There is little to see in the Klein Karoo – at least to the untrained eye. The vast emptiness goes on forever – flat in some places, steep along the passes – always dry. It’s beautiful all the same, and fodder for visual artists to capture the rugged landscape against sun-drenched heavens. The road is long and uneventful so make sure your travel companion is good for conversation.
The Klein Karoo has been described as hell by early travellers and adventurers – bone-chillingly cold in the winter, unbearably hot in the summer and unwelcoming at night. The semi-desert does nothing in half measures.
Thankfully modern travellers and adventurers have an oasis or two from which to appreciate the stillness of the Klein Karoo.
The historical Tilney Manor luxury lodge at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is one such oasis. It punctuates the arid surroundings with its modern open plan suites, luxurious lounges, and a rim flow pool. It’s a place to unplug from the outside world – if not voluntarily, then under duress. There is no cellphone reception, and the wifi will not get you through your timeline; which is not the worst thing in the world.
Tilney Manor was originally a farmhouse dating back to 1898, and despite the facelifts over the years to becoming a lodge, you can still appreciate the feel of an old house with wooden floors, old artworks, and a welcoming fireplace.
It is named after Thomas Tilney. He was born on 15th July 1816 in North Shields (then called Northumberland) England and was a successful marine captain, harbour master and, finally, a magistrate in the Cape Civil Service. He died in 1899.
If the remoteness does not relax you enough there’s always the deftly named Relaxation Retreat which boasts a steam room and a sauna with views of a Karoo sunset.
The rooms are spacious, comfortable and cater to every traveler’s whim and fancy. A king-sized bed to sprawl across, and a veranda to watch the sun go down over the plains littered with wildlife. An outdoor shower affords you the opportunity to be one with nature. The opulence is highlighted by chandeliers and fireplaces. Even on a hot day, the cold sneaks up on you at night.
All your meals are catered for during your stay. From breakfast to dinner, the menu style changes up, offering guests a chance to experience a little of everything. From wraps to boma dinners – there’s some tradition mixed with familiar favourites.
Tilney Manor, along with Gondwana Family Lodge and Dwyka Tented Lodge, two more luxury establishments make up the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, owned by the Caleo Foundation, a non-profit, conservation organisation. Their cause is clear: to revitalise their 58 000 hectares of land and return it to its ancient glory of roaming predators and ravenous herbivores drifting along the parched landscape.
We were fortunate enough to get a taste of what that could feel like when we came across a young female cheetah and her fresh kill – a kudu. We approached her with caution of course, lest we become dessert, and we followed the guide’s every instruction.
Because a cheetah trusts human beings so implicitly, we were able to able get as close as 10 metres to her. So close we could hear her teeth rip the underbelly of her victim, and her jaws crunch down on cartilage. It was primal and terrifying – but she was beautiful. A healthy, young female cheetah still approaching the prime of her life, thriving in the great wilderness. This is the way it was always supposed to be, and the way Sanbona envisions it to be in the near future.
We also stumbled across two lions on their morning walk, an elephant herd, hippos, rhinos, giraffe, zebra and several buck. It is heartening to watch wildlife in their environment – there are a few lessons of simplicity to be learnt here, where the outside world can’t intrude.
The Big Five are here, they seem content and untroubled, and they are perhaps the founding fathers and mothers of what will someday be a place where there is everything to see in the Klein Karoo.
Contact: +27 (0) 21 010 0458
Pictures: Iky’s Photographic and Nidha Narrandes