Year in the Wild Blog

Karoo Journey – Night time in Camdeboo National Park

My next stop on my journey for Wild Magazine through the Karoo in the middle of a South African summer was Camdeboo National Park. This little protected area – whose name means “valley of green” in the ancient Khoe language – surrounds the historical town of Graaff-Reinet, a place that has more national monuments than any other in the country – remarkable for such a small town in the middle of nowhere!

One of these national monuments is the so-called Valley of Desolation.  A road from Graaff-Reinet winds to the top of a koppie (or small mountain), 1 500 metres above sea level, and from there the panoramic view of the Karoo is probably one of the best and certainly most accessible. The most popular viewpoint looks out south over a narrow valley, to pinnacles of volcanic dolerite rock that stand precipitously against the skyline.

I headed up there late one night – with some special permission from park manager Peter Burdett – to take some photos of the special view. I wanted to try “paint” some light onto the pinnacles with my high-powered torch, while also capturing the stars in the background.

The Valley of Desolation at dusk

Stars and heart - painting the Valley of Desolation with light

It was very windy – and quite cold – even though it was middle of summer, but after an hour or so, I had a reasonable photograph, and decided to head back down for some dinner in town.

Camdeboo National Park is probably one of the most easily accessible urban wildlife destinations in the country. The town is surrounded by the park, and there are kudu, hartebeest, black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra and even Cape buffalo roaming around.From the centre of town, it’s no more than a five minute drive into the park.

I’ll never forget park manager Peter Burdett once telling me that he and his staff were called out to the middle of town, where a kudu bull had made its way up onto the second floor of an office building! It had to be captured and released into the veld.

So when I saw the replica horn of a black rhino in the Reinet House museum, I was intrigued to read on the display that back in 1869, James Murray had shot a black rhino which had come into his garden and was eating his cabbages and carrots! It must have been quite a sight to wake up to.

Thank you to Alex and Marianne Palmer from the nearby Cranemere Farm who hosted me for lunch one day. Alex’s family have lived on Cranemere for five generations since 1880, and Eve Palmer’s book The Plains of Camdeboo is a classic account of life in the Karoo. (Eve passed away in 1998, and was Alex’s aunt).

Just before we had a delicious lamb stew lunch in their farmhouse, Alex took me to their little museum, where there is an impressive array of fossils, stone-age tools and more recent historical items from the Anglo-Boer war.

Various fossil experts – from Raymond Dart, James Kitching and Sidney and Bruce Rubidge – have all been associated with exploring the area, and have been associated with Cranemere in some way. If you’re looking for a place to stay outside of the national park, be sure to go to Cranemere. Alex’s e-mail is and their phone number is 042-246-1492.

Typical Karoo landscape near Camdeboo National Park - an old farm house, dappled sunlight on a vast landscape that's more than 200 million years old.

My tent at Lakeview Tented Camp on Nqweba Dam in Camdeboo NP

There was a surprising amount of water in the Sundays River, which flows through the national park, into Nqweba Dam.

Dung beetle in Camdeboo - I read an article today about research that suggests that dung beetles navigate at night by using the stars! Respect.

A species of Solanum flower - thanks John Manning from SANBI for identifying this.

And this a species of daisy.

Kittlitz's plover in Nqweba Dam

Black winged stilt with high heels on.

Red hartebeest antelope

And this is a Grewia species of flower - thanks John Manning from SANBI

The Karoo is a surprisingly colourful place, if you look carefully...this is a type of hibiscus flower with pollinating beetle - thanks John Manning from SANBI.

No doubt about it, we're in the Karoo!

Valley of Desolation

"The Plains of Camdeboo" is the name of a famous book by Eve Palmer...whose family still live on the farm Cranemere near Graaff-Reinet. I would think that these views were the source of much inspiration for authors.

The dolerite pinnacles of the Valley of Desolation

Hello Mr Springbok...these antelope aren't found in vast herds anymore - but they still occur in protected areas and some farms.

Young male springbok sparring...

For more, go to and Thanks again to my partners – FordGoodyearEvosatVodacom, Frontrunner, K-Way, EeziAwnNational LunaSafari Centre Cape Town and Hetzner. With the support of CapeNatureSouth African National Parks,Ezemvelo KZN WildlifeEastern Cape Parks and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.


  • thank you for sharing these beautiful photos with us. I live in Graaff Reinet and are very proud of the beautiful nature an dear old Graaff Reinet.

  • Thanks a million for these excellent photos!

    There is no beter world / country to stay in, eg South Africa. All over the country one will be surpprised the numerous images that could be be seen around the clock of day as well as the seasons of the year!! Shall conserve this treasury for our children and their’s??

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