Deep in South Africa's Karoo heartland is a national park that entirely surrounds the town of Graaff-Reinet. It's probably most famous for the spectacle that is the Valley of Desolation, a rocky landscape formed millions of years ago. But there are lots of other reasons to visit too; find out more in Camdeboo National Park: the ultimate guide.
Camdeboo National Park is 600km from Cape Town via the N1 to Beaufort West, the R61 to Aberdeen and N9 to Graaff-Reinet. From Port Elizabeth it’s 250km via the R75. The Lakeview entrance gate near the tented camp and campsite is 4km from Graaff-Reinet on the N9 that goes to Middleburg.
You get to the Valley of Desolation along a tar road, but there’s a network of gravel roads in the park too. The gravel roads in the game area around the dam are accessible to 2x4 vehicles, but you need high clearance for the Diepkloof trail in the south-east and 4x4 (compulsory) for the Koedoeskloof 4x4 trail in the far west of the park.
The 19 405-hectare park lies in the semi-arid Karoo, which gets most of its admittedly limited rain in summer, often in the form of afternoon thundershowers. It’s very hot in summer (October to March), with temperatures well into the mid-30s degrees Celsius or higher, so try to keep your energetic activities for the cool of early morning or late afternoon. The park is also very cold in winter (around 5-8 degrees Celsius), especially in June and July, and sometimes there’s snow on the high mountain tops. Unless you particularly enjoy extremes of heat or cold, autumn and spring are gentler, more comfortable times to visit.
Where to stay
You currently have two choices for your Camdeboo National Park accommodation – a campsite and a tented camp, both of which make a nature-filled alternative to Graaff-Reinet accommodation even for those visiting the town.
Lakeview Tented Camp
Small tip for those not used to camping: bring a torch/head torch to get to and from the ablutions and kitchen in the dark.
- There are six picnic areas in the park, each with braais and ablutions.
- Note that you can’t buy fuel in the park. The closest fuel station is at Graaff-Reinet about 5km away.
- There’s no restaurant, shop or ATM in the park either, but Graaff-Reinet is so close by that this is not exactly a hardship.
1. Go for a game drive
2. Visit the Valley of Desolation
3. Spend time at Khwalimanzi hide
4. Go birding
Almost 250 bird species make their home in the park, with pale chanting goshawk, rock kestrel, Diederik cuckoo, Karoo korhaan, Ludwig’s bustard, cardinal woodpecker, brownhooded kingfisher and ant-eating chat often spotted in the main game area. In the western section, near the Valley of Desolation, look out for blue cranes or Verreaux’s eagles. Drive the roads near Nqweba dam for a chance to see water birds like black-winged stilt, sacred ibis, flamingo and Kittlitz’s plover.
5. Go hiking
The Gideon Scheepers Trail is about 2km long and starts at the Gideon Scheepers Monument on the R63 to Murraysburg. This was erected in memory of a Boer commandant the British executed by firing squad near here as a traitor to the Cape Colony during the Anglo Boer War. The trail climbs a steep hill to a plateau from where you can see the dam. You might spot a few Cape mountain zebra or kudu along this trail.
The circular Eerstefontein trail starts and ends at the Spandaukop gate, with 5km, 11km and 14km options, depending on how energetic you’re feeling. Eerstefontein and Agtersfontein make good rest spots along the way. Walk silently so as not to startle kudu, Cape mountain zebra or mountain reedbuck.
6. Smell the flowers
On your drives and walks around the park, keep an eye out for some of the 336 plant species that grow here, from Karoo num-num, kapokbos and Karoo viooltjie to spike-thorn, spekboom and sweet thorn. When they’re in bloom, they will brighten up the Karoo landscape with their yellows, pinks and mauves.
7. Drive a 4x4 trail
The Driekoppe 4x4 Trail in the south-eastern section of the park winds through dense kloofs and open spaces where you might see Cape mountain zebra, kudu, klipspringer, mountain reedbuck and black wildebeest. There’s a good view over the Karoo from Hanglip. It’s a grade 2 trail, so not very technical – even 2x4s with high clearance will make it. No booking needed.
Note: Do NOT enter this route without a proper 4x4 vehicle (no, not your 2x4 with diff lock!) and then blame the park if you get stuck or damage your vehicle.
8. Enjoy fishing and watersports
9. Have a picnic
10. Spend a day in Graaff-Reinet
Need to know
SANParks central reservations
Tel (012) 428-9111
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