A four-hour drive takes you along the scenic Garden Route or the beautifully landscaped inland direction where the ultimate destination is the 26,000 acre Gondwana Game Reserve in Mossel Bay. With the emphasis on family fun and conservation, this incredible 5-star lodge is a shining example of what it takes to incorporate different animal species and to ensure the longevity of a multitude of fynbos genus.
Opting for the picturesque inland route through Worcester, Bonnievale, Swellendam, and Albertinia, we stop for a well-deserved leg-stretch and break at the wonderfully hospitable Spanspek Se Plek Farm Stall on the R60 between Ashton and Swellendam en-route to Gondwana Game Reserve. Reaching our destination at lunchtime, we feast on the most delicious food at Kwena Lodge: The kids love the juicy Gondwana burgers, made up of hand-ground beef patties on homemade buns & fries. My husband and I order the chargrilled 200g sirloin with rustic fries, and to conclude our meal, we all delight in the decadent chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. We try not to overeat as High Tea is another indulgence, saving space for the delectable treats served with coffee or tea.
The accommodation choices at Gondwana Game Reserve are plentiful. Guests can opt to stay either at the Khoi San inspired Kwena Lodge, which offers a luxurious and modern twist on the traditional African ‘hut’; private bush villas which are ideal for families, groups, or guests who want more space and exclusivity or at the ultra-luxe Ulubisi House, a fully-staffed exclusive use safari villa. In addition to this, Gondwana’s Tented Eco Camp and the brand-new Pioneer Trail offer tangible, authentic wildlife experiences.
We are staying in a spacious, 4-bedroom Bush Villa with a plunge pool situated in the Red Rocks part of the Reserve, where four mountain bike trails, graded from novice to advanced, are detached in the 2,500 acres protected area and fenced from the dangerous game. Gondwana has recently introduced mountain biking as an additional nature activity. Guests will get a healthy dose of outdoor exercise while enjoying game viewing from a different and fun perspective.
Wendy Rutherfoord, Gondwana’s owner, comments: “The cycling trails on the Reserve add a new dimension to our guest experience as well as a level of adventure and fitness. We are very excited to incorporate this as a complimentary guest activity – it is not every day that people can cycle through a beautiful landscape dotted with African wildlife!”
It’s overcast and drizzling, and we’re contemplating whether or not to go on our first game drive with field guide Coolman. The answer is a resounding yes! – it’s very entertaining, braving the elements and getting caught in the rain, which doesn’t dampen our spirits as we encounter some unique animal sightings – two hippos out of the water feeding on grass and elephants with rain-stained backs. The kids are giddy with excitement seeing these gorgeous animals, snapping away with their cameras. At Gondwana, children from seven years old may join regular morning and evening game drives, with children over the age of 12 able to partake in guided walks. Families with younger children can book a dedicated safari vehicle, giving them the freedom to accommodate their schedule and those of their small children.
Returning to our spacious Bush Villa sized at 2,600 sq. Ft., we take in the amazing views of the undulating Langeberg mountains from our expansive outdoor deck. Scattered in scenic spots throughout the Reserve, the well-equipped villas are surrounded by lush Fynbos and offer plenty of space and privacy, with thatched roofs and large outdoor decks for family barbeques and game viewing. The generous open plan living area comprising of an elegant, yet comfortable space for the whole family to while away the day and to watch passing wildlife.
For dinner, we enjoy the perfectly prepared beef fillet, with brown lentils, couscous mixed, pan-fried onions, green beans, and finished with roasted marrow jus, concluding our meal with mouthwatering malva pudding. Tasty meals are served in the charming Kwena restaurant, with striking sunset views at dinnertime, or on warm summer nights, dine by candlelight under starry skies in the boma.
Back at our villa, we call it a night as our morning game drive is scheduled for 6 am. We spot a wide variety of animals – zebra, buffalo, impala, baboons, and waterbuck. After our game drive and a hearty breakfast, the kids are excited to try out Gondwana’s special Junior ranger program, a fun way to show kids of all ages the African bush and to help them gain a greater understanding of conservation. The hands-on program offers educational game drives, fun scavenger hunts, junior rangers packs, and completion badges. Kids are taught how to identify mammals, birds, fynbos species, and even stars.
Following that, we embark on a very informative guided fynbos walk and hands-on botanical conservation experience, hosted by resident botanist, Kevin. With its rare and endangered Fynbos biome, we are able to get up close to see the wonderful indigenous plant species that exist at Gondwana Game Reserve. Favorites are the colorful Erica and the lovely Pincushion, part of the protea family.
“The growing popularity of our Eco Camp Conservation program has confirmed that guests love getting a behind-the-scenes view of the conservation efforts on the Reserve,” Wendy explains. “We have been inspired since day one by the Fynbos found on the Reserve; its beauty, diversity, and rarity is astounding, but we needed the right individuals with the expertise and passion for helping us get more of a handle on it scientifically to not only better protect it but also better share it with our guests. By making our Fynbos conservation part of our tourism offering, it enriches our guests’ safari and makes its conservation more sustainable – a win-win.
After a tasty lunch and High Tea, our late afternoon game drive yields the extraordinary sighting of the Gondwana lioness and her three cubs. The cubs have become very playful and bound over to their dad, the most magnificent male lion. At 15 years of age, he has sired many litters of cubs and seems very tolerant of these youngsters climbing all over him, ending our game drive on an absolute highlight. Dinner is a gastronomic delight, with gemsbok steak served with potato fondant, pan-fried baby marrow, and glazed carrots.
It’s time to head home, but not before our morning game drive, where we spot the dazzling Cape mountain zebra and the cutest plains zebra calf standing alongside its mother. We have enough time to eat breakfast, consisting of a buffet selection and a warm breakfast to order. Saying our goodbyes, it’s evident that the Rutherfords have gone to great lengths to build and sustain a piece of property, so pristine, Gondwana Game Reserve is worth a visit.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own.
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