Canvas flapping and guide ropes cracking, KAREN WATKINS finds there’s something special about sleeping in a tent. Especially when snuggled in bed with an electric blanket and other home comforts. And it’s even better when there is a curious camel called Freddie at the door.
Thali Thali is a two hour drive from Cape Town along the West Coast highway, inland from Langebaan. Pass through the entrance to enter another world on a road leading to a tall gum tree sheltering the reception and restaurant.
Warmly welcomed, we were offered lunch on the deck. The plain below is dotted with springbok and zebras and their new-born foals and calves. Blue cranes rattle and a staff finds a chameleon in the restaurant.
Amalia and Thys van Niekerk bought the cattle farm a few years ago and started populating it with various antelope and other animals. They also renovated the original farmhouse to become a symphony of wood and comfort. Apart from the luxury tents, there are cottages, a conference centre, restaurant, bar, reception, children’s play area and a splash pool.
Husband Thys is a Springbok archer and offers archery lessons. He bought his first bow in 1998, but forgot about it until 2008 when he joined a few clubs. Amalia was bitten by the bug and now they travel the country shooting in competitions and participating in overseas tournaments. Thys and makes it look easy. It isn’t, believe me, but it’s very moreish. “You have to shoot 500 arrows a day with a standard bow, 300 with the complicated sighted one,” explains Thys.
Thali Thali game drive
Next morning sipping coffee on the tent deck we watched a woodpecker tapping a tent pole. Breakfast was served on the restaurant deck. The food is hearty and caters to all dietary requirements.
We then climbed on board a safari vehicle for a game drive around the 1500 hectare reserve. Guide Jacques Van Niekerk (no relation to the owners) imparted fascinating facts and stories about the animals we saw – kudu, blue wildebeest, oryx, sable, a shy duiker and eland. But no buffalo although Jacques says it’s giraffes that people want to see. Thali has four females and one male – 12-year-old called Brutus (they can live to be 25).
In the afternoon we drove down the road to the West Coast Fossil Park to see their giraffes. I last visited this national heritage site in 2012. What a transformation! Greeted by volunteers Ronel and Stefan Maré we enjoyed a tour of what was previously a phosphate mine quarry.
The new visitor centre was funded by the National Lottery and was officially opened in October 2018. There’s a reception, gift shop and restaurant. There is also a garden created to give an idea of what the West Coast was like millions of years ago. It was tropical forest with ferns, palms and cycads where elephants, hyenas, sabre-toothed cats and Africa’s only bear roamed. A time when the Berg River mouth was further south. The museum protrudes from the building, a magnificent creation. There is a life size model of a sivathere – short necked long horned giraffe – created from alien wood and shipwreck driftwood. In the basement are artworks made from recycled materials.
Bones tell the story of climate change
Below the magnificent building, in the quarry, are tents that protect the original dig site where fossils have been uncovered that were buried five million years ago. Bones found here tell the story of climate change from the wet area it was millions of years ago to the dry area it is today.
First safari experience
Returning to Thali Thali we shared a bottle of Darling bubbly while enjoying a magnificent sunset and debating the merits of Thali Thali’s re-wilding process. What do emu, sable antelope, camels and giraffes have in common? Some are not indigenous to the country and others have never been found in the Western Cape. Thali Thali has them. Thuys has a detailed enviro study of the number of animals that are sustainable with plant growth. For many South Africans this can be their first safari experience and it’s a great way to see animals that are not in cages. Whether you pop in for a meal or spend a few nights there, Thali Thali is not to be missed.