Gondwana’s dome of delight

UP CLOSE: An elephant encounter during a late afternoon game drive
UP CLOSE: An elephant encounter during a late afternoon game drive

TAKE a basic rondavel and elevate it to a completely new luxurious level. Traditional solid walls are replaced with windows allowing the senses to feast on a view to die for, with colourful flora leading the eye to majestic Langeberg Mountains in the distance.

The domed, thatched ceiling is topped with a huge skylight, allowing both warmth from the midday sun and extra light to permeate the room.

A carefully placed wall divides the king-sized bed from the dressing area, where tea- and coffee-making facilities are provided. Hot chocolate is an added bonus to be savoured on return from a night drive. For the romantically inclined, there’s a fireplace for those chilly nights while the huge bathroom features a wet room shower, which all adds up to some pretty special accommodation.

If you take that accommodation and place it in a game reserve where traditional Eastern Cape bush scenery is replaced with abundant fynbos and you have a unique wildlife experience, which is what you will find at the Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay – the only fynbos reserve in the world which is home to the Big Five.

A scant four-hour drive from Port Elizabeth, the reserve is a must-do for those looking for a complete back to nature experience, even if it is just sitting back and enjoying the silence which is occasionally interrupted by the roar of a lion or an overhead bird.

Unusually, accommodation is not fenced off from the reserve which means that you could enjoy an evening braai in the company of some of the reserve’s curious elephants – or even the lions which is why walks after dinner in the central restaurant and bar back to your luxurious room are always in the company of a guide, or perhaps even your own very knowledgeable game ranger.

In our case, we spent the weekend in the company of Brian Dhori who managed to surprise us with his immense knowledge – even though we are not novices to the game reserve experience.

For instance, who would have thought, especially living in close vicinity to Addo, that there is value in elephant dung? But there is.

Inhaling the smoke of burning elephant dung will get rid not only of a blinding headache, but will also fend off those pesky mosquitos. Pregnant women brave enough to down a glass of water infused with elephant dung will also reportedly enjoy easier childbirth, as the liquid acts as a muscle relaxant.

Coming across a dazzle of zebra (and yes, there is such a thing as a dazzle of zebras as the stripes have been known to dazzle lions) we learnt why these animals earn their stripes: they have an intricate ventilation system which sees the blood moving between the stripes – white when it is hot to reflect the heat and black when it is cold.

We also learnt a lot about the uses of flora other than fynbos found within the reserve’s 11000ha. For instance, breaking off a leafy branch of soft dogwood and rubbing it between your hands gives you a powerful disinfectant soap, while bushman’s bedding was used for exactly that purpose, with the added bonus of being snake and mosquito repellant.

Another interesting snippet about life at Gondwana was provided by head chef JC Nortier who says that of the 150 species of fynbos, you can only cook eight of them, two of which can be found on the reserve.

A group of overseas tourists will be visiting the reserve this weekend and taken into the bush not only to enjoy a fine dining experience, but also to learn more about cooking with fynbos.

But staying in a game reserve is not just about learning curves, it is also about enjoyment, and with Brian at the wheel we enjoyed plenty of that, coming across four of the Big Five during our two-night stay.

The two cheetahs at the reserve proved to be pretty feisty, protecting their territory and mock-charging the vehicle at one point.

The elephants, complete with two babies, were less feisty, however, and were quite content to share their perfect spot in paradise with us while we enjoyed sundowners under the stars.

After that, it was back to our base for a meal with a difference: fine dining with an African twist is another of the bonuses of a stay at this amazing resort where, should the mood (and the cash!) take you, you can buy into the game reserve lifestyle by purchasing your own private residence.

But mere mortals like us have to content ourselves with a final sundowner under the stars before, with not just a little reluctance, bidding farewell to a place which is special. Very special indeed. – Helen Crooks

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