There are many great reasons to visit the Garden Route — from the array of world-class golf courses to charming coastal towns offering the last word in laid-back beachside luxury. But big game and safari thrills? That’s probably not on the itinerary for your next coastal escape.
But it certainly should be, as this popular holiday region cements its credentials as a convenient — and malaria-free — safari destination. And while it may lack the sheer wild drama of the Lowveld or the Waterberg, the landscapes offer a unique safari experience amid the fynbos.
And the reopening on November 1 of the Eco Camp at Gondwana Private Game Reserve offers the perfect excuse to try out a southern Cape safari. Offering off-grid luxury in a remote corner of the reserve, it’s a safari escape with both under-canvas charm and a strong conservation ethos.
That’s something that runs throughout Gondwana. Unlike other wildlife experiences in the region, the selling point here is that the reserve’s game is truly free-roaming, across 11,000 hectares of rehabilitated fynbos and renosterveld landscapes enclosed to house dozens of species of predator and prey. And while the sight of an elephant meandering through flowering fynbos rather than a stand of mopane may seem out of kilter, Gondwana has simply returned this landscape to much how it would have appeared before settlers arrived with guns and wagons.
Perhaps one note of caution though: it’s billed as Big Five territory, but don’t arrive with expectations of seeing a leopard. The Cape Mountain leopard may certainly roam these hills, but it’s famously shy and rarely seen.
That’s little to worry you though, as a stay at the refurbished Eco Camp is less about ticking off the sightings than delving into the unique ecosystem of this landscape.
The focus at Eco Camp is also on offering guests an insight into modern-day conservation work. Aside from traditional game drives and bush walks, guests can get hands-on with everything from census counts and ecosystem monitoring to eradicating invasive vegetation from the sensitive fynbos biome.
“At Eco Camp, we invite our guests to meet Africa in her purest form, without asking them to sacrifice their comfort or sense of personal safety,” explains Wendy Rutherfoord, director of Gondwana Private Game Reserve. “Here, they become part of the conservation family. It’s a very special, and personal, encounter.”
There’s also the chance for a close encounter with a Cape Mountain leopard. In digital form at least, with the need for regular monitoring and positioning of remote camera traps that offer useful insight into animal movements.
That information that is fed to the reserve’s conservation team and used in the ongoing management of this unique fynbos ecosystem that has been carefully rewilded and stocked with indigenous fauna.
But hey, you’re on holiday, so it’s not all about hard work and no downtime.
Happily, the refurbished Eco Camp offers no shortage of under-canvas comforts and comes pitched in a glorious valley of pristine fynbos. It’s entirely off-grid, so you can leave your load-shedding apps at home, and stays are fully-inclusive of all meals, local beverages, game drives and conservation activities. Just remember that there’s a two-night minimum stay, and children must be over the age of 12.
The Eco Camp was also recently expanded to offer a total of seven tented rooms, all en suite with shaded decks for quiet moments between conservation activities. Winding walkways lead to the cosy communal area where you’ll find the elegant lounge, dining and bar areas. There’s even a pool for cooling off on summer days, with hammocks swinging lazily in the Cape breeze. Come evening, dinners are served al fresco beneath a blanket of southern stars. It’s a safari escape, but not as you know it, and a fine addition to any Garden Route road trip this summer.