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As summer takes its final bow, all roads lead to Camdeboo National Park to ring in autumn. And with a slight bite in the air, you’ll discover that Karoo hikes, the Valley of Desolation and spending the night in a safari tent make for a blissful experience. By Arnold Ras

Autumn is anything but dull at Camdeboo National Park. Pay the park a visit and you’ll soon agree. Named the Cathedral of the Mountains, this conservation area surrounding the town of Graaff-Reinet will give you all the #HowWildIsThat feels.

Here’s four reasons to make Camdeboo your go-to autumn destination:

#1: More wildlife sightings

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Did you know that Camdeboo is home to many rare sightings like the aardvark, caracal, aardwolf, Cape clawless otter and Smith’s red rock rabbit? And although you won’t find the Big Five here, you can explore some 19km of gravel roads at your own pace to see if you can spot these shy creatures. Because Camdeboo is located in a semi-desert area known for summer rainfall, autumn months mean less foliage, which makes it easier to spot wildlife. Make sure to download a birding and wildlife checklist prior to your visit. Now, who will return home with the most ticks?

More top sightings: springbok, ostrich, pale chanting goshawk, leopard tortoise

#2: Cooler air on foot

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Moderate temperatures (summer’s sweltering Karoo heat is a force to be reckoned with) make for better hiking. Camdeboo’s three trails offer something for young and old, beginners and keen hikers. As no guide is needed, you can set off on a relaxed stroll through this incredible Karoo landscape at your convenience. Simply pack a daypack with necessities such as a water bottle, pocket bird guide, sunscreen, binoculars, camera and something to eat, and you’re good to go.

  • Crag Lizard Trail, 45 minutes, 1.5km: Starts at the Valley of Desolation’s parking area via the landmark’s viewpoints. The trail is clearly marked with a picture of a crag lizard.
  • Eerstefontein Day Walk, 5km/11km/14km: Starts and ends at the Spandaukop Gate. Take a breather or have a simple picnic at Eerstefontein or Agtersfontein.
  • Gideon Scheepers Trail, 1 hour: Starts at the Gideon Scheepers Monument and ends at Barbergat on the R63 to Murraysburg.

#3: Valley of Desolation

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Synonymous with Camdeboo are the piled dolerite columns of this ‘mountain cathedral’ – stately, iconic and gigantic. From several viewpoints visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Great Karoo, its volcanic past evident in the rocky surrounds. Like those mischievous rock hyraxes, you too can bask in the sun for hours admiring this national park’s timeless beauty.

Did you know? The impressive dolerite pillars range in height from 90 to 120 metres. In 1939, the Valley of Desolation was proclaimed a national monument of geological and scenic significance.

#4: Safari tenting

Cooler temperatures definitely have their perks: a braai under the Karoo stars while warming up next to an open fire, a hot shower and settling down in cosy comfort after a day packed with Camdeboo adventure. Lakeview Tented Camp boasts four tents on decks for a rustic camping experience. Each tent is furnished with two single beds, a fridge, table and two chairs. Guests share a communal kitchen and ablution facilities, and there’s a central fire pit where you can swap stories with other guests. You’ll be flooded with a sense of gratitude when the Karoo sun salutes the day to paint the sky with autumnal hues.

Rates: From R695 per tent for two guests

Good to know

Email Camdeboo National Park on [email protected], give them a call on +27 (0)49 892 3453, or contact SANParks Central Reservations on +27 (0)12 428 9111 to book accommodation.

More to do

  • Koedoeskloof and Driekoppe 4×4 trail
  • Boating, canoeing, fishing and windsurfing on Nqweba Dam
  • Picnic at Impunzi, Ribbokberg, Mountain Drive, Barbergat, Piekniekbos or The Boat Club picnic areas
  • Visit the historic town of Graaff-Reinet, known for its beautifully restored buildings, fascinating museums, cosy restaurants and craft brewery.
Pictures by Rudolph de Girardier, courtesy of SANParks