Camdeboo National Park is a small but sweet South African National Park, surrounding the historic town of Graaff-Reinet. The Valley of Desolation, a beautiful rock formation, is the main attraction. There’s accommodation within the park, but we chose to stay in Graaff Reinet itself.
Camdeboo National Park surrounds Graaff-Reinet. You need a car to get here. It’s about 7 hours from Cape Town, 4½ hours from Bloemfontein, and 3-4 hours from the Garden Route. It’s only 2 hours from Karoo National Park, so it could be a good combination. We visited Camdeboo National Park on the way back on our trip to the Drakensberg from Cape Town.
- Summers can be very warm, winters very cold. We visited in June, and the weather was perfect, neither too hot nor cold. Be prepared for rain and thunderstorms in the summer months.
- Park hours vary throughout the year. From 6am-8:30pm in the summer, to 7am-5:30pm in winter. Check the hours here.
- There are no shops, ATMs, fuel stations in the park itself, but these can be found very close by in Graaff Reinet.
- Karoo, Mountain Zebra, and Garden Route National Parks are all not so far away, so perfect for combining into a longer trip.
Our visit to Camdeboo National Park and Graaff Reinet was a stop on the way back to Cape Town from the Drakensberg. We arrived shortly after lunchtime. We drove straight through Graaff Reinet and headed first to the Valley of Desolation in Camdeboo National Park. There was no game in sight, but the valley itself was impressive. At the top we hiked a short trail along the valley edge, admiring the views over the Great Karoo.
We then headed to our accommodation in Graaff Reinet. After looking around the historic buildings of the town, we had a drink in the picturesque Drotsdy Hotel before having a delicious dinner at Polka restaurant.
We didn’t have time to visit the rest of Cambedoo National Park or to see the many museums in Graaff Reinet. Something for next time!
Valley of Desolation
The Valley of Desolation is one of the main attractions in Camdeboo National Park. There’s a tarred road right up to the top of this section of the park, with viewpoints along the way. From one of the viewpoints near the top, you can see Graaff Reinet nestled in the valley far below.
The Valley of Desolation itself is a valley surrounded by columns of golden dolerite. The best times to visit are early morning or late afternoon, as the sun hits the dolerite rock columns, making them glow. The views over the Great Karoo are fabulous.
Geology of Camdeboo National Park
The Valley of Desolation is a spectacular geological formation. It is made of pillars of dolerite. Dolerite is a volcanic rock, similar in composition to basalt, but with a larger grain size. It contains larger mineral grains because it cooled slower. Basalt cools much faster, so the minerals don’t have time to grow in size.
The dolerite formed about 180 million years ago, and since then erosion has removed the surrounding rock. Dolerite is a hard rock, so does not get removed by erosion as easily as the softer rocks that surrounded it.
The Crag Lizard hike starts from the top parking area. It’s a 1.5 km trail that follows along the edge of the Valley of Desolation. It took us around 30 minutes. It’s marked by little lizard symbols on the road, and gives you amazing views over the valley and Great Karoo plains beyond. Signs along the route tell you about the local trees and bushes.
4×4 Drives in the Park
There are two 4×4 drives in the park. Neither requires a fee apart from the Park conservation fee. They don’t need to be booked in advance, but for the Driekoppe Drive you need to visit Park reception to get a key for the gates.
Koedoeskloof Drive requires a 4×4. This route is grade 3-4 and should only be undertaken in a proper 4×4 by an experienced driver. Located in the Valley of Desolation section of the park, this route leads up to the edge of a plateau with fantastic views over the surrounding plains. There is also a picnic table at the far end. The route takes at least three hours.
Driekoppe Drive requires a 2×4 with high clearance or a 4×4. This route is grade 2. Head to reception for the gate keys. This drive explores the eastern section of the park. After entering through the Kroonvale / Driekoppe Gate (Upper) the route leads up to a stunning viewpoint at the top of Hanglip. Expect to see abundant game on the drive. Those with a 2×4 must return the same way. With a proper 4×4 you can descend via the 4×4 only Dieploof Pass, which has fantastic views, and leave via the Lootsfontein (southern) Gate.
We stayed in Graaff Reinet town rather than Cambedoo National Park itself. This was because we didn’t have that much time, and the park camping is in a separate section of the park to the Valley of Desolation, which we knew we would visit. We wanted to see the nice town, and explore the culinary offerings.
This nearby town has a large variety of accommodation options*. We stayed in Brighton Keep*. This is a small BnB, with separate guest rooms and a shared lounge and eating area. It’s in a beautiful historic house, and very nicely furnished. A delicious breakfast is provided. There’s WiFi, safe parking, and a garden area. The owners are very knowledgeable about the surrounding area and keen to give you great suggestions.
SANParks runs all the accommodation within the park. There is a small, lakeside tented camp, and a campsite with 15 spots, all with power. The campsite and tented camp have a communal kitchen with hobs and a microwave.
View the Wildlife
The area around Nqweba Dam (which has dried up almost entirely, 2019) contains a lot of plains game, along with smaller carnivores such as bat-eared foxes and jackals. There are several viewpoints, a waterhole and a bird hide. The eastern side of the park, which can be enjoyed on a 4×4 (high clearance 2×4), also contains many antelope and mountain zebra which can be seen against a backdrop of spectacular scenery.
Graaff Reinet – a historic town surrounding Camdeboo National Park
Graaff Reinet is a lovely town to stroll around. We stayed at Brighton Keep*, close to the centre of town. It was very nice, and the owners were friendly, with plenty of suggestions. We had a walk around the town, taking in the church and the old buildings, before having drinks at the fancy Drostdy Hotel*. This hotel is in a historic Cape Dutch building and has grand old-fashioned interiors. There is a nice place to sit outside with a drink watching the sunset.
We had dinner at Polka restaurant, a few hundred metres from our accommodation. This was very nice, and we were going to come back the next morning to their bakery to get supplies for lunch, but we forgot.
Museums in Graaff-Reinet
There are several museums and galleries in Graaf-Reinet, all located in lovely historic buildings.
The Reinet House Museum occupies an old parsonage, now a museum containing furniture and historic stories. At the head of a street full of picturesque houses.
The Hester Rupert Art Museum displays sculptures and paintings in a wonderfully restored old church building. Open weekdays and Saturday mornings.
The Urquhart House Museum is in a historic house displaying period furniture and antiques. Open weekdays, mornings on weekends, closed on public holidays.
Driving Back to Cape Town from Camdeboo National Park
The next day we drove back via the Klein Karoo (through Willowmore and then Oudtshoorn), rather than the N1. This took 1 hour longer, and was at the suggestion of our hosts the previous night. It’s a beautiful drive, with fantastic scenery. If you have a few extra days, you could definitely explore more of this area.
Camdeboo National Park surrounds the historic town of Graaff-Reinet in Eastern Cape province.
Animals found in Camdeboo National Park include mostly plains game. Many different types of antelope, including blesbok and black wildebeest, roam the hills and plains of Camdeboo, along with mountain zebra in the more mountainous regions. Cape buffalo are less often seen (and maybe do not exist in the park anymore). Smaller carnivores such as bat-eared foxes and meerkats can be seen if you’re lucky. Vervet monkeys are common at the rest camp.
Camdeboo (Qamdobowa in Xhosa) is an altered form of the Khoi word meaning ‘green hollow’.