Bushmans Kloof Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa

Zebra in Bushmans Kloof Reserve.
By Laurianne Claase

Bushmans Kloof is situated between the Cederberg Mountains and Great Karoo plains.

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Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve

I knew how Cinderella felt. The morning after and the single-engine Cessna had changed back into my Nissan Exa. The private air-strip, the chef who'd cooked for Clinton, (and no, it wasn't goose) the two thousand bottle wine cellar...gone.... as though they'd never been. All was as it had been before. And yet, not quite.

Back in the wilderness from which I'd been whisked, the mountains are five hundred million years old. They were around at the first stirring of the primeval soup from which man sprang so many zeroes later. Water once covered the antediluvian plains and traces remain in sweeping patterns on the rocks.

Later, indigenous cedars covered the higher slopes. Slow-growing and aromatic, they gave the mountains their current name. Elephant, black rhino and lion ranged across the valleys and plateaus. The quagga and his cousins shared the plains. Their memory remains in ochre stains upon the rocky overhangs, painted by a people themselves one hundred and twenty thousand years old.

A communal, nomadic people, the San followed the seasons and left their lives upon the rocks. Their stories, however, are difficult to read. Hunted by both black and white newcomers to their ancestral lands, the San were effectively exterminated. By 1910 their folklore was dead, their stories forgotten.

The settlers had arrived in the Cederberg. The cedars made fine telegraph and fencing poles. Grazing lands made way for grain. Zebra was a popular hide for making grain bags and the quagga disappeared over the slippery slope, closely followed by his cousin the Cape Mountain Zebra.

Down to a population of ninety-one in the 1950's the mountain zebra got lucky - luckier than his hapless cousin, at any rate. There are now some twelve hundred Cape Mountain Zebra world-wide and thirty of these are to be found at Bushmans Kloof in the Northern Cederberg, some two hundred and sixty kilometres from Cape Town. The zebras have come back to the mountains that were once their domain.

Approaching through the sage and khaki bushveld, this private game reserve is as much a postcard oasis as it is an ecological one. Landscaped gardens of Wimbledon lawn run down to the river's edge and a rim-flow swimming pool merges with the river's horizon. It is a setting in which the reserve's celebrity guests (which have included the likes of the Bransens, the Thatchers and the Caines) would not feel out of place.

The man responsible for all this and much more is one Mark McAdam. He has the affable air of a Scottish laird in khaki. Appropriate, this, to the host of an African manor house. 'We're trying to tell a story of what this place used to be like,' he offers in explanation for buying up seven farms and returning them to the wild. The elegant twin-bed lodges echo his words in wild dog and zebra, antelope and leopard print. The crockery is hand-painted in their spoor. He has set about retelling the past in other ways.

The Manor House with its antique Cape kitchen utensils and heavy yellowwood furniture has echoes of the West Coast Sandveld of old. The four executive suites are named after early Scottish explorers to the area and there are Victorian baths in every bathroom.

But the story of the white man in these mountains is a short one and woeful. Bushmans Kloof has other tales to tell. Seven years on, the proteas are sprouting where the soil was once sewn with wheat. Restocked with ostrich and springbok, bontebok and wildebeest as well as the zebra and three new foals, a sunset game drive seems to be in order.

If staying at the manor house, your private jeep will be made ready by your personal game ranger after arrangements have been made with your cordon bleu chef to have sundowners waiting above the waterfall. 'Darling!'

The rangers have their own stories to tell. About the mongoose that has opted out of the rat race and taken to the water in competition with the Cape clawless otter for snails. Or about the buchu bush once used by the San to anoint and purify and now popular as a brandy. You'll learn that wild rosemary smells like camphor and that sundews don't look at all carnivorous.

But the rock art is the most intriguing tale of all. One hundred and twenty-five sites have been identified on the reserve so far, some going back six thousand years. Painted on the rocky veil between this world and the other, the images are a montage of dream and narrative, ritual and symbolism. Their meanings stand and fall on shifting sands of theory but the images remain. For now.

Ochre hunters and charcoal zebras daub T-shirts, mugs and playing cards. But there is little that can be done to preserve the originals on their fragile sandstone canvases. The stories, however, are being heard again. To the San the eland meant physical beauty and fatness, rain and blessings from the land. The eland, too, are back at Bushmans Kloof.

Copyright 2002 Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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