre of Graaff Reinet and McNaughton’s Book store which belongs to David the game ranger, and we were ready to do the 335 kms to Oudtshoorn. We took a break at the most beautiful and unusual restaurant in Willowmore – Sophies Choice. What a decadent lunch we all enjoyed at just before 14:00. Theresa even managed to purchase a French inlaid table! “Sure there’s space in our trailer” said Brian! It was duly wrapped in bubble wrap and accompanied us back to Cape Town. A group of ladies all enjoyed sitting on the donkey cart for which we all paid the driver R5.00. A fun experience in Willowmore.
On our arrival (at about 17:30) in Oudtshoorn we were served champagne at the Hlangana Lodge. This had everyone in high spirits when we met shortly afterwards for dinner at Jemimas. Breakfast was enjoyed at 08:00 before leaving Oudtshoorn and meandering along R62.
We stopped in at Ladismith (The Parmalat Cheese Factory shop being a favoured place); then Ronnie’s Sex Shop and finally we arrived in Barrydale for lunch. (Clarke of the Karroo).
Robertson was our last stop – we can’t ever go through this town without stopping and greeting our dear friend, Tommy of the On Route Wine Boutique. “Girls there are naartjies – please help yourselves” and after a quick ½ hour we loaded boxes of wine into the trailer and headed back to the city.
Once reaching the Cape Town International Airport, the group was split into three vehicles – one to Tokai/Constantia, another to Lakeside/Rondebosch and our 15 seater took the Tableview/Sunningdale people home.Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you actually occupy in the world.