You Never Forget the First Tree You Plant

The mountain stretched out its path before us.

“Follow me,” the winding red clay road said. Small rocks, like unruly tortoises, scattered the trail.

With each roll of the tyres, down the declines, along the flats, up the climbs, I saw the drop beside us grow.

We were headed up into the mountain but it’s never really as simple as that. When it comes to climbing mountains, when it comes to getting to the top most peaks of the Cederberg, one must go down too. Up and down, up and down.

I watched the cliff, the sun and the clouds, the ups and the downs, the tyres on the left of the vehicle – Bushmans Kloof’s game vehicle – like an eagle getting the lay of the land.

We weren’t here to see animals, we were on our way to plant the endangered and endemic Clanwilliam cedar tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) in the mountains named after them. The Cederberg. But there is something about a game vehicle – an open sided 4×4 and the fresh African air – that makes your eyes perk up for the slightest hint of movement in the distance. These are the animal eyes of the safarigoer.

After the bontebok, klipspringer, red hartebeest, grey rhebok and zebra, the aardwolf, African wildcat and bat-eared fox of Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, these mountains, a short drive from the lodge, pointed us to rock rabbits, baboons, tortoises, the great African Fish eagle and Black Harrier.

Arms would stretch out of the vehicle in slow motion as passengers pointed to their sightings, uncertain if it had been real, or a figment of safari imagination, of mountain elevation.

Because out in the middle of the Cederberg away from any view of city streets or lights, any sound of man, it seems unbelievable that anyone or thing could live here.

When you look closely (when you are accompanied by someone from Cape Nature, like Conservation Manager,  Rika du Plessis) you realise how inaccurate it would be to describe the region as barren. Remote yes, isolated yes. But not barren. Life has adapted to the terrain here in many different forms. Dung beetles, snakes, scorpions live side by side with the odd village donkey and the Cape Floral Kingdom.

The reason for the scarcity of cedar trees has more to do with the influence of the human hand than nature. Deforestation has ripped these icons of the area from the picture. Wild fires have not helped, nor the fact that cedars like to take their time. They’re slow growers, these trees.

To attempt to counteract this, Cape Nature and Bushmans Kloof host this annual Clanwilliam Cedar Tree event at Heuningvlei in the Cederberg Wilderness each year.

About 300 conservation volunteers, school children and families from all over the Western Cape unite to plant cedar saplings. To rewild the area. Participants include the Wildflower Society, the local branch of the Botanical Society and the Cederberg Conservancy, as well as local schools.

At a clearing high up in the hills, our vehicle parked, alongside the other treeplanters and guests. Our trees were waiting for us –  mature seedlings a hand tall that had been birthed and cared for in Cape Nature’s nursery.

Our feet took to the ground and we made our individual paths into the grove and the surrounding wilderness. Burnt skeletons of cedars past stood tall trying to hold onto the shifting sand beneath them. A few trees remained, signalling us with their bright Christmas tree green amid the browns and blacks.

Beside a stump for company, I dug my hole and planted my sapling. I covered her up with the sandy soil around her and sprinkled cold water over her.

And as though watching, attentively, to what our gathering was up to… as though hearing our soft words of encouragement and wishes to the plant gods, the sun slipped behind the clouds and rain erupted over us.

Over the dry earth. Over the donkeys and eagles and snakes. Over our young trees.

It’s difficult not to be a little mystically minded at moments like this.

The area, the whole of the Cape, had been in the midst of the worst drought in 100 years. Rain was not common. And yet here we stood, drenched by what felt a whole lot like the earth trying its best to help us grow some trees.

It was all up to Mother Nature now.

We climbed back into the game vehicle and rolled back down (up and down, up and down) the mountain to the lodge, to our bontebok, to flooding gardens and puddled dirt roads and a great hopes to return in a year to see our handsome cedars still standing, tall and green.

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.” — Wangari Maathai


Highlights of the Event

Everyone, strangers, friends, locals, travellers, coming together.

Even little ones… who were given cedar seeds to plant, to grow into saplings for next year’s tree planting event

“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.” — Wangari Maathai

Searching for animal life in the peaks and valleys

Planting – for some of us – our first ever tree

The beauty of the Cederberg and its rich, unique life

The inspiring introduction from one of Bushmans Kloof’s Chairmen, Michael Tollman, about the sustainability projects at Bushmans Kloof and the importance of the cedar tree event. Watch the talk here > 

The song and dance that concluded the event in the mountains… compliments of the local band and Reil dance troupe

And the lunch and sweet treats in between, from Bushmans Kloof Executive Chef, Charles Hayward

Returning to Bushmans Kloof for the night… A beautiful, welcome highlight without a doubt.


Read more: Good Hope FM breakfast host Dan Corder gets to know CapeNature and watch the video.

How We Celebrated World Oceans Day 2018

“This is where I first learnt to swim,” he said. “As a kid we used to come down to this exact beach, my cousins and I. The whole family.”

Grant, now the Head Chef of Ellerman House, spoke as he pointed to the sandy inlet stretching out from sea to street beside the harbour in Kalk Bay, Cape Town.

I tried to picture him, the tallest of our chefs in Africa, as a young boy. When this failed, I pictured myself, as a girl, learning to swim in a family friend’s pool. I tried to flip back to that earliest memory of being in the sea. And I saw it – the first waterwings, the first bodyboard, the first wetsuit.

I saw the ocean and the traffic jams it had caused with all the cityfolk making their way to the sea on baking Cape days. I saw all the picnic baskets, snorkels, goggles, flippers, sand castles, umbrellas. Paraphernalia of the oceanlover.

I could see Grant now among them, just one of the crowd of boys excited to be barefoot and free, on sand and in sea.

Today we were standing on the harbour jetty looking out over the beachfront and at the blue – the light blue, deep blue, flat blue, choppy blue.

“I think that’s them,” Grant said, pointing to a spec on the horizon.

“No, that’s going the opposite way. That boat’s still going out to sea,” said another member of our party.

We waited some more, as the spec grew closer, bigger, until we could spy the people on board – our Chef and Maître de Maison cum fishermen. Ashley Moss (Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenort) and Paul Bruce-Brand (Ellerman House), respectively, who had spent the morning, from sunrise to noon, out at sea with a local fisherman.

“Look at them,” Grant said, “they’re still smiling.”

It was not the warmest day. The sky and sea were not blue as I might have alluded to. They were a white-grey. But it was true, the men were smiling. Even Fadil, who had allowed our two to fish with him for a morning, was smiling.

“Maybe they’ve been converted,” I said. Thinking of the sea and her spell. Thinking of Grant and me as kids, splashing in the shallow waves for hours, immune to the frostbite and brain-freeze. Thinking of our smiles and yelps and cartwheels and somersaults, like seals playing mermen and mermaids. Thinking of that general glow the sea casts over you. How it washes away the rest of the world, while you lose yourself in its world.

Paul and Ashley stepped off the boat, onto the harbour jetty, carrying their catch of the day – red roman and bream. We joked about their size, the way fishermen do. But really we were impressed, a little envious, and wishing we’d had the courage to join them.

We had come to learn more about the local fishing community, about supporting local and sustainable fishing practices. We had come to remind ourselves of the smell of the sea, and all the reasons we need and love it.

It wasn’t quite until Grant took me back to my childhood that I realised just how pivotal the ocean has been in my life, in all the lives around me – from our earliest memories, our favourite memories, to those still being made.

There are infinite reasons and ways to celebrate World Oceans Day, as it fell on 8 June this week. One of the most appealing ways, we thought, was food…

In collaboration with Relais & Châteaux alongside the NGO  Ethic Ocean, the chefs of several of the Relais & Châteaux hotels and lodges in Africa and the Indian Ocean planned, prepared and served a  special seafood dinner on the night of World Oceans Day to shed light on sustainability, on looking after our oceans while still enjoying them and their bounty.

Below is a look at the hotels and lodges that participated and the menus created by the chefs, from the wilderness of South Africa and the city lights of Cape Town and Johannesburg to the tropical Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Discover more:

Relais & Châteaux + Exquisite Fish
Relais & Châteaux’s Celebrity Chefs Fight to Save Our Oceans
Attenborough’s message for World Oceans Day

20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

Read more > WOD_20 Degres Sud Menu

North Island, Seychelles

Read more >

Camp Jambulani, Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Read more >

Londolozi Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sand, South Africa

Read more >

Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Winelands

Read more >

Ellerman House, Cape Town, South Africa

Read more >

Zanzibar Luxury White Sand Villas & Spa, Zanzibar

Read more > WOD_Zanzibar White Sand Menu 2018

AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Read more >

“The sea is as near as we come to another world.” – Anne Stevenson

One Night With The Parlotones | The Ellerman Sessions

Musicians are just like us. They too are travellers. Adventurers. Their sunshine and starry nights are also often seen in new towns, with new people, while drinking in the unfamiliar. Like us, it’s not uncommon for them to fall asleep in one time zone and wake up in another. Sometimes, there’s no sleep at all.

For us both, there are always new minds to encounter around tables, in the clear light of breakfast and the dizzy daze of dinner. There are always strangers who feel a lot like home, and strangers who get stranger.

Every trip, every gig, is different from the next. Each one finds a way to open your mind a little more. Sometimes, with the right combination of thrill and soul, one day, one night, can feel like a lifetime. It can fill the heart with all the spirit it needs to go on. On every trip, every gig, there are moments you can’t shake, moments that linger in nerve and sinew.

Adventure and soul are what travel and music have in common. Even for the audience, caught in the voodoo of the electric guitar and the wild beats of sticks on a drum. There is a journey in the listening as much as the playing. Sometimes the lyrics and their message take hold of us, pick us up like hitchhikers on the side of the long open road, and carry us from one place to the next. From the quiet red earth desert to the thick dripping rainforest. From memory to memory.

For musicians, as with travellers, there is a sense of purpose. No time to waste. Only more life to chase and sink into. Of course there are different kinds of musicians just as there are different kinds of travellers, but in our hearts we’re made of the same stuff.

That’s how it felt watching the first of the Ellerman Sessions at Ellerman House in Cape Town. That’s what came to mind as The Parlotones, South Africa’s most successful rock band, spun for us, the travellers gathered in the Wine Gallery, the stories behind their songs.

In between sets, Kahn Morbee, Neil Pauw, Glenn Hodgson, Paul Hodgson and Rob Davidson bared their hearts, told their truths, and took us on a voyage.

Sitting with the band in their villa at the hotel, watching the sun dripping over the ocean through distant clouds, we spoke of the most unusual places they’ve played, the favourites, the never-go-back-to’s. We spoke the language of travel… of the airplane tickets, shot glasses and hotel slippers we’ve collected from each far-flung home. Of the adventures that become songs, the songs that become adventures.

But most significantly, we spoke, musician and traveller alike, with the same soul.

Discover the other artists lined up for Ellerman House’s Ellerman Sessions here, and take a look at some images from the first night below.