[May 25 2016]
The Art and Animals of South Africa’s Little Karoo — At just over three hours north of Cape Town, the Little Karoo desert is perhaps the most striking contrast to a city you’ll find anywhere – even if that city is surrounded by mountains, miles of vineyards and two oceans-worth of coastlines. The sign at the entrance: “Wild Animals – Enter At Your Own Risk” says it all. Welcome to Jurassic Park, aka, the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, 54,000 hectares of undulating canyons, harsh beauty and safari’s Big Five.
Once on an expanse of goat farms whose animals stripped the land of its natural fertility, this part of the Little Karoo, aka, “South Africa’s Arizona” was bought up by the Shamwari Group 13 years ago and slowly rewilded. As the endemic shrubs were given space to breath again, one by one, the animals were gradually re-introduced: white lions, rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, towers of giraffes and dazzles of zebras—as groups of both those animals are amazingly titled—have now made their home among the semi-arid topography of the San bushmen, whose elegant 7000-year old rock art of shamanic hunting rites are still evident today. Three lodges are scattered through out the reserve, with the curved stone interior walls, his-and-hers Vitra sinks, and giant heated beds of the Dwyka Tented Lodge in the horseshoe bend of an ancient river being our pick of the bunch. The lodge vibe is chill – you wake up at dawn for a game drive, siesta at midday, head out again for sunset, and on your return, help yourself to locally-produced whiskies and craft gin by the BBQ’s fire. And then—yes there’s more!—lie back in your private jacuzzi watching baboons crawl back into the caves above, and watch the stars fall out of the sky. Who knew a safari could be so chic – or even so accessible?
Text and photo Xerxes Cook