Embracing Karoo’s glory and enriching the soul

Under a starry night with prowling eyes and atop a seriously steep hill, one meets nature’s best – set in luxury

Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve provides a luxurious setting from which to observe and enjoy the natural surroundings, with buck wandering just metres from your stoep 25 August 2019
Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve provides a luxurious setting from which to observe and enjoy the natural surroundings, with buck wandering just metres from your stoep 25 August 2019
Image: Karen van Rooyen

“If you spot a leopard, stand still. If you run, it’ll chase you,” our guide warned.

And so we set out on a night walk at the Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve.

Never mind that we were still a few nights from a full moon, with only the light from our cellphone torches to light our path.

“When last have you seen a leopard?” a member of our group asked.

“Ooooh . . . About a month ago,” our guide replied nonchalantly.

How were we to spot a leopard, even hard to spot – because of its natural camouflage – during the day?

But the element of possible (and at that point I hoped for imminent) spotting, added some excitement to our walk under the Karoo stars.

We’d arrived at the reserve, nestled somewhere between the coastal Outeniqua Mountains and the inland Swartberg Mountains that separate the Klein and Groot Karoo earlier that day after a stop first at the Safari Ostrich Farm.

Located on a 4,000 hectare game lodge, the reserve – with its eight bedrooms and presidential suite – provides a luxurious setting from which to observe and enjoy the natural surroundings, with buck wandering just metres from your stoep.

First up after settling in was an early supper – sweet potato soup for starters and options of ostrich bobotie and chicken pie served with vegetables for mains – food that epitomised the country lifestyle on a plate.

We were satiated and had no space for dessert – cheesecake.

And then it was time for our night walk.

Knobkerrie in hand to steady myself – and maybe to fend off any leopard – I made my way to the back of the group so I could marvel at just how bright the stars are under the Karoo sky without holding up any of the others.

We carefully made our way across a shallow stream, one slippery stone at a time.

Then up towards a path a few meters above the stream we had just crossed.

We walked for maybe an hour before we were back at the lodge where a toasty bed awaited.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed out for what would become a true test of my endurance – a three-hour hike around the property.

If it was anything like the night walk, it would be a breeze.

But it was nothing like the night walk. This one would be the stuff that trail runs are made of.

I have, in the past, managed a 14km walk in one go. On a flat surface. At my pace.

No rocks to climb, or branches and streams to navigate and cross.

But this 7km was something else.

Liewe hemel.

We started out easily enough – a brisk walk along a fairly flat, albeit narrow, path.

But then it started: the path narrowing even more, rocks jutting out overhead and branches poking out here and there.

Even so, I was enjoying this – much to my surprise.

And despite my warnings to my group the night before about how unfit I was, they encouraged me, telling me how strong I was.

That made all the difference, especially as we approached one of the steepest hills I’ve ever had to ascend.

I stopped at the bottom, the gap between myself and the rest of the group widening step by step.

“Just get there,” I told myself, focusing on a bush about 15m away.

And so I made it to the top of the hill – 15m at a time, except for that one time when someone from the top shouted to me: “You can do it.”

That time, I had a spurt and managed about 40m to reach my water bottle one of them had left for me.

And then, suddenly, I was at the top.

We had completed 6.36km according to the count stepper on my cellphone and at that point, I realised the hill plateaued for a bit, and that the path was also now wide enough for a vehicle to navigate which meant I could surrender and call in the cavalry.

But pride would not let me. And we were now heading downhill.

And so I carried on walking . . . But at 7.03km I finally gave up.

Not because I’d run out of stamina, but because my feet had started to cramp as I tried to grip walking downhill. Then we agreed: the others would go ahead with the guide who would then return with a vehicle to fetch me.

So there I was at midday. Sitting by myself in the shade of an acacia thorn tree, enjoying the sound of a stream trickling off in the distance, birds tweeting and the trees rustling in the gentle breeze.

And, perhaps, a leopard keeping an eye on me from a safe distance?

How grateful I was in that moment, to have no cellphone signal so I could just absorb everything nature had to offer.

It’s a rare treat for those of us living in the city, enslaved by technology.

On a fitness level of one to 10, I walk to get by.

But, I survived what I thought would be the end of me.

In fact, I was disappointed when the cavalry (guide in a big white bakkie) and I turned the first corner about 100m from where he had picked me up and right in front of us, maybe another 1km along the way going around the stream instead of across it, was the lodge and just a little further on, our picnic spot for the afternoon.

Later that afternoon, we experienced the property from a completely different view – the back of a game drive vehicle towards a scenic hill top for sundowners.

That night, we dined on starters of ostrich carpaccio, mains of ostrich fillet and chicken kebabs with sides and for dessert, a true South African staple – malva pudding.

It was an early night for me as we would be leaving early the next morning for our meerkat experience.

And as I drifted off to sleep that night, I remember feeling sore from all the rock climbing – but completely satisfied with all I had achieved, and enriched, maybe a bit empowered and inspired, by the experience.


Karen van Rooyen was hosted by Cape Country Routes: