The light was fading quickly but we were determined to find them. Our guide expertly manoeuvered the jeep around a tight bend and stopped. Silence reigned as the dust settled. I surveyed the surrounding bushes before turning my gaze to the mountains, bathed in a soft pink light, in the far distance. We sat in silence when suddenly, we heard the crack of a twig. He came, slowly but surely, into view and we gasped in awe. The lion casually strolled past us, seemingly without a care in the world. Watching this majestic cat was one of the highlights of my luxury holiday safari in South Africa at the Gondwana Game Reserve, one I wouldn’t easily forget!
Gondwana Game Reserve – Big Five safari near Cape Town
The Gondwana Game Reserve is located near Mossel Bay, about a four-hour drive from Cape Town (South Africa) or a one-hour drive from George Airport, along the Western Cape’s famous Garden Route (map). It can easily be combined with a Cape Town road trip along Route 62 and/or the Garden Route.
This 11,000 hectare malaria-free game reserve is home to the Big Five (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalos and rhinos) as well as unique fynbos vegetation. Just as much of an attraction as the flora and fauna are the beautiful landscapes, with fynbos-covered hills, verdant valleys and expansive grasslands. In the distance, the Langeberg and Outeniqua Mountains form a stunning backdrop.
There are various types of luxurious accommodations at Gondwana Game Reserve, ranging from large, open-plan suites (modelled after traditional Khoi-San dwellings) at Kwena Lodge to 3/4-bedroom bush villas for families or groups. I stayed at one of the Kwena Lodge suites. These suites, with their thatched-dome roofs, have a spacious interior and a terrace offering panoramic views. One feature of the suite I absolutely loved was the skylight, which made for terrific star-gazing right from my bed!
Animals, such as zebras and antelopes, often roam around the Lodge; another highlight of my stay was waking up from an afternoon nap to find several zebras grazing on the lawn outside the suite! The bath-tub in the suite also faces the garden, creating unique wildlife-viewing opportunities!
The Kwena Lodge has a reception, an excellent restaurant (with both indoor and outdoor seating), a boma for alfresco dining and a cozy bar/lounge. The staff are terrific and are happy to arrange all sorts of activities, from spa treatments to mountain biking and hikes (in protected areas of the reserve where you won’t bump into one of the Big-5!). They’re also always at hand to escort guests between the suites and the restaurant/bar – a precautionary measure as wild animals often roam around the Lodge.
Safaris at the Gondwana Game Reserve
There are two safaris each day: a morning drive and a sundowner drive, each lasting about three hours. Both drives are absolutely spectacular: the undulating landscapes and the nearby mountains make for stunning vistas, especially at sunrise and sunset. A highlight for me was starting out in the dark at 6:30am for the morning drive and watching the light slowly gain in intensity and colour!
Another feature of the Gondwana Game Reserve is the indigenous fynbos vegetation that harbours an incredible number of plant species in a rainbow of colours. I loved the gorgeous scents from the plants and flowers we passed during the game drives.
The biggest attraction though is the wildlife, and there’s lots of it! During our drives, we spotted a large variety of antelope species (such as impalas, springboks and bonteboks), giraffes, zebras, kudus, wildebeest, the endangered black rhino and lions! It’s always a surreal experience to see these beautiful animals in the wild.
I spent two awe-inspiring days at the Gondwana Game Reserve, with plenty of memorable highlights. In addition to the wonderful game drives and wildlife-viewing, I absolutely enjoyed the luxurious accommodation, great food and the friendly staff. For anyone looking for a Big 5 game drive near Cape Town, check out the Gondwana Game Reserve. It can also easily be combined with a road trip along the Garden Route.
One tip: If you’re visiting during the spring/autumn months, make sure you bring sufficiently warm clothing. The mornings and evenings can be chilly. Blankets are provided for the game drives but I recommend wearing a warm jacket with a hood, and thinner layers underneath. The temperature drops quickly as soon as the light fades.
Note: a big thank you to Gondwana Game Reserve for your fabulous hospitality! I was invited to stay there but, as always, all views described above are mine, and mine only.