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.

Dolerite Pillars in the Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo National Park
Dolerite Pillars in the Valley of Desolation, Camdeboo National Park

Location

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.

Tips

  • 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.

Itinerary

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 round 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.

View over Graaff Reinet from Camdeboo National Park
View over Graaff Reinet from Camdeboo National Park

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.

View of the Great Karoo from Camdeboo National Park
The Great Karoo
View of the Great Karoo from Camdeboo National Park
Another view of the Great Karoo

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.

Koppies in Camdeboo National Park
Desolation Valley in Camdeboo National Park, with Victoria Stevens

Short Hike

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.

Koppies in Camdeboo National Park
Endless views in Camdeboo

Accommodation

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.

Graaff Reinet

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 Accommodation

SANParks runs all the accommodation within the park. There is a small, lakeside tented camp, and a campsite with 15 spots. The campsite has a communal kitchen with hobs and microwave, and every camping spot has power.

Graaff Reinet

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.

Drostdy Hotel in Graaff Reinet
Drinks at the Drostdy Hotel

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.

Driving Back to Cape Town

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.

male nyala at Buffelsdrift game lodge

For lunch we went to Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, eating on the lodge veranda. It was quite strange to sit in the desert, overlooking hippos. We almost got carried away thinking we would stay there the night and go on a few game drives… but actually we had to get back to Cape Town.

A few hours after lunch we realized we’d both left our jumpers at lunch. Almost a disaster, but when we phoned they were very helpful and organized them to be couriered to Cape Town at a very reasonable price. After all the beautiful weather, it started raining more and more as we got closer to Cape Town, and it was bucketing down and dark when we arrived.

This was the final leg of our 12 day trip to the Drakensberg from Cape Town. We were glad to get home inside, though sad that our super amazing trip was over.

Read more about the rest of our Drakensberg trip coming soon! Our article on Golden Gate Highlands National Park is already online.

Road, driving back to Cape Town through the Karoo
Driving back to Cape Town through the Karoo

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