In 1975 the Southern African Nature Foundation (today WWF-SA) established the 165km² Karoo Nature Reserve virtually all around the historic town of Graaff-Reinet. It was only in 2005 that the Karoo Nature Reserve was transferred to the stewardship of South African National Parks, and officially proclaimed as the Camdeboo National Park. Additional land was incorporated into the new Park, enlarging it to 194km². Some parts of the reserve consists of inspiring mountain topography, and yet others of wide open arid plains. The Nqweba Dam, previously known as the Van Rhyneveld’s Pass Dam and built in the early 1920’s, occupies a large section of the Park (up to 1000 hectares when full). The vegetation of the Park is a mix of Karoo scrub, grasslands, thorn savannas and succulent thickets, consisting of over 330 species.
Camdeboo National Park’s most celebrated natural feature, and a declared scenic national monument, is the Valley of Desolation, an awesome cleft over 100m deep, bordered by imposing pillars of stone and cut by natural forces over a period of 240-million years into the side of the mountain looming over Graaff-Reinet. A tarred road leads to the toposcope and viewpoints right at the top, where visitors have an opportunity to enjoy the magnificent vistas over the expansive Great Karoo and the small frontier town situated in an oxbow bend of the Sundays River below.
The Karoo Nature Reserve and later Camdeboo National Park was stocked with several large game animals that used to occur here historically, and today Cape Buffalo and Cape Mountain Zebra count among the 43 kinds of mammals that can be seen here. All told, there’s no less than 225 kinds of birds, 34 reptile species and 8 varieties of frogs and toads that has been recorded within the Park’s borders.
Overnight guests have a choice between the four basic two-bed safari tents at the Lakeview Tented Camp, which make use of a communal ablution block, kitchen and lounge, or the Nqweba Campsite which has fifteen sites for caravans and tents (each with a braai stand (barbeque) picnic table and electric point). There’s a limited network of gravel game-viewing roads available to sedans, a few more 4×4 trails, hiking trails, fishing and other watersports on the Nqweba Dam, a bird-watching hide (unfortunately really only of use when the dam is full), and rustic picnic sites. Graaff-Reinet has shops, restaurants, fuel stations and more.
Camdeboo National Park was the final stop on our December 2017 holiday tour through eight of South Africa’s national parks. The easiest access to Camdeboo’s Nqweba Campsite, Lakeview Tented Camp and the main game-viewing area is from the gate on the N9, just a few kilometres north of Graaff-Reinet, while the gate to the Valley of Desolation lies on the R63 to Murraysburg.