An opportunity to bring you details of the nearest safari experience to Cape Town and spend a night conversing with Mother Nature captured our imagination this month. Packing in true explorer style (light & effective) only a small overnight bag, we headed east over the magnificent & majestic Hottentots Holland mountain range into the hot, semi desert of our Little Karoo.
The Western Cape offers a number of Private Game Reserves and exclusive Wilderness experiences to choose from, Colin & I chose two well-established properties to share with you this month, Aquila Private Game Reserve and Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve, both within a three- hour drive of Cape Town.
The four star Aquila Private Game Reserve offers game drives within a malaria free, Big 5 game territory only 2 hours drive from Cape Town. Surrounded by a semi desert rolling landscape of the Little Karoo, the scenery is spectacular.
Aquila Private Game Reserve actively supports the previously disadvantaged community from the nearby town of Touws River. Under the aegis of the team at Aquila, they employ over 120 people, sponsoring a full time teacher and the local cricket team amongst other generous sustainable development programs so vital within our responsible tourism gambit.
They have made strong inroads to eradicate exotic tree and invasive plant species from the area. This ongoing program assists in water preservation in an area that receives only 400 milliliters of rainfall per year! Throughout their bathrooms they use natural biodegradable bath products supporting their environmental responsibilities. Very positive and laudable actions!
Our experience at Aquila Private Game Reserve left us with mixed feelings though. Having spent time at numerous other African Safari properties in various parts of southern African, we felt that Aquila is over sold as what they term as "Real Africa", a statement on their website. The cheetah and the lions are in enclosures and you can see them pacing up and down the fence line of their respective enclosures, the crocodiles are in a small water camp at the lodge for all to see and all the game is fed every evening, not quite the Real Africa we feel is authentic and what we could market as "Real Africa". However, Aquila Private Game Reserve does have the advantage that you can get really good, close up photos of wildlife which may rate you well with your friends back home when you share your African experience. You do have the opportunity to see four of the Big 5! Even the well-informed rangers very rarely see the mountain leopards, the 5th of the Big 5.
Colin and I met with the General Manager, Leon and the Conservation manager, Patrick. Two fine young gentlemen with passion, knowledge & a commitment for both the environment and guest experience. Aquila is a custom designed day visit product and we both felt it to be very much a "work in progress". Aquila may well offer a fine safari option in time to come. Right now though, we feel that it is pricey for the overall input for overnight guests staying for a night or two.
The accommodation offered is standard and the meals provided, were pedestrian but well presented. Overall service is good and the game rangers are knowledgeable within their scope of responsibility. It was a disappointment being offered bottom end quality semi sweet South African sparkling wine, marshmallows and biltong on the afternoon game drive at sundown. An opportunity missed to captivate the heart & mind of the twelve guests on our vehicle …….
Aquila offers two adventurous and fun activities at the lodge being a horseback safari and a quad biking safari. Both offer a unique experience. The big advantage of visiting this property is found in their comprehensive day trip. For folks staying in Cape Town & surrounds with limited time to take in African wildlife, valuable photo and close animal encounters abound. Overall thoughts, come for a day! For the future, their conference facilities to be developed over the next six months would make a wise choice of venue.
A hop, skip and a jump took us north from Aquila through some more spectacular scenery, climbing an undulating mountain pass and along some rough gravel roads towards the southern Cederberg region. The four star, 15 000 hectare Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was our selected destination. The final 16km to the lodge showed unique similarities to the mesmerising sandstone rock formations found within the Cederberg area. Hot (36 degrees Centigrade), dry and almost moonlike in character and feel.
Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a wilderness experience with a cultural twist. The general Cederberg area is renowned for it's Bushmen paintings and Kagga Kamma offers an informative cultural safari guided by a greatly knowledgeable and experienced field guide, Jaco, who is also the General Manager. Jaco is a great host, passionate about Mother Nature and has an expansive knowledge of the Bushmen. Time spent in the Sabi Sands at the inimitable Mala Mala Game Reserve in conjunction with his Namibian heritage made time in his company utterly compelling! The game that roams their reserve is plains game only, bontebok, eland, burchells zebra, red hartebeest, klipspringer and some of the smaller species like the antbear and jackal.
One of the salient selling points here is that being situated so far from town & city light pollution, star gazing is magnificent, has depth and really is exceptional (almost as good as Sutherland, see our Travel Advisory for September 2007). Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a unique, well-positioned mini observatory with a 10-inch telescope. Close up views of our moon, certain planets, constellations and other fascinating objects in far-flung space can be observed. A worthwhile experience!
Kagga Kamma offers unique accommodation. Ten imitation sandstone cave like structures built up against the towering sandstone rock formations blend into their surroundings. Comfortable beds, fresh crisp, white linen and air conditioning are indeed welcomed. Their "Outcrop" sleep out option is special! This simply is a Must Do for you! Imagine if you will, a natural rock outcrop, two shade trees and a vast expanse of an endless vista. Imagine the ingenuity of man adding all that is wanted in the way of luxury amenities needed for human entertainment from sunset to well after sunrise the following day. Well before sunset, we boarded quad bikes and were escorted the three kilometers between main camp and the Outcrop. Our arrival is breathtaking. A truly baronial bedroom equipped with a king sized bed, side tables, lounge area and coffee table festooned with all sorts of culinary delights. The African sun setting directly in front of us, our host prepares glasses, lights our paraffin lamps then discretely vanishes. We are alone to commune with Mother Nature!
For those of you yet to experience this, do so in a vast hurry, for those who have, come here and allow Her to regale you with a story of the setting sun, all the animal actors on the stage before you join in settling down . The evening sky was streaked a vivid pink, turning to crimson, then steel gray, the stars emerged with a brightness and depth. The Black Hole presented herself alongside the Southern Cross, shooting stars abounded. Utter silence roared, the black velvet night greeted our gentle burning fire. Peace, contentment and solitude pervaded. Our picnic dinner was adequate but lacking for imagination, cold meats, some excellent cheeses, chicken legs and a well prepared & presented green salad combined with a potato salad all conveniently boxed in plastic containers. Our African night sky talks to you. Allow the language to permeate your mind and you will hear the mélange of words, dreams, hopes and aspirations. Colin arose in the early hours of the morning to witness the rising moon illuminating everything in waxen white.
The sun arose from behind our rock casting color, warmth and light on the distant hills, ethereal waking for the experienced traveler, for the first timer simply soul food. A superb honeymoon option if you're looking to secure a piece of peace and for those wanting to experience fifteen hours of uninterrupted privacy. Due to the naturalness of this option, it is weather dependent.
Overall our experience at Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was a pleasant learning curve made special by the Outcrop experience. We would recommend the Outcrop without hesitation, however when gauged against similar focussed properties within the region, their rates in proportion to the overall value for the rest of the property are high.