Excuse me,” said the gentleman wearing a yellow shirt, as he peered over the fence from the cottage next to mine, “is this the right way to the mountain walk?”
I visualised the road as I’d arrived at the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg a few hours earlier: “I think there was a sign about 80 metres further on.” “Thank you,” he responded and headed off. That was the last I thought about him and carried on with whatever it was I was doing.
Thunder rumbled ever closer and leaves began to rustle as is their wont just prior to afternoon rain, such as those experienced in Gauteng. I switched off my laptop and headed for the bar, arriving as the storm broke. One thing about the Cederberg mountains is that the prevailing Table Mountain sandstone is particularly iron-rich and we all know that iron and electricity just love one another.
It was rather fun watching lightning striking the ridge across the river while sharing a bottle of Stellekaya cabernet sauvignon with a magazine editor who was there with her husband. “I hope Ian didn’t get caught in the rain,” she said, adding he’d gone for a walk while she worked in the library (where the WiFi was strongest before it got fritzed by a frighteningly close strike). “Was he,” I asked, “wearing a yellow top?”
There is very little cellphone reception in the Cederberg and, by this stage, the lightning had also knocked out the lines connecting the bar with rooms and cottages. Les wasn’t going to walk through the downpour to her room to see if hubby was home safe, so we carried on and hoped for the best. It was a rattled Ian who joined us later with a hefty single-malt in hand. He’d had to shelter in a cave for a couple of hours while lightning hit the ground all around and water cascaded off the cliffs.
“Were there any bushman paintings?” I asked; a legitimate question, I thought, since Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat (www.bushmanskloof.co.za) boasts about 140 rock art sites, making it one of the most important San cultural conservation areas in the Western Cape.
The 710 square kilometre Cederberg mountain range, best known for its fynbos splendour and fantastic shapes wrought from eroded sandstone, forms part of the Cape Floral Region and was proclaimed a United Nations World Heritage Site in 2004. Getting to Bushmans Kloof entails a pleasant three-and-a-bit hour drive up the N7 from Cape Town through the Swartland to Clanwilliam before turning east on the R364 towards Calvinia.
I like to break my journey about midway at one of the charming farm stalls-cum-tearooms at the top of Piekenierskloof Pass, just outside Citrusdal. The gate to the reserve is a smidgen over 30km beyond Clan- William and to get there you climb the much-underrated Pakhuis Pass, home to the grave of poet C Louis Leipoldt and innumerable grotesquely eroded sandstone rock formations. The 25km pass was built by road engineer Thomas Bain, as was Piekenierskloof. The 7 500 hectares that comprise the reserve were originally farmland (mainly sheep, citrus and rooibos tea) prior to its purchase in 1996 by the McAdam family who turned it into a commercial hospitality operation, says general manager Rory du Plessis.
The property was initially larger but a section north of the R364 was subsequently sold. Bushmans Kloof was bought by the Tollman family’s London- based Red Carnation Hotel Group in 2003 and was refurbished be- fore reopening a year later, quickly becoming the byword for five-star luxury and pampering in the “wilds” of the Western Cape. South African-born Bea Tollman, founder and president of Red Carnation, is involved in the running of Bushmans Kloof “on a daily basis”, says Du Plessis.
“She’s incredibly hands-on even though there are about 20 different properties around the world in the portfolio. Bushmans Kloof definitely one of the flagships of the group and her influence is felt throughout whatever we do here … right down to what is on the menu.”
From what I’ve seen on my travels, Bushmans Kloof seems to have served as a model for many lodges of its ilk. I think that’s why I experienced a sense of déjà vu when I stepped inside my cottage, which bore the name Cedar Falls. Designated as one of seven “deluxe” rooms, the combined bed- room-lounge area was both large (around 40m2) and plush. Décor was the traditional blend of Afro-ethnic and hi-tech (flat-screen television with DStv box, WiFi, bar fridge, dimmable lighting etc).
What set it apart from similar establishments in, for instance, Mpumalanga or Limpopo is that the lodge setting is not an extension of the prevailing landscape but rather carefully cultivated gardens designed for tranquillity within a Cederberg context. Indeed, entering the main lodge area was like discovering a lush oasis within a vast fynbos plain.
Probably the most captivating thing about this place is its serenity. Most people who come here do so for peace and relaxation,” maintains Du Plessis. There is a clear wildlife conservation aspect. “We stock several endangered and protected species, such as Cape mountain zebra, Cape leopard and black wildebeest.” Other species include eland, red hartebeest and springbok.
“We’re engaged in a project with the Cheetah Outreach, an animal protection group, whereby we pro-vide Anatolian sheepdogs to guard sheep flocks on surrounding farms against leopard predation. The project has been an enormous success: we started with five dogs and we’re up to 15. “Apart from the leopards, which are, in any case, solitary and extremely shy, there is no other so-called dangerous species.
“Our outdoor activities, such hiking, cycling and canoeing, are things people can do without being guided and are major attractions.” It goes without saying that there is a top-notch spa. One of the things I like most about exclusive reserves such as Bushmans Kloof is that you are not surrounded by the chattering masses on game drives, impatient to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) during a three-hour excursion.
I was joined by Rob and Mary, a retired couple from Cambridge in England, who had visited the reserve before and established a good rapport with senior guide Londi Nzima. Apart from being the area’s rock-art specialist, Nzima has worked on the property for more than a decade and possesses a wealth of veld knowledge.
It was from him we learned that the broom-like Aspalathus linearis undergoes oxidation and changes colour from green to red when it is ready for cultivation as rooibos. You live and learn … even when you’re chillin’.