A glimpse of heaven

Located about 270km up the N7 from Cape Town, this private reserve lies against the north-eastern boundary of the enormous public wilderness area that encompasses the Cederberg mountain range in the Western Cape.

The whole of the Cederberg has been declared a world heritage site, not only because of its wealth of flora and fauna but also for the thousands of rock art sites created by long-extinct Bushman artists.

After driving through the rolling wheat and sheep country of the Swartland, one climbs Piekenierskloof Pass into the Citrusdal valley, where, in the right season, millions of orange blossoms release their delicious scent. At Clanwilliam, one turns east up the steep Pakhuis Pass, passing close to the grave of the famed poet, medical doctor and pioneer food journalist Louis Leipoldt. Not far down the road leading to the historic mission station of Wupperthal, one turns into the gates of the Bushmans Kloof reserve.

Encompassing several old farms, Bushmans Kloof is the brainchild of Bill McAdam and his son Mark, who in 1991 began to buy up badly neglected and overgrazed land, which now extends to some 8 300 hectares.
After consulting wildlife and botanical experts, the McAdams put together a long-term veld management programme, and then began the arduous task of removing alien vegetation and allowing the indigenous veld to resuscitate itself.

They decided against introducing large predators or dangerous animals in favour of creating a genuine indigenous reserve in which guests may wander about in safety and appreciate the many other wonders of nature endemic to the region. Among these are the Cape mountain zebra, the Cape clawless otter and the highly endangered Clanwilliam yellow fish.

In 1996, Bushmans Kloof opened its exclusive five-star lodge, created around an old farm homestead, in front of which stand three magnificent wild fig trees planted around the time of the Anglo-Boer War. Massive old bluegum trees decorated with dozens of weaverbird nests have also been retained.

Bushmans Kloof has won many accolades, and it certainly lives up to the ‘5 Cs” philosophy of the Relais & Châteaux Association, combining character, charm, calm, cuisine and courtesy in this glorious setting among magnificent mountains.

At the end of January 2004, the Tollman family purchased the property, but they have embraced the vision and core principles established by the McAdams. This South African family, which is involved in similar top-class establishments worldwide, is passionate about investing in tourism infrastructure in this country, as well as to involving local communities in tourism ventures.

Around the lodge, immaculate landscaped gardens lead in broad sweeps down to the Boontjies river. Only indigenous plants and trees have been used. A lovely effect is the way the edges of the formal garden merge seamlessly into the wildness of nature beyond. Deep blue swimming pools promise blissful escape from summer heat — there are four, including a heated one for winter dips.

Thatched cottages nestle among trees at discreet distances along the winding paths, each containing beautifully appointed suites. With only 32 beds, guest are assured tranquillity and personalised service. One can retreat from the outside world altogether, because there’s no cellphone reception and no television in the rooms, but for those who simply MUST stay in touch (why?), there is a media room with satellite television and a business centre provides fax, e-mail and internet access. There’s also a fully equipped conference centre.

From the moment one arrives, friendly staff welcome one into a world of quiet pampering and delicious luxury. Each suite is decorated in a unique style, and the attention to the smallest details is astonishing. Imagine fresh rose petals floating in the toilet bowl! Everything from mosquito repellant to an umbrella for rainy days is provided, even hot water bottles. In the bathroom, besides a courtesy towelling robe and slippers, scented candles and bath goodies tempt one to indulge in a decadent soak.

For the ultimate indulgence, though, experienced spa therapists offer massages either in one’s suite or, uniquely, outdoors in a rock shelter, as well as many other body and skin care treatments.

There is plenty to do outdoors at Bushmans Kloof. Besides day or sunset drives in open game-viewing vehicles, one can choose to meander gently or take strenuous hikes, grab one of the mountain bikes, abseil, practice fly-fishing (catch-and-release) or archery, canoe on the huge dam, watch birds, play croquet or simply laze away the hours beside one of the pools. In spring, because Bushmans Kloof is on the doorstep of Namaqualand, the annual glory of wild flowers transforms the veld.

Bushmans Kloof is a photographer or painter’s paradise, and at night the clear mountain air is ideal for star-gazing, with telescopes and knowledgeable staff on hand to guide one around the celestial dome.

The Cederberg is renowned for its Bushman rock art, with an estimated 4 000 known sites, dating back some 10 000 years, and hundreds of these are in the Bushmans Kloof section. Daily guided rock art walks introduce guests to this fascinating and precious heritage of the extinct San people who once lived along this mountain range.

In addition, in September 2004, a research and information centre was opened, which houses a large collection of authentic, irreplaceable Bushman artefacts, many of which were collected by the late, renowned anthropologist Yalmar Rudner.

And then there’s the food! Truly fine dining, courtesy of executive chef Floris Smith and his gumboot-dancing staff. From three-course breakfasts to high tea in the Makana Boma to sundowners at the River Boma to dining under the stars at Embers, a huge wooden deck built into a kloof, the food is simply superb.

An extensive organic vegetable and herb garden and orchard provide much of the fresh produce used in Floris’s delectable creations. A recent addition to the gardens is an area dedicated to indigenous medicinal plants, including the rooibos tea unique to the Cederberg, and the resident botanist will be happy to elaborate on their uses.

Guests can also request picnics or intimate honeymoon dinners à deux in a special spot, such as overlooking the large lake.

The Tollman family also own the Bouchard Findlayson wine estate located in the Hemel en Aarde valley near Hermanus, so some choice wines are served with meals. Other wines come from the local Cederberg Wines, whose vintner Dawid Niewoudt’s mother was born in the old farmhouse that forms the heart of Bushmans Kloof.

But beyond all these delights for pampered guests, Bushmans Kloof is a conservation success story, a showcase of what can be achieved by private initiative to preserve priceless wilderness areas. Close to the lodge is a tree nursery which, besides raising indigenous trees for the gardens and other parts of the estate, is helping to reintroduce the highly endangered indigenous Clanwilliam cedar trees that gave this part of the world its name.

Bushmans Kloof is a sanctuary for some 35 species of mammals, over 150 species of birds and more than 755 plant species, as well as a myriad insects, tortoises and other reptiles. Breeding programmes for several rare species have been implemented, and a bird rehabilitation centre has released many rescued owls, among other birds.

The human element has not been ignored: most of the support staff are local people, the descendants of farm workers who could have been displaced by the decline of the farms on which their families lived for generations but who have been made an integral part of this venture.

Bushmans Kloof also supports the local primary school at Elizabethsfontein. These youngsters have achieved renown throughout the Western Cape with their traditional dance routines and also delight guests at Bushmans Kloof with their performances.

It’s no exaggeration to call this place heaven on earth: visit just once and one’s heart will always pine to return!

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