Take a break from a busy safari with a relaxing spell in the Cederberg mountain wilderness at Bushmans Kloof. This unique addition to your safari – one of South Africa’s best safari experiences – will introduce you to the ancient culture and art of the San … and a floral wonderland unlike any other on the planet.
My partner and I chose Bushmans Kloof because it promised a very different kind of safari, one that focused on Cederberg rock art and the Cape floral kingdom. Here too, we could experience a slow safari, one where relaxing, recharging and simply enjoying being in Africa was as much a feature of our stay as the safari activities.
We visited the lodge at the end of our South African safari, and it proved to be the perfect place to unwind. We had time to really enjoy the lodge and even catch up on some holiday reading, which hadn’t been possible while chasing around the greater Kruger looking for the Big Five.
After a private transfer from Cape Town, we arrived in a little piece of paradise. The whitewashed and thatched buildings of Bushmans Kloof, tucked away in a peaceful valley, were an island of luxury set in the midst of the most beautiful mountains I’d ever seen.
On our first morning, we climbed aboard an open 4×4 for a very different sort of ‘game drive’ – in search of rock art. As we drove, our guide, Pieter, told us a bit about the Cederberg. ‘These mountains are more than 500 million years old,’ he said. ‘They were already here when life first appeared on earth. At one stage, water covered this entire area. Petrified ripples of an ancient seabed remain shaped into the terrain. Aeons passed, the water receded, and for millennia the red sandstone was eroded by winds and rain, creating the fantastical shapes we see today. Finally, the herbaceous fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom took root and flourished.’
‘Wildlife of all descriptions shared the land with an ancient people, the San, also known as Bushmen. They left us a legacy of mystical rock art depicting their dreamscapes, and the abundant life around them … some of which I’ll be showing you this morning.’
Pieter explained how, with the coming of settlers, the plentiful herds had given way to agriculture, and the San population dwindled to extinction. ‘At Bushmans Kloof, we’re passionate about the protection and reintroduction of indigenous species, and about celebrating the Bushman legacy,’ he said.
We drew to a halt and got out. Pieter led us to an overhang adorned with stunning rock art. ‘Some of these paintings date back 10,000 years, and we have more than 130 such sites on the property,’ he said. ‘The Bushmen used natural pigments such as ochre, animal blood and plant juices to make their paints. While some colours have faded over time, many pictographs have survived to serve as cultural markers, revealing shamanistic visions, tribal dances and spiritual rites.’
I felt awed at this chance to connect with the ancient messages in the rock, a living portrayal of stone-age culture, and with the origins of our own species in Africa.
Later, we drove to another, even more affecting site. At Bleeding Nose Shelter, the paintings stood out in chiaroscuro against white sandstone. A variety of human figures were depicted standing, dancing or shooting with bows and arrows. ‘This was probably a ceremonial site,’ said Pieter. ‘As you can see, subjects include eland, smaller antelope and rare depictions of birds. The site takes its name from the painting of this man over here. He’s in a shamanistic trance state with blood pouring from his nose, and is linked to his companions by mystical lines of power.’
Back at the lodge, we whiled away the heat of each day on loungers beside the swimming pool. I often snoozed, while my partner took advantage of the excellent spa on the property, indulging in a few treatments. When we were feeling a bit more energetic, we either took the lodge mountain bikes or headed out on foot to explore the magnificent surroundings, sometimes with a guide and sometimes on our own.
Late afternoons, we usually joined a slow game drive. It was spring time and the slopes were covered in brilliant displays of wild flowers. ‘There are some 750 indigenous fynbos plant species in the reserve,’ said Pieter. ‘It really is a floral wonderland.’
The game sightings came quickly: bontebok, red hartebeest, grey rhebok, ostrich and the utterly adorable bat-eared fox. It’s funny how single-minded we can become when the Big Five are about; here, we took the time to enjoy the less ‘showy’ creatures. And most of them were new to us, which made the experience extra special.
Pieter paused beside a herd of zebra. ‘Bushmans Kloof protects one of the largest private herds of Cape mountain zebra in the world,’ he said. ‘It’s an animal that was saved from the brink of extinction. This species is identified by its bold black and white stripes, as opposed to its more common, savannah-dwelling cousin – the Burchell’s zebra – which has brown shadow stripes and a creamy undercoat.’
Each day was rounded off with a glorious, gourmet dinner. The freshest ingredients were sourced from an organic kitchen garden behind the homestead. The chef produced memorable meals, often making use of indigenous fynbos to create fragrant, distinctive dishes. After dinner, we’d sit on the stoep staring at the stars. The inky sky was dusted with shining constellations, brighter than I had ever seen them before.
The slow pace and magical wilderness environment had made Bushmans Kloof the perfect last act in our luxury South African safari.