CAMDEBOO NATIONAL PARK.
The Camdeboo National Park is located in the Karoo and almost completely surrounds the Eastern Cape town of Graaff-Reinet.
Camdeboo National Park was proclaimed as South Africa’s 22nd National Park under the management of South African National Parks on Sunday 30 October 2005. It covers an area of 194 square kilometers.
The Park is located in the foothills of the Sneeuberge, or Snow Mountains, with an elevation of between 740 and 1480-metres above sea level
Following an extensive process of negotiation and discussion between government, conservation groups, and concerned stakeholders, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, announced the intention to proclaim South Africa’s 22nd National Park in the area surrounding Graaff-Reinet. This was made possible by the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa (WWF-SA), which donated the 14500 hectare Karoo Nature Reserve to be the centerpiece of the project.
A public consultation process was followed to decide on the new name for the park, culminating in the choice of Camdeboo National Park.
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.
Our visit to Camdeboo National Park and Graaff Reinet was a stop on the way back to Cape Town from the Drakensberg. We arrived shortly after lunchtime. We drove straight through Graaff Reinet and headed first to the Valley of Desolation in Camdeboo National Park. There was no game in sight, but the valley itself was impressive. At the top we hiked a short trail along the valley edge, admiring the views over the Great Karoo.
We then headed to our accommodation in Graaff Reinet. After looking around the historic buildings of the town, we had a drink in the picturesque Drotsdy Hotel before having a delicious dinner at Polka restaurant.
We didn’t have time to visit the rest of Camdeboo National Park or to see the many museums in Graaff Reinet. Something for next time.
Valley of Desolation
The Valley of Desolation is one of the main attractions in Camdeboo National Park. There’s a tarred road right up to the top of this section of the park, with viewpoints along the way. From one of the viewpoints near the top, you can see Graaff Reinet nestled in the valley far below
The Valley of Desolation itself is a valley surrounded by columns of golden dolerite. The best times to visit are early morning or late afternoon, as the sun hits the dolerite rock columns, making them glow. The views over the Great Karoo are fabulous.
Geology of Camdeboo National Park.
The Valley of Desolation is a spectacular geological formation. It is made of pillars of dolerite. Dolerite is a volcanic rock, similar in composition to basalt, but with a larger grain size. It contains larger mineral grains because it cooled slower. Basalt cools much faster, so the minerals don’t have time to grow in size.
The dolerite formed about 180 million years ago, and since then erosion has removed the surrounding rock. Dolerite is a hard rock, so does not get removed by erosion as easily as the softer rocks that surrounded it.
The Crag Lizard hike starts from the top parking area. It’s a 1.5 km trail that follows along the edge of the Valley of Desolation. It took us around 30 minutes. It’s marked by little lizard symbols on the road, and gives you amazing views over the valley and Great Karoo plains beyond. Signs along the route tell you about the local trees and bushes.
4×4 Drives in the Park.
There are two 4×4 drives in the park. Neither requires a fee apart from the Park conservation fee. They don’t need to be booked in advance, but for the Driekoppe Drive you need to visit Park reception to get a key for the gates.
Koedoeskloof Drive requires a 4×4. This route is grade 3-4 and should only be undertaken in a proper 4×4 by an experienced driver. Located in the Valley of Desolation section of the park, this route leads up to the edge of a plateau with fantastic views over the surrounding plains. There is also a picnic table at the far end. The route takes at least three hours.
Driekoppe Drive requires a 2×4 with high clearance or a 4×4. This route is grade 2. Head to reception for the gate keys. This drive explores the eastern section of the park. After entering through the Kroonvale / Driekoppe Gate (Upper) the route leads up to a stunning viewpoint at the top of Hanglip. Expect to see abundant game on the drive. Those with a 2×4 must return the same way. With a proper 4×4 you can descend via the 4×4 only Dieploof Pass, which has fantastic views, and leave via the Lootsfontein (southern) Gate.
We stayed in Graaff Reinet town rather than Camdeboo National Park itself. This was because we didn’t have that much time, and the park camping is in a separate section of the park to the Valley of Desolation, which we knew we would visit. We wanted to see the nice town, and explore the culinary offerings.
This nearby town has a large variety of accommodation options. We stayed in Brighton Keep. This is a small Babb, with separate guest rooms and a shared lounge and eating area. It’s in a beautiful historic house, and very nicely furnished. A delicious breakfast is provided. There’s Wi-Fi, safe parking, and a garden area. The owners are very knowledgeable about the surrounding area and keen to give you great suggestions.
SANParks runs all the accommodation within the park. There is a small, lakeside tented camp, and a campsite with 15 spots, all with power. The campsite and tented camp have a communal kitchen with hobs and a microwave.
Driving Back to Cape Town from Camdeboo National Park
The next day we drove back via the Klein Karoo (through Willowmore and then Oudtshoorn), rather than the N1. This took 1 hour longer, and was at the suggestion of our hosts the previous night. It’s a beautiful drive, with fantastic scenery. If you have a few extra days, you could definitely explore more of this area.
This was the final leg of our 12-day trip to the Drakensberg from Cape Town. Read more about the rest of our Drakensberg Trip or find out about Karoo National Park, only 2 hours away.