By Anisha Shah
Cragged sandstone spires with cinched waists jut into the sky, richly tinted burnt orange and blood red, to create haunting inverted towers. Gigantic rocks rest on baby boulders, defying gravity in a balancing feat. Driving through South Africa’s 500-million-year-old Cederberg mountain range in the Western Cape in an open Jeep, I’m perpetually distracted by the visual drama that nature reveals.
Just 200km North of Cape Town, beyond brilliant beaches, lush vineyards and the scintillating scent of lemon trees, scenes transform. Luxurious greenery gives way to a theatrical Petra-meets-Grand Canyon desert setting. Unforgiving and harsh, this land births unique foliage of herbaceous fynbos, prickly leaves and cactus, making it seem impossible for life to thrive. But it has evolved. Home to the world-famous Rooibos tea, the Cederberg is in the Unesco World Heritage Cape Floral Kingdom. Between July and September, witness the largest variety of wildflower species in the world bursts to life, carpeting the 100km-long horizon in vibrant shades. Klipsringers, Cape Zebra, Lynx, Leopard, Cape Fox and African wild cats leap between the lands, keeping interests and attentions soaring. But it’s the ‘Little 5′ I’m tracking.
Long before Bushmans Kloof wellness retreat set up its whimsical wilderness reserve deep in the heart of this magical land, this was the ancestral primordial stomping ground of San Bushman tribes, amongst the earliest human inhabitants. Bushman’s Kloof has inherited custodian status of their silent stories, depicted in art, on caves and rocks across the region. 130 extraordinary sites, inscribed using iron oxides and almost 10,000 years old, portray the cultural and spiritual tribal lives. Guided over rocky ridges to a cave site emblazoned in tribal handprints, half the size of modern day hands, we’re surrounded only by silence and epic humbling landscapes. Under the shade of the cave, we also spot the outline of a leopard in the sand. It can’t have been long gone.
Poking a stick into a small hollow in the sand, my guide shows off his skills when an Antlion’s claws scratch the surface to clasp on. The miniscule mottled grey creature is prehistoric-looking. Suddenly we spot the miraculous Rhino Beetle, thumb-sized and donning an impressive horn on its head. It can lift 850 times its own body weight, making it the strongest creature on the planet.
Heading back to Bushmans Kloof (‘Kloof’ meaning ‘valley’ in Afrikaans) is sheer exhilaration. At the end of a 10km winding way through barren wilderness, an optical illusion wondrously rises out of the hazy horizon. It is a marvel of welcome luxury. Entirely ensconced in raw rugged nature, this paradisiacal sanctuary is a refuge in which to retreat, particularly after bouldering, hiking, climbing and game drives of the surrounds. Driven by a philosophy of well being, the Bushmans Kloof raison d’etre is to indulge guests in the best of both the awesome surroundings and transformational relaxation. The Zen is instantaneous.
I’m led back to my private villa set at the foot of the Boma River, amidst untamed and uninterrupted wilderness. From every room of the villa, it’s a panorama of stony sandstone turrets, sedimented over aeons, piercing the greens and blues with splashes of rose-red. The pieces de resistances are my private outdoor infinity pool for afternoon refreshment in searing heat, outdoor terraces for al fresco morning coffee and klipspringer sightings and the sumptuously-appointed living room replete with board games, library, DVDs and log fire. After a hearty lunch of crispy salads, organic home-grown herbs and vegetables and homemade cake, it’s off for a snooze by my private pool before checking into the spa.
The luxury here is intimate simplicity, enhanced by the magnitude and bold audacity of the epic Cederberg surroundings. But where Bushmans Kloof truly shines is showcasing its outdoor magnificence. Every turn is a reconnection with nature. It does this with sustainability at the core of every level, awarding it a host of ecological awards, including the Conde Nast World Savers Award for Wildlife and Conservation Programmes, National Geographic’s World’s Best Eco lodges and coveted Relais and Chateaux Environment Trophy.
The entire operation is founded on a preservation plan, spearheaded by the Bushmans Kloof Conservation Trust. Passionate staff impart their infectious zeal on behind-the-scenes practices of preservation, igniting people’s passions on topics such as monitoring of water quality, rainfall, soil erosion, vegetation cover and wildlife to waste processing. Learning a little about these is key to a deeper travel experience, which firmly imprints itself in the soul of every visitor long after they leave.
I’m led down the garden path to a designer Balinese cabana. Raised on stilts, the spa’s Riverside Gazebos are hidden and carved into the natural phenomenon of rock and river. Open-fronted, they echo nature’s best. My reflexology and four-hands aromatherapy massage has me floating into the African landscape. Such is the restorative power of nature in this ancient setting, as old as life on earth. I find the history intriguing and energising. As I lay in recovery on the raised wooden decking, flanked by Buddhas and incense, hugged by the magnetic greenery and kissed by the gentle rippling of the river below, I can feel the healing power of nature soothing away the daily debris of life. Recharging directly from sounds of the surroundings and the harmony of wildlife and environment induces total peace. Nature is the best source of rejuvenation.
To preserve this magnificent asset, Bushmans Kloof staff all live on-site, eliminating the need for transport. The staff village is almost entirely solar-powered by geysers and uses energy-saving bulbs, recycled water for the garden, growth of indigenous plants in the herb garden and filtered drinking water. Outdoors, the lodge actively participates in eradication of alien vegetation, surveying the Cederberg’s reptiles and amphibians in the conservancy.
But the best is to come. By dusk, I’m whisked onto a safari Jeep, under a tangle of stars, crystalline moonlight and that distinct night-chill, through 10kms of nightlife in the form of wary Kudu and scuttling Cape Hare, to a glowing halo in the distance. As I’m escorted closer, a blaze of candlelight and roaring log fires stir the pristine natural serenity and remoteness. Kadoro is an isolated innkeeper’s lodge on the fringes of Bushman’s Kloof reserve. Hundreds of candles dazzle in a heart-warming outpouring of light. A private chef and butler welcome me in for the evening, pouring a glass of full-bodied South African red by the outdoor fire under the glistening stars, who appear to be in on the act and starring in their role perfectly.
Inside, the renovated wooden timber lodge is illuminated in candlelight and a roaring log fire, by which a table is set in the epitome of romance. My husband turns to me in disbelief. He’s fittingly as moved as I am. We’re seated to a private meal with flowing red wine and the warmest of service, topping off a memorable trip with an even more memorable evening.
For more information on Bushmans Kloof, please click here.