Cederberg: Between the rocks and a dark place

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The Independent Travel

The cold of a winter’s night settles quickly upon South Africa’s Cederberg region. The majestic mountains darken ominously, the weakening power of the sun’s rays diminish with astonishing speed. Yet even as the stars emerge, there is still movement among the animals, the birds and scenery.

A pair of Blacksmith Lapwings is incensed by our presence, screaming and swooping in their attempts to drive us away, probably from the nest containing their young. The dominant male Springbok rushes at four young males bold enough to cross his territory as the light fades. His charge sends them racing away into the gathering darkness, an enchanting sight. Red Hartebeest graze beside a dam: an ostrich pecks hungrily in the scrub.

Soon, the feeding must be done and the animals will settle for the night. To acknowledge another grand day in this haven of nature, the sky paints a fiery finale to the daylight hours.

On the dam a pair of ducks glide gracefully across the water, as the fading sunlight is dappled on top of every move of the water, like an Impressionist adding brushstrokes to his canvas.

Here at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, in the shadow of the Cederberg, that vast extensive region in north-west Cape, a kaleidoscope of colours, plant life, birds and animals is to be glimpsed. A total of 755 plant species alone have been identified in this region and they offer an unfolding carpet of colour as winter turns to spring.

Then there are almost 200 bird species and rock paintings, dating back about 3,000 years, for which the region is famous. Such variety is fascinating; it is the essence of this beautiful place which is a 4-hour drive through magnificent country, 270 kms due north of Cape Town.

Many locals will tell you that they are happiest amidst winter in the Cederberg. Everything, they say, comes to life. Summer is usually hot and dusty. Last year, they had temperatures almost 50 degrees centigrade there; it seemed like nothing was alive.

But when the first rains of winter come there is an immediate transformation. The colours come to life and there is great variety.

Each day is different in some small way. A favourite time of the day for some is between sunrise and midday when you can do the best tracking and everything is still fresh.

Tracking early in the day, following animals’ footprints and trying to understand their patterns and territories is like reading a newspaper in the morning to some locals.

In the morning, early on, you see dew drops on the spider webs and can take the most beautiful pictures. It is one of the great natural parts of South Africa. You may not find the Big five animals roaming free, but in a sense, that enhances the appeal for the visitor. He or she can roam free, take bikes off on dusty trails or rough tracks; paddle a canoe gently across a silent lake.

All that can be heard is the occasional cry of an animal, or a bird or just the wind, blowing down the valley off the towering mountains that seem to line this picturesque scene as though it were a canvas.

Nature is everything and everywhere: animals, trees, plants and especially fynbos vegetation. At Bushmans, a long term programme is underway and has been since the 1990s, to return a vast area which had been cultivated, for food like potatoes, onions and even rooibos tea, to the natural habitat. This is for the benefit of the present generation but also the future.

As winter turns to spring and the plant life springs into its annual vibrancy and colour, South Africa is transformed. The days begin to lengthen, cold night starts to lose their bite and the sun offers an increasingly beguiling source of energy and warmth.