As winter creeps across the country, many South African families face 3 long weeks of winter school holidays with dread. Where should they head to enjoy a family holiday with their kids when the weather is wet and windy? A surprising answer lies in the warm heart of South Africa… The Karoo!
The Karoo, South Africa
This might be the last place you would consider for a winter getaway due to the low temperatures, however, on our most recent family holiday we were surprised to find that, in fact, the Karoo offers so much for families looking to reconnect and recharge (and not to the wifi signal!) This is the place to “get away from it all” and we recently did just that at Roam Private Game Reserve, a new safari lodge located in the Great Karoo.
Over the course of a recent long weekend we headed up the N1 from Cape Town towards the heart of the country, turning off the main drag about 5 and a half hours later, just before hitting Beaufort West.
After driving down a 6km dirt track we finally found what we’d been looking for… our home from home… Roam!
Roam Private Game Reserve
Here mornings start with a steaming cup of Rooibos tea (or hot chocolate for the kids) and a homemade rusk or two, before heading out on an early morning game drive, complete with blankets and hot water bottles!
As the temperature rises, and layers are peeled off, days are spent walking in the “veld” where you can encounter wild animals on foot, smell the indigenous Karoo bush that gives the local lamb its’ distinctive flavour and visit the crumbling stone dwellings and cemeteries of the first farmers of this land – hardy sheep farmers who arrived by ox wagon and never left – living their days tending sheep and scanning the endless horizons for a glimpse of a foxy jackal.
On our Karoo Safari we headed out each morning on a guided veld walk which saw us stumbling across a tired tortoise, identifying birds of the sky and learning about tracking animals from their spoor.
The animals and plants of the Karoo have adapted to the harsh conditions in astounding ways and it really is only when you get up close and personal with the tiny fauna and fascinating flora that you find out just have rich this apparently “barren” land is….
And it really helps to head out on your daily guided walk with someone like Don, the head guide at Roam, makes every bush experience a rewarding one with his encyclopaedic knowledgeable of every critter and creature.
Safari in the Karoo
Currently Roam is home to zebra, giraffe, 13 species of antelope and 240 species of bird, plus a few surprises along the way… including a foxy jackal of our own showing off his burnt orange jacket against the Karoo scrub!
I’d never seen one quite so vivid… possibly because I’ve only spotted them at night when the light is dusky and their colour not quite so obvious.
What a treat to see this little guy going about his morning business…
My kids took to the Karoo veld with glee, eager to observe everything… even partaking in a few activities I would NEVER have expected them to! Aside from absorbing all the unique sights and sounds of this part of the world, they also got to taste it in a rather unusual way…
The idea was to take part in a traditional South African bush game of seeing who could spit their “bok drol” the furthest, this resulted in the biggest surprise of the holiday – my 8 year old daughter willingly putting animal dung in her mouth! A proud moment for any South African parent!
Eco-tourism in the Karoo
The Roam dream team, Don and Abigail, are truly knowledgeable about the land and eager to share their insights with those who want to learn.
Formerly a hunting farm, the new focus at Roam is on eco-tourism and the protection of delicate species.
At Roam they have great plans to rehabilitate the biome of the area alongside various conservation projects which are already underway, including the reintroduction of a buffalo herd to the great plains.
After searching the plains for the herd unsuccessfully on our first two game drives, imagine our surprise when, in a cloud of dust, the herd rumbled into view for their early evening “sundowners” at the watering hole just in front of our lodge…. and just as we were about to head out again to look for them! Perfect timing, and the perfect vantage point to watch them at our leisure!
Cheetah in the Karoo
Another very exciting project at Roam is the decision to reintroduce 2 cheetah to the Karoo (the first in the area for over 150 years!) This project has been undertaken with much guidance from leading conservationists and Roam has joined the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) Cheetah Metapopulation Project, which aims to manage the genetics of Southern Africa’s wild cheetah population, ensuring the population as a whole remains genetically viable.
A few weeks ago (just before our visit to Roam) a pair of cheetah brothers were released onto Roam’s traverse. In cheetah families, brothers from the same litter will form a coalition which means they will have a lifelong bond between them and will remain together forever.
During our visit this pair were still spending time in their acclimatisation boma before being released into the 5300-ha reserve, however their release into the Karoo took place on 4 June 2018! Once the cheetah brothers have acclimatised to their new environment, Roam will consider introducing a female or two.
We were fortunate enough to be able to get out of the vehicle and walk with the cheetah on foot… and this is something that will continue to happen at Roam as the cheetah brothers are very comfortable with human presence on foot.
Due to the sensitive Karoo environment (where plants can take years to recover) the fact that guests can leave the vehicle with their guide and view the cheetah on foot from a distance not closer than 15 meters is hugely beneficial. (Cheetah viewing on foot is only available to guests older than the age of 16 for safety reasons!)
After a busy morning exploring the Karoo on foot, nothing quite beats an afternoon nap in the silence… after all aren’t afternoons made for napping? But what about the kids? They aren’t always as eager to doze off…
Fortunately at Roam Abigail and Don are on hand, not only as guides, but also as hosts, and I was only too willing to accept Abigail’s offer to look after the kids while I indulged in my book (ok maybe one page of my book, before the bed enveloped me in it’s soft comfort!
During my snooze the kids were kept busy, feeding the fish in the dam, watching the waterhole, playing games and baking in the kitchen!
Evenings at Roam are something special. This is the time of the day when the Karoo springs to life. As the temperature cools, the animals start to emerge from their slumbers in the shade.
This is the time of the day when the light changes and casts a warm glow across the veld, bringing with it the golden hour and incredible photo opportunities.
Bundled under blankets we headed every evening on the back of the game drive vehicle eager to once again connect with the magic of the Karoo…
At Roam there are plenty of sundowner spots worth unwinding at. One on every bend! Our chosen vantage point came with ice cold G&Ts, ancient landscapes, and a fiery sunset.. followed by a Full Moon rise behind us! Magic indeed.
As the sun sank behind the horizon and the million lights of the Milky Way revealed their glory from the inky darkness, we headed off on a night drive. Ben’s true highlight! Sitting up front in the tracker seat he diligently shone the spotlight across the road, over the shrub and up into every branch of every tree!
We spotted various creatures all preparing for their evening meal… a night jar sitting silently in the middle of the sandy road watching the sky for an unsuspecting moth or two, a spider hard at work creating it’s web for a buffet dinner and an African Cat prowling for mice. We even went hunting for scorpions in the dry river beds with an ultra-violet torch – boy scout stuff!
After spending 3 days at Roam with zero cell phone signal, dark night skies and endless space in every direction we all left feeling completely recharged and reconnected. This trip came at a time when I was feeling quite burnt out, overwhelmed and overworked and it was exactly the tonic I needed.
We all fell in love with the place… and the space! Even my kids enjoyed every moment, not once did I hear the “I’m bored” rally cry of most kids everywhere. And the irony is that they didn’t have access to all the usual means of entertainment – Netflix, Xbox, Cell Phones. They just had each other and the Karoo bush.
What I realised is that most of us fall into the trap of thinking that holidays need to be FULL of entertainment… with things to do every moment of every day. The truth is that most kids actually just want to spend time with their mom and dad – where they are the focus of their time with no interruptions (and us adults can be so guilty of that!!)
The Karoo is the ideal place to reconnect with your kids and Roam is a great place to do just that thanks to it’s intimate spaces, personal attention and family-friendly focus.
Kids will love donning their beanies for crisp morning game drives, hot water bottles in their beds and toasting marshmallows on the fire… Mostly they will relish the uninterrupted family time when everyone slows down and switches off. Time to play games, read books, snuggle in front of the fire and explore the wide open plains and dark night skies of Africa together.
Accommodation at Roam Private Game Reserve
There are three accommodation options to choose from at Roam, each catering for a different type of guest.
During our time at Roam we stayed at the very family-friendly Safari Lodge. This homestead offers relaxed country luxury in the form of 3 adjoining thatched roof houses surrounding a large courtyard and overlooking a swimming pool area and small waterhole. There are four double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and a larger suite with a gorgeous Victorian bath. I loved spending a sunny afternoon poolside reading my book and with one eye on the watering hole for movement!
One of the highlights of our stay at Roam was the delicious South African food prepared with care by their new chef, Francisco. All meals at Safari Lodge are prepared and served in the communal dining area or out under the stars in the courtyard. We enjoyed five star feasts at every meal and you certainly won’t go hungry during a stay at Roam. If anything you’ll head home a bit heavier!! Chef Francisco is a true asset to the Roam team.
Roam Manor House is an exclusive use self-catering manor house ideal for larger groups or families seeking a luxurious Karoo experience. This space is modern, light and elegantly furnished. It has three bedrooms – one with a king bed, one with a queen bed and one with twin beds. All have en-suite bathrooms. The luxurious open plan living area has a large fireplace, a huge verandah overlooking a typical Karoo horizon and a swimming pool for escaping the intense Karoo sun in summer. Guests staying in the manor house can bring their pets and bicycles to truly enjoy this home from home. Game drives and bush walks can be arranged with Don at an extra cost.
Then for the more adventurous there is one more accommodation option… the tented Explorer Camp. A permanent camp surrounded by bush sounds and night skies, this is the true way to experience the wild wilderness of the Karoo (if you’re brave enough!) Each of the six canvas dome tents is equipped with two beds, camping chairs, lanterns and a small deck. There is a communal dining area and fire pit where you can enjoy sharing camp fire stories under starry skies while immersing yourself in the sounds and smells of nature at night! Flushing toilets and warm bucket showers are available a short walk from each tent.
Contact Roam Private Game Reserve in the Karoo
Tel: +27 21 712 5284 or +27 21 712 5285
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