A fynbos safari
Updated: Aug 19
SITTING HIGH IN A BRAND-NEW FORD EVEREST, WE TRAVELLED IN LUXURY TO THE FYNBOS-COVERED HILLS OF GONDWANA GAME RESERVE FOR A BIG-FIVE SAFARI UNLIKE ANY OTHER
The Garden Route was calling once more. The destination this time: Gondwana, an 11 000 ha fynbos-blanketed big-five game reserve near Mossel Bay. We’d be spending a few luxurious days on the reserve and looked forward to everything it had to offer, but, as one sage or another once mused, life is about more than just the destination.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE DRIVE
On this occasion, the journey was particularly pleasant, as Imperial Ford Cape Town agreed to lend me their new Ford Everest 3.2 ℓ beast of an SUV for the trip. You sit high enough in this bakkie-based SUV to really feel like the king of the road, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking down on nearly every- one else along the way in their puny cars. Peasants! The 3.2 ℓ, five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine also growls with sufficient gusto as to add to the already imposing, American ‘truck’ appearance of the Everest. Some may accuse drivers of vehicles this size of overcompensating for some insecurity or another; I, too, used to subscribe to this notion, but that was before I had the sheer pleasure of driving the new Everest, getting envious glances from everyone and their dog.
From the spacious cockpit of our borrowed steed, the 400 km from Cape Town went by in a flash. We were only two, but could’ve comfortably fit five more in the large three-rowed cabin. The third row already has plenty of legroom, but the second set of seats can be slid or reclined to free up even more space for those sitting in the back – and you’ll still have sufficient space for luggage.
In terms of dashboard adornments, the new Everest isn’t over the top, and the layout is simplified, but it still has everything one could need. Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is top-notch, with a crystal-clear display and a perfectly user-friendly touchscreen. It also has voice control, Bluetooth, USB slots and a bunch of handy apps. The instrument panel is straightforward but attractive, and provides the driver with all the info they could want at a touch of a button on the steering wheel. Parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and auto lights and wipers are also nice-to-haves.
Of all the bakkie-based SUVs in this segment that I have had the pleasure of driving, including SA’s darling, the Toyota Fortuner, I reckon the ride quality of this latest version of the Everest is arguably the smoothest. The six-speed automatic transmission makes for seamless torque delivery to the wheels, and steep hills were surmounted without breaking a sweat. After an effortless 400 km, I could’ve easily gone 400 more; but 10 km before Mossel Bay, Gondwana’s signage beckoned and we were ready for the bush.
BIG-FIVE RESERVE WITH A DIFFERENCE
When I say ‘bush’, you may conjure up classic images of lowveld grassland and shrubbery, but the bush I refer to in this instance is mostly made up of fynbos.
You won’t get a conventional safari here either; if you’re used to spotting game in the northern reaches of the country, like I am, it takes some getting used to seeing sundry antelope, elephants, rhino and lions in this fynbos setting. Strange, but startlingly beautiful. Remarkably, it is the only fynbos reserve in the world to harbour a free-roaming big five.
Warmly received at the reserve at Kwena Lodge, and fed a succulent supper in the gorgeously appointed restaurant, we made our way to our lodgings for the weekend – one of several privately situated Bush Villas located a few kilometres from Kwena. Perfect for families or groups of friends, the Bush Villas have three to four en-suite bedrooms, a large living area with fireplace, fully equipped kitchen and a broad deck where one can take in the undulating hills of Gondwana.
Kwena Lodge, on the other hand, consists of a cluster of thatched beehive huts with spacious interiors, bathrooms with deep baths, skylights for stargazing, clay-pot fireplaces and spectacular 180º views. It’s also closest to the restaurant and bar area, and there’s an inviting pool below.
A word on the topography: Gondwana got its name from what was known as Gondwanaland – the most southerly of two continents that formed part of the supercontinent Pangaea that existed as far back as about 510 to 180 million years ago. The Swartberg and Outeniqua mountain ranges that form the northern border of the reserve are the last visible evidence here of Gondwanaland (which incorporated several modern landmasses, including Antarctica, South America, Africa, Madagascar and Australia) after the continent split to how we know it today.
After digesting this slice of information imparted by our knowledgeable ranger Brian Dhori on our first early morning game drive, the gently rolling landscape suddenly seemed even more impressive, and the dawn mist added an Ancient, almost mystical air to the pastel-hued terrain. 510 million years ago? Hard to fathom. Still contemplating how small and insignificant our time on Earth is in the grand scheme of things, I was yanked from my existential reflections when our safari truck was brought to an abrupt halt. We had happened upon our first sighting of the morning: lions.
Two females and a large male were basking in the first rays of dawn, the male’s big mane jet black but for a fringe of gold – the latter accentuated in the morning light. Surveying us with total indifference, the small pride eventually stretched, languidly crossed the road not metres from our vehicle and disappeared behind a veil of fynbos. Morning made.
We proceeded to trundle around a large section of the reserve and didn’t see much else that morning (this is a proper game reserve where wildlife roam far and wide; not a zoo-like park where animals appear on cue, as in some ‘game reserves’ in the Western Cape), while Brian educated us on everything Gondwana, including its vast variety of bird, animal and plant life. After a delicious breakfast, we parked ourselves on the expansive deck of our bush villa, did some reading and enjoyed the peaceful sounds of nature. Much of the weekend was spent this way as we unwound and forgot about city life for a while.
Our next two game drives served up white rhino, hippo, buffalo, plenty of red hartebeest, kudu, eland and Cape mountain zebra. We also explored some of the reserve surrounding the Bush Villas by ourselves (the Everest is a joy on gravel road and decidedly sure-footed), and although we didn’t get to see all of the big five, it gives us an excuse to return to this wondrous place. What we did see plenty of were birds. The thing about fynbos and its hundreds of flower varieties is that it attracts an abundance of avifauna.
We were fortunate enough to catch sight of numerous Cape sugarbirds, an orange-breasted sunbird, Burchell’s coucal and several kinds of francolin. The birds of prey we were treated to included an African goshawk, secretary birds, a jackal buzzard and a black harrier. But that doesn’t even cover a fraction of the birdlife that calls Gondwana home – yet another reason for us to return with a proper pair of binocs.
We may even consider the more ‘hands-on’ tented Eco Camp when we return. A while back, Gondwana launched the Eco Camp programme, which allows guests to participate in wildlife and veld management, learn bush skills and interpretation, aid rangers with day-to-day tasks, and get valuable behind-the-scenes insight into conservation, all while enjoying the full big-five safari experience. It’s not too strenuous, though – plenty of game drives, bush walks and downtime are also part of the itinerary.
In whichever way you choose to experience Gondwana, you’re likely to have a wonderful time. We’re certainly hooked and, given its proximity to Cape Town, we’ll be back before long.
WHERE TO STAY:
14 open-plan hut-like suites with luxurious interiors and picturesque views close to all amenities. Perfect for couples.
BUSH AND FYNBOS VILLAS
The Bush Villas are located about 10 km from Kwena Lodge, while the Fynbos Villas are adjacent to Kwena. Double-volume thatch roof with open-plan lounge, dining and kitchen area, and two-, three-, and four en-suite bedroom configurations. Living rooms have fireplaces and wide decks with built-in braais. Kitchens are fully equipped, with microwaves and dishwashers. Book the Bush Villa B&B and game drive special for R1 750 per night.
An inclusive five-night conservation experience. Accommodation is in tented camps on decks. To inquire about rates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BOOK A TEST DRIVE
FORD EVEREST XLT 3.2 6AT 2WD
• Fuel Economy 8.2 ℓ/100 km • Standard features include: – Dual Zone Electronic Automatic Temperature Control (DEATC) – Rain-sensing wipers – Wheels: 18 × 8.0” alloy 265/60/R18 Continental
Test-drive the Ford Everest at Ford Imperial, Cape Town. 021 204 9570 imperialfordcapetown.co.za