One easy way to elicit an eye roll from a South African is to ask whether or not we have lions wandering our backyards (and you’d be amazed how often the question still comes up when abroad). Well, they’re not exactly scratching at the back door, but you’ll find these big cats four hours from Cape Town at Gondwana Game Reserve.
This 11 000 ha reserve is home to free-roaming big five: lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard. With no fences (except those for conservation purposes), it’s as close to the bush as you’re likely to get, and guests have been known to spot wildlife from the comfort of their suites.
Thankfully – I don’t think my heart could have taken it – there were no lions in the shrubbery when I visited. Just rolling green hills as far as the eye can see and excellent service from sunrise (which, incidentally, is when you rise too while on safari) to sundown.
Each suite has been cut into the hillside so only the rounded thatch roof is visible from the road, making Kwena look more like a semicircle of 14 giant molehills, blending seamlessly with the surroundings. Inside, the open-plan suite is spacious and cool, with an open shower, a luxurious bath overlooking the bush and – the pièce de résistance– a circular skylight above the king-sized bed for a little lazy stargazing.
The broad African skies are intoxicating, sure, but it’s the wildlife you’re here to see, and boy is there plenty.
We see a pair of hippo watching us from a dam, nothing but their eyes and adorably twitchy ears visible above the water, and later a lone male ripping up grass, his massive rump giving the vehicle a run for its money, size-wise. We watch a lion watching his lioness watch a herd of wildebeest. We spot the rare Cape mountain zebra, and their more prevalent plains cousins, with foals. We nearly die of nerves as an elephant investigates the front of our vehicle with its trunk, and sit quietly as a grumpy looking rhino trundles past. A cheetah flows across the grass like a spotted breeze.
‘You’re so lucky to have all this in your backyard,’ says a Dutch tourist behind me in the Landie.
Where R327, Garden Route
Cost Gondwana runs great specials for SA residents and visitors during the winter months. For more information, visit their reservations page.
Contact +27 21 555 0807, www.gondwanagr.co.za