Pulling up the gravel driveway in our cars, we were greeted by a scene so potently Africa that somewhere in the recesses of my mind, Toto started playing. At the top of the driveway, a large lodge sprawled out on clipped lawns upon which a herd of Nyala antelope grazed all of a few metres away from the verandas. The lawns melted into indigenous Karoo vegetation beyond, a gently burbling stream and a stand of poplar trees comprising the seam between the two.
There could scarcely be a more tranquil natural location on Earth! Add four-star lodgings, fully catered breakfasts and dinners, and staff so friendly and kind that you feel compelled to hug them when you leave and you’ve got a restorative getaway, the colours of which will remain with you well after you’ve left.
A part of the Cape Country Routes’ constellation of owner-operated and managed accommodations and activities, Wildehondekloof is a 4,000-hectare private game reserve with a luxury, four-star lodge located on the outskirts of the famous ostrich-farming town of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape. Here, in the semi-arid, acacia and aloe-peppered Karoo – sandwiched between the Outeniqua Mountains in the east and the Swartberg in the west – a plethora of antelope species thrive, from kudu, with its satellite-sized ears and regal crown of corkscrew horns, to dainty duiker and zebra. You’ll also find gemsbok, impala, black and blue wildebeest, klipspringer, red hartebeest, eland, a collection of smaller mammals (porcupine, baboon, and mongoose), and thriving birdlife.
The farm is crisscrossed with walking / hiking / mountain biking paths that wind their way through Karoo thickets, gullies, riverbeds, and open fynbos and Renosterveld, affording visitors an enchanting tour of the various landscapes that compose this desolately beautiful South African region. Leopard and caracal can also be found on the reserve but are so rare, shy, and elusive that it’s perfectly safe for guests to strike out on their own at any time of day. But if it’s leisure you’re after, you can see plenty from the comfort of your own suite, all of which overlook the lodge’s pampered lawns and the rich birdlife and resident herd of Nyala that call it home.
Wildehondekloof lodge and accommodations
Wildehondekloof offers eight luxurious en-suite, air-conditioned bedrooms that spill out onto an expansive veranda with spectacular views of garden, brook, veldt, and mountains. The crowning jewel in Wildehondekloof’s collection is the Private Presidential Suite with its king-sized bed, private lounge, indoor fireplace, and exclusive-use veranda, as well as the best views in the lodge. We stayed in the suites, which I found to be incredibly comfortable and warm, in spite of it being winter in the Karoo (overnight temperatures in the low single digits).
The heart of Wildehondekloof Reserve, however, is its indoor dining area and lounge, where we gathered morning and evening for delicious, hearty, home-cooked meals, featuring roast vegetables, pumpkin fritters, chicken pie, and lush salads and proudly South African dishes such as ostrich carpaccio, ostrich steak, and, surprise, ostrich bobotie. You are located in the “Ostrich Capital of the World” after all! After dinner, we descended upon the spacious lounge with its double-sided fireplace for a glass or three of wine and a bit of a “kuier” with the ladies.
In summer, the place to be is the pool and, at night, the boma – an intimate outdoor arena with a large fireplace at its centre and circle of seating – for al fresco dining and stargazing.
Nearby attractions and activities
It would be all too easy to while away several days at Wildehondekloof – hanging out by the pool, reading in bed, and going for walks and game drives on the reserve’s fully kitted-out safari truck (and by fully kitted-out, I mean that there are gin and tonic and snacks to look forward to at the end of your afternoon game drives). However, for longer stays, guests may want to venture further afield to take in more of the spectacular Karoo and the neighbouring historic, ostrich-farming town of Oudtshoorn.
The Safari Ostrich Farm, also under Cape Country Routes umbrella, offers engaging tours of its working farm, which showcases the world’s largest bird in its natural habitat and at all ages of development, from egg to eight-foot-tall dinosaur. Another fabulous Cape Country Routes attraction is Five Shy Meerkats (previously Meerkat Adventures), situated on de Zeekoe Reserve. This magical outdoor experience has you up at first light and sitting quietly outside a meerkat burrow so that you can witness the quirky little animals emerging into the morning sun, where they stand sleepily with their bellies soaking up the warmth like solar panels.
Wildehondekloof Private Game Reserve is a place to steep in the silence of the Karoo and to reconnect with nature as it has existed here for hundreds if not thousands of years. Here, the morning is heralded by a shy sun, which filters through the crisp Karoo air and coaxes the canaries, flycatchers, wagtails, robins, and other resident birds to life; the day is spent at leisure or engaged in outdoor activities (or both); and the evening is greeted with a gin and tonic on a game drive and the night with a country-style, home-cooked meal washed down with wine from local Karoo winery, Karusa.
24/7, Wildehondekloof is manmade luxury in a nature-perfect setting!