Nothing cures a hectic few weeks at work than a weekend in the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains at Bushmans Kloof. This resort is consistently rated as one of the top resorts in South Africa and considering that it is a 3.5 hour drive from Cape Town in an area of the country rarely visited by tourists, that is quite an accomplishment. I had booked a natural wellness package which consisted of two nights and two hours worth of spa treatments – something I had conveniently forgot until I checked in and was told I had a two o’clock appointment the following day.
Bushmans Kloof is located on a small reserve that is located on reclaimed, overgrazed land and there has been considerable effort to reintroduce natural plants and animals. The fynbos has gradually come back to its natural state and there are a number of endemic mammals on the property, including cape zebra, bontebok, eland, ostrich, springbok, and black wildebeast, at least that is a list of animals that I saw while out on two short afternoon drives. The reserve is active in monitoring and protecting the elusive and rarely seen (except on camera traps) cape leopards. Unlike Kruger where winter is the harshest time for the animals, in the Western Cape, summer is difficult; winter brings rain and green grass. On one of the afternoons we saw the animals feasting on hay and our guide told us that they had to supplement their diet. That being said, they recently found a plant on a neighboring farm that will be a food source for the animals throughout summer and are hoping to end the supplementary feeding.
Even though the conservation efforts are impressive, the reason to visit Bushmans Kloof is not the game but the overall landscape and chance to see incredible pieces of Bushman Rock Art. Every morning you can join an 8:00am tour to a nearby site. Some of the sites require a bit of walk and scrambling over boulders. The newer sites were done by the San and the older pieces were painted by the Khoi and all of the art on the property is between 2,000 and 10,000 years old. I was lucky enough to visit two of the San sites that have multiple well-defined pieces of shamans, hunters, and animals – eland, rhinos, and elephants. There is something primordial about the caves that made me wish that I could sit there alone and reflect on the harsh desert environment and how the San eked out a living in these conditions. It puts modern life into perspective. I particularly liked the shamans who would enter a trance like state after many hours of dancing. Many of the shamans are depicted with walking sticks to support themselves after hours of physical exertion and with massive nosebleeds – a sign of their potency. Unlike shamans in other cultures, the San do not use hallucinogenic drugs to enter this altered state that allows them to pass into the spirt world. One of my favorite pieces was a series of running mongoose that turned into a man. There is nothing primitive about this art, in fact the world it depicts is incredibly intricate.
In addition to the rock art, there are numerous walking trails that you can attempt on your own or with a guide. I opted for the short and non-strenous 3 km walk that looped relatively close to the lodge. I enjoyed the solitude of doing the walk alone even if at times I doubted whether I was on the right path given that there wasn’t really a path and I had to rely on manmade stacked rocks to guide me. It was one of the highlights of my short visit, although I was glad to be visiting during winter when temperatures were more comfortable. There are few trees and little cover from the blistering sun.
While I had hoped to time my visit with the height of blooming flowers, nature is unpredictable. The rains were late and while a few early blooms had popped up, the real show was yet to come. I caught glimpses on my drive up from Cape Town where the rains had been better, but I had hoped to photograph this incredible and short-lived phenomenon.
While there are other activities on offer, besides a relaxing two hours in the exquisite spa, I had time for little else. The lodge is known for its wine cellar and food. I never made it to lunch, but tea overlooking the river that only flows three months of the year was lovely. Dinner was an elaborate affair served in the formal dining room, while breakfast was eaten outside around the heated (yes, heated) outdoor pool. There are numerous other communal pools interspersed throughout the landscaped gardens. I opted for a deluxe room which besides sleeping in, I barely spent anytime in, despite a lovely indoor and outdoor sitting area. An activity that I wish I had taken advantage of was stargazing. The moon was waning and despite the ambient lights from the lodge the band of the milky way arched across the sky. My only nit-picky gripe, is that drinks (including nonalcoholic drinks) were not included in the price of the room. I have grown accustomed to this amenity and for such a sumptuous property, it seemed at odds with their overall ethos.
There are weekends away that are just what you need and this was one of them. Work and my personal life have been intense. Communing with nature was the perfect antidote to the urban and internal chaos.