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Up close and personal with meerkats

Somewhere deep in the heart of South Africa’s rolling Free State province is a quiet forgotten backroad which offers something completely off the beaten track and helps to prove why Africa is such an amazing continent, with its mind-boggling range of unique destinations – Moolmanshoek.

Moolmanshoek is located in a tranquil, lush valley fed by the Witteberg in the Ficksburg district of the Free State and represents a huge slice of South African history come to life. It’s a working farm breeding boerperd (“farm horses” in the Afrikaans vernacular) on 3000 hectares of rolling, verdant moors and open veld.

The farm is steeped in a long and distinguished ancestry which harks back two hundred years to a time when the land dictated life’s pace and when things were altogether less complicated.

Moolmanshoek is also a pristine nature reserve and natural heritage site. The impressive Visierskerf, which, at 2407m is the third highest mountain range in the country, dominates the skyline and pastures dotted with springbok, black wildebeest, blesbuck, zebra, ostrich and a variety of other game species historically indigenous to the area. The flora here is also indigenous, including the rare African bamboo which grows in abundance on the farm.

As impressive as all of this is, what makes Moolmanshoek really special are small, extremely cute creatures which millions of people around the world have fallen in love with – Meerkats.

The meerkats of Moolmanshoek

Thanks to television shows like “Meerkat Manor”, this lovable little suricate is now a huge tourism drawcard. Guests at Moolmanshoek have the option of taking part in a tourism-based research programme called “Walk with Meerkats” which aims to bring people into close contact with nature.

The programme includes conservation, tourism, filming and research with a group of wild meerkats which has been habituated to human presence. The Meerkats accept people in their lives as just another part of their landscape, the result being that when seeking a high point from which to perform sentinel duty, they often choose the head of a seated person as the perfect spot.

Meerkat adventures notwithstanding, there’s a whole lot more to do at Moolmanshoek, with game drives, hiking trails, fishing, abseiling and horse riding to name but a few.

The landscape at Moolmanshoek is breathtaking

But the meerkats definitely steal the show. There is nothing like being able to sit, just a few centimetres from these amazing little animals, observing their incredible social system, their interaction with their surroundings and especially their offspring.

Children, especially, are captivated by the meerkats. And adults turn into children in their levels of excitement and awe at being able to interact with the often playful critters.

There is a wonderful atmosphere in the beautiful sandstone farmhouse at Moolmanshoek. It offers 15 four-star en-suite rooms and is perfect for unwinding, with brass bedsteads, antique furniture and an old world farm-style hospitality which just can’t be beaten.

The place is an absolute haven from the pressures of every-day life in the urban fast lane and a sure-fire cure for city-slicker stress. This is how life should be lived, waking with the sun, taking a long walk in the vibrant fresh air, being thrilled by the crispness of winter mornings and wondering at the chances of snow when the barometer plumets.

The game drives, like the rest of life here in this forgotten corner of the country, are leisurely affairs designed to encourage a full appreciation of the incredible scenery and the flora and fauna which calls this place home. Nothing is rushed, everything takes place in its natural way, and the days seem to run into one another effortlessly, capped by some of the best quality sleep possible brought on, no doubt, by the purity of the air.

It’s impossible not to relax here, and for that reason alone, Moolmanshoek is one of South Africa’s true hidden treasures.

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