Gondwana is a private game reserve near Mossel Bay on the Garden Route. As part of our last South Africa trip we stayed there for 3 days. If you know me, you know I never go for fancy hotels or accommodation, I will always opt for an interesting Airbnb or a homely guest house. The main reason we chose Gondwana was the location which was perfect as it was in the middle of our planned route. It was the height of luxury, but also fitted the bill of unusual interesting accommodation. We also had Chris's parents with us and we weren't sure they would have enjoyed staying in rustic safari tents we'd stayed in before so we thought we'd treat ourselves to a few days of luxury. We arrived covered in dust after about half an hour on a dirt road. We were greeted by friendly Gondwana staff who handed us cold face cloths to clean our faces. They parked our cars for us and took all of our luggage to our rooms while we checked in and enjoyed a welcome cocktail .
We stayed in one of the thatched roofed rondawels in Kwena Lodge. These modern circular huts are based on traditional Khoi-San bushman huts. They are built in a half circle around a small valley so they all have an amazing view. Each one is a stunning open plan room with a bathroom/ shower and verandah that looks out into the valley. They have fireplaces and a sky light above the bed to look at the stars. All of the accommodation is in the main game reserve so the animals occasionally wander through the camp. While we were there we had zebra, eland and elephants wandering through.
We arrived in the afternoon with just enough time to get ready and head out on our first of 6 game drives over the next 3 days. We had paid for full board so had all our meals and 2 game drives a day included. Our guide, Brian who was from Zimbabwe looked after us and took us out on every drive so we had just one dedicated person who we got to know quite well over the few days we were there.
Over the time we were there we saw zebra, rhino, kudu, hippo, wildebeest, red hartebeest, elephants, giraffe, eland, buffalo, ostrich, cape zebra, sable, impala, springbok and lion (plus a few more... I don't want to bore you too much! :-)). Early on in the first drive became apparent that there were pros and cons to being on a private game reserve. One of the first things we did was drive to see the lions which weren't on any of the main tracks. They were tagged and the rangers always knew where they were. Having been on game drives before it felt a little bit odd and ever so slightly like a zoo rather than a large game reserve with wild animals. The animals are of course wild, but part of the fun of a game drive is not knowing what you will see and having no guarantee that you will see everything. It makes the special chance encounters even more special. After this most of the animals we saw were by chance so it wasn't all like that.
On our second night after dinner one of the guides walked us back to our hut in the dark. He flashed a torch down our path and as we were saying goodnight to Chris's parents, Chris noticed a puff adder in our path. It was crazy! The guide quickly called for help who came and safely removed the snake to move it back into the bush away from the camp... that was an exciting end to our day and very nearly the end of our holiday! :-)
One of the pro's of being on a private reserve is the special attention, time and knowledge you get from a dedicated guide. Brian was brilliant. He was so knowledgable and pointed every bird, plant and tree as well as any larger wildlife. There wasn't anything he didn't know about. He was known by all of the other guides for always being the last back from the drives. We were supposed to have sundowner drinks and snacks on each night drive during sunset. Our sundowners always landed up being in the dark as we'd been driving longer than planned. Even in the dark the sundowners were amazing! We had a table covered with wine, beer, spirits and really tasty different snacks each day.
We learnt a lot about the challenges of being a smaller private reserve. Poaching is a major issue. The rhinos have to be closely followed at all times. The luscious fynbos landscape is not a natural environment for some of the animals, they have issues with taking in too much water - most of the Springbok had died because of this. As there are so few, the lions are swapped out with other game reserves to stop inbreeding in the prides. The cost of some animals is incredibly high, so they may only have a few whereas others are free, but they need to keep a balance between them. There are issues with disease which can be fatal when you have limited animals. There are also really amazing things about being a small reserve such as the conservation projects. A couple of things Gondwana are focusing on are protecting and preserving the endangered fynbos vegetation and the long term sustainability of the Desert Black Rhino, White Rhino, Cheetah, Bontebok, and Cape Mountain Zebra.
If you are interested in taking good wildlife photos you will have a much better chance here than on a standard game drive. Brian would take so much extra time to make sure we had got as close as possible and stayed as long as we needed to get good photos. He would also dedicate a whole drive to ensure we found different animals we hadn't seen previously. It was good too to have time to just sit quietly and appreciate the animals too without rushing off to finish the drive.
Overall Gondwana was lovely. Even though there wasn't the volume of animals you would see at a national game reserve it was still wonderful to be out in the open, under the African sky, waking up really early and heading out on a drive in the cool dusk eagerly hoping to see animals, seeing incredible African sunsets. Enjoying early morning coffee and rusks and evening sundowners. Going for massages. Spending our days lounging around in the heat, reading, eating and swimming. The staff were wonderful and it was really nice to experience a little bit of luxury for a change :-)
We slept, ate and played at: Gondwana Game Reserve