The Baviaanskloof must be on the bucket list of a lot of South African travellers. Stunning scenic beauty which, if she was a person, would put her in the top three of a Miss Universe competition. Isolation, but not like just around the corner where you can't hear the traffic. A true wilderness area. UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnighting in caves or on a river beach next to sheer cliffs. Challenging roads. Unfortunately for us mere sedan drivers a big part of it is only the domain of the 4x4 boys and off-road bikes. Sedans can get in for a short distance from both the Willowmore and Patensie sides, but we will never see the middle section of the Kloof unless our cars have some sort of death wish. Very few people know though that sedans can also get into the southern section of the Baviaans. It was here where the Damselfly and I escaped to for a weekend without the Kids to recharge our batteries at Baviaans Lodge. Yes, we left the KidZ at home for a change.
When we first got the invitation to go I was seriously worried about getting there. Owner Rob le Roux put our minds at ease though and the trip was on. To get there it's about an hour and a half from Port Elizabeth to the Langkloof town of Kareedouw and from here you head along a dirt road over the Kouga Mountains and into the southern Baviaanskloof. The lodge is situated 47km along said road and even though it was a little roughish every now and then, we comfortably got there. With numerous photo stops, and believe me there are many possible ones, we arrived 90 minutes after hitting the dirt. Cresting the last rise the lodge was visible in the valley below, looking like an oasis waiting to sooth our souls. The only difference being this oasis wasn't situated in a desert but in the midst of rolling hills and mountains, meandering streams and endless scenic views.
As we pulled up to the lodge, the first thing I noticed was that I had no cellphone reception when I wanted to check in on Facebook. Although I did find out that the lodge does offer guest wifi, I decided not to even ask Rob about it and left my phone on the bedside table for the next 48 hours. Something we all need to do every now and then. But I'm digressing. We weren't even out the car yet and Rob came to greet us. A short tour of the main lodge with its sitting area, bar and dining room later and we were on our way to our cottage. Baviaans Lodge has five stone cottages, all a short walk from the main lodge. Not to sound too cliche' but each cottage is well appointed and laid out with our's, the Bush Cottage, giving us extra privacy due to its location. The other thing that one spots immediately is the fact that there is no electricity. No city slickers, it doesn't mean the end of the world. You can go without television for a couple of days and, like I mentioned before, you don't need to charge your mobile phone. The best part of no electricity is that the soft light of burning lanterns and fire places give the place even more of an ambiance once the sun goes down. Plus who needs a tv if you can watch a fire burning in the fireplace in your room. Romantic. #nuffsaid. Take that Eskom.
After putting down our bags and having a quick and welcome coffee out on the lodge's verandah, it was time to explore a little bit. What's the use of being somewhere this beautiful and not knowing what it looks like? Rob's youngest son, Robert, took us for a walk around the lodge and showed us one of the ancient yellowwood trees growing on the property before we headed up a nearby valley to the dam. What dam we didn't know and he didn't say, but this is what exploring is about, isn't it? Hopping across a stream a couple of times, with vegetation quickly changing from fynbos to a more foresty feel as we went deeper into the valley. Suddenly the old dam loomed up in front of us. It wasn't the Gariep Dam nor was it a run of the mill farm dam. It had a very old look and feel to it. The kind of thing that immediately tickles my interest. Once here we knew we won't get lost anymore and released Robert from his responsibilities, watching him head back down the valley at a jog. For most people just getting to the dam and enjoying the scenery and surroundings would be enough. I wanted to go further.
Getting the Damselfly up to the dam wall was the least of my problems though. Getting her across to the other side where the trail continued was another thing. It took some coaxing and promises of (hopefully) more beautiful settings and on we went. She wasn't sorry that she did though. About 10 minutes later we got to the most beautiful spot we encountered all weekend. A tranquil spot with cliffs all around, a mountain pool and a small waterfall beyond. Not another soul in sight. All you could hear was the water and the birds. If it was warmer I would have stripped off and gone for a swim in the pool, but being autumn and late afternoon there was no way. So we just sat there and took in all the spot had to offer. What a pity we had to leave after a while but by then the sun had disappeared behind the mountain and started heading to bed already.
As far as food goes, Rob's website states: We pride ourselves in offering the warmest country hospitality and serve delicious country style cuisine. All our meals served are freshly prepared at every mealtime by your host in our Lodge kitchen.
Spending two nights we were curious what the meals would consist of. Firstly we are literally in the middle of nowhere with no shops nearby and secondly, Rob doesn't strike you as the kitchen type and with only his boys (over weekends) and one staff member as help, one would have just expected him to throw a couple of tjops and wors on the coals and serve that with roosterkoek. Would he even know what a salad was?
After sitting by the fireplace with a drink chatting to the other guests, Rob came out and announced that dinner was ready. We were well and truly hollow after our afternoon walk and all the accompanying fresh air, so took our places in anticipation as the smell from the kitchen had our mouths watering for a while already. Out came the most yummy cheese soufflé followed by stuffed chicken breasts served with veg and as dessert, malva pudding. Truly delicious country style food. Exactly as promised. Dinner the next evening by the way, consisted of vegetable soup coupled with Rob's home made buns (amongst the best I've ever had), meatballs, gravy and veg and topped off with peach pudding. I just also want to give an honorary mention to the omlette I had the second morning. True food porn. Rob makes sure nobody leaves the dining room hungry.
Stunning accommodation... Lekker food... Beautiful scenery... Friendly hospitality... But Baviaans Lodge and Baviaanskloof was the gift that kept on giving. We were still in for the biggest treat of the weekend. Staying at the lodge the same weekend as us was Alan Fogarty of Alan Tours. I have known Alan for years and must say that Alan must be one of the top nature guides in the Eastern Cape. With that I mean as in better than most of the rangers that take guests around at the top notch game reserves in the province. At breakfast Rob announced to the guests that Alan would take those of us who wanted to go and see the rock paintings on the property. WOW! What an unexpected surprised.
After a short 20 minute drive on the back of Rob's bakkie, now kitted out with home made seats for our comfort, we headed off on foot along another valley and up to the overhang where the rock paintings are located. The walk wasn't just a walk. It was an moving lesson. Every few steps Alan pointed out a different plant explaining names and uses, identified flowers, taught us the inner workings of termite hills and had us scan the surrounding hillsides for kudu and other animals. He even knew that there was a few kudu up on the trail not far ahead of us by the fact that there were hoof prints in the soft sand after each stream we crossed. How did he know they were just ahead of us? The sand and rocks around it were wet from them splashing through.
The rock painting site must be one of the best I've ever been to. Figures, animals, fish and hands adorned the rock walls. There's even one that looks like he has a cape on and shooting energy from his hands. A cousin of Superman's perhaps? Yet again Alan's knowledge came through as he explained what a lot of the drawings were and the thinking behind why they were put there and what they represented. Like the previous evening at the mountain pool I just didn't want to leave. Luckily for us Alan wasn't in a hurry and gave us more than ample time to examine and photograph the drawings.
Before we knew it our time at Baviaans Lodge was over and we trekked back to civilization, proverbial batteries recharged and ready for whatever the weeks ahead were going to throw at us. What did I take from this weekend? You can experience the Baviaanskloof without actually going through the main Baviaanskloof. You don't need a 4x4 to experience this part of the Baviaanskloof cliché. Ok, I'm lying. I didn't learn that one. I've known all along. People just need to experience it more.
Disclosure: We enjoyed our visit as guests of Baviaans Lodge. I received no further remuneration, wasn't asked to write a positive post and keep full editorial control.