“In places, slivers of finger-like rock reached up in defiance to the blazing heat, and in others, giant bands of folded rock coloured the lunar landscape with deep earthy tones.”
As my Golf slowly wound her way through the folded ridges of the Cederberg, we quickly forgot all else that preceded the trip. We had travelled from Franschhoek, an equally mountainous terrain, but these rock formations were unlike anything else.
In places, slivers of finger-like rock reached up in defiance to the blazing heat, and in others, giant bands of folded rock coloured the lunar landscape with deep earthy tones.
Still being a Western Cape novice, I’d only recently heard of Kagga Kamma, and the usual response from asking people who’d visited was contented smiles and excited gasps. December was my parent’s first trip back to South Africa, post emigrating to New Zealand, and they were desperate for an African experience. Even my limited research of the reserve reassured me that this would be a good fit.
The reserve is located in the Swartruggens mountains, a buffer zone on the fringes of the Tankwa Karoo to the Southeast, and the Cederberg Mountains to the Northwest.
It’s a notoriously dry and arid landscape, but thanks to the presence of some deep ravines, a frequent wind tends to temper the harsh summer sun. This was particularly welcome since our visit coincided with a heatwave where temperatures were uncomfortably surpassing the 40-degree mark only kilometres away.
At the heart of Kagga Kamma is a rather luxurious reimagining of early life in the Cape. The sight is of historical significance for the San, South Africa’s earliest inhabitants, and this focus is carried through from the accommodation to activities.
Of the various sleeping options, we chose the cave units. A series of artificial, but surprisingly authentic looking units stand camouflaged before the towering rock band which provides the backdrop to the reserve. Even from a distance of 50 meters, they blend in effortlessly with the surrounding mountains.
Rockart and nature tour
There’s no better way to learn a little more about the life of the San, than an education directly from the 35 rock art sites scattered across Kagga Kamma. A nature drive en route to the sites gave us a better idea of the size and layout of the reserve. More freakishly-odd formations greeted us from the roadside as we drove. Our new favourite game became identifying animals and a host of other familiar objects from the rocky creations.
Kagga Kamma is a nature and not game reserve so most of the focus is given to the geology, fynbos and critters that make their home there.
Arriving at the first rock art site was a rather sacred experience, realizing that the artworks so delicately safeguarded on the rocks had been there for up to 6000 years, and told some of the stories of the San life. Having a guide talk us through the intricacies of the artwork, and the meanings behind them was an unforgettable part of the Kagga Kamma experience.
A night in the Star Suite
From the minute I saw photos of the Star Suite, I knew I needed to visit. Depending on availability, you can spend a night under the stars as an optional extra in one of two outdoor suites. No summer rain means it’s available from October – March. The experience starts at reception, where you’re given a quad bike, and after a short lesson asked to follow the safari vehicle ahead.
A scenic 20 minute drive through the reserve and you arrive at your private rock suite. At the base of a cluster of large rocks, an elevated platform is built, housing a lapa, bedroom and outdoor bath and shower.
When I say private, I mean private – you cannot spot another human, building or light in the 60-80kms of mountain vistas before you. This is the ultimate bush escape, and with the comforts of a plush bed, outdoor bath (with hot water and spell-bounding views), private rock-pool and prepped fire you could not ask for more. Supper is dropped off as you arrive, either cooked or uncooked for you to braai, along with a selection of cheeses, snacks and bottle of bubbly.
Arriving at 4pm means you have enough time to enjoy the peace and tranquillity before sunset. In the morning, when you’re ready to leave (how could anyone actually leave this place?), you simply jump onto your quad and drive yourself back for breakfast.
The night under the stars will most likely remain the most unique and memorable night I’ve spent in Africa, and is a bucket-list experience of note. Falling asleep comfortably in my bed, with the last embers of the fire still providing a small glow, and only the stars to keep me company, I was possibly the happiest person alive.
Visit and you shall receive
Famed naturalist and adventurer John Muir reminds us that ‘In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.’ A few days at Kagga Kamma and you’ll certainly receive more than you expected.
I was particularly drawn to the fact that the reserve has several specials throughout the year, so with a little saving, it’s an experience I hope many will savour.