I had been here in Camdeboo National Park, when my travels in South Africa started four years ago. This nature reserve struck me already then as a place of exceptional beauty with an extraordinary setting, encircling the historical town of Graaf-Reinet.
The town is a gem in itself. Blooming violet Jacaranda trees line up along narrow streets with white chalked Old Cape Dutch buildings. The town keeps a lot of its charm of the old days.
We preferred to stay a few kilometers outside the town in the National Parks’ rustic campground at Nqueba Dam. The name Nqueba means “meeting place” with reference to the confluence of the Sundays, Gats and Pienaars rivers, which feed the dam.
It could be as much a reference to a place where wildlife and humans share the waters – the first live and breed on the floodplains and the second ensure the water supply of the whole town of Graaf-Reinet with the dam.
We set up our tent a few meters from an elevated outlook, from which we observed a herd of eland peacefully grazing along the shore. Sunsets dipped the surroundings in an orange light, while we sipped coffee overlooking the plains and listening to numerous birds.
Mountains with rocks on the ridges shaped like red-colored, gigantic elephant droppings surround the dam and the circular old town. In one of these weird shaped cliff-landscapes lies the Valley of Desolation. Most probably the best known sight of Camdeboo National Park.
We walked the lizard path along the edges of the remote gorge at a considerable height of more than 1’300 meters, where either cold, hot, wind and merciless sun changed the scene within a few hours.
We were gob smacked by the vast landscape, which met the sky in a distance unreachable by our eyes. The Karoo with its dry shrubs in various earth colors suffered from a lack of rain.
As soon as the early spring rain hits, the surviving artists amidst the plants, green grass and colorful small flowers will appear and cover the plains as an overnight miracle.
Nature had to be patient; the dark clouds looked promising, but left soon after without releasing their life giving rains. Fauna, flora and humans were left with their hopes for some relief in the semi-desert of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, once again.
Karoo is a Khoi-khoi word in the language of the first inhabitants, the Bushmen, and means Great Thirstland. A suitable description for this arid region of South Africa.
Karoo Nature Reserve was established in 1979 and was transferred from the Provincial Government to South African National Parks (SANParks) in 2005 and renamed as Camdeboo National Park. The Park extends currently over 19405 hectares.
A private consortium of farmers built the dam between 1921 and 1925 and named it Van Ryneveldts Pass Irrigation Dam. Only in 1999 the local authority took over the water entitlements and changed the name in 2001 to Nqweba Dam meaning “Meeting Place”.
The Valley of Desolation was declared as a National Monument of geological and scenic significance. The original name was “Cathedral in the Mountains”.
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