Black Wildebeest on the plains
After a long day on the road with stops at Ganora and the Owl House we pulled in to Camdeboo National Park. We were directed to our campsite at Nqweba and I asked about the overlook I’d read about for sunset. The woman at the reception desk didn’t seem to know what I was talking about so after studying the map we headed for the highest point past the Toposcope lookout to the end of the road. And saw some wildlife along the way.
The Valley Road wound it’s way through spectacular and changing vegetation as we climbed upwards. Plus provided expansive views of the Nqweba Dam and 200-year old town of Graff-Reinet below.
Valley of Desolation
A short trail took us to a vast view of the plains of the Great Karoo known as the Valley of Desolation just beyond the tall columns of eroded dolerite formed hundreds of millions of years ago by volcanism and erosion.
The only bummer was having to leave before the sunset showed its finest. The gate closed at 7:30 pm in February so we had to rush back down the road and get back to camp before that gate closed at 8:00.
Dutch Reform Church Graff-Reinet
This took us through Graff-Reinet, which the almost 48,000 acre (19,405 hectare) park surrounds.
Even though it was overcast the next morning we went out looking for wildlife and were not disappointed. 12 miles (20 km) of gravel roads offered ample opportunities for a regular passenger vehicle and more if we’d been driving a 4×4.
Red-billed Teals and Blacksmith Plovers
Several short side roads end at the Nqweba Dam where we saw numerous shore birds.
The Karoo Nature reserve was established in 1979 when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund recognized the urgency for conservation measures in the Karoo biome and listed this action as a world conservation priority. Then in 2005 Camdeboo National Park was proclaimed as South Africa’s 22nd National Park under the management of South African National Parks.
However before this status the area was used by early, middle and later stone age people. Khoisan hunters and herders left evidence of their occupation in the form of rock paintings in the eastern section of the park. The Inqua tribe occupied the area during the mid 1600s grazing their vast herds of cattle and fat-tailed sheep.
White farmers settled the Camdeboo Plains in 1770 introducing merino sheep and angora goats, as well as exotic plants. Over the years overgrazing and the effects of introduced exotic plants have resulted in soil erosion replacing much of the natural grasses and brush.
The vision for the future is ultimately to link the Camdeboo National Park with the Mountain Zebra National Park to protect a huge diversity of plant and animal species including the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra.
Flora & Fauna
The Karoo is an arid, semi-desert landscape. The plant composition is unstable and influenced by the variation in rainfall however is also highly resilient and able to recover rapidly after droughts, insect outbreaks and overgrazing. 336 plant species have been discovered to date.
Because of the variation in elevation three distinct life zones exist. Shrubland is located on sandstone dominated uplands above 4265 feet (1300 m). Lower down is dominated by succulent thickets and dwarf shrubland is restricted to the bottomlands.
Pale Chanting Goshawks
At least 225 bird species have been recorded in the park along with 43 mammal species.
Beginning at least 500 million years ago mountain building and subsequent rivers deposited sediments followed by faulting and erosion that revealed the dolerite columns.
Activities & Services
Trails & Walks
The Crag Lizard Trail (45 minutes) starts at the Valley parking area and extends for about 1 mile (1.5 km) via the Valley viewpoints. It is marked with the Crag Lizard logo.
The Eerstefontein Day Walk starts and ends at the Spandaukop gate. There are three route options of 3 miles (5km), 6.8 miles 11km, and 8.7 miles (14km) with rest spots at Eerstefontein and Agtersfontein.
The Gideon Scheepers Trail is an hour long walk, starting at the Gideon Scheepers Monument, which commemorates a historic figure, and ending at Barbergat on the R63 to Murraysburg.
Camdeboo National Park’s accommodation is situated on the floodplains of the Nqweba Dam and accessed via the Lakeview Gate on the N9 towards Middleburg.
Lakeview Tented Camp
Four rustic furnished tents provide a relaxed nature experience. Each tent sleeps two people and has a braai unit, fridge, table and 2 chairs. Bedding and towels are provided. There is a communal kitchen equipped with stove plates, cooking & eating utensils and microwave. Tents are booked as individual units but there is also a communal braai area for group use. Communal showers and toilets are provided.
Fifteen caravan or tent sites are situated beneath thorn trees on a gravel substrate. Each site has a braai unit and powerpoint. A communal kitchen provides deep freeze, stove top and microwave facilities while the communal ablutions have showers, toilets and a universally accessible unit.
Camdeboo National Park also encircles the town of Graaff-Reinet, which has a variety of accommodation options including hotels, guest houses and a caravan park.
Although the park is very close to Graff-Reinet it feels like the middle of nowhere. We had the campground almost to ourselves. Well, except for this Vervet monkey who was keeping watch over the place.
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