No visit to Graaff-Reinet will be complete without a visit to the Valley of Desolation yet I wonder how many people actually realise that the Valley of Desolation is located within the Camdeboo National Park, which actually reaches all the way around the town, and that you can also go game viewing in the park. On our long weekend in Graaff-Reinet we spent our Saturday exploring the town's historical heart on foot and kept the Sunday to explore the Camdeboo National Park. The plan was to spend the Sunday morning doing some game viewing, head back to Camdeboo Cottages, where we were staying, for lunch and some R&R before aiming to the Valley late afternoon for sunset on the mountain.
The entrance to the game viewing area is just past the turnoff to the Valley of Desolation and takes one straight into a typical Karoo landscape of low Karoo bush and grassland, mountains in the distance and the Nqweba Dam on the other side towards tow, and big skies. Lots of big skies. The park has about 19km of gravel roads which we found to be in a very good condition and no problem for the Polo to navigate.
The Camdeboo National Park isn't quite Kruger or Addo, but if you are in the area and enjoy game watching then it's well worth a drive through. The Game viewing area is home to buffalo, which we unfortunately didn't encounter on this trip, and game species like eland, black wildebeest, gemsbok, red hartebeest, blesbok, springbok and mountain zebra. Friends of ours in the park the same time than us even spotted the elusive rooikat (linx) near one of the waterholes. Our timing seemed to have sucked and we missed it. The park is also home to over 240 listed bird species of which we did spot a few so I imagine the twitchers would love the park.
After a quick picnic at the park's picnic site, which we had all to our own, we took a drive to the bird hide next to the Nqweba Dam. The dam level is quite low at the moment which means not a lot of animals or even birds around.
After a bit of kicking our feet up at the guesthouse, we took the road out to the park again in the late afternoon and made our way up the mountain towards the Valley of Desolation. After a stop at the toposcope lookout it was time to show the KidZ what the Valley looked like. I've been up here many times over the years and it never gets old. Ok, just wait. The Valley is old, over 200 millions years old, but I mean I never get tired of it. Hahaha....
It is an awe-inspiring feeling standing there looking at the towering dolerite columns with the vast Karoo stretching out beyond. The dolerite pillars rise up to a height of up to 120 meters and were formed by volcanic and erosive forces over a period of 200 million years. It's hard to explain the beauty of the place and not everybody who visits "gets it", but the Valley of Desolation is a truly special place.
I made sure we got there early enough to go for a walk along the Crag Lizard Trail, a 1,5 km sircular trail that shouldn't take you more than about 45 minutes to walk. I want to say the only reason I did it was to go and find the Geocache located just beyond the turning point, but for the first time I got to see more of the Valley of Desolation and some of the further columns which you don't get to see from the main view point. We made it back just in time for the sun to start setting and found that it was disappearing behind the mountain and not over the valley as it does in summer. Darn!
We quickly hopped back in the car and made our way a bit down the mountain to an alternative lookout point I was told about on my last visit, making it just in time as the sun disappeared over the distant mountains.
And with that sunset our long weekend in the Gem of the Karoo also came to an end. So what do we take home from the weekend? That Graaff-Reinet is the perfect weekend destination for people living in the Eastern Cape with a variety of historic and natural attractions to keep you busy with during your stay. I also came to the conclusion that people from the interior passing through and heading to the coast and don't realise what they are missing. But that really goes for anybody who hasn't had the opportunity to explore Graaff-Reinet and the Camdeboo National Park.