It was sundowner time at Sky Lodge and we were on its deck enjoying a gin tasting. The koppies to the north were painted in gold. Moody clouds, some dragging veils of rain, decorated the horizon. Lightning fingers lit the underbellies of thunderheads to the east. Each compass point seemed to offer a different weather system. It was utterly mesmerizing.
Our small group of journalists were among the first guests at Sky Lodge, part of an ambitious new Karoo game park. The seed for this project was planted in 1993 when Slovakian entrepreneur Erik Kovacs was visiting the Jansenville district. The austere beauty of the Noorsveld and the Oudeburg mountains captured his heart.
Seventeen years later he bought the 2200-hectare farm Vlaknek, anchor point for what would grow into the Magic Hills Private Collection. It’s now a large, Big Five reserve, comprising 17 000 hectares of rehabilitated land encompassing undulating hills, verdant kloofs, sandy riverbeds and open plains. Accommodation is in three completed lodges (Sky, Ilanga Manor House and Elsa’s Farmhouse), with a fourth (iSanti Karoo) under construction.
Our 4×4 drew up at the imposing Sky Lodge: stone, glass and thatch set on one of the highest points between Spioenkop and Ouberg peaks. There was a vast viewing deck, spill pool, a spa, and large interior spaces with contemporary furniture and fireplaces for easy lounging. The guest rooms – seven suites and two apartments, all done in earth colours – were spacious and comfortable with corpulent bathtubs sporting endless views.
Guests are treated to the customary morning and evening game drives and walks. Our guide, Warren Leahy, drove us through beautiful terrain covered in spekboom, jacket plum, wild olive and Karoo acacia, all of it lush after recent rain. ‘We’re blessed with two biomes here – thicket and Nama Karoo – and the game viewing is good,’ explained Warren as we quickly ticked off passing grazers and browsers: eland, kudu, gemsbok, blesbok and a lone, inquisitive buffalo. Our coffee stop in a magnificent gorge offered the chance to view San rock art – black hunting figures tucked under an overhang.
At Sky, the middle of the day is set aside for relaxation and long lazy lunches (the food is very good indeed, with a South African farmstyle theme). Some of us tried the spa bath, others the rim-flow pool; most opted for massages in the stylish health spa. There was even Reiki and meditation on offer.
Before departure, we gathered outside the lodge for a group farewell. For every guest who visits, at least two indigenous trees are planted as part of a thicket-restoration program. Each of our group was given a trowel and a little spekboom with our name on it to plant near the entrance. Then we stood staring at the plains below for a long time, reluctant to leave.
‘The owners have big dreams for Magic Hills,’ said Warren. ‘Taking down more fences, more alien clearing, introducing more animals, adding more land. Maybe one day even linking up with Addo to create an enormous reserve!’
BEST FEATURE The Karoo vistas reach dozens of kilometres in every direction. It’s hard to drag your eyes away from the ever-changing tableau.
Sky Lodge, Magic Hills Private Collection
100 kilometres southeast of Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape