The Art of Nature

By Guy Hawthorne

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Lockdown – and the various levels of “freedoms” meted out to us this year – has taken its toll on my sanity.  But like hearing a bird singing after the rain, it’s been music to our collective ears learning of the re-opening of so many moth-balled luxury retreats.

I’d last visited Bushman’s Kloof 10 years ago and it had left such an indelible impression on me that now, finally given the chance to flee the confines of a home-cum-office and escape into wide-open nature, Bushman’s Kloof was an easy first choice.

In the heart of the Cederberg and a mountain-pass away from Clanwilliam in the Western Cape, the raw landscape surrounding Bushman’s Kloof is in stark contrast to the comfortable 5-star oasis that is the property itself. Rocky terrain and fynbos-rich plains give one the opportunity to escape into a wilderness that is brutal and bare, and that offers so much beauty and soulfulness. And yet within this starkness lie unexpected treasures, somewhat camouflaged in an unrevealing landscape.

One such treasure is Crystal Pools, an otherworldly sanctum hidden in the mountains, a 30-minute hike from the lodge itself. Our guide, Londi, lead us through streams and caves and after a few stops to marvel at fantastical rock formations, we arrived at the aforementioned Crystal Pools. It felt as though we’d warped into another time-zone, where a cascading waterfall showers into a lumo-transparent rock-pool crevassed into red sandstone.
So chasmic is this crevice that direct sunlight is rare and the water is deep and cold. Land-before-time stuff and yes, you really do need to be there to appreciate the serenity. We swam and breathed new life into our bodies, then later we hiked back into reality.

That evening, cocktail hour in the riverside boma was a perfect pre-cursor to dinner under the stars at Makana – Bushman’s Kloof’s open-air restaurant. Candles are the primary source of light and the sounds of silence add to the ambience. It’s pretty out here, out of town and out of touch with the world. Diners speak in hushed tones so as not to break the peace that comes with having an unhurried dinner in an imperturbable setting.

This sense of unhurried content was carried over into the morning with the tweeting of birds doubling as our alarm clock. Because each room and suite is carefully positioned around the property, joined only by pebbled paths and hidden by indigenous gardens, an aura of individuality is artfully created. Several swimming pools and a gentle river all add to the quiet and luxurious ambience.

Parts of the said river are banked by rocky overhangs which double nicely as a private picnic spot on the river’s edge. A safari vehicle took us to a small dam from where we launched our 2-man canoe for the short paddle upstream. Pillows, blankets, champagne and baskets of fare had been laid out in the shade of a riverside alcove, a smooth rocky protrusion acting as a lean-to and creating an idyllic waterfront picnic spot. Eat, nap, swim, suntan… there’s no-one else around and serenity once again prevails. Spend an hour or two languishing in the sounds of the river and the uniqueness of this setting. Absolutely awesome.

Follow that one up with a candle-lit dinner for two at Kadoro, Bushman’s Kloof’s secret homestead restaurant in the reserve. And “candle-lit” is putting it mildly. Try ten thousand candles and lamps and fires illuminating a stone and thatch farmhouse filled with artefacts from a bygone era. And a private chef. Cooking authentic African food on an open flame. Engagement rings at the ready, gents – this is a favourite venue for marriage proposals, but be warned: the 20-minute drive back to your suite might be a bit awkward if she turns you down. But it’s uber-romantic nonetheless.

Bushman’s Kloof oversees around 130 unique rock art sites, some as old as 10,000 years and today Londi was taking us to another of the area’s treasures: Fallen Rock – a rock art site deemed to be one of the most outstanding examples in the whole of the Cederberg. Gaining insight into the deep and rich spiritual culture of the Bushmen, who lived in these mountains for thousands of years, gives one an outstanding look into the stone-age culture. This is a rare opportunity to connect with the ancient messages in the rock, where natural pigments such as ochre, animal blood and plant juices were used and which can still be viewed up-close by guests. We’re told stories of the San and the Khoi people and shown arrow tips and other relics from yesteryear, a journey back in time that is as fascinating as it is educational. This is real and raw art and seeing it first-hand stirs up images of these nomadic wanderers crouching in the dirt and click-talking to each other about the day’s hunt, or about the skies that haven’t cried for a very long time.

We left Fallen Rock and were surprised to arrive at a “bush breakfast” set out for us in the shade of a tree and overlooking a vast expanse of the reserve. We had barely arrived when Londi yelled “snake” and the lady-chef almost jumped out of her frock. The snake was there to eat a few newborn mice and when his belly was full he slid off into the undergrowth. We ate salmon and creme fraiche. And bacon and eggs and grilled halloumi. And anything else you could imagine. Including figs and brie. With champagne. A rather impressive spread considering we were miles from nowhere. Fresh ingredients are brought in daily from Cape Town and the surrounding farms and this quest to ensure Bushman’s Kloof serves up only the best of everything is evident every time you sit down for a meal. Which is pretty often.

But gluttony is part of the package here. The clean country air builds up your appetite and the hikes, walks and swims will ensure those calories are burnt off in no time.

And if over-exertion is not your thing, a visit to Bushman’s Kloof’s famous spa will do the trick too. After a decadent treatment or signature massage, you’ll feel fresh and relaxed again… and perhaps ready to tackle an afternoon high-tea and then a nap on a lounger by the pool. Before dinner.

A weekend at Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Retreat and Wellness Spa is sure to find a special place in your heart. It’s nature at its purest, but with so many additional experiences thrown in. So if you haven’t yet been to the Cederberg’s most soulful retreat, do your innermost self a favour…


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