I HAVE seen some spectacular sunsets during the 16,237 days spent on the planet so far but none compare to tonight’s presentation.
I’m standing in the manicured gardens at Bushmans Kloof, the elegant outpost in South Africa’s wild Cederberg Mountains a three-hour drive from Cape Town, and the windswept sky is turning shades of neon pink as sprays of cirrus clouds scuttle above.
The surface of the pond at my feet is so still it’s a mirror that perfectly reflects the colours above so I feel like I’m engulfed by the vibrant shades Mother Nature is mixing tonight.
The only sound I can hear is the rumbling of a distant diesel engine, a safari vehicle carrying other guests to sundowners somewhere in the 7000ha wilderness reserve, and the quiet conversation of rangers preparing to host after-dark outings.
I’m exploring South Africa with Adventure World Travel and this time yesterday I was in Cape Town watching booming Atlantic Ocean breakers, driven by a wild offshore squall, smash against rocks just a few metres from my balcony at The Twelve Apostles Resort & Spa.
That sunset came with storm clouds, a whistling wind and sea spray while now there’s silence and the smell of red dirt and one by one my travelling companions drift from cosy cottages surrounding the swimming pool and we stand in silence gazing at the sunset.
Dinner by candlelight
An hour later, as the last layers of crimson descend towards the distant mountains, we climb into safari vehicles and drive into the darkness towards our dinner destination – an old shepherd’s hut a few kilometres from the homestead.
When the parcel that’s home to Bushmans Kloof was acquired in 1991, this corner of the Western Cape was a network of seven farms covering overworked paddocks and, while considerable conservation work is reviving the terrain, reminders of the agricultural history endure.
Darkness has settled by the time we arrive at the stone cottage and without electricity there’s a crackling campfire to light our approach, dozens of candles to illuminate the interior, and a roaring barbecue providing light for the chef.
We dine on traditional dishes celebrating regional ingredients before stepping out to stargaze – the lack of light in this remote region 260km from Cape Town delivers such deep black that the Milky Way looks like a bucket of luminous white paint has been splashed across the sky.
After dinner we snuggle under fleecy blankets watching the “bush television’s” flickering flames and ask the staff questions about South Africa’s past, present and future to put the big experience in this enigmatic country into perspective.
Outdoor art gallery
Long before pioneers arrived to farm the Western Cape this land was home to Khoisan – the indigenous Bushman tribes – and these original inhabitants left an artistic legacy that makes Bushmans Kloof one of the world’s biggest outdoor galleries.
There are hundreds of rock-art sites around the property, some of which date back 10,000 years, and we venture out after sunrise with ranger Duane Eksteen leading us to what he calls a “living site” in a burrow below a creek-side cliff.
We follow a track through the fynbos before scrambling over boulders and descending into the scar cut through the landscape by centuries of rushing water to find the ochre and indigo stick figures covering the natural sandstone crypt.
At first glance it looks like lots of brown smudges with just a few figures standing together on the higher part of the wall, but with Duane’s help I can see animals such as elephants and elands as well as illustrations of tribe members.
The men have bulky legs to show they’re strong enough to sprint through the bush when hunting, while the women feature curves to illustrate health and a good diet, with experts concluding the drawings were family members telling each other where to find the best food or water.
On closer inspection I see there are also black, white and yellow illustrations – with paint made from charcoal or shells – and Duane explains they’re drawn with fingers, animal hair tied to a twig making a rudimentary brush, or even the chewed end of a stick.
See wildlife on safari
The Cederberg Wilderness Area is home to an abundance of wildlife and we take morning and evening safari drives to see eland, springbok, bontebok, zebra and wildebeest that occupy the plains above creeks that are always full, thanks to the Western Cape’s reliable winter rain.
Duane tells us the flat areas are the old paddocks, where farmers grew rooibos tea and potatoes. Native species were reintroduced in 1992 to rebuild a wildlife population decimated by hunters in the early decades of the 20th century.
I love the springbok and, while there’s an absence of predators in this part of South Africa, the petite creatures are still restless and commence their trademark “pronking” when our safari vehicle turns in their direction.
Every wildlife drive includes refreshments and in the morning we pause beside a dam that’s home to flocks of warbling birds to watch the sun climb above the mountains while snacking on pots of yoghurt, sweet tea and homemade muffins.
Sundowners involve a higher alcohol content and Duane pauses on a plateau above the homestead, where we can see the whole property resting between the distant ranges with a herd of eland grazing nearby, before dropping the tailgate to reveal a mobile bar.
Magic between moments
The joy of staying at Bushmans Kloof – one of only 61 properties on National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World register – is that hosted activities such as stargazing and wildlife drives merge with hours of unscheduled time so guests can explore at their own pace.
One afternoon, when travelling companions are kayaking or indulging in spa treatments, I take the watercolours and brushes left in my room and settle in the sun inundating my cottage’s west-facing veranda to paint the rusty landscape.
Staff describe Bushmans Kloof as a “floral kingdom” and I see a pair of scrub hares picking a path through the wildflowers, the scent of blooms carried on the afternoon breeze.
There’s a focus on food here and, as well as dinner in the shepherd’s hut, we linger over brunch on the homestead’s veranda after morning game drives and enjoy a delicious high tea in the garden above the Boontjies River.
South African Airways flies daily between Perth and Johannesburg, there are regular shuttles to complete the journey to Cape Town, or via Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport to add a visit to Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.
Adventure World Travel plans choose-your-own-adventure itineraries in South Africa.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat combines well with a city stay in Cape Town and a Sabi Sand Game Reserve safari.
→ The writer was a guest of Adventure World Travel and South African Airways.
• this story originally appeared in Escape on Sunday, October 20, 2019 •
… posted Monday, January 13, 2019