In the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape of South Africa, in a place Australians might refer to as "beyond the black stump", sits a surprising accommodation. After a 240-kilometre drive from Cape Town, the final 15 bumpy minutes up the dirt road entrance does nothing to suggest there is a luxury eco-lodge here amid the ancient rock formations and vast native fynbos scrubland that has been trod by bushmen for millennia.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat is centred on the Homestead, a restored 170-year-old manor house, where plump lounges, an open fire and a stylish bar more than compensate for the trek it takes to get here. The 16 spacious suites are also beautifully finished with exposed beams, regional art and lavish comfort, in stark contrast with the severe wilderness that surrounds it.
There are more pleasant surprises in store at this 7500-hectare oasis in the fynbos. At Kodoro, an old shepherds' cottage, we enjoy pre-dinner drinks beside a roaring camp fire under a glittering Milky Way as the chef prepares a sumptuous meal paired with outstanding wine. We dine in the romantic glow of a hundred flickering candles as the cottage has no electricity.
The next morning, our guide, Duane, takes us to Fallen Rock, one of 130 rock art sites on the property. We stop for coffee and freshly-baked muffins beside a glassy lake backed by soaring sandstone monuments. In the struggling early morning light, this is a scene of such placid and primal loveliness, our human presence feels like an intrusion. Birds loudly discuss their plans for the day before taking flight and crossing the lake centimetres above the mirrored water.
We climb down a steep ravine and find exquisite rock art painted by San bushmen. Their ochre renderings are between 1000 and 10,000 years old and depict tall, slim warriors, fat-bottomed pregnant women and elephants. Duane paints his own fascinating tales of the artists and their initiation rites, ancestor worship and spirituality. Their language was characterised by distinctive throat clicks, which Duane emulates impressively.
Bushmans Kloof offers fishing, bird watching, nocturnal wildlife and organic garden tours. Alternatively, you can grab a map and a backpack full of goodies, and strike out on your own to explore the ravines, streams, waterfalls and flora and fauna by foot, mountain bike or canoe.
This is not a big game reserve boasting the so-called Big Five animals. We are told to keep an eye out for the Small Five. These beasties may not have quite the same cachet, but the buffalo weaver bird, rhino beetle, ant lion, elephant shrew and leopard tortoise are all here, somewhere.
A grand natural spectacle at any hour, Bushmans Kloof is even more resplendent at sunset, when fading pink light creeps across the swimming pools and lakes, and a thoroughly apt soft dusk shrouds the tranquillity. Wildflowers bloom in late winter, adding carpets of purple daisies and proteas to the spectacle, and water-colour painting sets are provided for those with adequate talent to capture the loveliness.
Bushmans Kloof has won awards for responsible tourism and conservation programs, as well as for the resort itself, its wine list and the spa. It ticks a lot of unusual and intriguing boxes and, as part of a tour of the Western Cape, is well worth the effort.
Mal Chenu was a guest of Adventure World Travel and Bushmans Kloof.
South African Airways flies daily to Cape Town, via Perth and Johannesburg. See flysaa.com
Adventure World Travel offers a five-day/four-night package to Bushmans Kloof, including return private vehicle transfers from Cape Town from $1839 a person. See adventureworld.com.au
Single nights at Bushmans Kloof from $399 a person a night, twin share. See bushmanskloof.co.za