Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

near Montagu, Hermanus & Overberg, South Africa Book from

Reviewed by Christina Franco
Luxurious spa and family lodges in the Klein Karoo between Cape Town and the Garden Route - a wildlife reserve with some surprising discoveries
Most visitors to the Western Cape drive straight through the Karoo; this vast expanse of desert-like wilderness may appear, at a glance, to have little worth stopping for. But if you do stop and absorb the wide changing skies, the carpets of spring flowers, the bizarre rocks, the turquoise river-pools and the fascinating wildlife, it works its slow magic on you.

It certainly worked its magic on the South African entrepreneur who built Sanbona in 2001. Now owned by the Caleo Foundation, this 5-star lodge sits in 54,000 hectares of wildlife reserve. The area is surprisingly rich in flora and fauna: no fewer than 6,500 species of plant and 160 species of birds, live alongside the many wild animals such as native springboks, zebra and hyena, and the reintroduced 'big 5' (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion, cheetah). But it is not only about game here. Rangers also show you bizarre rock formations, intricate fossils and 3,500-year-old rock art left by the San people, who lived in these hills until 100 years ago. And the sunsets are stupendous.

Highs

  • Easy to reach yet you get a rare sense of quiet
  • Incredible concentration of birds and plants, with expert rangers to bring it alive for you
  • The opportunity to experience the landscape up close at the (seasonal) Explorer Camp
  • Huge plush suites and those in the Dwyka Lodge have private pools
  • Fabulous, authentic food
  • Lots to do besides game watching: massage and spa treatments, rock paintings, geology and special activities for kids

Lows

  • A huge reserve with few big mammals - don’t expect herds or frequent sightings
  • The dry and open scenery can be hot in summer (but there's air-conditioning and a pool at the lodge), and cold in winter
  • It's not cheap

Best time to go

Sanbona is open all year round, excluding the Explorer Camp which opens for the summer only (October-April).

The Karoo is an arid land with an average annual rainfall of just 120mm; it benefits from good sun all year round. In January and February temperatures can soar to 35-40C, so October-December (spring flowers) and March-April are preferable. Low season rates are available from May-September, but it can get very cold during these months (it has been known to snow in June-July).

Our top tips

This is a very large reserve, and big game sightings are rarer than they might be at some other safari lodges. With this in mind, Sanbona is better for real wildlife and nature enthusiasts who will appreciate the plant and birdlife as much as they would the sight of larger mammals.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Safari Lodges
  • 27
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome - Gondwana Lodge only
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

Sanbona offers 3 luxurious lodges and a wilderness experience. Gondwana is set up for families though all have double and twin rooms.

Tilney Manor is a restored 1898 Cape Georgian homestead with 6 suites, a communal lounge and a dining room. Surrounded by gardens, there’s also a lovely porch with views over the Karoo, a shady inner courtyard with a bar, a relaxation retreat with 2 therapy rooms, steam room and sauna, plus deck with rim-flow pool and great views. All suites face out to the Karoo wilderness. There’s air-conditioning for summer and a gas fire for winter. They are spacious and warmly decorated in creams, beiges and yellows. In addition to the opulent bedroom, there's an open-plan bathroom with a freestanding bathtub (and sliding doors for privacy), and a private veranda with deck chairs. A shower room and a loo are hidden behind closed doors, while sliding glass doors lead out to a private garden with a double slate shower.

Dwyka Tented Lodge, dramatically situated at the foot of a sheer cliff face and sheltered from the wind, was renovated in 2014. With private decks and individual hot tubs these 9 spacious tents are the bees’ knees. You get both indoor and outdoor showers, shared facilities include a game lodge with dining area and bar/lounge (cosy with fires), a spa lodge, a wine cellar and an open-air boma.

Gondwana Lodge has been designed with families in mind and offers ‘Kids on Safari’ programme. Views from the lodge sweep over the plains of Bellair Dam to the Anysberg Mountains. The 12 rooms have indoor showers, private balconies/patios, underfloor heating and all mod cons; family rooms interconnect. There's also a bar/lounge and a dining area with wood fires, a small relaxation retreat, a swimming pool with a shallow area for kids, steam room and sauna, a children’s playroom, and an open-air boma. The entire area is protected by a perimeter electric fence.

The Explorer Camp 2-night trail package offers a more authentic bush experience. The unfenced minimalist camp has 3 rustic tents and sits in a shaded spot in the northeast of the reserve. Trails run from Friday to Sunday and walks last up to 4 hours. The focus is on experiencing the wilderness so don't expect 5-star luxury; each tent has a bio-box loo, there is a shared open-air shower (a private on-site bucket shower system can be requested) and meals are eaten alfresco. Explorer’s Camp is only for those between 16 and 60 years of age, from October to April.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace

Eating

Tea or coffee is served in the lounge first thing to help you wake up for your early morning game drive. A full breakfast follows, including fresh fruits, cereals, and eggs and bacon cooked to order. Lunch is a leisurely buffet of cooked and cold meats, salads, cheeses and, for dessert; cakes, tarts or fruit. Dinner at each lodge is a mouthwatering preparation of local produce - "traditional Karoo with a wild twist" to quote a guest. Menus include the famous Karoo lamb and a chance to try various game meats. If staying for more than 1 night, one dinner will always be an outdoor braai (BBQ) - weather dependent of course!

In Tilney Manor breakfast is usually served on the porch, sitting in the shade of an old blue-gum tree overlooking the Karoo and watching the landscape swim into colourful relief. At lunchtime you adjourn to the shady inner courtyard, which also has a full bar. At dinner, the best option is to have your meal brought to your veranda; or there is a cosy dining room seating up to 12.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The morning game drive lasts about 3 hours, with covered jeeps and friendly, fabulously well-trained rangers to make it as rewarding as possible. It is not just about large mammals, though you are sure to spot a few zebra and antelopes or bucks of some sort. But the real beauty of this place is in the rocks, the fossils and the incredible concentration of birds and plants, all expertly picked out and explained by the rangers. Seeing the landscape and wildlife unfold as the sun rises is a great way to start the day - though you are allowed to go after breakfast if you prefer!

  • Another game drive follows in the early evening - this time you may see raptors coasting the thermals and blood-red sunsets covering the entire sky

  • In the middle of the day, you can lounge by the pool, read on your veranda, or indulge in an exotic beauty treatment or massage, stopping for a leisurely buffet lunch and perhaps a short snooze

  • Before you go to bed, take a look at the night sky - it's astonishing! Among the milky spread you can make out the Southern Cross, Orion's Belt and various planets, plus lots more through binoculars

  • Instead of, or as well as, a game drive you can take a guided walk to some of the 50+ cave paintings hidden in the rocky hills

  • Guests staying at the Explorer Camp get guided walks and treks, with communal meals in between

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Well being
  • Wildlife

Kids

Gondwana Lodge welcomes children under 12; cots and sleeper couches are available (max. 1 child and 1 baby in the parents' room), and there's a special safari programme for kids. Explorer Camp can only accommodate guests between the ages of 16 and 60.

Children 4 and over may join the game drives, we suggest these may not be suitable for younger ones less interested in wildlife. Under 16s are not permitted to join the walking safaris.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Gondwana Lodge has family rooms and interconnecting rooms

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement

Kids Activities on site:

  • Kids on Safari programme - which includes an interpretive trail through the garden to learn about animal tracks & important plants among other things, a skull garden, an activity book which involves children collecting various items (with the assistance from the ranger) from the reserve, thus teaching about the environment
  • Gondwana's swimming pool has a shallow area for kids
  • Playroom and outdoor play area in Gondwana
  • Game drives for those 4 and over
  • Puzzles, board games
  • Children's DVDs

Families Should Know:

Gondwana Lodge is protected by a perimeter electric fence. Children (and parents!) will need good and constant sun protection, though thankfully malaria is not present here

Distances:

  • Airport: 3 hours (Cape Town)
  • Hospital: 30 minutes (Montagu)
  • Shops: 30 minutes (Montagu)
Kid Friendly:

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