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Our visit to the private game reserves of Aquila and Kagga Kamma

The opportunity to fill you in on the closest safari experience to Cape Town and spend an evening in conversation with Mother Nature captured our imaginations this month. Packing in true explorer style (light and effective) just a small overnight bag, we headed east over the magnificent and majestic Hottentots Holland range into the hot semi-desert of our Little Karoo.

The Western Cape offers several private game reserves and unique nature experiences to choose from. Colin and I have chosen two well established properties to share with you this month, the Aquila Private Game Reserve and the Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve, both within a three hour drive of Cape Town.

The 4-star Aquila Private Game Reserve offers safaris into malaria-free Big 5 hunting territory, just 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town. Surrounded by the rolling semi-desert landscape of the Little Karoo, the scenery is spectacular.

Aquila Private Game Reserve actively supports the previously deprived community of the nearby village of Touws River. Under the aegis of the Aquila team, they employ over 120 people, sponsor a full-time teacher and the local cricket team, among other generous sustainable development programs so vital to our responsible tourism strategy.

They have made strong strides to eradicate exotic trees and invasive plant species from the area. This ongoing program helps conserve water in an area that receives only 400 milliliters of rain per year! In all their bathrooms they use natural biodegradable bathroom products that support their environmental responsibilities. Very positive and commendable actions!

However, our experience at Aquila Private Game Reserve left us with mixed feelings. Having spent time at many other African Safari properties in various parts of southern Africa, we feel that Aquila is oversold as what they refer to as ‘real Africa’, a statement on their website. The cheetah and lions are in enclosures and you can see them pacing up and down the fence of their respective enclosures, the crocodiles are in a small water camp at the lodge for all to see and all the animals are fed every night , not quite the real Africa that we feel is authentic and what we might market as “real Africa”. However, Aquila Private Game Reserve has the advantage that you can get very good close-up photos of wildlife that can rate you well with your friends back home when you share your African experience. You get to see four of the Big 5! Even knowledgeable rangers rarely see mountain leopards, fifth of the big 5.

Colin and I met with the General Manager, Leon and the Conservation Manager, Patrick. Two excellent young gentlemen with passion, knowledge and commitment to both the environment and the guest experience. Aquila is a custom designed day visit product and we both feel it to be a ‘work in progress’. Aquila may well offer an excellent safari option in the future. At this time, however, we feel it is expensive for general admission for guests staying a night or two.

The accommodation on offer is standard and the meals provided were simple but well presented. In general the service is good and the rangers are knowledgeable within their scope of responsibility. It was a disappointment to be offered sub-standard semi-sweet South African sparkling wine, marshmallows and biltong on the afternoon sunset safari. A missed opportunity to captivate the hearts and minds of the twelve guests in our vehicle…….

Aquila offers two fun and adventurous activities at the lodge: a horse safari and a quad safari. Both offer a unique experience. The great advantage of visiting this property is in its complete day trip. For people staying in and around Cape Town with limited time to enjoy African wildlife, valuable photography and up-close animal encounters abound. General thoughts, come for a day! For the future, the conference facilities to be developed over the next six months would be a wise site choice.

A hop, hop, and hop took us north of Aquila through some more spectacular scenery, climbing an undulating mountain pass and along some gravel roads into the southern Cederberg region. The four-star, 15,000-hectare Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was our selected destination. The last 10 miles to the lodge showed unique similarities to the fascinating sandstone rock formations found in the Cederberg area. Hot (36 degrees Celsius), dry and almost lunar in character and feel.

Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a wilderness experience with a cultural twist. The general Cederberg area is famous for its Bushman paintings and Kagga Kamma offers an informative cultural safari led by a very knowledgeable and experienced field guide, Jaco, who is also the General Manager. Jaco is a great host, passionate about Mother Nature and has extensive knowledge of the Bushmen. Time spent at Sabi Sands in the inimitable Mala Mala Game Reserve, coupled with his Namibian heritage, made time in his company absolutely compelling! The game that roams your reserve is just plains game, bontebok, eland, burchells zebra, red hartebeest, klipspringer and some of the smaller species like anteater and jackal.

One of the biggest selling points here is that being situated so far from the light pollution of the city, the stargazing is superb, deep and truly exceptional (almost as good as Sutherland – see our Travel Advisory from September 2007). Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a unique and well located mini observatory with a 10 inch telescope. Up-close views of our moon, certain planets, constellations, and other fascinating objects in far space can be observed. A worthwhile experience!

Kagga Kamma offers unique accommodation. Ten sandstone cave-like structures built against the towering sandstone rock formations blend into their surroundings. Comfy beds, crisp white linens, and air conditioning are welcome. Your “Outcrop” rest option is special! This is simply a must for you! Imagine if you will, a natural rock outcropping, two shady trees and a vast expanse of endless vista. Imagine the ingenuity of man adding everything desired in the way of luxurious comforts necessary for human entertainment from sundown until well after sunrise the next day. Well before sunset, we boarded ATVs and were escorted the two miles between the main camp and the Outcrop. Our arrival is impressive. A truly majestic bedroom furnished with a king size bed, side tables, sitting area and coffee table adorned with all manner of culinary delights. The African sun sets directly in front of us, our host prepares glasses, lights our paraffin lamps, and then discreetly fades away. We are alone to commune with Mother Nature!

For those of you who haven’t experienced this yet, do it in a hurry, for those of you who have, come here and allow Her to regal you with a story of the sunset, all the animal performers on stage before it come together to establish themselves. . The evening sky was streaked with vivid pink, then crimson, then steel gray, the stars emerging bright and deep. The Black Hole appeared next to the Southern Cross, shooting stars abounded. Absolute silence roared, the black velvet night greeted our soft burning fire. Peace, joy and solitude permeated. Our picnic dinner was adequate but unimaginative, cold cuts, some excellent cheeses, chicken thighs and a well prepared and presented green salad paired with a potato salad, all conveniently packaged in plastic containers. Our African night sky speaks to you. Allow the language to permeate your mind and you will hear the mixture of words, dreams, hopes and aspirations. Colin got up in the early hours of the morning to witness the crescent moon that lit everything a waxy white.

The sun rose from behind our rock casting colour, warmth and light over the distant hills, an ethereal awakening for the seasoned traveller, simply soul food for the first timer. An excellent honeymoon option if you are looking for a bit of peace and for those who want to experience fifteen hours of uninterrupted privacy. Due to the naturalness of this option, it depends on the weather.

Overall our experience at Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was a nice learning curve made special by Outcrop’s experience. We would recommend Outcrop without hesitation, however when compared to similar focused properties within the region, their rates in proportion to the total value of the rest of the property are high.


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