GRAAFF-REINET - OFFERING REHABILITATED CHEETAHS, GEODESIC DOMES AND DOLOMITE
Discover the magnificence on offer in Graaff-Reinet and its surroundings with Jared in Cpt.
If any traveller spreads the Gospel of local is lekker, it’s former Anglican pastor turned wandering spirit Jared Ruttenburg. After our last encounter in Bainskloof we ran into this happily restless soul in an Eastern Cape town where the architecture is impressive but where nature steals the show.
Graaff-Reinet is the fifth-oldest town in South Africa – after Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl and then Swellendam – that was established by the Dutch East India Company (VOC).
Local tour guide David Mc Naughton, shares a run down of the architectural style one can expect in the town. This includes the early Cape Dutch, Karoo style homes (with a façade and a flat roof) and lots of Victorian and Georgian styled buildings.
The conservation of architecture in the town is thanks to Dr Anton Rupert, including the “Dutch Reformed Church which is one of the gems that was built in 1886 in the Neogothic Revival style,” explains David.
Fauna and Flora are just as well preserved as we experienced when stopping off at our next spot – Valley of Desolation.
Roughly 14KM from the town, it boasts sweeping views from sheer cliffs and rock formations rising over the valley in Camdeboo National Park. The valley is the product of volcanic and erosive forces of nature over 100 million years and shows off precariously balanced columns of Dolerite that rise 120 metres from the valley floor.
Visitors to the Camdeboo National Park will be pleasantly surprised to discover the diversity of the land. There are over 220 recorded species of birdlife, 336 plants and 43 mammals that include the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, Kudu, Buffalo, the majestic Black Eagle and the Kori Bustard, the heaviest flying bird in the world.
As for the walking enthusiasts, they’ll be pleased to discover a short route from which to drink in the views, starting at the Valley of Desolation parking area and extending for around 1.5km via the Valley viewpoints.
“This is truly a remarkable site to behold. The sheer cliffs and towers of Dolomite precariously balancing on each other, almost seems like it’s a cathedral of mountains,” comments Jared.
The tour didn’t stop there. We next headed to Mount Camdeboo, a privately owned game reserve which runs a number of crucial conservation programmes.
Iain Buchanan, Founder of Mount Camdeboo, explains that “one of the new projects we’re working on is these geodesic domes and cabins which we call pods.”
The unique accommodation provides guests with a submersive experience in the wilderness and is the perfect opportunity for visitors to get away and appreciate nature. The dome was created with a very minimalistic, light-weight approach to not detract from the guests’ connection to the environment.
No comforts were however spared in this luxury accommodation which includes a bath with a view, wood fired hot tub, and special safari experiences.
For one, we had the privilege of meeting Thandi, a high profile cheetah that is the only female in the South of the park.
Mount Camdeboo is home to a few rescued, rehabilitated and endangered animals, including bull elephants and cheetahs like Thandi.
Central to reversing the trend of declining cheetah numbers is ecologist Penny Pistorius who explains, “Cheetah’s are genetically very similar, which makes them vulnerable to diseases, so it’s very important for genetic diversity to be brought into the population. By bringing in zoo cheetahs, and rewilding them, we are introducing that genetic diversity to the population.”
Mount Camdeboo used to be farmland, so the team are working hard to rewild it by bringing in predators and all the other wildlife that they’ve re-introduced and every tourism Rand spent locally, improves the cheetahs’ chances.
It goes without saying that Graaff-Reinet has provided an unforgettable experience so do yourself a favour and add it to your list of destinations to visit next.