There’s something about the long, lonely roads of the Karoo. As wide-open plains give way to lofty rugged peaks, and windmills creak above lonely farmhouses, you can just about feel your shoulders settle. Your jaw unclenches, breath comes more slowly, and all those deadlines and overflowing inboxes start to feel less important. That’s the Karoo landscape working its magic, and putting life into perspective.
And it’s the magical pull of those landscapes that take centre stage at the latest addition to Mount Camdeboo Private Game Reserve, a 13,000-hectare tract of, well, not much at all, in the northern reaches of the Eastern Cape.
The reserve is one of a handful in the area working hard to reclaim neglected farmland, restore the landscape and return wildlife to the Karoo. On Mount Camdeboo the handful of luxury lodges offer no end of creature comforts and safari adventure, but at the pair of newly opened mountaintop pods you’ll find an entirely different perspective on those gloriously empty plains.
“I’ve always loved being up in the mountains here on the reserve, and once you have had your sundowners up there, with those wonderful views, you really don’t want to leave,” explains Iain Buchanan, the game reserve's founder.
And so Buchanan spent the 2020 lockdown tinkering with his plan for outdoor sleeping pods — steel-framed units clad in wood-panelling, corrugate and glass — that could be constructed off-site and delivered by truck, all while withstanding a climate that runs from a dusting of snow in winter to 40°-plus in summer. The modular units rest on steel stilts to avoid the need for permanent foundations. The upshot? They can be lifted and removed as needed, leaving hardly a mark on the landscape.
“I was hugely inspired by Scandinavian-style of pod-houses, and this global revolution towards tiny houses,” says Buchanan of the compact pods, measuring just 26m².
But that’s enough space for a comfortable double bed, flush toilet and small lounge area. Sliding doors and side windows are positioned to maximise the views, while the outdoor living areas are where you’ll surely spend most of your time. The wood-fired hot tub beckons with a bottle of bubbly, while an outdoor lounge and braai area allows guests to cater for themselves and enjoy a little extra privacy. Prefer not to lift a finger? Just ask, and the reserve staff will do all the cooking for you.
“We’ll gauge with guests how much involvement they want from the staff,” adds Buchanan.
What counts, though, is the location.
The pods are perched on lonely crags in the reserve, offering no end of luxury while giving guests the chance to immerse themselves in the otherworldly silence of the Karoo. Eagle’s Flight pod looks back over distant mountain peaks, while the Camdeboo Plains pod looks out over, well, the plains of Camdeboo.
The sites were chosen to ensure a sense of wild remoteness, with each pod carefully positioned so that no other buildings are visible. However, balancing isolation with safety, the pods are just 20 minutes’ drive from the reserve’s established lodges, in case of emergency.
Because while the landscape is the star here, the reserve is still home to lion, cheetah, rhino and elephant, along with a clutch of plains game. What if one of these comes sauntering by?
“I really wanted to keep the pods unfenced,” says Buchanan. “But because we are catering to a market that is not necessarily bush-savvy, we have installed a reasonably low fence, at an angle with electrical strands, which will certainly stop a lion or elephant walking through, so it allows you to enjoy the outdoor facilities late into the night.”
Starry nights, outdoor hot tubs and endless Karoo plains in every direction. Buchanan is probably right. You won’t want to leave.