Relais & Chateaux, the global fellowship of fine hospitality, have found a way to derive maximum happiness from a road trip around the Cape in just four stops. I was lucky enough to be invited on their Cape Route du Bonheur. Here is…
Happy Place #3: Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve
(Missed the other two? Get on that now. Go and read about Happy Place #1 and Happy Place #2.)
I’ve spent more than a decade jaunting around Africa for my jobs, but one of the first places I longed to go was not very far away, nor particularly exotic. Bushmans Kloof is just three hours drive from Cape Town, but might as well be on Mars, judging by the time it took me to get there.
Fortunately, Relais & Chateaux had the great good taste to include it on their Cape Route du Bonheur. And so, only about 12 years after deciding it was a place I’d very much like to visit (and realising I couldn’t quite afford to use my own money to do so), I was happily ensconced in the luxurious leather seat of a BMW as we sped towards the Cederberg.
The first thing we saw as we drove through the aloe-fringed gates was a trio of klipspringers. They posed daintily on the bizarre boulders and did improbable hoppy things on their hooves. The air smelt deliciously of buchu and wild jasmine as we pulled up at the lodge, and a pair of startlingly realistic bronze eland cropped the soft green lawn.
The lodge is an oasis of trees and gardens and grass and pools amidst the cracklingly dry orange rocks and brush and dust of the Cederberg. Cool thatched rooms and suites overlook lawns leading down to a stream, none of them further than a few steps from a sparkling swimming pool. Cackling weavers swing from their bulbous nests in tall trees and baboons amble about on the rocky riverbed. And all around and about is the startling peace and serenity of the Cederberg. Yes, this was worth the wait.
After cocktails and canapés in a quiet lantern-lit courtyard, we hopped onto a game drive vehicle to be taken ‘somewhere’ to dinner. Somewhere turned out to be an ancient shepherd’s cottage, glowing with the light of 100 candles (we counted) and a merrily sizzling fire.
A sublime supper was somehow magicked out of the wilderness and a bevy of Bouchard Finlayson’s best wines kept hovering over our cut crystal glasses. By the time I’d tried each of the five desserts and all of the Pinot Noirs (twice), I would have quite happily slept under the table. So it was with some reluctance that I climbed back into the vehicle for the return journey.
But the cool night air blew me awake. The sky glittered like a black velvet-covered table in a Graff diamond shop. Eyes shone green in the headlamps: mountain zebra, spring hares, springbok. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we stopped, climbed out and wandered around while our guide pointed out the Pleiades, Pisces and Pegasus. As always, I marvelled at the way the ancients could discern such complex figures amongst the random tumble of far-off suns.
Next morning brought another opportunity to be astonished at our ancestors. A short drive, followed by a walk along a secret path, took us to a massive rocky overhang and transported us back thousands of years to a time when graffiti was reserved for humanity’s best artists.
At Sonya’s Cave, dozens of very small, finely drawn people and animals pop out of the rock everywhere you look: lines of archers, delicate antelope, rows of tiny elephants below an enormous faded elephant, and a curious zebra-like figure with human hind legs. (Animal-human combinations in rock art are called therianthropes and are relatively common in the Cederberg.)
An utterly decadent breakfast beside a sparkling blue dam was followed by a surprise performance of a riel dance by ‘Die Nuwe Graskoue Trappers‘. Traditional riel dance is the oldest dance form in South Africa, and evolved from the ceremonial dances performed by the Khoi and San.
The dance involves frenetic footwork, comedic courtship, animal antics and a great deal of kicking up dust. It’s like nothing you’ll ever see anywhere else, and made a fitting finale to such a remarkable introduction to the Cederberg.