Of all South Africa’s spectacular landscapes, the Karoo is probably the one that gets me the least euphoric. To many of my fellow citizens, this statement probably borders on the sacrilegious.
This semi-arid, 400 000 square kilometre expanse of land, after all, forms the backdrop to so much of our folklore and national history. I suppose, however, I’m just a girl with a penchant for dramatic scenery – towering mountains, crashing oceans, lush forests and rolling red desert dunes. Scrubby bushes and endless dirt roads just seem to pale in comparison.
Well, that’s how I used to feel at least, until a day-and-a-half at Roam Private Game Reserve gave me an education in Karoo appreciation I’d been lacking for too long.
Located 5 – 6 hours’ drive from Cape Town, almost exactly halfway between Prince Albert and Beaufort West on the N12, Roam is a brand-new nature reserve in the Sun Destinations group.
Formerly a hunting farm, this 5300-ha piece of true Karoo scrubland has been transformed into a space that is dedicated to eco-tourism and protection of delicate species – all of which occur or would have occurred naturally in this region.
Husband and wife team, Donovan and Abigail, head up the conservation efforts (as well as hospitality) and have been instrumental in creating a space that allows animals to truly roam free and undisturbed.
What to see on a game drive or walk
The property is currently home to zebra, giraffe, a herd of gorgeous disease-free buffalo, 13 species of antelope and 240 species of bird.
Game drives/walks with Don are rewarding experiences, whether you spot a single mammal or not. Stopping ever so often to point out the small life underfoot – cocktail ants and tiny succulents – or overhead – a bark spider spinning its web or a fairy flycatcher settling down for the night – his passion for all aspects of environmental management and conservation is obvious.
It was also being able to view this section of the Karoo through his eyes, that made me realise there is far more to it than I ever expected. The thing with the Karoo is that life is small and unobtrusively spectacular. Animals and plants survive in such delicate balance and have adapted to the harsh conditions in astounding ways. In fact, many prefer to spend most of their days underground, only emerging in the twilight hours to hunt, feed and go in search of water.
The vegetation is also endlessly fascinating, bursting into blooms and greenery with even the slightest hint of a shower. We arrived about two weeks after big rains had swept over the area and got to enjoy the last glimpses of Scrambled Egg bushes covered in buttery yellow flowers and an array of delicate purple and pink flowers basking in the sunlight.
According to Don and Abigail, this seriously the tail-end of the magnificent display they’d witnessed just after the rains.
Although everything about Roam seems to have a feeling of freshness and anticipation, one of the most exciting new developments, is the recent introduction of Cheetah to the property.
“They are brothers and have formed a coalition. This means there is a lifelong bond between them and they will remain together forever,” Don explained.
“They will remain in the boma for about six weeks and will then be released to roam free on the property. They are both able to hunt for themselves, so we look forward to them being self-sufficient once more,” Don said.
Roam has joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Cheetah Range Expansion Project, which aims to manage the genetics of Southern Africa’s wild cheetah population. Through doing so they are able to supply small reserves with cheetah, while ensuring the population as a whole remains genetically viable.
Once the cheetah brothers have acclimatised to their new environment, Roam will consider introducing a female or two as well. This will probably only happen in a year or two, however.
Any cheetah cubs from Roam would be part of this project and be introduced to suitable reserves deemed viable by EWT.
Roam stays: The Manor House, Explorer Camp and Safari Lodge
Roam Manor House is an exclusive use self-catering manor house ideal for families seeking a tranquil, yet luxurious Karoo wilderness experience. It has three bedrooms – two with double beds and one with twin beds, all have en-suite bathrooms. The luxurious open plan lounge-kitchen-dining area has a fireplace, perfect for chilly winter evenings and mornings in the Karoo. Guests staying in the manor house can choose to take part in organised game drives and walks with Don at an extra cost.
Those who enjoy a slightly more rustic accommodation experience, will love the tented Explorer Camp. It is a permanent, fully-set up camp in a dry riverbed with incredible views of the surrounding wilderness. To avoid the extreme winter temperature fluctuations, it is, however, only open during the summer months. Each of the six sturdy canvas dome tent is equipped with two beds, camping chairs and a small deck outside. There is a communal dining area and fire pit and – best of all – flushing toilets, as well as warm showers!
Finally, the Safari Lodge (where we stayed), offers sublime country luxury. It takes the form of 3 adjoining thatched roof houses surrounding a massive courtyard that cascades down to the lawns, wooden decked swimming pool area and small waterhole. There are four double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, as well as one uber romantic honeymoon suite.
All meals are prepared and served in the communal dining area or under the stars in the courtyard. Despite the remote location, Chef Francisco and his team manage to serve up the most glorious feasts with the freshest ingredients. Indulging in a gourmet braai on our last night at Roam was definitely a highlight!
What you need to know in order to go:
If the Karoo’s spacious plains have been calling your name for a while now, I highly recommend booking a weekend (or more) away at Roam the Karoo. Cell phone signal is patchy, so it’s also a great way to have a good old digital detox.
Check out the Roam website for more details, as well as information about rates.
*Disclaimer: Travel Writer Nadia Krige was hosted for the duration of her stay at Roam, including flights.