When you’re driving along certain highways of SA, the big blue skies and the wide-open grasslands stretching like a golden blanket to the horizon are a sure sign that you’re in the Free State.
These rolling vistas are synonymous with peace and tranquillity. Now imagine an off-grid lodge, perched on the edge of a rugged canyon that winds its way through the grasslands, so far from the closest town that there’s zero light-glow at night. Add the allure of the huge Vanderkloof Dam, and the setting is perfect for an unforgettable getaway — just you and a few close friends on an adventure of the soul, being treated to an exclusive big-cat safari by a professional guide happy to explain why there’s a wild population of tigers in Africa.
Tiger Canyon Private Game Reserve is possibly the best place in the world to see and photograph wild tigers. Safari lovers from all over the world come (when they can travel!) to experience these tigers living naturally in an African habitat and hunting the same prey as lions and leopards.
One feature that sets Tiger Canyon apart from tiger reserves in India is that it is privately owned, so the safari vehicles can go off-road to track the tigers and give guests an up-close experience while photographic opportunities abound.
Tigers are among the 10 most endangered animal species in the world. Here, they have found a home alongside Africa’s iconic cheetah. Both cat species are protected at Tiger Canyon, where the rewilding of land, ecosystems and the big cats takes centre stage. The owners of this revolutionary conservation project have proactively nurtured this tiger population, fearing the extinction of the big cats as their home territory in Asia is taken over by human settlements.
Once you’ve arrived at Tiger Canyon, located outside Philippolis, the first town established in the Free State back in 1823, there unfolds a soul-soothing and thought-provoking journey of discovery. The professional field guides are outstanding in their ability to make you feel welcome, sharing their knowledge while they drive you to breathtaking sightings unique to the Free State and unmatched in any other SA game reserve.
Each drive seems better than the last as you experience the startling beauty of the canyon and the little-known Vanderkloof Dam (SA’s second-biggest) on the mighty Orange River, in a reserve that is home to creatures different from those usually found in Africa’s big-five reserves. For example, you might be lucky enough to see a rare black-footed cat, a meerkat, an aardwolf, a beautiful blue crane or even a huge Verreaux’s eagle flying over plains game such as red hartebeest, springbok and warthog, which are often hunted by the tigers and cheetahs.
Tiger Canyon was the first Free State game reserve to reintroduce wild cheetah, in 2013, after an absence of more than 100 years. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s cheetah metapopulation project recently relocated three two-year-old males raised in the wild at Tiger Canyon to Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve as part of a restoration effort benefiting communities, tourists and the Malawian economy alike.
The peaceful and remote Tiger Canyon is a beautifully undisturbed, authentic and almost surreal place. It’s an exclusive experience like no other in SA, right in the middle of the country — and, thanks to the support of local wildlife lovers, photographers and adventurers, it has survived the pandemic and its future is promising. Don’t leave it off your wish list.
This article was paid for by Tiger Canyon.