Mount Camdaboo is a safari experience like no other. Simone and I are not your typical safari guests. We do not love long game drives; we don’t love being managed on a schedule; and wildlife has never been the only aspect that keeps bringing us back again and again. For us, safari lodges are really unlike almost any other hotel experience; and this is what keeps bringing us back. In no other type of hotel in the world will you get the individualised attention and care that you can on safari. Typical hotels, even the very best 5-star hotels, are just not set up to allow for such bespoke experiences. In this respect Mount Camdaboo excels, but not uniquely so. Most of the lodges we stay at easily accommodate our specific requirements. Where Mount Camdaboo is completely different is in its location. Getting to the Karoo from Johannesburg is not the easiest thing, but trust me, it is worth it for the views alone. I have never experienced scenery like at Mount Camdaboo and I would go back in an instance just to look at the mountains.
Our first two nights were spent at the Manor House, Mount Camdaboo’s main lodge. The original goat farm was established by buying up land in an area that also included a small town. The Manor house is a graceful Cape-Dutch building that was originally the local police station and was built in the late 1800’s. Once the farm was established, the Manor house was converted to a farmhouse. It became a lodge when the farm was converted to a game farm. It is a beautiful building. It retains all of its original charm but with every conceivable modern luxury. The manor house opens up onto a manicured garden with a beautiful swimming pool, which was totally lovely.
The food at the lodge is simple and delicious. We ate wonderful stews, beautiful fresh salads, fabulous bread and yummy deserts. It is completely appropriate and in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere that permeates every part of the Mount Camdaboo experience.
We have said before how much we like the little things on safari, and that these overlooked animals are often the most interesting. On this trip we met a tortoise and learnt a great deal about it – but that was not the best experience. Ulrich, one of the guides found a baboon spider in the lodge. I always tease Simone about her lack of bravery – and apparently my teasing has hit the mark. Simone, and not me, picked up this huge hairy beast and let it walk over her hands. I was very proud of her.
On our third night we stayed at Pod 1 – Eagles flight. The pods at Mount Camdaboo are completely new and an innovation that came about during lockdown when Iain Buchanan (Mount Camdaboo’s owner) was looking for something to do. We were the first guests to experience them. Each pod is a completely isolated and a self-contained little home, with its own bathroom and kitchen in small but incredibly beautiful space. Most of the pod is taken up by the bed. The front wall of the pod is completely glazed with a small deck where we had our dinner. The pod also has its own boma and a wood burning hot-tub. The pods are unfenced and we watched a rhino walk right past us. Eagles flight is sits at a cliff, and the views from the pod are breath-taking. The entire experience is amazing and I can’t imagine a more romantic place. It is literally perfect for an engagement, or a special anniversary.
Iain joined us for dinner and we discussed the history of the property, how it had become a Big-5 reserve and his vision for the pods. There is a disturbing art-work at the Manor house which we wanted to know more about. It is a life-size bronze casting of a rhino calf, lying on its side with its eyes closed and its umbilical cord still attached. Iain told us that there was a poaching incident on the farm where a heavily pregnant female rhino was killed. Although they tried their best, the team at Mount Camdaboo were unable to save the unborn calf. Devastated, Iain flew with the body of the calf to Cape Town where he commissioned a bronze cast be made. It now sits as a shocking reminder to the horror that is rhino poaching.
Iain commitment to conservation is obvious. He is working tirelessly to reintroduce new species back into the area – some of which have not been seen for almost 100 years. Although the introduction of lion back into the area is exciting, this is not what captivated me the most. Mount Camdaboo is home to a small, but thriving cheetah population. Two of these cheetah were born in captivity in Kent the UK and were brought to Mount Camdaboo through the efforts of the Aspinal Foundation. Saba and Nairo arrived at Mount Camdaboo habituated to human beings and were not even able to hunt. With a tremendous effort, the process of re-wilding these magnificent animals begun. When we met them, they had not been fed in months, were completely self-sufficient and were definitely not tame. It was genuinely emotional seeing them exactly where they belonged.
We loved Mount Camdaboo. It is a magnificent slice of South Africa. The Pods are amazing and might be the most romantic accommodation I have ever seen. There is a new pod being designed that we saw early drawings of – and if it turns out as expected, it will take everything to a completely different level. Iain and his team are inspiring and we can’t wait to go back.