One of the biggest surprises during our year of exploring South Africa was discovering the stark beauty of the Cederberg. And now we have been invited back to this incredible landscape - a place that ranks amongst the best places we have traveled.
It’s an easy, scenic drive from Cape Town up the west coast to Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve in the Cederberg mountains. The tar road gives up and we find ourselves winding slowly along a gravel road past jagged rocky outcrops and wide open vistas, before finally arriving to a royal welcome.
“Hello, I'm James the lodge manager, and this is Cecile the front office manager and Christiaan, your guide.”
Scented facecloths, welcome drinks and an orientation tour of the magnificent lodge complete our introduction to the resort.
There is something I’ve noticed at all the Red Carnation hotels we’ve visited so far - incredible service. You get beautiful hotels all over the world, but few deliver incredible service - a level beyond what you expect. Where the staff exude passion for what they’re doing and pleasure from making your stay exceptional. It’s not just incredible service…its incredible hospitality.
“There are four pools!” I exclaim.
“Yes,” Cecile replies, “and one is heated.”
And that's just the start. Luxurious lounge areas, secret gardens, a cozy pub, an inviting outdoor dining area, walking trails, archery, hiking, cycling…We are already excited by the time we reach our room where we are welcomed by a melding of home comfort with tasteful style. We take a few minutes to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and let the tranquility and beauty of Bushman's Kloof wash over us.
After a swim we get ready for the afternoon activities. These commence with high tea at 4pm, with the emphasis on high. From quiches to tarts to cakes and coffee, all enjoyed under the large outdoor thatched area overlooking soft green grass, alive with birds, stretching out towards an infinity pool that drops off into the stark, rugged terrain of the rocky outcrops beyond.
With tummies content we jump into our Landcruiser.
“Are there many animals around here?” I ask as Christiaan deftly navigates his way along the winding roads. Before long the answer is abundantly clear, as we see eland, springbok, bontebok, ostrich, zebra, black wildebeest, red hartebeest, and oryx. This harsh, rugged terrain is teeming with wildlife.
“Eland are the biggest antelope,” Christiaan says as we stop and watch a herd grazing alongside some springbok. “And springbok are the fastest.”
“Look at that one,” he says pointing at a lone bontebok. “ It's a unicorn!”
With only one horn it looks amazingly like a unicorn from some fantasy place. I’m beginning the believe we may be in a fantasy place.
After toasting the sunset in regal style overlooking the beautiful Biedouw valley below, and watching the sun paint the sky and rocks with splashes of red and orange, we head back to the lodge. If we thought the nature drive was amazing, what’s planned for tonight is going to be incredible.
As a dark veil is silently drawn across the sky revealing a sparkling treasure trove of stars, we head out into the inky darkness to a secret dinner location. Rounding a corner we are suddenly welcomed by twinkling lights and a roaring log fire causing shadows to dance on the lone stone cottage atop the hill, as if in celebration of our arrival.
Sitting around a crackling log fire on a cold autumn evening, sipping smooth red wine, and chatting while sparks dance towards the diamond studded sky is what fantasies are made of. Maybe the unicorn was real. As we move inside the fantasy continues, as we are seated at a table illuminated by the flickering light of 88 candles set atop candlesticks with long wax rivers frozen below them, as though reminders of a place where laughter, food and celebration have existed for aeons. “You can't capture this,” someone says. And they’re right. How do you describe magical.
And so begins the next adventure. A culinary journey. The chef describes each course before we our tongues are allowed to follow the tastes our minds have already conjured.
“Wow,” we gush, “after having just enjoyed the unique flavour of a deboned Karoo lamb shank pie. "That was delicious!”
“The lamb was slow roasted for 6 hours,” the chef says revealing some of his culinary secrets.
“Would you like to see the stars before dessert?” Christiaan asks as we recline in our chairs letting the wonder of the moment carry us away. We follow him outside into the inky darkness. The wind has magically stopped completely, and a sparkling necklace of diamonds has been tossed haphazardly across the sky. It's truly incredible. Stars like I have seldom seen before. Christiaan points out Mars, Venus, Orion, and Scorpio.
“And look there," he says, as we stare through binoculars at the regal display, “It's the moons of Jupiter.”
As I finally lie back in the soft warm comfort of my bed back at the lodge, slowly succumbing to sleeps embrace, I am left wondering whether it was a dream, a fantasy...
“We are going to explore some rock art,” Christiaan says as we clamber into the Landcruiser the next morning. The Cederberg is famous for its rock art - two kinds of rock art. One are the thousands of works of art left by the nomadic bushmen who once inhabited this area, and the other are the incredible sculpted spires and jagged peaks forged by the ravages of wind and rain upon the arid canvas of this desert land.
“It's a short walk,” Christiaan says as we follow him around large boulders up to an overhanging cave-like shelter. We’ve stepped through a portal and back in time. The walls are alive with art - eland, elephant and the bushmen. A world from a another time comes alive as Christiaan explains the stories depicted in these ancient and beautiful works of art. Once more it seems magical. Almost a fantasy, as we are transported to other worlds, other times, hidden behind towering rock behemoths standing like silent, frozen sentinels.
“That's what’s unique about this place,” I muse as we enjoy a late breakfast back at the lodge “It's a fantasy world, where old and new, rugged and sublime, earth and heaven meet in a surreal dance. It's a world that not only calms the soul but energizes the spirit. A world not explained - a world that must be experienced. Quite simply it’s magic...unicorn and all!
Bushman's Kloof was recently voted by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, the No. 1 resort in South Africa and the No 3 in the category Best Hotels and Resorts in the world!
To find out more about Bushman's Kloof Wilderness Reserve visit their website.
“Nope, I’m not opening. The sun may be up, but it’s not high enough for me to open. I glance around me at everyone else and I see they are in agreement. Too early. Oh well, no rush. I will wait an hour or so and see how things look then. Yawn...”
We’ve left the luxury of Franschhoek with its mixture European charm and African hosiptality and we’re heading north. Our adventure will now take us through the idyllic Greek village like Langebaan and northward in search of flowers. Its that time of year when a miracle happens on the west coast of South Africa, the valleys and mountainsides miraculously transform into seas of flowers…or that is what we’ve been told. “Ja,” says Braam my father-in-law and resident expert on this area, “it all depends on the rains. If they come too late, or to early,” he adds, “then there won’t be flowers.” Hmmm…it sounds like a bit of hit and miss, and even as we head north in search of the mythical flower-strewn valleys we are unsure.
Our first glimmer of hope is ignited as we descend the winding pass into the small village of Clan William. On the side of the road a bright array of several hundred wildflowers clustered together cause us to pull off the road and set the cameras whirring. “Ooh’s” and “Aah’s” emanate as take photos. Passing through Clan William, after loading up on some supplies at the shop we continue onto a dirt track, opening multiple farm gates on the road before we finally hit a sign that reads...
“Enjo Nature Farm - Have time to dream, to think, to enjoy peace and quietness and the wonders of life - the sky, the mountains, the fresh air.”
“Wow, that sounds amazing,” says Nicky, while Hannah replies, “Not really. There’s no signal!” She’s right on the signal front. We’re off the grid. In fact this next part of our journey is going to be marked by one significant feature - limited or no data connection. Something that is sure to test the girls, and me too!
Minutes later we arrive at a scene from a storybook. A beautiful whitewashed farmhouse stands next to a trickling river while around it a symphony of yellow and white flowers complete the fantasy. It’s amazing. Outside the farmhouse a horseshoe bench looks over a fire pit to the river below.
As darkness draws its velvet veil across the valley and a chill settles upon quickly upon the land we retreat indoors and soon are all huddled around a crackling log fire in the kitchen while the smells of dinner being prepared compete with the mesmerising effect of the flickering flames and the laughter and conversation. However there is another laughter awaiting us, who’s voice is now still but tomorrow we shall witness it’s intoxicating voice.
It must be the smell of porridge coming from the farm kitchen that wakes me, and soon I’m holding a steaming bowl of porridge luxuriating in the golden paint of the sun as it wakens the valley with its welcome touch. I look at the flowers that cluster in patches all around our farmhouse. “Hey, these fellas are all closed,” I say staring disconcertedly down at their bowed heads. “They’re still snoozing.” A few appear to be peaking out at the sun from behind half open petals as if checking whether its time to wake up or not. However most are still firmly asleep.
I come to appreciate that about flowers. Flowers, unlike game viewing - which I also love with a passion - have some distinct advantages. Firstly they don’t wake up in the bitter hours of the early morning. These sensible little beasts, unlike their furry counterparts, only open up when the sun is well up. And so those insomniac fuelled early risers who wake with the chickens are left staring at nothing, besides the bowed heads of the flowers. Go back to bed! Secondly flowers gather in huge batches and remain still, making viewing them easy. Thirdly flowers let you touch them, sniff them and even lie on them, unlike their beast brothers. And so we will have to wait for the sun to rise higher before these little fellas reveal their hidden secrets.
“Let’s go for a walk to the dam,” Nicky suggests. And so with tummies content, we set out to stroll along the farm road towards the dam. It’s then that we see it…or hear it…or experience it. It’s the earth’s laughter. There is not really any other way to describe it. The valley is a carpet of iridescent orange, checkered with white and purple…or is that what we’re seeing. It’s almost as though a divine hand has taken a rainbow, crushed it and sprinkled it on the valley. Colours without labels. A scene without description. I can truly say, as the sign at the farmhouse proclaimed, “I’ve seen the earth’s laughter.”
We find the farm dam and our swim in it's icy water looks like a reverse cam video as we enter and remerge in such haste it appears as though we’ve been plucked out by a bunjee cord. Soon we are sunning ourselves like content lizards on the peer enjoying the tranquility of this fantastical valley.
“Who’s up for some food?” some intelligent individual asks, as though the question ever needs to be asked. With chorus of hearty “ayes” we decide to find the ultimate picnic spot. Faithful Pajey has driven in many amazing places during our adventures - from open freewatys, to busy cities, to snowy roads, to rugged tracks, however Pajey’s wheels have never before driven down a living , rainbow of colour. It looks like someone paved a road of flowers into the hills drawing us towards the treasure that lies at this rainbow’s end.
Words should now end. These limited symbols of human design. They cannot describe this scene, nor begin to capture the experience. Might I describe it as fantacular or mesmermazing? Yet even these words fall short. We’re seated in a sea, in a carpet, in a rainbow, in a living tapestry of color. I’m sipping my beer…of course, a good brew completes this scene…and eating our lunch. This must be the ultimate picnic site. A blue canopy above, a rainbow beneath, the gentle buzzing of bees, and the gentle stir of the breeze. It’s real…the laughter, I can feel it bubbling through my soul. It’s real the laughter, I can smell it in the aroma-rich air. It’s real the laughter…I can see it on the faces around me. I’ve heard the earth laugh, and I will never be the same.
The hunt has been good which means we can settle down for a while. The smell of cooking meat hangs in the air as we sit in a circle watching the smoke slowly rise from the fire to the gods above. The gods smile down upon us as they light a million sparkling fires into the dark sky stretched above. As the firelight flickers off the towering rock behind where we are camped, I begin to paint a scene from our hunt. The dancing shadows from the fire make my painted animals appear to move, as I tell our story, as I leave a message for our children, and their children, and for those yet far off. Stories and songs fill the air.
Connecting with the outside world in this spectacularly remote place of the Cederberg means a several kilometre drive to reception along the thick sandy roads. Nicky and I head there to get connected and buy some supplies. Last night on our game drive we embarrassingly ended up driving into a secluded camp that had been setup in the bush for a couple - they looked stunned but it looked stunning.Thankfully they were fully clothed. An idea is born. Could we maybe stay there as an anniversary celebration? Would it be affordable? Would it be available? Nicky enquires.
It's R750 for a couple and it’s available. This is why we tour in South Africa. That’s a crazy price! We return to our chalet to inform the children that they will be abandoned to their own care, while we head off for a night in the wild. Leaving them with fond reassurances of our love, and intention to return, we head off. The separation is made smoother by the good snacks we’ve arranged for their sundowners…in fact we get a sense that we are being shooed out the door.
We climb onto quad bikes and follow a game ranger to the special location called “The Outcrop”. The drive there is thrilling as we bounce and slide along the sandy tracks. The scene that awaits us is truly stunning, taken from postcards or fairytales. A king-sized white linen bed is set on a platform. A table and two chairs is on one side next to a fire that is ready set. On the other side of our bush bedroom is an open shower. Behind the bed a huge rock towers, creating the largest headboard in existence, and framing the most spectacular bedroom ever. This is the ultimate open air bedroom with unhindered views of the open bushland before us and the mountains in the distance.
As we have the quads to ourselves we decide to go for a short quad drive. We bounce and slide along the dirt tracks thrilling in the speed and marvelling at having this whole world just for ourselves. The sun begins to melt behind the distant mountains casting a rusty hue over the stunning vista. We head back to our piece of paradise and settle into our comfortable chairs, cracking open the wine and snacks, and breathing deeply of this indescribable experience.
This is yet another ultimate sundowner experience - sitting in absolute tranquility watching the sun sink behind the mountains in front of us from our open air bedroom. But God's splendor is just beginning. While the sun paint’s a riot of fiery colours across the skies before us, behind us a full moon is rising. This is iMax for real. We climb our headboard - the giant rock that shelters our bedroom, and sit atop it looking at the orange moon rising in the distance. Stunning. Words fail.
I start our log fire and soon the smell of smoke and braaing meat, crackling warmth and dancing orange flames complete the setting. This area is filled with bushmen paintings, and as we listen to the night sounds its as though I can hear their laughter dancing on the evening breeze, as they once sat around their fire in this this their bedroom and shared stories. The sensual feast is overwhelming.
Satiated with good wine and food, and refreshed by the most spectacular open-air shower, we fall into our huge bed, pulling the soft white duvet up high as we gaze up at the starry canopy above us. It's perfectly still. Silence. I slip into a peaceful sleep. The ancient laughter dancing in the air.
We wake early to drink in the awesome wonder of this divine bedroom and watch the silvery moon melting behind the distant mountains. On the other side of our bedroom the sun is rising and casting is warming orange rays across the plane. I fire up the gas burner and soon we are sipping filter coffees and soaking in the last moments of this incredible place. It certainly is a place of stories. A place of legends. The story continues, and we’re blessed to have added a page to its telling.