Secrets of the Camdeboo National Park ~ Tired of sifting through blogs that promise secret places around South Africa and then fail to deliver the goods? That’s why we’re writing this series on national parks around the country (you may have already read the ones on Addo Elephant Park, Kgalagadi, Pilanesberg and Mountain Zebra Park).
So, whilst the very existence of the under-publicised Camdeboo National Park is a secret to some South Africans, we’ve made sure you know about it (you may have noticed our gentle nudges about visiting the Valley of Desolation here and here).
Not only will you know all there is to know about the Camdeboo National Park by the end of this blog, but we’ve also included a couple of handy quick links to places to stay in Graaff-Reinet that make accessing the park really easy (right at the end of the blog).
Keep reading for 13 secrets of the Camdeboo National Park…
1. If you want a first-hand experience of the Karoo, this is the park to visit
Stand watching the sun sink below the horizon with towering dolerite columns immediately before you, the vast Karoo plains your backdrop, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.
Formed hundreds of million years ago the Karoo is considered one of the great natural wonders of the world, but add to that an utterly unique geographical idiosyncrasy and the Camdeboo National Park soon packs a punch well below its weight.
2. The Valley of Desolation is also known as Cathedral of the Mountains
And with good reason. Take the tarred Valley Road from the entrance, just outside of Graaff-Reinet, up to the towering dolerite columns of the Valley of Desolation and you can understand why these unusual rocks, formed by volcanic and erosive forces some 200 million years ago, have an almost sanctified atmosphere.
The best time of day is sunset when the last rays of the sun catch the columns and illuminate them like the pipes of a magnificent cathedral organ.
3. Don’t even THINK about throwing rocks into the valley below
This really is a sign in the reserve…
4. For picnic sites on the edge of Nqweba Dam, head to either Piekniekbos or Babergat
Nqweba Dam is an underrated attraction of the reserve. Most people visit the Valley of Desolation section of the park and then head back out, not knowing that a 1 000 hectare freshwater dam provides not only water activities such as canoeing, fishing (you’ll need a permit) and windsurfing, but also attracts an incredible bird life and game, which comes down to drink.
Two picnic sites lie on its banks (there are actually six picnic areas with braai facilities throughout the park). Note: the dam serves the needs of Graaff-Reinet, so the level is bound to drop when the Karoo gets hot.
5. There is game, which you’ll find on the plains north of Nqweba Dam
You’re not going to spot a lion, leopard or elephant at Camdeboo (which is a blessing given the hiking trails through the park) but the park is fairly small and game is really accessible. You will see most of it on the plains of Nqweba – buffalo, gemsbok, black wildebeest, springbok – so pack your binoculars. A bird hide overlooks the dam and is great for water birds.
6. There are 3 walking trails – Crag Lizard, Eerstefontein Day Walk & Gideon Scheepers Trail (and they’re free)
The Crag Lizard Trail starts at the Valley of Desolation parking area and skirts the mountain edge, for about 1.5 km, giving alternative views (great photo opportunities) of the dolerite spires and the valley beyond.
The Eerstefontein Day Walk is a circular walk from Spandaukop gate on the road that links Graaff-Reinet to Aberdeen and gives three trail options, one of them as long as 14 km. And the Gideon Scheepers Trail is only an hour (a good choice for those pressed for time) between the Gideon Scheepers Monument and Barbergat.
7. Nobody knows this, but there are also Cape mountain zebra in the Camdeboo
Just so that you aren’t under the impression that you have to drive all the way to the Cape Mountain Zebra Park (although you might still want to as there are more of them to see at the latter).
8. Koedoeskloof 4×4 trail is out of this world
The 4×4 trail is in the western part of the park (Driekoppe trail is in the eastern section, so you can enjoy the entire park in your 4×4). The drive can be quite hectic if you’re not a well-seasoned driver as the track is badly eroded with scattered rocks on the trail. But the views from the plateau of Koedoeskloof are spectacular.
9. You can explore the Camdeboo Park at night
Rumour has it that there are night drives in the Camdeboo. Being in the park with the scents and peace of evening, the veld completely different from the way it is during the day, with the night sky filled with stars above you, strikes me as a must-do when in the Camdeboo. Contact either Buks Marais of Karoopark Guesthouse, or Nick De Goede, the park’s manager.
10. A protected area corridor will soon connect the Camdeboo National Park with the Mountain Zebra National Park
The corridor already links 66 landowners through 268 000 hectares, the first step towards protecting sensitive Karoo grassland between Graaff-Reinet and Cradock, which also, hopefully, will prevent any fracking in this area. Already it is in its second phase with the intention to grow it to as much as 520 000 hectares.
11. An historic Cape Dutch building, known as Winterhoek, is under renovation
And will soon function as a luxury guesthouse in the reserve.
12. Watch out for the monkeys at Lakeview Tented Camp
Lakeview Tented Camps has been well-rated by visitors, but watch out for the monkeys who think nothing of stealing your fruit from virtually out of your hand.
13. You could spot the bat-eared fox at Camdeboo
Take a walk through Graaff-Reinet with Chantelle Marais of Camdeboo Cottages for an historical and anecdotal account of the magnificent little town (there are over 220 national monuments, most of them historical buildings); take something warm along if you drive up to the Valley of Desolation, it is always colder on the mountain.
Our top 3 Graaff-Reinet places to stay:
- The Whytehouse – serious drool material
- Mount Camdeboo – no thought spared when it comes to luxury
- Villa Reinet Guesthouse – atmospheric garden rooms
Want further accommodation options? See Graaff-Reinet Accommodation.