Picture the Klein Karoo 350 years ago. Its beauty awe inspiring with deep blue skies, glowing red rocks and succulents scattered across the land. The big five (Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo) roam free and are found thriving in a seemingly unforgiving landscape. Incredulously, this harsh environment that is classed as a semi arid desert has the ability to sustain South Africa’s greatest game.
Now, insert modern man. The farmer to be more accurate. In a nutshell? The beautiful animals disappeared and everything changed.
It sounds like a rather sad story and in truth, man has a lot to answer for. I could discuss at length how we are destroying our planet but instead I am going to tell a tale of the glass half full.
A reserve that is doing everything in their power to reintroduce animals that once roamed free in the Klein Karoo and restore balance and sustainability to a landscape all but denuded in the interest of human settlement and western progress.
Sanbona wildlife reserve is one of the largest private game reserves in the world, covering roughly 54 000 hectares. It boasts several lodges on the farm and I stayed at Tilney Manor, more suited for a couples retreat. Tilney Manor is a beautiful house that dates back to the early 1900’s and is run by friendly staff.
The manor offers a rim flow pool, spa, outside showers on your patio and a view over the entire Karoo from your luxurious bedroom complete with fireplace to keep you warm in the winter.
The reserve is owned by the Caleo Foundation, in association with Shamwari Group an NPO with a clear vision to conserve both people and animals on an equal footing, since both feed off the success of the other in a well balanced symbiotic relationship.
I grew up going to the bush further north. The landscape is thick, lush and green close to the Kruger National Park. The Klein Karoo is the opposite. I was aware that the reserve host the big five but I couldn’t quite picture it. How did these animals survive this climate? There aren’t many trees to offer the animals respite from the scorching sun and at night temperatures can plummet to well below zero.
It is testament to the strength of the animals to not only survive but thrive in this habitat and I could not wait to go on safari and see them.
I was lucky enough to experience two game drives a day with an incredibly knowledgeable ranger, Chris, in one of the newly appointed safari vehicles which ensured a luxurious drive throughout the reserve.
Our first sighting was something I haven’t experienced before. Since the game vehicles are not allowed to venture off the road, we alighted and took to the bush on foot.
After walking for about 250 metres we were stopped and briefed on the animal we were about to see, *Insert keep calm here*
Amazingly, we were upon a female cheetah with a fresh kill, less than 20 meters away. I stood in awe of such a majestic animal.
Every sighting was humbling to say the least. The reserve has 6 lions, 3 of which are white lions. White lions are a result of a recessive gene and are beyond magnificent to see in the wild.
The Lions at Sanbona are some of the last remaining white lion left on planet earth that continue to hunt for themselves in the wild.
With buffalo and an amazing elephant herd sighting to follow, we were spoilt. We experienced a safari by boat and caught sight of the reserves hippo pod.
Each afternoon drive was finished off with sundowners and a beautiful view. To stand in silence and take in the Klein Karoo was simply spectacular! I had to take a moment and just… breathe.
The food is centered on traditional South African cuisine and meals are served outside on the patio (weather permitting).
We were treated to a traditional South African braai, which in my books you can never go wrong with! Sipping gin and tonics around the open fire we talked about our days of exciting sightings with other guests and gazed up at the milky way.
The food is unpretentious and made with love. The Chef is local and is truly a man who puts his heart and soul into his food.
My favorite dish was the crispy pork belly with camembert and juicy fig, finished off with the perfect crème brulee.
Thinking back over the last two days of my time at Sanbona and the amazing animals I saw, I felt a sense of hope. Hope, that game reserves such as Sanbona and the wildlife conservation programs they are running - one day, the beautiful landscape will be restored to its former glory.
Hope that one day we can truly view nature as it should be, with respect for all things great and small.
*If you would like to donate and help raise awareness against poaching in South Africa then click here. EVERY cent helps.
*This blog post was sponsored by Sanbona wildlife. All opinions are my own.