Preserving Klein Karoo landscape while returning original game to the region

Magnificent rooms, wonderful staff and their service, exquisite meals as well as excellent game viewing and nature walks made a stay at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve well worth the drive, wites Brian Berkman.

Preserving Klein Karoo landscape while returning original game to the region
Early-morning views over the glorious Sanbona plains from Tilney Manor‘s bedroom suites.
Photo: Brian Berkman
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Although a haven for animals since its inception 21 years ago, it is since October 2015, when Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, in the Klein Karoo near Montagu and Barrydale, was bought by the non-profit CALEO Foundation, that the focus has changed.

The white lions of Sanbona were a talking point in earlier years and, during the reserve’s later ownership by Dubai World, there was a greater focus on providing the Big 5 experience.

Today a better term than nature reserve might be ‘nature preserve’ as they protect what was originally there.

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In addition to the main lodge, there are communal areas like the Heritage Lounge. Photos: Brian Berkman

For example, when the remaining white lions come to the end of their natural lives, they will not be replaced but rather there will be a focus on increasing the brown lions that used to roam the area.

Protecting and enhancing the gene pool is an important aspect of the work here.

Sanbona has successfully translocated Cape mountain zebra from the three remaining geographical regions: Kamanassie, Cradock and most important, Gamkaberg, in a world first that places the species in a favourable position from a genetics perspective.

Special conservation work also includes efforts around the rare brown hyena, the riverine rabbit and strengthening the black and white rhino population.

Incredibly vast at 58 000ha, Sanbona is the size of Singapore, according to Jacolin Windvogel, who met the Farmer’s Weekly team at the Welcome Lounge and drove to the Tilney Manor accommodation.

Unless you drive a rugged 4X4, it is best to safely park at the Welcome Lounge, only about 30 minutes from the main gate, and let Sanbona drive you the 45-minutes to the lodges.

Tilney Manor, named after an early landowner, is in an original house while the six rooms of deluxe accommodations were built when Sanbona first opened.

They were beautifully refurbished during 2022. The litmus test for the quality of a game lodge or nature reserve is what it is like to inhabit if the climate happens to be too unpleasant to go on game drives.

This visit might have been marred by especially inhospitable weather but the magnificent rooms, and wonderful staff and their service, helped temper any disappointment.

The Tilney Manor room is palatial in size and decorated in a muted, earthy palette that seems to be taken from the many early San rock paintings in the area, some dating back more than 3 500 years.

Spa-like bathrooms, decorated in a colour palette taken from San rock art.

In each suite, a gas fireplace and air conditioner are available for every weather eventuality, and there is a front outside area with loungers and large glass doors to an immense natural view.

Simply sitting in a comfy chair in front of the fire looking out was restorative. Every luxury is included.

Impressively large bathrooms have a central tub under a glamorous ceramic chandelier. A shower and loo are separately enclosed.

And, a wonderful feature in warmer weather is an outside area accessed via glass sliding doors from the bathroom, with a double shower open to the heavens but otherwise fully private.

Gondwana Family Lodge and Dwyka Tented Lodge are each located about a 15-minutes’ drive from the other.

Mealtimes are a highlight and served in the elegant dining room or on the covered verandah. Breakfast includes a lavish buffet and menu of hot items, and lunch and dinner are à la carte.

Delicious braai buffet

The generous braai buffet was by far the most delicious: lamb, ostrich, venison, boerewors, chicken on the grill and all the traditional sides such as pap, smoor (braised onions with tomatoes) and a lamb potjie (a slow-cooked stew with lamb and vegetables).

A flavour explosion was the simple combination of chakalaka – a popular spicy vegetable relish, homemade in this case – and grated carrot as a salad.

A splendid lunch of raw tuna with mango, pickled ginger and cucumber ribbons.

Desserts, including sugar-free options, were delicious while quality cheeses and preserves followed.

The gardens around the lodge are beautifully landscaped and there is a pond in front of the lodge’s main building where birds abound and which can be seen from the glass-enclosed front sitting room.

CALEO Foundation is committed to ensuring the protection of Sanbona in perpetuity by transforming it into a non-profit company and public benefit organisation that also has tax-deduction benefits for the guests who support it.

Field guide Janri Olivier, who previously worked at Jock Safari Lodge in the Kruger area, which is also owned by the CALEO Foundation, pointed out the rare quartzite tracts and equally rare flora that thrive there.

Only 18% of the vast Karoo remains pristine, so Sanbona’s preservation practices are crucial. With a clear focus on protecting the biomes, they have fenced off sections to study the impact of animals on these sensitive plants and for this reason there is no off-road driving at Sanbona.

Here, seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a by-product of preservation efforts.
This being one of South Africa’s largest privately owned nature reserves, exploring it takes time. Almost the first hour of the game drive is to reach the areas most likely to offer viewing.

The reserve is not only divided by the Warmwaterberg but also by an upper and lower area that is protected by fences.

This means predators can’t reach the main lodge area and consequently makes it safe to walk from the rooms to the main lodge, even at night.

As an example of rates, a weekend visit on 6 October to Tilney Manor will cost R20 220 for two people per night full board, including two daily game drives.

Visit, email [email protected], or phone 021 010 0028.