Click the photo above for the Bushmans Kloof
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It is a mere 180 kilometers from Cape Town to the gateway of the Cedarberg Mountains — Citrusdal. Even though it was autumn, the protected Olifants River valley created a heat seal over the grove rows of oranges, lemons, and limes. The citrus season runs from March to September.
I made Citrusdal my base camp for exploring the Cedarbergs. The cedars were chopped down long ago by pioneer Voortrekker farmers and ranchers for fence posts and lumber, but the government is slowly bringing groves of the scented forest back to these rugged hills with sapling plantings.
Citrusdal is certainly a verdant agricultural town, but the main tourist draw is The Baths located about 13 kms from town center’s main street, aptly called Voortrekker Street. The privately owned The Baths, one hot water pool and one cold water, offer radiation waters that soothes the skin. The natural artisan well hot springs run at a temperature of 43 degrees C.; the healing waters gather in the Koue Bokkeveld Mountains, a spur of the Cedarbergs. The clear water is also good to drink.
The Baths offer cabin and camping and caravan rentals, and even a Victorian House. From the hot pool the Cedarbergs loomed close and during a rain shower fog billowed low. The night before campers caught a cape leopard strolling down the road, its tracks still fresh in the morning mud. After my dip in The Baths I had my afternoon rooibos (roy boss) tea, a delicious anti-oxidant rose-colored drink, at The Baths MacGregor Restaurant. The Cedarberg Mountains is the only place in the world where this famous tea is grown and processed.
The Cedarberg Mountain Wilderness Area is home to biking and hiking. I had just missed the ABSA Cape Epic Mountain Bike race, the biggest in the world. Hiking trails lead off in every direction, even from The Baths. Other outdoor activities include fishing, canoeing the Olifants (elephants) River (which has its own annual canoe race), quad biking, horseback riding, mountaineering, 4x4 trekking, and camping. I am amazed by the abundant birdlife; over 100 species make the area their twittering home.
Citrusdal has abundant accommodations options, including mountain chalets, B&Bs, guest houses, and a country hotel in the heart of town. But my eyes pierce the peaks of the high country, and with no public transportation into the backcountry I was delighted to hook up with my new local mountain man friend, Colin, who has been living the independent life in the Cedarbergs for decades, and who knew every gravel road.
From Colin’s baboon bastion rock house high on a ridge overlooking Citrusdal we pour over a tattered topo map and plot a course. The next day we follow the N7 highway (the Namibia Road) but turn off at Clanwilliam, the largest town in the area; we pass the rooibos tea processing plant where the herb ferments in the sun.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat is embedded in the narrow Boontjies River valley, just outside the northern boundary of the Cedarberg Wilderness Area and edging along the western end of the massive semi-arid Great Karoo. In Afrikaans, a kloof is a small valley with a spring or intermittent stream flowing through it.
After tea, I rendezvoused with Gerard, my nature guide, and we clattered out in an open air bush buggy across the New Dam and immediately spotted an oryx galloping down the road, its long slender curved horns piercing the sky. Across the vale the isolated Koro Lodge greeted arriving families in a group hillside setting. The lodge comes with its own service staff, chef, and guide and game truck. The converted farmhouse has two suites with decks, and a loft room; the Koro Lodge sleeps eight. It is equipped with entertainment, Wi-Fi, and has its own infinity pool. Guests have full use of all other Kloof facilities.
There are no lions or elephants at Bushmans Kloof, but its wildlife was abundant: over 80 oryx nibble the arid fynbos; later we spotted a small herd of black wildebeest that trotted in the distance across an old rooibos field that was slowly turning back to wild fynbos. The laziest antelope, the bontebok, splayed prone in the fynbos, taking no notice of us. A small herd of Cape Mountain Zebra dazzled the bush with the Cedarbergs framed in the background. Springbok sprang from every direction and seemed tame. Before our sundowner at New Dam the largest African antelope, a red hartebeest buck munched complacently in the shrubbery. On the way back to the hotel eland spied us along the Ravine Hiking Trail below a sandstone ridgeline.
I dug into my suite haven at the end of the Lodge row. Ibis flapped off the lawn on my way to the infinity pool below the spa center.
Guests can get reflexology treatments at any of the four outdoor pools (one is heated) or even below one of the Kloof’s numerous mystical overhanging rock walls. Nurtured in nature! Botanicals are created from rooibos, flowers, herbs and plants, many of which grow wild on the property; the kitchen has its own organic herb garden. The rooibos plant was widely used by the Khosian tribe as an herbal remedy; at the Kloof you will also find rooibos in the finely milled soaps. Kloof chefs contributed to the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards with the 3rd place Rooibos Limited, “A Touch of Rooibos” cookbook. Rooibos means Red Bush due the bush color.
The Spa recently doubled in size, adding two additional single treatment rooms and two dual person treatment rooms, along with a tranquility lounge that leads to the serene spa gardens. The new dual Crystal Steam Room has ensuite rain showers. There is a fully equipped fitness center with the latest equipment.
The riverside dual Spa Gazebo offers indoor/outdoor treatments (along with a scientifically designed nutritional program), overlooking rock formations with an endless vanishing point.
How about a traditional star-studded South African night braai (barbecue) at the rock boma by the creek? Or dine at the new Kadoro, a stone building set in the shade of an ancient blue gum tree in the middle of the Reserve. Kadoro is translated from the! !Xam dialect of the San language and means “Tenderbox of Stories”. Kadoro has no electricity but is perfect for groups up to 16 or for private candlelight dinners. Try the Potjiekes stews in winter. Then take a serene night drive back to the Lodge. The Manor House also has a large outdoor dining deck under a colossal fig tree, and an indoor cocktail bar.
Bushmans Kloof has an award winning wine cellar featuring South African vintages, French champagnes and cognacs, and Wupperthal (a Moravian town within the Cedarbergs) grown rooibos and honeybush teas. Red Carnation Hotels also owns the Bouchard Finlayson vineyard in Hermanus, east of Cape Town; its wines can be purchased at the Kloof at cellar prices. Their wines received the inaugural 2012 South Africa Three Flutes Wine Award.
Other Kloof activities include mountain biking, canoeing, swimming in rock pools, fishing, yoga, meditation, and archery, and special lectures on archaeology and indigenous rock art. After breakfast the next morning Gerard and I adventure off to view one of the 130 rock art sites created by the San (Bushmen) that once thrived in the area.
The San are South Africa’s earliest ancestors who roamed the region in the late Stone Age. The World Heritage protected sites are usually located under rock overhangs. From our hiking point we leave the game truck and follow an easy track down a boulder slope. Gerard stops and his finger traces a hollow sand tube following a rock crack – an undercover termite highway that protects the mites from sticky tongues.
At the Elephant Hunt rock art site the red images popped out as rich red living relics. The antelope and elephant imprints are impressive; I look out from the site and a group of hartebeest crashes through the bush, much like the San once viewed them. Bushmans Kloof’s Heritage Center in the Homestead House chronicles the history and lives of the San through artifacts and images from the famous Rudner Collection that comprises San jewelry, dancing sticks, hunting kits, dolls, musical instruments, and magic kits. The herb garden next to the Heritage Center also features plants used in ancient San remedies.
That afternoon I bushwhacked on a self-guided Mountain Trail hike that probably followed many of the old San routes into and out of the kloof. I scampered over deep Swiss cheese potholes in the river bedrock and clambered over gray slick rock; I was guided by conveniently placed rock cairns and then back to the lodge through a huge rock arch.
Bushmans Kloof has won numerous awards over the years, and is listed as one of the Top 50 eco lodges in National Geographic Traveler Magazine. The Reserve continually gives back to the local communities in the area, and its conservation efforts have also been applauded as a South African Natural Heritage Site. The staff annually plants cedar samplings; in the future the Cedarbergs will have a new forest of the gnarly trees.
I scramble down the sandy trail knowing that the afternoon’s High Tea is awaiting my mid-day highlight.
Bushmans Kloof is my idea of a great camp out!