Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 10: Gariep Dam

Our final stop on this epic adventure took us to De Stijl Hotel, high up in the mountains overlooking Gariep Dam, the water levels of which were heartbreakingly low. Being on the cusp of the Free State and the Northern Cape, this trip allowed us to tick off two more provinces on our crusade to visit all nine before the year is out.

The hotel is lovely – if somewhat out of place. You find yourself looking around for the water park that ought to be adjoined, but no, it’s just a hotel. As it was the last stop, we splashed out on the honeymoon suite, which had some very… interesting décor choices. And no bathroom door. Yes, we may be married now. Yes, we may have moulded our lives together. But YES, I would still like bathroom privacy.

The most wonderful calling card of staying in this particular part of the country can be found some 90km away, just outside the small town of Philippolis: Tiger Canyons; a tiger sanctuary operated by renowned South African conservationist and filmmaker, John Varty, who is on a personal mission to create a wild tiger population outside Asia. It is a remarkable undertaking, and even more remarkable, is that it’s working. During a three-hour game drive with Varty himself, we were lucky enough to see three of the sanctuary’s fourteen tigers, including Ti-Bo, the last remaining white tiger living in the wild.

Make no mistake, this is not a zoo with big cages. These tigers are 100% wild. They hunt, they claim territories and they fight, often resulting in death. If anyone is any doubt about their wildness just read about Varty’s too close encounter with male cub Corbett in March 2012, an attack that almost cost him his life. As well as the tiger viewing we were also given a chance to interact with two cheetahs that JV has hand-raised. I was very skeptical and anxious to get out of the truck, but was comforted by the fact that they had just eaten. What a special and rare opportunity to view these beautiful cats in their natural habitat.

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This experience must be added to any wildlife lover’s bucket list. It was an experience beyond compare. And my advice would be to go as soon as possible! This place is just a few investment opportunities away from being turned into a five-star resort that would alienate locals like us. I am so grateful we got to experience it in these early stages. My second piece of advice would be – make sure you’re in a 4 x 4, that your spare tyre is in good shape and that you drive slowly. The roads were beyond shocking and we ended up with a puncture.

After the awesomeness of Tiger Canyons there was nothing much else to do except dunch about the hotel, catching up on some reading by the swimming pool and taking in the last few moments of this heavenly adventure before normal life would resume.

Distance Travelled: 479.8km

Defining Soundtrack: “Big Machine” the Goo Goo Dolls

Items Purchased: A 1GB WiFi voucher so I could watch the Seahawks game.

Next Stop: Home

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