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Special Karoo stays: De Zeekoe & Swartberg Country Manor

Nicole, our rock star travel consultant, returns to Oudtshoorn as part of her latest trip. This time, De Zeekoe was her first stop in the fascinating Klein Karoo, followed by a gloriously relaxing stay at Swartberg Country Manor…

Last year, I had the most amazing experience at Wildehondekloof, the sister property of De Zeekoe Guest Farm & Reserve and as such, I couldn’t wait for my upcoming stay.

What I love about this idyllic setting is that it offers something for everyone. Whether you’re an adventure seeker or are just looking for a quiet getaway with some peace and relaxation (and maybe even a pampering spa treatment!), this is the spot. Choose between stylish rooms at the main house or luxurious cottages with their own private pool.

The farm, named after the Dutch word for “hippos” (as they used to frequent the farm many years ago), is situated just 7km from Oudtshoorn, allowing for a perfect base from which to explore everything the town has to offer. For example, the famous Cango Caves are a must-see - a 20 million year old cave system consisting of hidden chambers cut deep into the thick limestone of the Swartberg Mountains. The Cango Wildlife Ranch offers you the opportunity to view and interact with many different species of wildlife – touch a cheetah or wrap yourself in a python - and for the very adventurous (me!), the chance to dive with Nile crocodiles.

If you know anything about Oudtshoorn, you will know that there are ostriches everywhere you look and many places to interact with them and buy ostrich souvenirs, but I was in search of a different animal encounter. De Zeekoe offers daily wild habituated meerkat tours which depart at sunrise and last between two to three hours, so this was my opportunity to experience something unique.

Upon arrival at the meerkat burrows, you are treated to a hot cup of coffee and rusks before everyone grabs a chair and gathers around to observe these fascinating little creatures. The air is charged with anticipation before the first meerkat pops his head out of the burrow followed by the “all clear” signal to his family members once he is certain that the surrounding area is free of any danger. They don’t consider their audience as a threat as they know that they are never fed or approached by guides or visitors – they are merely observed from a safe distance. The meerkats stretch and yawn in the sunshine before frolicking around and then heading off in search of food.

A stay at De Zeekoe simply would not be complete without experiencing their meerkat tours but be sure to enquire about their stargazing experience and birdwatching tours too, as well as their amazing tranquility spa that’s on site. There are also hiking trails and fishing spots to explore, mountain bikes to rent and a stunning swimming pool to enjoy, complete with comfy deck chairs perfectly positioned in the shady spots and ice cold water perfect for the hot days.

Special mention must be made of the spectacular sunset I experienced while dining at the onsite restaurant, De Windpomp - it was truly spectacular. Dinners at De Zeekoe are pre-ordered and I had chosen chicken schnitzel which was presented with a delicious array of sides including cheesy broccoli and cauliflower, onion rings, and roast tomato and mushroom skewers.

Upon returning to my room, I arrived back to a beautiful little sweet token complete with resplendent ostrich feathers and a reading. I helped myself to some complimentary sherry before climbing into bed ready to tackle the next day.

On to Swartberg Country Manor…

My next stop was Swartberg Country Manor, nestled at the foot of the majestic Swartberg mountains, and upon arrival I couldn’t help but gaze at the impressive landscape and gorgeous vistas surrounding me.

The panoramic views are just extraordinary and it is impossible not to relax the minute you arrive. What I love most about the location which is set on a working farm, is it is close enough to explore the many wonderful attractions surrounding Oudtshoorn while still being 30 minutes out, ensuring a timeless escape from the hustle and bustle.

It is the perfect starting point to explore the famous Swartberg Pass, one of the steepest passes in South Africa. The rocky terrain is tricky to navigate but can be done without a 4x4 – I’m speaking from personal experience! Take a really slow drive and experience epic views of the Cango Valley – it’s truly breathtaking.

If that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for adventure, you can also hike or mountain bike in the Gamkaskloof (known as “Die Hel/The Hell” to locals), which features many historical points of interest and is home to many beautiful fish eagles.

Accommodation at Swartberg Manor consists of 25 elegantly designed units and you can choose to stay in the manor house, the historical house or in one of the lovely cottages overlooking the mountains. There is ample accommodation on offer and this, coupled with the majestic backdrop of the mountains, makes Swartberg a perfect venue for romantic weddings. In winter, there is a high possibility of snow on the mountains, creating a magical canvas for any photographer.

The Klein Karoo is renowned for an array of things, including its cuisine, and Patat restaurant at Swartberg is right up there with the best restaurants in the area. In the warmer months, al fresco dining on the expansive lawns is recommended and guests can enjoy a delicious picnic spread – tuck into freshly baked bread, homemade pesto and a selection of cheeses and cold meats, or customise your own menu according to your preferences.

I was thrilled that a table had been set for me on the open deck and I enjoyed a sundowner while watching as the Karoo sun painted the mountain in various shades of oranges and reds. My main course of beef fillet with pepper sauce was one of the best I’ve ever had and the dessert that followed – a take on the popular Eaton mess – was such a treat that I scraped the glass clean.

A warm Karoo welcome, gorgeous lodging, outstanding fare and of course, spectacular mountain views, are just a few of the things that make Swartberg Country Manor a must when visiting Oudtshoorn – the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Click here to read about Nicole’s previous stay at Wildehondkloof.

Read about Nicole’s other stops on this trip:

All images by Nicole Whitehorn