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There are some places on earth that pull a cord so deep that memories remain with you forever. Waking up above an undulating sea of the softest white cloud at Sky Lodge at Magic Hills took me right back to my childhood when, for the first few years of my life, I spent many a morning in my pj’s watching mesmerized as the clouds burnt off in the warmth of the rising sun as it spread over the Rift Valley way, way below. Up at Sky Lodge, it was a crisp, unusually moist morning after the wildest electric storm the night before. Breathing in the purest Karoo air, redolent with the herby earthy smell of rain on dry ground, left me with a powerful and ancient sense of belonging, a serene inner peace. Little did I know that my time here would be one of the last trips before lockdown, but I can’t think of a better place to retreat to after this is over.

This pristine 18 000 hectare expanse of Great Karoo in the Magic Hills private game reserve near Jansenville, with it’s diverse thicket and Nama Karoo biomes with over 7 700 succulent species, is waiting patiently for us all to return. So too are the rock paintings Byron Hartung took us to in a completely untouched cycad-strewn gorge that were discovered so recently by him that they have not yet been named! Equally, the holistic spa treatments with Rudy Hartung – a Reiki Master with a leaning towards natural crystal healing and a natural gift of perception – will be sorely needed to recharge our spirits and souls. 

After a day spent exploring and assisting with fence-cutting with Conservation Manager Declan Hofmeyr, who is pioneering the start of a well-managed opening up of the whole reserve to allow its Big Five to roam further, we returned to watch the sun dip on yet another spectacularly beautiful day of endless views. Byron treated us to his Juniper Journey, one of the most enlightening gin tastings I’ve done – even though we were momentarily distracted by the most spectacular stormy sunset coupled with a rainbow showing just as the sun dipped under broody storm clouds. Adding black pepper to my gin was a revelation.

Dinner here is an absolute treat with crackling fires roaring in double fireplaces, which will no doubt roar all winter in the double-volume dining area. Pieter van Dyk, lodge manager, and Executive Chef John Carelse (both ex-Bushmanskloof) spoil guests with perfectly balanced taste sensations to complement a well-chosen wine list featuring some of the country’s best wines. The views from the dining table across the Karoo’s endless mountain ranges evolve quickly from magnificent layered blues to deep violet before dinner begins and often end with glorious moonscapes and star-strewn skies – although we were treated to a spectacular show of lightening one night. Declan describes plans for the new observatory being completed on the site of the old reservoir perched on the edge of the hill that overlooks Addo’s Darlington Dam (it’s just under 15kms from Addo as the crow flies and 40kms from Samara), as well as exciting ideas for converting the old Smuts House ruin into a private dining option.

The morning we are set to leave, a blanket of mist whirled around the game vehicle as we travelled the hilly route to the airstrip but suddenly emerge above the cloud and catch a glimpse of the lodge perched on the opposite peak. But as if on cue, the heat of the morning sunshine intensified, giving us a last viewing of giraffe, buffalo and waterbuck as blue skies emerged and our runway revealed itself. Flying out directly over the Zuurberg and Addo with views of the meandering Sundays River and Baviaanskloof from the air is nothing short of spectacular and the perfect way to end a trip to this little known heart of the ancient Karoo.

What we love!

  • The location of Magic Hills: this mountain-top eyrie is without doubt one of the most spectacular in the Great Karoo, giving a unique perspective on the area. 
  • The fact that it’s exclusive-use: book it for milestone birthdays, weddings, family gatherings or a sophisticated get-together with friends.
  • The Sky Spa offering: having an in-house therapist and Reiki Master plus a heated spa pool sets it apart from other Karoo safari options.
  • Excellent food and a superb wine list, but we loved their Juniper Journey gin tasting and once the Observatory has opened, specialist tastings will be combined with an evening of stargazing.
  • The fact that the reserve has it’s own airstrip and it’s a beautifully scenic flight over the Addo/Zuurberg area with far-reaching views of the mountain ranges of the Baviaanskloof and beyond. We flew direct to Port Elizabeth with Airlink. The flight is such a quick hop from Cape Town that you’re barely in the air before you start descending, making it easy to get to the reserve with plenty time for the sundowner game drive! You can connect via private charter (Cessna) to the reserve airstrip or self-drive (3 hours).

Need to know…

  • 1 500 hectares is set aside for bush walks but cheetah tracking is also possible.
  • A reassuring and comprehensive conservation plan is afoot here: it includes removing further farming fences at Magic Hills Private Collection 
  • An interpretive rock art experience is being developed with master trackers of the Nyae Nyae community. 
  • Special Cubs and Pups programmes are available for young children – a real bonus as this is a malaria-free reserve. Children can enjoy cooking with trainee chefs and educational drives in non-big game areas.
  • The self-drive route is a breeze. Do stop at least once at a farmstall. Look out for its hand-knitted mohair socks and beanies at The Ark, on the left as you enter Jansenville. You’re in the heart of mohair country here and you’ll need these in winter!

Reviewed by Michelle Snaddon



Sleeps 18 in 7 luxury suites and one two-bedroomed Sky Suite.

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