Choose your country and language:
AAlthough they look bare, dry and dead, deserts contain a surprising variety of life. Semi-deserts, likewise, appear to support only the bare minimum of life – until you look beneath the surface, and realise they are teeming with flora and fauna beautifully adapted to the arid conditions.
This is true of the Karoo, the vast dry area that dominates the central western portion of South Africa, divided into Great and Little regions. In the heart of the Little Karoo (found in Western Cape province) you can discover a semi-desert wonderland of awesome and breath-taking beauty.
Expect towering mountains, layers and layers of golden sandstone, rocky ridges and jutting cliffs standing sentinel over stony plains, scrub, stunted trees and windblown bushes. Every spring, blankets of dazzlingly coloured wildflowers burst into life and stretch to distant horizons.
Go into the heart of the Little Karoo between Montagu and Barrydale, about 3 hours from Cape Town, and discover the conservation conscious Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. It’s one of South Africa’s largest privately owned nature parks, and it lies at the foot of the soaring Warmwaterberg Mountains.
The distances seem immense – the reserve comprises 54 000 hectares of wilderness – and as far as the eye can see, there are jagged mountains, fantastical rock formations and plains, large and small. These are home to indigenous flora and fauna, and rare San rock art dating back 3 500 years.
Yes, this is a game reserve, and yes, it does have the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), but visitors come here not just for the game, the more than 650 species of plants or the 200 bird species. They are also drawn by the unique beauty of an awesome landscape.
Within this immensity you can find lions hunting (including fabled white lions), rhinos dozing in the sun, hippos cavorting in the massive natural dam, and plains game – zebra, giraffe, eland, kudu, gemsbok (oryx), springbok and wildebeest (gnu) – and the rare and highly endangered riverine rabbit dotted about the reserve.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Sanbona is an easy 3 hours’ drive from Cape Town, reached via the N1, R60 and R62. The lodge will supply detailed directions, and you can leave your car at Sanbona’s Welcome Lounge.
Best time to visit
Any time of year is good, but summers (November to February) can get blisteringly hot.
Within the reserve, by open game vehicle or on foot. Self-drive is your best option when exploring the surrounding Little Karoo.
What will it cost?
Rates vary, so consult the website.
Length of stay
At least 2 nights; 3 if possible.
What to pack
Camera, binoculars, hat, sunscreen, warm jacket, hat... and a sense of wonder.
Where to stay
Choose between: Tilney Manor, a restored historic farmhouse; the luxurious Dwyka Tented Lodge, tucked under a towering cliff; the family-friendly Gondwana Lodge; or the tented Explorer Camp, a base for walking safaris.
Game drives, bush walks, stargazing and spa treatments.