Expert Reviews – Camdeboo NP

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Rock formations and Karoo views
Overall rating

Make no mistake: Camdeboo is more of a nature park than a wildlife-watching destination. It does have a wildlife section, with animals including buffalo, rare Cape mountain zebra and several antelope species. But the main reasons to visit this 195 sq km park, which surrounds the historic Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet, are the stunning landscape and hiking trails. Drive up the Valley of Desolation at sunset for sweeping views of the Karoo plains, framed by the craggy shapes of dolerite pillars. Just don't brave it in a lightning storm; the clouds add drama to the scene, but we had to make a sharp exit when my wife's hair stood on end. A recent addition is the Giant Flag (, a South African flag comprising 2.5 million cacti and succulents and covering an area the size of 66 soccer fields.

Graaff-Reinet’s Valley of Desolation
Overall rating

This park practically surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet and makes for a nice day visit. There are two sections of the park. The Game Viewing area contains a small circuit you can drive in a few hours. The main draw here is the rare Cape mountain zebra, but you can also see buffalo, and some antelope species. The real attraction of the park is the Valley of Desolation, which is in a separate section. This valley with spectacular dolerite formations can be viewed from several points along a short walking trail. The rocky scenery is obviously at its most beautiful in late and early light. I had the place to myself on my first visit early in the morning, but taking in the sunset over the valley from the main viewpoint seems to be the thing to do since every tourist in town was there when I returned late in the afternoon. You can just walk to any of the further-away and less obvious viewpoints for a quieter experience.

Stunning scenery
Overall rating

Camdeboo is not really a destination in itself – but is a wonderful stop-over en-route when you’re travelling in the Karoo. The reason for visiting here is the stunning Valley of Desolation. Take the scenic drive right to the top for the most outrageous views of vertical rock formations and miles and miles of Karoo. For photographers, I recommend travelling here at the beginning or end of the day for the best light. Incredibly, when I visited, I was the only visitor at the look-out. If this was America or Europe there would be coach parks and souvenir kiosks – but at Camdeboo just ringing silence and incredible views. Even more astonishingly, I watched a caracal hunting birds high up on the rocks opposite. Back in the lowlands, there is some general game including hartebeest, springbok, klipspringer, ostrich and a variety of waterbirds on the Nqweba Dam.

Desolate Karoo landscapes
Overall rating

Formerly the Karoo Nature Reserve, this small park, which all but encloses the historic town of Graaff-Reinet, is mainly of interest for its stunning scenery. The undoubted highlight is the Valley of Desolation, a formation of eroded dolerite columns that rise 120m/393ft from the valley floor. Wildlife included the spectacular Verreaux’s eagle, families of sunbathing rock hyrax and the strikingly colored Cape crag lizard. A hide overlooks Nqweba Dam, which is a good spot for seeking water-associated birds as well as bird species native to the semi-arid Karoo ecosystem. In my view, the 20km/12mi network of roads through the main fenced-off wildlife-viewing enclosure bordering the dam rates as an interesting diversion rather than a must-do. It does host some endemic large mammals though, including Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest, springbok, gemsbok, grey rhebok and blesbok, along with buffalo and various small carnivores.

Sunsets and scenery
Overall rating

Perhaps it’s the feeling of serenity I get from gazing out over the Valley of Desolation, or perhaps it’s the unique Karoo landscape, or perhaps it’s simply too much time spent in the sun, but somehow I feel physically connected to Camdeboo National Park. Without a doubt this stunningly scenic park just outside Graaff-Reinet is my favourite place to retreat to in South Africa. Formed more than 200 million years ago, the 14,500 hectare park’s most noted feature is its dolerite pillars which rise to heights of 90-120 metres. There’s no Big Five wildlife-viewing – kudu, blesbuck, springbuck, reedbuck and, if you are lucky, bat-eared fox are the best you can hope for – just rocks, succulents, heat and dust. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, the park provides the perfect opportunity for budding biologists and ornithologists to study the Cameboo’s rich plant life and smaller creatures such as insects, butterflies, lizards and birds. There are also some good trails ranging from the 45 minute Crag Lizard Trail to the 14km Eerstefontein Day Walk. No matter which one you chose, my recommendation is that you time your walk so you can end with sundowners and sunset overlooking the Valley of Desolation. If this doesn’t re-energise your spirits, nothing will!

The aptly-named Valley of Desolation with amazing views of the Karoo landscape
Overall rating

Camdeboo has typical Karoo landscape of bizarre rock formations and peculiar desert flora. The Valley of Desolation with its famous sheer dolerite pillars is undoubtedly the highlight. From the car park at the top, a 45-minute walk took us to the very summit; the hike wasn’t too challenging thanks to the signposts with lizard logos and the path inlaid with steps. The views were just breathtaking and the plains of the Great Karoo went on endlessly to every horizon. We saw black eagles soaring over the cliffs, which no doubt had their ‘eagle-eyes’ trained on the numerous rock hyrax (dassies) that darted around. On our drive back down we saw mountain zebra, springbok, and a solitary Cape buffalo, but it’s not a particularly great game-watching destination. However it’s ideal for experiencing the extraordinary geology of the Karoo.

Average Expert Rating

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