Sunlight Shines Through the Delicate Flora at Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa

Travel South Africa: A Classic Safari Experience at Gondwana Game Reserve

I fell in love (bordering on obsession) with South Africa the first moment I set foot (or wheel as it were) inside Kruger National Park. It’s a vast, untamed and wholly unique landscape of stunning natural beauty.

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And you don’t need me to tell you that a classic African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should top every travel-lover’s bucket list. Almost all of the “big name” safari reserves are concentrated in the eastern half of South Africa. But this has left much of the rest of the country – particularly the Western Cape – untouched by safari operators. It is in this region, along South Africa’s stunning Garden Route, that Gondwana Game Reserve recently opened to visitors.

Sunlight Shines Through the Delicate Flora at Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa
Sunlight Shines Through Delicate Fynbos at Gondwana Game Reserve © Mike Richard

Overview

Gondwana is the first authentic free-roaming Big Five Reserve in the Western Cape, situated on 11,000 ha of fynbos and proteas. Owners Mark and Wendy Rutherfoord opened the reserve in 2008, transforming a series of cattle and sheep farms into a true safari destination.

It is the terrain – open grassland, undulating valleys, indigenous fynbos – that makes Gondwana entirely unique and unlike any other reserve in South Africa and indeed the world. We had the pleasure of visiting for the first time this year and found it to be a spectacular experience!

Accommodations

Rondovals overlooking the valley at Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa
Rondovals Overlooking the Outeniqua Mountains, Gondwana Game Reserve © Mike Richard

Guests are provided exclusive accommodations in one of 25 superior rooms or 10 deluxe suites. My stay in the Kwena Lodge in one of the modern rondovals (pictured above) was excellent. These round stone and thatched roof structures are modeled using traditional African architecture, but fitted with every modern amenity you can imagine.

Honeymoon Suite at Kwena Lodge, Gondwana Reserve, South Africa
Honeymoon Suite at Kwena Lodge, Gondwana Reserve

Select features include: A/C, in-room mini-bar, large stone shower, clay pot fireplaces, deep baths, overbed sky lights for star gazing (which is unbelievable in an area of the world with almost zero light pollution!) and a patio with 180-degree views overlooking two waterholes onto the Outeniqua Mountains … to name a few.

Families on holiday will no doubt want to upgrade to one of the reserve’s roomier Bush Villas – spacious Afro chic villas approximately 240 square meters in size with 2, 3, and 4 en-suite bedroom options. All are situated within a large, safe area which is fenced in for freedom of movement and inhabited with plains game. So no need to worry about the kids!

A Classic Safari Experience

Gondwana owners Mark and Wendy are a genuine, warm, down to earth couple who personally tend to each and every guest. Staying with them is like staying with family and the experience is one that is fun and relaxed, yet plenty educational.

They offer the requisite two game drives daily – one in the early morning and one in late afternoon as these are of course the best times to spot the Big 5 at Gondwana. All drives are conducted in open Land Rovers with expert field guides who reveal the free wildlife in an entirely unique Cape Floral setting. Spotting game amongst the beautiful South African fynbos is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t experience anywhere else in the world.

Lone lion basks in the midday sun at Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa
Lone lion basks in the midday sun at Gondwana Game Reserve © Mike Richard

Gondwana is home to a wide array of species including the Cape Mountain Zebra, Black Rhinoceros and a high diversity of antelope species such as Eland, Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest, Bontebok and Springbok.

If you’re lucky, you might also spot one of their resident cheetah – all sourced from a reserve in the Karoo, which means they were born free-roaming in the wild. (This is yet another reason why we love Gondwana and its founders who’ve made continued conservation a personal mission of theirs – to use the reserve in any way possible to sustain endangered species in South Africa)

Morning and afternoon safaris are included with every stay (on their fully inclusive package) with gourmet breakfast treats or delicious hors d’oeuvres and sundowners in the afternoons.

(Bonus: Day visitors are welcome and can also book a la carte morning or afternoon drives)

Elephant at Kwena Lodge, Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa
Elephant Encounter at Kwena Lodge, Gondwana Game Reserve

Why Gondwana?

With the whole of South Africa at your disposal, why safari at Gondwana versus other lodges and reserves? A few reasons really – most involving location, location, location.

First off, it’s in a malaria free zone – a rarity among most South African game parks and reserves. This is great for any traveler, but especially those traveling with small children who may be more susceptible to contracting disease and infections.

It’s also among the only reserves in the whole of the Western Cape. This makes it especially convenient for travelers into Cape Town and to those looking to drive the stunning, world class Garden Route (which I highly recommend!).

Also, families traveling with children (or adult travelers in a state of arrested development like your humble narrator) will love the reserve’s exclusive Junior Ranger Experience. While most reserves promote an inclusive, “kid-friendly” atmosphere, Gondwana takes this a step further with the JRE:

On arrival families will be informed about the Junior Ranger experience and their ranger will enquire about any special requests, dietary, babysitting or otherwise. Children will receive a fun Ranger’s backpack and cool safari booklet to fill in throughout their stay.

During game drives and other South African safari activities with their ranger, kids will be taught how to identify mammals, birds, Fynbos species, and even stars. They will gain a greater understanding of conservation and our precious eco systems.

They will be quizzed on what they’ve learned by their ranger and receive a level 1 Junior Ranger Patch and completion certificate, as well as a picture with their ranger for their safari book.

It’s a great way to ensure that kids have fun and can be completely immersed in the safari experience alongside their parents.

Sunrise Over Gondwana Game Reserve, South Africa
© Mike Richard

The Bottom Line

There’s no shortage of options when planning your South African safari. But Gondwana offers stunning luxury accommodations in a truly unique environment and promises guests an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience in one of the country’s last, truly pristine natural reserves. We can’t recommend it more highly!

Founding Editor

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