The Route du Bonheur Diaries | Bushmans Kloof Part 1

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A group of travellers head into a wilderness at the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains. 270 km from Cape Town, from home, they are on a road trip from coast (Ellerman House), to vineyard (Delaire Graff Estate), to mountain (Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat), to secret garden (The Cellars-Hohenort) and have just reached their third destination. While some of the travellers have ventured to this faraway landscape where wildlife roam freely once before, many are strangers to this new land.

It is a land imbued with red – the red-brown sandstone of its gravel roads, rocky outcrops and mountain peaks, ridges and cliffs that call on the world’s finest, boldest hikers, runners, rock climbers and photographers. Images of Mars come to mind. But then you view the life of this otherworldly habitat and you realise that this is simply a fragment of Earth, an unusual, remarkable fragment, but Earth nonetheless. The first wild thing to greet our explorers is a small herd of klipspringer – the antelopes’ reddy-orange coat looks even redder in the glow of the setting sun.

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The group – of travellers, not klipspringers – have arrived in time to see the changing of the Cederberg. Like that of the guards at Buckingham Palace, this change sees the daytime creatures handing over the duty of mountain watch to the animals of the night. Nocturnal beings such as the aardwolf, aardvark and African porcupine. The deep blue sky hanging over the red earth turns over to rest its head on the cushion of another day well-lived.

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Bushmans Kloof

Other animals you might see at Bushmans Kloof include Cape and bat-eared foxes, Cape clawless otter, caracal and African wild cat, grey rhebok, red hartebeest and bontebok.

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Bushmans Kloof protects one of the largest private herds of Cape Mountain Zebra in the world, an animal saved from the brink of extinction, as well as the rare and secretive Cape leopard.

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The travellers change too… Their clothes first. They don their outside outfits, jackets and boots for warmth. And then their vehicles – from their road companions on this trip, the BMW X3 and BMW530 D, to an open-sided LandCruiser, that takes them to a lone shepherd’s cottage on an open clearing. Known as The Homestead, the cottage, as far as looks express, has lived a good, long life. It is protected by tall shapes the travellers discern as trees – night is falling fast – and the spark and crackle of a campfire already made.

The travellers’ grip on time relaxes. Mountain Time governs life here, while the spirits of shepherds past and the sparkle of starlight guides the way forward. Inside the cottage, with a fire in the hearth and 100 candles for light, the walls of unfamiliarity that separate the travellers from each other – for they are all, mostly, new to each other – fade. Wine redder, deeper and darker than the earth beneath them, flows – from bottle to glass, glass to lips, even glass to floor, in moments of uncontained ardour.

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Meal after meal keeps the party around one long table, together with talk of lives past, present and future. The conversation swims between the candlesticks from one person to another. If their words carried their own light, a photograph of the scene would show an interwoven figure of eight upon figure of eight upon figure of eight.

This is the first day of the travellers’ adventure and it ends with stars. Chief of this new tribe, Guide Nicholas, takes the clan further into the veld, dimming the lights of the 4×4 and, with a laser of Zeus-like strength, he points at, seemingly touches, several stars of interest. The starry formations paint the night sky like the rock art the travellers will glimpse the next morning.

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But before then, before the bush breakfasts and morning walks to secret rock caves, the group scatters. Each traveller retreats to a room of her own, to a freestanding tub of her own with hot water to wash off the dust of the day, before the whiteness of their beds and the blackness of that pre-dream phase of slumber takes over.

Of course, they know, the day will never truly, completely, wash off. It has found its way deep into the crevices of their minds, where memories worth holding onto go for safekeeping.

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Part two to follow shortly…

Woman in the Garden | The Cellars-Hohenort

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Woman in the Garden, by Claude Monet, 1867

 Before we let you into the life of the co-creator of one of the most beautiful gardens in South Africa – those of The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town, we’ll try to paint a picture of her for you… Imagine one particular picture, the impressionist painting by Monet featured above, and you’ll see, in the woman in white, the elegance and affinity for nature that characterises our own “woman in the garden” – Jean Almon.

Add to that the words of Wordsworth’s poem, “To the Spade of a Friend” and his depiction of the “agriculturist”, who employs leisure hours shaping pleasant walks by the side of beloved streams and who labours in “pleasure-ground”, enjoying the, “Health, meekness, ardour, quietness secure, … And elegant enjoyments, that are pure / As nature is,” as bestowed by time spent with your hands deep in soil, creating and shaping life.

Over the years, Jean has not only helped to create the artwork that is the gardens of this Constantia retreat, but has also taken garden lover after garden lover to explore its corners – those blooming in bougainvillea, agapanthus, plectranthus, hydrangeas, clivia, camphor trees and daffodils.

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Before she reached the gardens of the Cellars-Hohenort, Jean grew up on a farm on the banks of the Umzimvubu River in Port St Johns – the seaside village where she met her husband, Harold. Perhaps it is in those years surrounded by lush subtropical plants and country living that first sowed her passion for the art of gardening. Perhaps it was a matter of nature. Either way, her path led her to help create one of the most notable gardens in South Africa.

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Today, Jean can be found busy on the estate gardens three days a week. Find out more about the gardener of the late Liz McGrath’s prized gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort in these…

10 Things About Jean Almon

1. “When my husband died 34 years ago, my close friend Erica Goss, also a widow, said to me, we must never get morbid, we must keep enjoying life, so we decided to travel once a year to somewhere spectacular. We had many great adventures travelling the world – the Americas, Russia, China, India, the great gardens of the United Kingdom and Europe, we cruised Antartica, we flew over Everest.

2. I met and married Harold after he had returned from World War 2 and established a law practice in Port St Johns. We had a beautiful hilltop home with acres of gardens and magnificent views of the Indian Ocean, the river and mountains. in 1968 we moved to Grahamstown where we spent our last years together in a gracious double story 1820 Settler stone house.

3. Here we had a wonderful gardener, Sandi, who I was close to. Together we established a beautiful garden to complement our home. Sandi brought me such joy. At festival times, he would offer rides on his horse and cart, both he and the horse dressed in my old gardening hats, putting a smile on everyone’s faces.

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4. After Harold died, I sold the house and moved to Cape Town to be closer to my children. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I helped with fund raising at St Luke’s Hospice. One of the events I organised was an open day at the glorious Stellenberg Gardens and visiting that day was a Johannesburg friend of mine, the garden designer Beth Still.

Beth was in Cape Town with Liz McGrath to help design the gardens for the Cellars Hotel which Liz had recently bought. Back then it was only a 12 bedroomed country house and the gardens were almost non-existent. Beth needed someone in Cape Town to help establish and run the garden and asked if I would be interested. I had hardly had time to think about it when she brought Liz McGrath over to meet me. Liz put out her hand and said: “I’ll see you at 9am tomorrow morning!” I had never even heard of the Cellars and didn’t even know where it was but Liz and I became good friends and she was always extremely kind to me.

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6. When the adjoining Hohenort home and property came up for sale Liz was able to extend and grow the Cellars-Hohenort garden to 10 hectares, and together with Beth, we established the rose garden, the terraced orchards, the vegetable and herb gardens, the shaded forest walkways, the vineyard, the pools, ponds and courtyards and the Gary Player designed putting green. Liz always encouraged me to pursue my ideas in the garden and together with our incredible team of gardeners we worked hard to get it to the international standard it enjoys today.

7. Jean, with her signature hats, has become the face of The Cellars-Hohenort garden. She has been there for 26 years.

8. For three years running, during her time at the Cellars, Jean worked at the annual Chelsea Flower Show in London as a volunteer on the award winning South African Botanical Society’s Kirstenbosch stand.

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9. Many of Jean’s favourite plants at the Cellars-Hohenort were grown from slips lovingly transplanted and brought with her from her own gardens in Port St Johns, Grahamstown and Cape Town.

10. “The gardens of the Cellars-Hohenort are a place people love to come and get lost in, to just enjoy. A garden should be beautiful no matter where you are in it. It has to be part of your life, something you’re always trying to improve. My own garden now is something of a “courtyard jungle”. It gives me enormous pleasure and privacy. A garden is never complete. It is a lifelong journey.”

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The Cellars-Hohenort garden received the Relais & Châteaux Garden Trophy for the 2010.

The Making of an Explorer on the Zambezi

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Travel necessitates a surrendering of control. Of routine, the familiar, the habits that we create for comfort and convenience and that inevitably close us off from new things – new people, places, customs, foods. The habits that cut us off from the flow. When we travel, we return to the flow.

Just as everyone needs solitude – in the words of Jack Kerouac, “No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength” – every man and woman should give in to a voyage where the control lies in another’s hands at least once in life. When transport, meal times, accommodation and the like are provided for you by another.

To grow as individuals and to experience the joy of the unexpected, of new horizons, we need to hand over control. To go with the flow – something that one of the greatest rivers in the world – the Zambezi River – can teach us plenty about.

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At Royal Chundu, on the banks of the Zambezi, the opportunity presents itself in countless ways – on a sunset boat cruise, a river guide at the wheel, leading you through the channels, over hippo and crocodiles; walking beneath the trees on the wild Katombora Island, right to the river’s edge, trusting wholly in the knowledge and experience of the guide – as you do when he leads you by canoe over rapids. Or, on a helicopter ride to the lodge, flying over the Victoria Falls, tasting the traditional food of this part of Zambia and meeting the locals whose way of life is so dissimilar to what you might be used to.

All of this requires a laying down of arms. Such is travel. And such is the making of a true explorer.

Below are a few images from our latest adventure at Royal Chundu with little explorers in the making – from afternoon canoe trips and picnics to sunset boat cruises and catch-and-release fishing.

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Boat Trip

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Boat Snacks

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