Agama Tented Camp near Garies in Namaqualand is popular over the short flower season, but its stark beauty and opportunities for adventure warrant visiting during other times of the year too
We were after some fresh air, big skies and as few other people as possible. We were also looking for a place to test the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak’s mettle. After a fair bit of head scratching trying to find a spot roughly fitting the above criteria – quite the task, as most places relatively close to Cape Town are over-run this time of year – we set our sights north to Namaqualand, and a lovely tented camp named Agama.
A stroke of genius on our part, as it happens. Fresh air is in abundance and the skies don’t get much bigger than they do on these arid plains that transform so miraculously once a year, when they yield a kaleidoscope of colours and every fold is braided in bright blooms. When the tapestry of wild flowers isn’t present the landscape is unrecognisable: stark and haunting, but no less arresting, in the same way that a beautiful woman remains beautiful without cosmetics.
As for our remaining prerequisites, they too were met and surpassed: We were the only couple checked in at Agama (as mentioned, most tourists only tend to flock here in September); and the hills around camp made for a wonderfully technical and challenging playground for the Wildtrak.
So with farm air in our lungs, and vast horizons and vacant valleys at our disposal, we were able to breathe … in more than one sense.
Owners Victor and Linda Burke established Agama Tented Camp on their 8 000 ha farm just north of Garies in the Northern Cape. There are seven well-spaced tented units at Agama, whose sleeping arrangements can be configured to your taste (we opted for a king-size bed). The tents are spacious enough, the interiors unostentatious and no-nonsense, and the en-suite bathrooms functional – what more do you need than a flushing toilet, basin and hot shower?
The sense of secluded farm life is enhanced by the absence of electricity. After dinner at the solar-powered main lodge, old-school paraffin lamps welcome you back to your tent at night. Of course, the lack of light pollution is also great for stargazing, and on clear nights the shimmering Milky Way lights up the night sky to such an extent that you don’t even need a torch to get back to your tent.
Favourite feature: We put our unit’s lovely little deck to extended use, savouring views of surrounding hills and spotting birds during the day (remember your binos), and with a glass of wine by paraffin light at night.
Victor and Linda spoilt us rotten. Being the only guests for the weekend, we were made to feel like royalty: glasses were never empty and dinner plates were always mountainous. The classic farm-style cooking was hearty, comforting and simply out of this world. Victor braaied succulent fillet steaks and chops in the boma one night, while Linda prepared several mouth-watering veggie dishes to accompany the meat – all raised and grown on the farm.
But besides the victuals and libations, there was a warmth and sincerity to the Burkes’ hosting that’s as rare in the hospitality industry as water is in these parts. We were instantly made to feel at home, as though we were visiting some relatives for the weekend – and not those relatives you dread visiting and get in fights with over Christmas.
Victor advised us which routes to drive to give the Wildtrak a good workout, while Linda packed us cooldrinks. We did a long loop around the farm, and the Ford revelled in the few challenges along the way. I only engaged low gear twice when we encountered extremely steep and rocky bits, which it then crawled up without so much as breaking a sweat.
Of course, the engine is smaller than its previous iteration, but the 2.0-litre four-cylinder Bi-Turbo performs in such a way that you wouldn’t notice it for a second. The automatic 10-speed gearbox also eats up ground in seamless shifts, and is noticeably smoother than the six-speed in the previous 3.2-litre variant.
The interior of the Wildtrak is only rivalled by VW’s Amarok. Sleek, with racy stitching and all the bells and whistles you can dream up, it resembles the interior of an expensive city SUV rather than that of a bakkie. Driving long distances is an absolute doddle, requiring little input from the driver. Sophisticated cruise control brakes automatically when approaching a slower vehicle, maintains a following distance, and then accelerates once the coast is clear; the driver just steers… Plus, Ford’s now-famous and seemingly inimitable SYNC 3 infotainment and navigation system is of course present, and made our lives exceedingly easy.
The Wildtrak really is outshining most other contenders in this segment, and it’s manufactured locally, so you know it’s built to handle everything South African terrain can throw at it.
Agama Tented Camp
• Agama is a great glamping option on a farm around 20 km north of Garies in the Northern Cape – just under five hours from Cape Town
• The camp sleeps 14 people total
• All tents have private rustic bathrooms with gas-heated shower, basin and flushing toilet
• Dinner and breakfast are included and tents are serviced daily
• There are great 4×4 trails around the farm – management will advise as to exact routes
• Agama is completely off the grid and functions off solar power
• Tents are without electricity and phones and gadgets are charged at the main lodge
Ford Ranger Wildtrak
• Body style: Double Cab
• Engine: 3.2-litre, 2.0-litre Bi-Turbo
• Gearbox: 6-speed automatic or 10-speed automatic
• Drivetrain: 4×2 or 4×4
• Book your test drive at ford.co.za