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Our Visit to Aquila and Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserves

An opportunity to bring you details of the nearest Cape Town safari experience and spend a night chatting with Mother Nature captured our imaginations this month. Packing in true explorer style (light and efficient) only 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 a range of Private Game Reserves and exclusive Wilderness experiences to choose from, Colin & I have selected two established properties to share with you this month, Aquila Private Game Reserve and Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve, and the two within a three-hour drive from Cape Town.

The four-star Aquila Private Game Reserve offers game drives in a malaria-free Big 5 game area just 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town. Surrounded by a semi-desert rolling landscape of the Little Karoo, the scenery is spectacular.

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

They have made strong incursions to eradicate exotic tree species and invasive plants from the area. This ongoing program helps conserve water in an area that receives only 400 milliliters of rainfall per year! In all their bathrooms they use natural biodegradable bath products supporting 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 felt Aquila was oversold as what they call “Real Africa”, a statement on their website. The cheetah and lions are in reserves and you can see them walking up and down the fence line of their respective lodges, the crocodiles are in a small marine camp in the reserve for all to see and all the game are fed every afternoon, not Real Africa we believe is authentic and what we could sell as “Real Africa”. However, Aquila Private Game Reserve has the advantage that you can take really good, close-up wildlife photos that may go down well with your friends back home when you share your African experience. You have a chance to see four of the Big 5! Even well-informed rangers rarely see mountain leopards, the 5th of the Big 5.

Colin and I met with the General Manager, Leon and the Director of Conservation, Patrick. Two fine young gentlemen with passion, knowledge and commitment to both the environment and the guest experience. The Aquila is a custom day visit product and we both felt it was very much a “work in progress”. Aquila may well provide an excellent safari option in the future. Right now, however, we think it’s expensive for the total inflow for overnight guests for one or two nights.

The accommodation provided is standard and the meals provided were basic but well presented. Overall service is good and the game wardens are knowledgeable within their remit. It was a disappointment to be offered sub-par semi-sweet South African sparkling wine, marshmallows and biltong at the evening game at sunset. A missed opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of the twelve guests in our vehicle…….

Aquila offers two adventurous and fun activities at the reserve, a horse safari and a quad bike safari. Both offer a unique experience. The big advantage of visiting this property is in their comprehensive day tour. For people living in and around Cape Town with limited time to observe Africa’s wildlife, treasured photos and close encounters with animals abound. Overall thoughts, come for a day! Going forward, their conference facilities to be developed over the next six months would make a wise choice of venue.

A hop, skip and a jump took us north from Aquila through more spectacular scenery, climbing an undulating mountain pass and along some bumpy dirt roads into the southern Cederberg range. The four-star, 15,000 hectare Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was our chosen destination. The last 16 kilometers to the refuge showed unique similarities to the majestic sandstone rock formations found in the Cederberg region. Warm (36 degrees Celsius), dry and almost moon-like in character and feel.

Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a wilderness experience with a cultural twist. The general Cederberg area is known for its Bushman paintings and Kagga Kamma offers an informative cultural safari led by a very knowledgeable and experienced guide, Jaco, who is also the General Manager. Jaco is a great host, passionate about mother nature and has extensive knowledge of the Bushmen. His time spent at Sabi Sands in the inimitable Mala Mala Game Reserve combined with his Namibian heritage made spending time in his company utterly fascinating! The game that roams their reserve is only game, bontebok, eland, burchells zebra, red hartebeest, klipspringer and some of the smaller species such as anteater and jackal.

One of the main selling points here is that, being so far away from the city and town light pollution, the stargazing is gorgeous, deep and truly outstanding (almost as good as Sutherland, see our travel tip for in September 2007). Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve offers a unique, well-placed mini observatory with a 10-inch telescope. Close-up views of our moon, some planets, constellations and other fascinating objects in distant space can be seen. A worthwhile experience!

Kagga Kamma offers unique accommodation. Ten imitation sandstone cave structures built against the towering sandstone rock formations blend into their surroundings. Comfortable beds, fresh crisp, white sheets and air conditioning are welcome indeed. Their “Outcrop” sleeping option is special! This is simply a must do for you! Imagine, if you will, a natural rock, two shade trees and a vast area with an endless view. Imagine the ingenuity of man adding all that he desires for the luxurious amenities required for human entertainment from sunset to sunrise the next day. Well before sunset, we boarded quad bikes and were escorted the three kilometers between the main camp and the Outcrop. Our arrival is breathtaking. A truly baronial bedroom equipped with a king size bed, side tables, lounge and coffee table decorated with all manner of culinary delights. The African sun setting right in front of us, our host prepares glasses, lights our paraffin lamps and then discreetly disappears. We are on our own to communicate with Mother Nature!

For those of you who haven’t experienced this yet, do so in great haste, for those who have, come here and let her enchant you with a story of the setting sun, all the animal actors on stage before you join the calm . The evening sky was streaked with vivid pink, turned crimson, then steel gray, the stars emerging with brightness and depth. The Black Hole was presented next to the Southern Cross, shooting stars abounded. Utter silence roared, the black velvet night greeted our soft burning fire. Peace, contentment and solitude prevailed. Our picnic dinner was adequate but unimaginative, charcuterie, some excellent cheeses, chicken legs and a well prepared and presented green salad paired with a potato salad, all conveniently packed in plastic containers. Our African night sky speaks to you. Let the language permeate your mind and you will hear the composition of words, dreams, hopes and aspirations. Colin rose in the wee hours of the morning to see the rising moon light everything in wax white.

The sun rose behind our rock casting color, warmth and light on the distant hills, an ethereal awakening for the seasoned traveler, for the first timer simply soul food. An excellent choice for a honeymoon if you want to secure a piece of tranquility and for those who want to experience fifteen hours of uninterrupted privacy. Due to the nature of this option, it depends on the weather.

Overall our experience at Kagga Kamma Private Game Reserve was a pleasant learning curve made distinct from the Outcrop experience. We would recommend Outcrop without hesitation, however compared to similar focused properties within the area, their percentages in proportion to the overall value for the rest of the property are high.

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