Luxury travel the way we know it, with hotel staffers catering to a guest’s every whim (even the most unreasonable ones), is often deemed the penultimate escape experience. But what’s the fun in everything going your way? Travel’s best benefit is how it opens your eyes not just to the beauty of the world and the diversity of cultures, but also to how your perspective can still broaden and deepen with every novel encounter in a foreign land.
Holing up in a luxury suite is definitely an option at the Bushmans Kloof Lodge’s well-appointed accommodations, but that would be cheating yourself out of a marvelous experience.
Nestled at the foot of the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa, this award-winning lodge and natural reservation has the 500-year-old wind-sculpted sandstone formations as a breathtaking backdrop. Their craggy surfaces go from burnt orange to golden, depending on how the sunlight falls on them. These mountains have served as home to Bushman tribes for 120,000 years—in short, home to mankind’s oldest nation whose culture came close to extinction by 1900.
The wilderness surrounding it is also home to indigenous flora and fauna such as fynbos and the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, the Cape Clawless Otter, and the Clanwilliam Yellowfish. Since it falls within the Cape Floral Kingdom, the reservation was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Cape Floral Kingdom in 2004. Bushmans Kloof itself is accredited by the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association and is regarded as one of the premiere eco-lodges in the world.
Fifty-five percent of the staff comes from local and surrounding communities. Because the lodge is 200 km. away from Cape Town, Bushmans Kloof has at its heart the authenticity, history, and future social, economic, cultural, environmental sustainability of the local culture. “As a priority, part of the business philosophy and operation of the property is the Bushmans Kloof family: its staff, their families, and the neighboring communities,” Suzie Thompson, vice president of marketing for the Red Carnation Hotels Collection, which manages Bushmans Kloof, shares in an exclusive interview with Garage. “Ultimately, we seek to empower local people, creating a sense of purpose through employment and career prospects.”
The natural wealth of resources surrounding the place was part of the vision that Bill and Mark McAdam had in 1991 when they bought the 7500 ha. of the then overgrazed and neglected land upon which the reservation now stands. Four years later, they restored the 170-year-old manor in the grounds, and in consultation with wildlife and ecology experts, began implementing a long-term veld management program.
Aside from providing employment, Bushmans Kloof also states that it supports local produce, materials, and manpower as much as possible, from the building supplies and contractor services they use to the food they serve in their restaurants, which showcase the best of South African flavors.
Dining beneath the stars
Two of their dining establishments take full advantage of the reserve’s natural beauty. Kadoro, whose name translates to “tinderbox of stories,” has an apt moniker: set in a renovated and furnished shepherd’s cottage in the heart of the reservation, its lack of electricity preserves its rustic charm, which isfurther enhanced by candlelit table settings. The lack of electronic distraction allows guests to enjoy the clear, starlit skies as they engage in conversation over local delicacies such as braaivleis (barbecues) and full-bodied soups and potjiekos (stews), with the natural sounds of wildlife as “music.”
At Embers, meanwhile, food is cooked on a braai (outdoor barbecue) as guests wait. Waiting is far from unpleasant, though, with a view of the valley provided by the restaurant’s perch atop a cliff. Aside from serving braaivleis, Embers also offers a selection of South African salads, home-baked breads, grilled Karoo lamb, traditional boerewors sausages, steaks, and chicken kebabs.
The activities on the reservation are all hinged on eco-tourism, with the guests provided with avenues to engage with the local community and culture. They can sign up to plant saplings of the endangered Clanwilliam Cedar Tree or donate to the reservation’s Pack for a Purpose project, which has the local farm school Elizabethfontein Primary School as the beneficiary.
With an eye for the future, Bushmans Kloof also works to preserve some of South Africa’s oldest indigenous forms of art. Guided by the reservation’s own rock art curator Londi Ndzima, guests can visit the more than 130 unique rock art sites in the place and see for themselves the ancient drawings etched by the Bushman tribes using oxide pigments—perhaps the earliest stories ever told by men to each other. The presence of these rock art sites led to the identification of the reservation as a South African Natural Heritage Site.
Another cultural heritage project is Bushmans Kloof’s work in reviving the Riel Dance, a traditional ceremonial dance performed by the ancient Khoi and San civilizations. By founding the award-winning local Riel Dance troupe Die Nuwe GrasKoue Trappers, which won gold in the 2015 World Championships of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, Bushmans Kloof paves the way for the then dying art form’s modern-day renaissance. All 75 of the troupe members come from the rural community of Wupperthal and other small towns in the Cederberg area around the reservation, ensuring the continued practice of one of South Africa’s oldest indigenous ethnic folk dances among the younger generation.
This year, Bushmans Kloof will expand the work it has been doing with the TreadRight Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps ensure the preservation of the environment and indigenous communities through sustainable tourism projects. “No hunting has ever taken place at Bushmans Kloof, so the ethos of running it as a protected area has always been observed and practiced to some extent,” confirms the management.
As one of the 35 worldwide projects managed by the TreadRight foundation, Bushmans Kloof has four current conservation initiatives that look after the protection of endangered flora and fauna in the area. The first is the Cape Leopard Trust, a GPS collaring project initiated in August of 2005 to help biologists track and monitor the wild feline’s behavior and movements in the Ceederberg Mountains. Another initiative is the Clanwilliam Cedar Tree Project, where saplings of the indigenous Clanwilliam Cedar, once nearly gone in the area, are planted in the reservation’s nursery before they are reintroduced to their natural habitat.
Bushmans Kloof also does an intensive study on the Cape Mountain zebra, the largest mammal in South Africa to face extinction. Using the reservation’s private herd of zebras, experts do extensive photographing and documenting of the animals’ behavior to understand better the conditions needed for them reproduce successfully. Finally, there is the conservation of the Clanwilliam Yellowfish, done in the reservation’s three dams that have been modified and are consistently monitored to help small fries swim upstream during spring. During summer, after the Yellowfish has finished spawning, guests are allowed to do catch-and-release fly-fishing in the rock pools of the Boontjies and Perdekraal tributaries near the lodge—an experience that can impart to them the necessity of thoughtful consumption.
“While there are immense challenges for local communities [in terms of] education and job [opportunities], career development, family unity, and economic stability for the next generation, the remote nature of Bushmans Kloof also offers a tranquil sense of place,” the management states. Though the nearest city is quite a distance away, the lack of urban buzz could actually be the biggest luxury that Bushmans Kloof Lodge offers—second only to the chance to learn about mankind’s earliest ancestors, right at this beautiful cradle of humanity.
The hotel management advises visiting Bushmans Kloof between July and August, after the winter and rainy season. Dress code is casual and comfortable, including shoes. Pack some practical layering pieces as well for the chillier evenings, and bring plenty of sunblock.
Visit the Bushmans Kloof Lodge website for more information.
Photos courtesy of the Red Carnation Hotels Collection.
This story originally appeared in Garage Magazine’s June/July 2017 issue.