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*All distances listed are as the crow flies, and not actual travel distances.
On the outskirts of the town of Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape and within the Camdeboo National Park lies the Valley of Desolation. Here, visitors stand in awe at the sheer cliffs and giant stone pillars that appear to have risen up from the desert floor. The valley is situated in the Karoo, a semi-desert region that covers a large section of South Africa’s inland total land mass.
As its name implies, first impressions of the valley is that of a desolate area and totally free of life, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Look a little closer and you will find an amazing array of fauna and flora. The best way to experience the reserve’s wildlife is to attempt the Crag Lizard hiking trail that begins at the car park and is a mere 45 minute walk. Mammals include the Cape buffalo, mountain zebra and black wildebeest, a rare species susceptible to disease but thriving in the valley. The valley is a well-known birder’s hotspot too, with over 200 species officially logged. Succulents flourish in the blazing day temperatures and sandy soils, and thousands of varieties have been recorded in the Karoo.
The Valley of Desolation perfectly displays the erosive power of nature, particularly in the pillars, where softer sandstone has eroded to leave only the solid dolomite rock behind. It was declared a national monument of geological and scenic significance almost 80 years ago and is sometimes called the cathedral of the mountains for the unusual formations that overlook the valley floor.
Park authorities have laid out a number of scenic picnic spots and the viewing points extend all the way to the valley floor, leaving visitors totally breathless.