• Leoné van Zyl

The Garden Route's got game

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Lavish glamping, extraordinary views and a few midnight surprises await on the family-friendly and wildlife-rich Botlierskop Game Reserve on the Garden Route, says guest writer Leoné van Zyl

There are few things more terrifying and exciting than being woken up in the dead of night by deafening roars and thunderous galloping while camping under the African sky. Granted, we were glamping more than camping, and our tents were on raised decks surrounded by an electric fence, but still. Convinced that only a large predator could emit such an earth-shattering, soul-quaking grumble and cause such a ruckus, I ran out on to the verandah fully expecting a pride of lions to have slaughtered some hapless animal in front of our tent, but to my surprise, I learned that it's not only lions that roar at night. What I was greeted with was an irate white rhino mother protecting her young calf against a covetous male, the pair roaring, rumbling and mock-charging each other – and I had a front-row seat to the whole showdown.

Even more bizarre? We experienced this whole show, and many other wildlife spectacles like it, not even five hours’ drive from Cape Town…

A mere 400 km from the Mother City, between Mossel Bay and George on the scenic Garden Route, lies Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. A 4 200 hectare family-owned reserve, Botlierskop is as diverse in its topography as it is in its animal- and bird species. A wide variety of fynbos flourishes on the reserve’s undulating folds, while plateaus are covered in grassland and dotted with pockets of dense forested thickets, all majestically backdropped by the Outeniqua Mountains. It plays host to four of the big five (rhino, lion, Cape buffalo and elephant), more than 26 animal species including rarities such as the extraordinary black impala and golden wildebeest, as well as more than 200 resident bird species.

Arriving at the lodge, we were greeted with warm welcomes, face towels to wipe away the four-and-a-half hours of travel from Cape Town, and a welcome drink to enjoy in the lounge while we were checked in. The sumptuously decorated Fireplace Restaurant and bar, and several spacious sitting areas flow on to an expansive wrap-around deck (with a roaring fire at the heart of it), which looks out over luxuriant valleys below where antelope and rhino graze around the meandering banks of the Moordkuil River. To the right of the main lodge a sparkling infinity pool enjoys sweeping views of the reserve, while the lower deck is appointed with comfortable canopied loungers and a second circular pool.

After familiarising ourselves with the lodge, we were whisked to our ‘tent’ on the back of a golf cart, breathing in the jaw-dropping views of Botlierskop and getting our first wildlife sightings in the shapes of the resident nyala that shelter in the safe proximity of the lodge.

When the golf cart dropped us off, shaded wooden walkways led us the last stretch to our tented lap of luxury for the weekend. There are 21 luxury tented suites on raised platforms, each built with a wooden deck overlooking the grass plains, river and towering cliffs looming behind. They’re wonderfully private, too – each unit sheltered from the rest by dense foliage.

Our tent was furnished with a grand king-sized four-poster, a large bathroom with bath and an outdoor shower, and finished off with tasteful bushveld decor. After a day of travel and excitement we decided to retire early, and managed to get a good night’s sleep – save for the rhino episode mentioned earlier.

After a 6 am wake-up call, we made our way up to the main lodge where we were greeted with a hot cuppa, excited to spot some big game. With our knowledgeable and funny guide Mandela behind the wheel, we found some in no time. A huge herd of buffalo regarded us murderously as we trundled our way up the first koppie, and it wasn’t long before we came across a small herd of elephant, one of which – we were told – is Clyde, a huge bull that had been rescued from the torment of a circus.

After a quick coffee stop surrounded by mountain zebra high up on a plateau, we drove on and finally found the king of the savannah: a young male lion and his two female companions. We sat and watched their morning grooming ritual, and quivered at the deadly weapons on display with each yawn.

This is what’s great about Botlierskop: because it’s rather compact, you could see all of its big four – and much besides – in a single morning and be back in time for breakfast. It’s also one of few luxury safari lodges that caters for the whole family, complete with day-visitor facilities and a list of activities to keep the whole family entertained, from guided game drives and safari walks to horse riding, tennis courts, canoeing, fishing, swimming (with minders, if needed) and a comprehensive spa facility with a host of treatments.

Just before dinner, we stood on the big deck and drank in the stunning uninterrupted views as the sun set over a verdant valley. Wildebeest, impala, rhino and a colossal eland dotted the picturesque backdrop, and we toasted the scene with glasses of crisp wine. When the sun slipped behind the Outiniqua range, we sat down to a delectable three-course meal of springbok carpaccio, lamb and a large helping of delicious malva.

After dinner, we gathered around a roaring bonfire on the deck as big djembe drummers with deep sonorous voices entertained us with their soulful rhythms deep into the night. A perfect ending to a delightful day.

That night, we were again woken by noisy members of the big five marauding outside our tent, this time it was a 50-strong herd of buffalo ripping out clumps of grass and snorting boisterously. When we went outside expecting rhinos again, we got 50 baleful stares from the grazing bovine, and decided to retreat back to the safety of our tent.

Botlierskop is so much more than just another luxury lodge. Apart from the staggering views, plentiful game and lavish accommodation, there is a noticeable personal touch in everything, from the carefully selected species of game that roam here, and immaculately manicured gardens and well-kept lodge, to the intimate decor, world-class food and genuinely warm hospitality. One is treated like an old friend here.

There aren’t many game reserves that I’d recommend south of the Karoo, but this is certainly one of them, and I’d happily return time and again.

Know this

• Botlierskop has 21 suites ranging from Luxury Tented suites, Deluxe Tented suites, and Executive and Family suites

• WiFi is freely available at the lodge, but not in the rooms

• The lodge has two swimming pools, a tennis court and a bush spa

• For guests self-driving to The Tented Lodge, check-in is at 2 pm on the day and check-out is at 11 am on day of departure.

• Day visitor facilities are open from 8 am to 5:30 pm

• Contact 044 696 6055, email info@botlierskop.co.za or visit botlierskop.co.za/tented-lodge

Dark and handsome

The black impalas of Botlierskop are not just a happy coincidence. When Dr Dirk Neethling, the late owner of Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, was a young boy in the early ’50s he once laid eyes on the hide of a black impala, hunted in the northern parts of South Africa. Fascinated, he then started his search for the extremely rare antelope.

In 1969, he followed the first substantial lead, a sighting of a black impala in what was then Northern Province. This lead turned out to be fruitless, as were the many that came after, but in 1991, after two days of searching the Waterberg Mountains, covering 17 000 hectares by helicopter, he managed to capture two black impalas – a male and a female.

He started a special breeding programme on his farm near Potgietersrus in Limpopo, and after a long, complex process he managed to breed more than 100 black impalas.

Today, thanks to the vision of Dr Neethling, 10 years of an intensive breeding programme and a lot of patience, well over a hundred black impalas roam the hills of Botlierskop.

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