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.

One of the Most Exceptional Cycling Experiences Ever

It has been called the ultimate cycling safari. A mountain biking experience to rival all other mountain biking experiences. And an event for only a chosen few: a powerful pride of protectors, preservers and legacy builders. The concept behind the Great Plains Foundation’s Ride For Lions will make you want to be part of that pride, no matter how daunting it looks…

Discover more about the journey here, or as told by the Great Plains Foundation below…

Lions need land. They need hidden places, not always prime savannahs, to breed and to roam as nomads. They need this land now more than ever as a reservoir for their dwindling numbers.

There are an estimated 44 million acres of land in Africa on which lions roam that is currently unprotected or under hunting management. 60% of the remaining 20-30,000 lions live under no protection at all on this land. Great Plains is working to change these numbers and protect more land for lions.

Through the Great Plains Foundation’s Ride For Lions, conservation-minded individuals and companies help fund and expand the amount of conserved land where lions roam freely. We do this through the purchase of land leases that cost roughly $250,000 to service and protect each year. In many cases, these leases are parcels of ex hunting land where the animal populations have significantly declined. Through programs and partnerships that rehabilitate the land and wildlife while mitigating human-wildlife conflict we have seen areas once desolate, become safe havens where lions and other wildlife return in abundance.


Participants in Ride For Lions not only demonstrate a commitment to conservation, but also intimately experience the land being conserved throughout the course of the ride.

Groups are limited to just 10 members. In keeping with the singular intimacy of this experience, riders gain a greater appreciation for the land undistracted by large groups.

A ride like this is unprecedented; combining an on-the-ground conservation experience with the comforts and security of Great Plains operations. It is a 4-day exploration of Kenya’s priceless Amboseli-Tsavo region: a showcase of Nature’s grand-scale artistry and wildlife spectacles. It is this magnificence that riders witness, experience and conserve.

Graced by the presence of Mt Kilimanjaro, riders follow bush tracks, elephant trails and footpaths. From the vast swathes of savannahs with green smudges of game-rich wetlands, riders gradually ascend into the lava world of the Chyulu Hills.

At these higher elevations, the verdant slopes tumble towards the great plains of Africa that extend forever.

Ride for Lions is imbued with the Great Plains defining ethos: exquisite attention to detail, luxurious finishes, beautifully appointed locations, non-negotiable safety measures, fine dining and inimitable style. Riders enjoy a perfect synergy of exceptional touring and exceptional care.

There are echoes of the Hero’s Journey in this spectacular event. Like the archetypal Hero, riders have embraced a great adventure together, shared experiences, endured challenges, triumphed, emerged with new insights, and, most importantly, making a heroic difference to African conservation.

Contact info@greatplainsconservation.com for more information on joining Ride For Lions.


Watch the Video for a Closer Look


The Gift of Yoga in the Wilderness of South Africa

Julia Geffers is a traveller driven by a passion for compassion. It is a passion that has led her, as a Registered Yoga Teacher, to share the art of yoga with schools in disadvantaged communities. Julia is also the Director of Hotel Member Services at Relais & Châteaux.

The schools she has brought the power of the mat to are the  Digital Learning Campuses of the Good Work Foundation, a registered NGO that has been working with grassroots education in Africa since 2003, and that is supported by Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

After experiencing the joys of an African safari at Londolozi, Julia headed into the local community to visit GWF’s Hazyview and Huntington campuses to share the joys of yoga with the young learners. The students, the process, the community would give her so much more in return.

In a blog for the Good Work Foundation, Julia shares how the foundation became a home away from home where she could realise that deep passion for compassion.

Words below by Julia Geffers. Discover more about GWF and Londolozi.

Throughout our lives we are told  that we need to build our future and our homes. We are told that there are plans to follow, career plans, personal life plans, you are supposed to do, to be, to have, according to guidelines someone someday defined. Looking at  those guidelines more closely you realize that they have nothing to do with who you are. Nevertheless in our childhood and youth we follow the rules given to us without asking too many questions.

Until one day – the day – we start wondering why the nicely prepared plan apparently does not work out  and we start questioning the plan altogether.  I had it all figured out in my plan: have a family, have a career, play my sports, live in a  nice place…in a few words, a plan as written on one of the hallmark greeting cards.  Life does not work that way though and when things to do not go according to plan,  latest then is the moment when we start listening to our call inside.

A  few years back I started questioning the order of things and took off on a quest to my true self and my deep calling. I wandered in a confusing labyrinth of people, places and events, I went through moments of happiness and dark times, through sadness and tears as well as laughter and joy. What was I searching? After all I have a loving family, dearest friends, an accomplishing career and the opportunity to live a full and satisfactory life. I am deeply grateful for the blessings I have received and this search is not triggered out of dissatisfaction or sense of something missing.

The search inside myself is more the fruit of the certainty that there is another purpose in my life that so far I have not fulfilled, a void in me that, despite all goodness I have received, needs filling. It turns out what I thought needed filling actually was a need to give. A need to be there for others, to share some of my wealth – my personal wealth in terms of learning/lessons I have received, studies I was allowed to make, experience I lived and help others find their path.

Giving, this is the clear calling in my heart.

Where to start? How do you give? Whom do you give to? Is it arrogant to think you have something to give in the first place? Many questions in my heart and in my mind on this urge I feel, but do not quite know what to do with.

One fine day a dear friend takes me to a place close to her heart – a place where young humans are given the opportunity to change their lives thanks to access to education and learning. A place hidden in the deep heart of South Africa, in a rural community that has experienced hard times, apartheid, sickness, drought, economic recession, poverty. A place where generations live under the same roof to support each other but also because there is no alternative. In this place the first digital learning center has seen the day a few years ago: a concept so simple and yet such a challenge: bring learning to people so they are given the opportunity to change their lives. A challenge that goes way beyond the individual since the change this is bringing about is an entire shift in generations of people.

My friend takes me there and I immediately feel I have arrived where I belong. It is nothing rational nor is it possible to really explain it with words. I simply know that this is it…

I wish I could come back and be part of this – in any possible way – by giving something I have my energy, my love, my smile and of course my time.

The Good Work Foundation has become my home, the place where I can be the best version of myself and be there for others.

Home is where the heart is they say and my heart is here with this incredible group of people who devote their lives and work to building a better world – actively and concretely. With words but also with facts and vision.

Home is where children come with joy and enthusiasm to learn guided by young adults who have had the same calling: educate, teach, share knowledge and generate growth.

Home is where youngsters have access to education and can make a choice to change their lives through knowledge.

Home is where I can share everything I have to contribute to a smile, to a growth, to life.

Here is home, a home where I am finally able to give, a place where I can share, where I can contribute to something that may appear small far away from here and in reality is a huge opportunity and a chance to make an impact. It is a first stride to something that step by step can change the world. Thank you Kate, Ryan, Gogo, Shan, Dave and the entire team of the Good Work Foundation as well as to all the young human beings who are giving me the opportunity to follow my call: the call of GIVING.

yoga 2

Julia shares her passion for Yoga with Bridging Academy Students from the Huntington Digital Learning Campus.

IMG_5393

Bridging Academy Students at Hazyview campus take a break from digital learning to a relaxing yoga session with Julia.

IMG_5450

Open Learning Student pulls one of the most difficult yoga moves Julia showed them.

IMG_5434

“Home is where the children come with joy and enthusiasm to learn, guided by adults who have had the same calling – educate, teach, share knowledge and generate growth.”