Many visitors to safari parks opt for large, well known reserves where they are almost guaranteed to see lions and other large animals. But I wanted a different experience: a smaller park where we could go off-road, enjoy the scenery and still have a good chance of seeing a whole range of wildlife. So the Gondwana Game Reserve, not far from Mossel Bay on South Africa’s Garden Route, seemed an obvious choice.
Unique Fynbos Landscape
Gondwana is a private reserve in the Western Cape, named after the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland, whose remnants can still be seen in this area. The park is covered with the fynbos vegetation of the Western Cape, creating a unique environment in which a whole range of animals and birds can flourish. Most of the drives are off-road, taking you deep into the landscape: for me this was as much of an attraction as the wildlife.
But there are plenty of animals to see. Our ranger, Eugene, was a mine of information about the animals, their behaviour and their habitat, and he was an expert in tracking them down. It wasn’t long before we came upon a trio of giraffes grazing peacefully beside a herd of zebra. And then there were hartebeest, wildebeest and Cape elands. I had never realised that there were so many different types of antelope!
In Search of Big Game at the Gondwana Game Reserve
Gondwana’s boast is that it is the only fynbos reserve that is home to “free roaming Big Five” as well as to a number of endangered species. Although we didn’t manage all of the Big Five we did see elephants early on, and were then lucky enough to see two black rhinos (whose worldwide population is dwindling at an alarming rate).
Later we went on a lion hunt but our course was diverted when Eugene got a message that cheetahs had been spotted. This caused great excitement – one of our group had been on 17 previous safaris but never seen a cheetah before – and we turned round to drive furiously in the opposite direction until we reached the bush where the animals were hiding. We sat still, hardly daring to make a sound, and eventually our patience was rewarded when two young females emerged and crossed the road in front of us.
Birds and Other Wildlife at Gondwana
One of the many attractions of this type of landscape is that there are birds everywhere. My favourite was the colourful secretary bird but we also saw birds of prey (including the migrant steppe buzzard) and weaver birds. And, if you look carefully, you may spot small mammals, such as the Cape hare, and even the occasional snake or toad.
And here’s a short video clip to whet your appetite some more…
Overall, this was a great experience, more about the animals and their environment than about “ticking boxes” on a list of animals to spot. But I’ve never been to one of the bigger reserves – if you have a view on which type of park is better to visit I’d love to read your comments.