Gondwana is the jewel of South Africa
Diverse ecosystems, incredible wildlife viewing opportunities and luxurious accommodation, there are so many reasons to visit Gondwana. Charlie and I spent three days in the Eco-Camp, a cluster of luxurious tents in the heart of the Nuaga valley within the reserve – where we were able to take part in not only twice-daily game drives, but also work with the rangers on their daily duties to experience what efforts go on behind the scenes of a conservation safari. Located in the heart of South Africa’s Garden Route, we drove the 4 hour scenic route to Cape Town before making our way down the bumpy track, past zebra, springbok and wildebeest toward Kwena Lodge – it was the last time we’d have mains electricity, WiFi or phone signal for three days, before we jumped into the Land Rover and headed for the hills.
It’s difficult to put into words how incredible our experience was at Gondwana and it has been hard to keep my reasons down to 5, so instead, here’s 7 reasons to visit Gondwana!
Taking our Land Rover to the highest point of the 11,000 hectare reserve, we caught a glimpse of the Outeniqua and Swartberg mountain ranges that surround the reserve. They are the last remaining evidence of the former Gondwanaland that the reserve was named after – the original landmass that existed over one hundred and twenty million years ago. Our ranger, Brenden explained that the mountain range continues in South America – back in the days of Pangaea!
Gondwana is a conservation, where it’s clear from the passion of everyone we meet that the goal is to rehabilitate the land and allow the animals to flourish in a natural environment – the eco-tourism destination allows guests to get involved in the rehabilitation of wetland areas, study the indigenous flora and fauna, and of course, get up close and personal with the Big Five.
We spent most of our days in the Nuaga valley – fed by streams coming from the mountains, the valley stretches as far as the eye can see. We meandered our way across the dirt tracks, stopping to track the game, noting their movements and numbers – an important task when understanding how many animals can thrive in the conservation. Time seemed to slow down in this serene environment, there is a laid back approach to wildlife spotting and yet you understand the importance of the work completed by the rangers, and by staying in the Eco Lodge you have the privilege of seeing this incredible environment from a different perspective.
2. The Animals
Within Gondwana, you’ll see herds of eland, giraffe, hippo, and zebra, as well as searching for cheetah, lion and elephant during the game drives. The majestic landscape is cloaked with indigenous Fynbos vegetation, adding colour and texture everywhere you look, and the conservation of the Fynbos is of utmost importance to the rangers who stop and explain the plant species throughout our drives.
During our time at Gondwana, one of our tasks was to track the game, counting the numbers of each species in order to give an idea of the numbers within the conservation. This lets the rangers know how many more they can introduce – for example currently there is just one pack of three lions within the reservation, by monitoring their movements and their feeding habits, it’s possible to see if there would be a possibility of introducing a second pack.
Gondwana exhibits its exclusivity and luxury to an exceptionally high standard. Guests have the option of staying in Kwena lodges – 14 open-plan pods that are nestled into the surroundings, complete with clay pot fire places, sky lights for star gazing and luxurious little touches within. We chose to stay in the Eco-Camp, run by conservationists Brenden & his wife Stevie – which attracts travellers willing to experience the remoter areas of the reserve – accessible only by a 25 minute bumpy drive through the Nuaga valley.
The exclusivity of the camp attracts guests that request luxury on their trip to South Africa – the tents are spectacular but in a stylish and simplistic way. They blend beautifully into the ecosystem in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. It’s all about being at one with nature, having a minimal impact on the environment and yet seeing it in style.
The five tents in the heart of the Fynbos are home to comfortable twin or double beds, a shower, toilet and sink area (but forget the showers you’ve seen in previous camp sites, these would be more in place within a 5* hotel), and each morning, lunch and evening we enjoyed meals prepared by Brenden & Stevie in the main tent or on the Braai outside. There’s even a pool, hammock relaxation area and outdoor shower – just don’t forget that an Elephant of Zebra could stroll past at any moment!
4. The Guides
Tying into the exclusivity and luxury within the Eco Camp are the excellent rangers; the passionate conservationists are absolutely tremendous and their knowledge is extraordinary. Brendan & Stevie live in the eco-camp and many of the staff live locally, have spent most of their life in the bush and so are in tune with nature and the environment. It is second nature to them, which is gold dust to the visitors.
The rangers are there to give you fascinating background and information about the area, the wildlife, the birdlife, all the way down to the minuscule flora and fauna that we seem to pass by, whereas the ranger is able to keep an eye out for footprints and other signs to determine the location of the more elusive animals, whilst driving, keeping an eye out for larger animals, and spotting unusual plant species. Multi-tasking at its finest!
5. Rare Wildlife Sightings
Gondwana is the ultimate wildlife destination; it is a blend of unique habitats, incredible wildlife viewing opportunities and incredible accommodation. Often you go on safari with something particular that you want to see, and more often than not, it will be those rare, elusive species.
Gondwana is the only free ranging Big 5 Private wildlife reserve in the Southern Cape, and is home to the lion, white rhino, endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, kudu and many others. Our ranger showed us how to set up cameras within the Fynbos in the hope of capturing the more elusive creatures – giving guests the opportunity to see endangered species such as the cheetah and black harrier.
6. Peace & Tranquility
Once out of the busting Cape Town and into the wonderful wilderness of Gondwana, you can really appreciate the peace and tranquility that this incredible country has to offer. Due to the exclusivity of the lodges, the inaccessibility of them, modern technology struggles to keep up with nature. There’s no ringing of mobile phones, pinging of emails and notifications, or hurried chatter of busy people.
There are, admittedly other noises to get used to! But the wonderful thing is that practically everything is natural; the occasional rumbling of elephants as they walk past your lodge, the chirping of birds to lull you to sleep. The sounds are harmonious and beautiful, and they are not constant – allowing you to appreciate the peace and tranquility of the African Bush.
7. A GENUINE COMMITMENT TO CONSERVATION
Gondwana has a genuine commitment to conservation of environment and wildlife, making it a leader in eco-tourism. The land is protected for wildlife and nature conservation, which is an extraordinary feat and bodes well for the future of the conservation. The owners recognise the economic importance of ensuring game reserves remain protected and local communities benefit through conservation and good tourism practices, and the good work is not limited to within the conservation either;
Gondwana was acknowledged for its “Gondwana Goes Greener” program, which includes the implementation of solar power, new communal staff transport, an enhanced recycling program, establishment of a wormery for compost and organic gardens, as well as the reserve’s ongoing conservation efforts for endangered flora and fauna species.
If you want to get a taste of what it’s like to visit Gondwana, you can join Charlie and I at the Eco Lodge in my video diary here!
For more information on Gondwana, visit their site here.