THE rapid reared up in a cold white fury, poised to devour our raft and spit out battered bones 500m further down the Doring River. Staring at the turbulence, I said…
Guthrie and I went on a weekend away about a month or 2 ago…
…And boy oh boy did we discover a gem. I almost didn’t want to write about it because I want to keep it all to myself! But nobody likes a selfish cow so here it is!
Situated 50km from Clanwilliam, Oudrif (see above) is an ecofriendly spot right on the Doring River and far from a plug socket. Everything runs off solar heating, gas or candlepower, and there’s no cellphone signal. It takes a few moments to get over the…
03 July 2011 Anton Ferreira
The good news is that you can now get to paradise without all the fuss and trauma of having to die first. The bad news is that the silence is so intense that it can give you insomnia…
Choosing where to go on holiday is always something of a minefield – not least because the conscious traveller in South Africa is repeatedly reminded of how unchecked, unsustainable tourism development is threatening eco-systems and traditional ways of life.
IN ISSUE 4 OF MINDSHIFT SHERYL OZINSKY highlighted the sustainable design and management strategy of Farm 215 – an inspiring example of a retreat where the owners are really trying to make a difference. Here we highlight a few other examples of good practice – places where social responsibility and environmental concerns are paramount. Some establishments are accredited members of Free Trade in Tourism SA, others thrive on partnerships with local communities, are Responsible Tourism award winners or are trying to make a difference in their own, unique way. All of them are in magnificent settings, and deliver topnotch food and service. Places where you can kick off your shoes and relax, away from the madding crowd.
This attractive little cluster of eco-friendly straw bale cottages nestled on the Doring River is one of the Cape’s best-kept secrets. At Oudrif the emphasis is on communing with nature in serene luxury; on preserving this pristine environment without compromising on comfort. It’s a model that one wishes were more widely adopted. The cottages, which can accommodate ten people, provide excellent insulation in both hot and cold weather, thus reducing the need for conventional power. What electricity is needed is generated from solar panels (fortunately the sun seems to shine a lot in the Cederberg!), water comes from the perennial river and food is freshly grown in the riverside garden.
Simple really. And the location is divine. The cottages look out over the river at burnt-orange, tortured Cederberg rocks, and in spring the veld bursts into flower. You can take it easy, chilling on the deck, swimming in rock pools, smelling the flowers and feasting on wonderful organic meals. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, you can take off and feast your eyes on magnificent rock paintings, explore the potholes in the deeply incised river gorges, cast a line for bass or Clanwilliam yellowfish (catch and release, naturally), clamber up the mountains, or, if there’s water, go river rafting. Bill and his wife Janine are fundis on the history of the area, its art and flora and fauna, so each guided walk is a delight, stopping to investigate tiny flowers, searching for fossils, learning about the medicinal uses of some grey looking bush or admiring the awesome geology. For them being eco-friendly is a way of life, not just token gestures. There are no pretences, no pressures and best of all no cellphone coverage. When you need somewhere to get away from it all and recharge your batteries head for Oudrif. Visitwww.oudrif.co.za
*Justin Fox went chasing Bushman tales in the sandstone folds and winding paths of the Cederberg, South Africa’s most accommodating, gentle mountains.
Walking with the ancients
I returned to the Cederberg six weeks later to find the mountains radiant with the joys of spring. The snow had melted, streams gushed from every kloof and the valleys were carpeted in flowers. My plan was to travel the entire length of the range. The northern ‘border’ of the berg is the Doring River and it was at a tiny lodge, Oudrif, on the south bank that I aimed my Nissan X-Trail.
The veld was green, flecked with the dancing heads of daisies. I stopped to open a farm gate and the singing heat, the smell of dust and the lure of flat-topped koppies stretching to the horizon was intoxicating. Standing there, drinking it in, childhood memories of holidays among these bergs came pouring back like a mountain stream.
Oudrif is an eco-lodge with a mission to prove that sustainability works. There’s solar power, window frames and doors that were salvaged from old buildings, water comes from the nearby stream, vegetables grow on site and the chalets are built from straw bales (a natural insulator) plastered over with cement. Owner Bill Mitchell – river guide, chef, landscaper, conservationist – explained how he’d tried to occupy a minimal footprint, hardly clearing any vegetation and using only exotic wood and recycled materials.
Bill’s wife, Jeanine, showed me round, then suggested a walk along the north bank of the Doring. We paddled across the stream on a raft, skirting rapids that roared over rocks polished like metal, then climbed a koppie through veld purpled with ruschias or beesvygies and dotted with botterbooms (Tylecodon paniculatus). Jeanine was tremendously knowledgeable about the flora, noting interesting plants as we walked. ‘From a botanical point of view, we’re in a fascinating transition area: a meeting point between Cederberg, Gifberg and succulent Karoo zones,’ she said.
Jeanine bent to examine mesembs and timy conophytums or stone plants. Wild figs and wild olives fingered their roots into crevasses and clung to the rock face, while the fleshy leaves of baboon’s book (Massonia depressa) draped themselves over shaded rocks. From a cliff, we looked down into the Doring and watched a Cape clawless otter swimming downstream, no doubt hunting for yellowfish.
We leapt across a side stream that boiled through a series of pools and cauldrons and came to a cluster of rock art sites. Some of the works were remarkably clear, as through the stalking stick figures and their rhebok prey had been painted only yesterday.
‘Most Cederberg art is from the last six or seven thousand years,’ explained Jeanine. ‘These images are of the fine-line tradition, which makes them more than 1 500 years old.
‘When Khoikhoi herders moved into the area and chased the Bushman shaman artists out, the fine-line tradition was replaced by cruder, hand printing. So it’s relatively easy to date the transition’.
Blood from stone
Over supper that night, I offered a theory that had been knocking around in my head since my visit to Bushman’s Kloof. The preponderance of red ochre in the paintings and the red colour of the stone, stained as it was with oxide, had got me thinking about blood. Indeed, initiation for both boys and girls revolved around it. There was the blood of the boys’ first hunt and of the girls’ menstruation: the symbolic spilling of blood on the sand held great power for Bushmen. To me the blood of birth, coming of age and death all seemed metaphorically stained in the rock.
Bill said my theory may hold, in part, for the Cederberg, but not in other regions. Also, the other paints had faded with time, creating the illusion that red was the dominant colour. ‘For me, I’m more in favour of shamanistic interpretations of our paintings, than the initiation school of thought,’ said Bill.
Outside, dusk dialed through the colour spectrum. The sheep were home in the kraal, the moon threw a silver band across the stream. Boulders still baked like potatoes in their skins. Somewhere a Cape eagle-owl offered a quizzical ‘Who, whoooo?’
The Bushman legacy seemed tantalizingly close at Oudrif, the old fording place. Their elemental presence was there in the paintings for sure, but also in wooden pegs that you find hammered into crevasses to hang possessions on, the arrow heads, broken ostrich eggshell containers and stone implements that dot the veld… and, of course, in the blood-lines of the people who still inhabit the mountains.
Oudrif is a charming back-country retreat. It’s a place to relax, read (there’s a pretty decent library), swim, hike, canoe or fish. The food is excellent, mostly using home-grown ingredients. Accommodation is in five retro-furnished, straw-bale houses. Full board is R660 a person a night (including beer, wine and soft drinks, as well as guided excursion).
Tel: 027-482 2397, email: email@example.com, web: www.oudrif.co.za
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO SOUTH AFRICA, LESOTHO & SWAZILAND
– Written and Reserched by:
Tony Pinchuck, Barbara McCrea, Donald Reid and Greg Mthembu-Salter
Oudrif is an exceptional retreat lodge in the Cederberg back country, 48 km from Clanwilliam, some of it along rough dirt roads. It occupies inspiring countryside in the transitional zone between the foothills of the mountains and the dry Karoo, with redstone gorges and a wide valley incised by the Doring River. You can pick up early marine fossils on nearby hills, from the days when the area was flooded by an inland sea.
More recently, the area was once inhabited by San hunter-gatherers, who left their mark on a number of painted rock faces in the area. Although there are wonderful walks through fynbos to rock art, this is as much a place to chill out – the only rule enforced by the co-owner and manager Bill Mitchell and his wife Janine, is that there are no rules. The multi-talented Mitchell is also a qualified chef and does all the cooking at this full-board establishment. The river has beaches for sunbathing and there are some fine spots for cooling off in its flow on hot days; as a former river-rafting guide, Mitchell can take you onto the water in a boat.
Accommodation is in five straw-bale houses, built using a traditional North American method in which bales are sandwiched between soled facings – in this case concrete. The cream-coloured chatlets have an uneven hewn quality that befits their isolation on the edge of the gorge that falls away to the Doring River. Each is stylishly equipped with retro furniture and has a double and a three-quarter bed; the power for lighting is provided by solar panels and showers are heated.
THE GREENWOOD GUIDE TO SOUTH AFRICA AND NAMIBIA
– Hand-picked accommodation, Seventh Edition
Fifty kilometers of fabulous sandstone formations, dams and flower-covered passes lead you deep into the Cederberg Mountains and eventually to Oudrif, the perfect hideaway-getaway on the banks of the clear, clean, cool Doring River.
I was met by my hosts bill and Jeanine, who provided me with iced tea, before taking me to my environmentally friendly lodge where walls are slate and stone, roofs are straw bales and power is solar. My room was light-filled, with sofas to snooze on, but it was a hot day, so I donned by trunks and ran to the river for a dip. Plunging in, I heard the bark of the resident sheepdog, Bella, saw her jump over the rocks, dive in and swim up to me, stick in mouth, eyes pleading. So began an afternoon’s game of fetch, swimming (and throwing) from bank to bank, pausing occasionally to lap up the sun on one of the many secluded beaches that line the river.
All fetched out, I returned to change and headed to supper. The main house is the meeting point, library and supper room and I was quickly introduced to the other guests. Oudrif holds ten at full capacity, and evenings around the communal table can be entertaining. After a laughter-filled evening and too much home-made bread (both Bill and Jeanine are master bakers), I headed to bed.
Well, in fact… eschewing the comforts of a lovely king-size double bed, I decided to sleep outside under a starlit sky. This is a truly special spot.
Cederberg hideaways from the Greenwood Guide
CAPE TIMES – Friday, July 11 2008
Fifty kilometers of fabulous sandstone formations, dams and flower-covered passes lead you deep into the Cederberg Mountains and to Oudrif, the perfect hideaway-getaway on the banks of the clear, clean, cool Doring River.
I was met by my hosts bill and Jeanine, who gave me iced tea, before taking me to my environmentally friendly lodge where walls are slate and stone, roofs are straw bales and power is solar. It was a hot day. so I went to the river for a dip. Plunging in, I heard the bark of the resident sheepdog, Bella, saw her dive in and swim up to me, stick in mouth, eyes pleading. So began an afternoon’s game of fetch, swimming (and throwing) from bank to bank, pausing occasionally to lap up the sun on one of the many secluded beaches that line the river. All fetched out, I returned for supper. The main house is the meeting point, library and supper room. Oudrif holds 10 at capacity, and evenings around the communal table can be entertaining. After a laughter-filled evening and too much home-made bread, I headed to bed. Well, in fact … eschewing the comforts of a lovely king-size double bed, I decided to sleep outside under a starlit sky. This is a special spot.
04 November 2006
South Africa: The coast of many colours
From a dazzling kaleidoscope of spring flowers to the seclusion of a very green resort, Rachel Holmes takes the drive of a lifetime along South Africa’s western shores…
It was spring in South Africa – wildflower season – and my partner and I were off to tread lightly among the daisies – something I’ve longed to do since I was a child, growing up in the country. Having experienced the splendours of the well-trodden Garden Route eastwards from Cape Town along the Indian Ocean, we were eager to explore the road less travelled up the Atlantic west coast and into the Northern Cape interior.
There was a problem, though. As regular travellers, we were experiencing the frequent fliers’ guilt. The flowers of the Cape are orange, violet, pink, and every vibrant colour in the spectrum – but were we green? We’d already burned carbon footprints into the ozone to get to South Africa, and like many stressed, time-impoverished late-30s holidaymakers, we had no intention of compromising on our creature comforts. Was it possible to plan a nature-trip through the Cape while trying to minimise our contribution to the destruction of the planet? The answer (in part) was to make our final destination Oudrif, a retreat in the Cederberg mountains dedicated to diverse holiday activities, luxurious relaxation – and sustainable tourism.
A drive of just over an hour on the R27 from Cape Town took us to the West Coast National Park, renowned for its annual fireworks display of daisies which flower for a few brief weeks in the Postberg section of the reserve. It’s a spectacular drive: the highway runs up the coast between the Cape Fold Mountain Chain to the east, and the glittering sand dunes that border the turquoise Atlantic to the west. In the rear-view mirror, Table Mountain and Cape Town floated in a purple haze under a clear, sunlit sky. We dutifully obeyed the road signs marking tortoise-crossings: these creatures are endangered in the Western Cape, and all species are protected.
Inside the park, on the way to the Postberg daisies, we carefully skirted a huge puff adder in the road, and made several stops to admire less threatening wildlife, including ostrich, quaggas, zebra, and a whole range of boks; springbok, blesbok, gemsbok, bontebok, steenbok, grysbok.
The daisies are as much part of South African iconography as the Springboks, Table Mountain and Nelson Mandela. But despite the images of colourful landscapes I’ve seen since I was a child, nothing prepared me for the sumptuousness and power of their sensory overload. Viewed from behind, facing the sun, they spread out like a dazzling carpet. Then, when you look at them from the front, they burst into intricate details of pistils, petals and stamens. We found ourselves happily dazed.
Apart from the glorious springtime spectacle, the area offers whale-watching and environmental courses. If you want to stay in the park, Kraal Bay is a lovely hideaway. You can rent a houseboat either fully serviced or self-catering, and dive from it into the topaz lagoon that spreads out from the sparkling white sandy beach. The park authorities also have a house to rent in Churchaven, a picturesque 19th-century fishing village with a white-washed Anglican church overlooking the flamingo-filled bay. It has morphed from sleepy hamlet to exclusive leisure destination.
We had lunch at Geelbek Restaurant, among the stone fountains and shady vine-draped pergolas of this historic and graceful Cape Dutch-style country manor. The local wine list and reunion with much-loved friends promptly put paid to any daft notions of sticking to our itinerary.
Paternoster, next stop on the R27, is a restored Portuguese village of whitewashed stone cottages, brightly coloured wooden boats, sun-drenched beach, and what’s possibly the most reasonably priced fresh lobster in South Africa. Those in the know go to the Voorstrand Restaurant in a century-old tin beach shack. Tastefully understated, Paternoster is posh in the way of holiday-home Cornish seaside villages: but walk 30m up the road and it segues into what remains of the old town – poor, overcrowded and unrestored. The bald, intimate inequalities of this uneven development are a telling aspect of the west coast experience.
Just a little further up the coast, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve offers a wonderfully located campsite in Titties Bay, right on the water’s edge amid the rocks. It is presided over by Cape Columbine lighthouse, the first beacon sighted by ships from Europe rounding southern Africa.
A predilection for industrial aesthetic took us on a rewarding detour to admire the state-of-the-art Saldanha Steel mill. Commissioned in 1998 and recently completed, this sublime Bauhaus-style factory is a triumph of modernist functionalism and total design – and the only steel mill in the world to have eliminated the need for coke ovens and blast furnaces, making it a world leader in emission control. The salt-factories, concrete breakwaters and flocks of flamingos at Velddrif and Laaiplek at the mouth of the Berg river continue the symbiosis of industry and wildlife.
The holiday resort of Elandsbaai has a spectacular beach, as wide as an eight-lane motorway. It is frequented mostly by South Africans – but known internationally as one of the coast’s best surfing spots, notwithstanding the fact that the ocean feels like liquid ice.
The R27 veers inland here, but there is a way to stick to the coast: you can pick up a permit for around £2 in the saloon of the run-down Elandsbaai Hotel. The document allows access to the graded dirt track that runs adjacent to the state-owned railway line.
The first major settlement at the end of this route is Lambert’s Bay. It offers open-air seafood dining at the Muisboskerm restaurant, Khoi rock art, and boat trips to see Bird Island’s gannet-breeding colony. From here, the rutted and potholed road to Doring Bay is a dramatic route of wild coastal veld, sand dunes and sparkling salt-pans. We drove to the wave-beaten cliffs and headlands of Doring Bay, a quaint and characterful working fishing port with a pungent fish factory, railway workers’ homes, and hoary fishermen working from rowboats. Die Anker – bar, restaurant, guesthouse and cornershop in one – is the only place for refreshment. It is undistinguished in everything, except for its notable fish and chips, served on the deck of a wrecked boat cemented to the front of the building overlooking the ocean.
Strandfontein, 8km up the coast, is good for a swim before you turn inland, via the extraordinary salt-pans of Papendorp and its nearly deserted tumbledown village.
The route inland takes you through the winelands of the Oliphants river. Between stretches of scrubby veld and fynbos, we drove over bridges spanning reclaimed riverbeds now verdant and lush with grapes – the result of an innovative irrigation scheme which has rehydrated (and revitalised) the local economy. As you can’t swim in these rivers of future wine, the hot springs at Citrusdaal are worth heading for. Farm stalls on the way sell plump dates, oranges, olives, nuts, honey and “novelties” (half orange, half naartjie) to nibble while you take to the steamy waters.
After stopping to buy rooibos at the tea factory in Clanwilliam, we made tracks to our final destination – Oudrif. This peaceful retreat is located in 200 hectares of remote, pristine, red stone wilderness straddling the Doring river in the ancient Cederberg region (between 500 and 345 million years old). The area was once an inland sea; the tidal lines on the tops of the towering koppies and mountain escarpments are still visible. Fish fossils more than 400 million years old have been found here. The rugged landscape is strewn with artefacts left by Stone Age peoples and by extraordinary open-air galleries of ancient San and Khoi rock art, still sometimes referred to by the old-fashioned and patronising description of “bushman paintings”. The Cederberg is to African art history what Italy is to Renaissance art. Around 8,000 years ago, * *the San stood in front of the blank canvas of rock overhangs and cave walls with red, yellow, maroon and ochre natural pigments ground into a fine powder and mixed with water, blood or plant juices. Guided hikes to see this mysterious art are one of the main reasons for visiting the Cederberg. Bill Mitchell, who runs Oudrif, is known for his knowledgeable tours, punctuated by plunges into refreshing cave rock pools.
The Cederberg has a long history of conservation. As far back as 1876 the British geographer Sir James Alexander complained of the wanton destruction of the ancient cedar forests for economic expansion. His intervention resulted in the appointment of the first forest rangers. In 1897, new fast-growing plantations were established to prevent further cedar harvesting.
We arrived at Oudrif after dark, illuminated only by starlight. The African sunrise revealed the style of the location. Oudrif has five straw-bale cottages and a large central boma (open-plan dining and lounging area) with huge outdoor fireside, braai, and sprawling veranda designed in harmony with the natural environment. The cottages and boma are constructed using the 200-year-old building method of plastering straw bales for use as building blocks, and painted in biscuit and cornflower tones. The eco-friendly result is both practical and delightful. Inside, the spacious and comfortable cottages all have lounge areas and separate shower-rooms. The combination of art deco furnishings with streamlined modern African design is understated and tasteful, with added details of beaded curtain tie-backs and artisan wire light-pulls.
You are not going to meet the crowds here: Oudrif accommodates only 10 people at a time. The ambience is intimate and relaxed. Though you are so close to nature, it is quietly luxurious – and fully catered, from pre-breakfast muffins and coffee to starlit, fireside wilderness haute-cuisine dinners. For us, cold beers were an essential accompaniment to our secluded late afternoon skinny-dipping and lounging by the river while everyone else was sleeping.
Bill runs the place with his fellow owner-manager Janine Rawson, supported by their border collie Bella. Once a prominent Cape Town chef, he has a laid-back charm and constant bright humour, sparkling eyes and the intelligence of the innovator and humanist. Janine is an equally luminous host: a qualified field guide with expert knowledge of local plant and animal life, and natural medicinal cures. She also has a philosophy of environmentalism that should have the ear of international policy-makers and governments.
Off-grid and with no external power, Oudrif is designed and run to lessen environmental impact in every way possible. A solar pump provides water from the river, and solar panels charge batteries for electricity. The fridges and freezers run on gas, the building fittings are recycled (the hardwood cottage doors were salvaged from a bank), and the straw itself is a renewable resource and excellent insulator, reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling. Janine has raised an organic market garden of vegetables, delicate salads (including piquant wild rocket) and herbs from the hard red-stone earth.
For all this, Bill and Janine do not paint Oudrif with the eco-tourism brush. “People are by their presence destructive,” says Janine, “but every action makes a difference, however small.” Working for neutral impact, their aim is to re-stabilise overgrazed and eroded land. It is inadequately described as a holiday resort, though it offers diverse activities: hiking, rock art, swimming, paddling, sunbathing, wildlife, fly-fishing, bird-watching, guided tours through the rooibos farms. Then there are the long, restorative siestas, stargazing, excellent food and a well-stocked library. And, as we discovered as we were enveloped in the landscape of phosphorescent daisies and wildflowers, the spring here is breathtaking. In truth, it is even more spectacular than in the West Coast National Park. Once you’ve seen them here, you can close your eyes and take these daisies with you everywhere.
OUDRIF ‘N WONDERLIKE VERDWYNPLEKKIE
Oudrif-vakansieoord is op ‘n ver plek. Nie ver in kilometers nie, maar ander-wereld ver. ESMA LE ROUX verdwyn vir ‘n naweek tussen die Tankwa-Karoo en die Agerpakhuis-bewaringsgebied.
Die grondpad na Oudrif kronkel, daal en stamp iewers tussen Clanwilliam en die Pakhuispas deur. Moenie eens probeer om sonder ‘n kaart daar uit te kom nie. Die afgesonderdheid en unieke verblyf maak Oudrif ‘n buitengewone ervaring waaroor jy terug in die stad nog vir dae sal droom.
Die ekologies-vriendelike vakansieoord langs die Doringrivier is die verwesenliking van die laatnagpraatjies van die avonturiers Bill Mitchell en Paddy en Ronel Herbert. Hulle het lank gedroom van ‘n verdwynplekkie vir gaste wat nie die natuur skade sou doen nie.
“Ons wou vir mense wys dis moontlik om op ekoligies-vriendelike wyse te leef, wat wel onderhoubaar is. Jy het nie massas elektrisiteit nodig om gemaklik te leef nie en dit hoef nie een of ander hippie-kommune te wees nie,” gesels Bill.
Bill het eers sy eie rivierroei-onderneming bedryf en Oudrif was waar hy sy bote gelaai het. Dit is ook een van die enigse plekke waar die boere van anderkant die Gifberg deur die rivier kon trek om een keer per jaar nagmaal op Clanwilliam te kom hou en vrou te soek.
Vier jaar gelede het hul laatnagdrome hier op die oewer van die Doringrivier vorm begin aanneem. Hulle het besluit om slegs vyf huisies te bou, sodat daar nooit meer as tien gaste op ‘n slag kuier nie. Die ronde huisies met pannekoekagtige dakkies lyk kompleet soos iets uit Star Wars. Die huisies is gebou deur afgepleisterde strooibale as boustene te gebruik, vandaar die meer ronde ontwerp. Die boumetode is omgewingsvriendelik en boonop dien die strooibale as uitstekende isolering teen die warm somers en koue winters. Verder gebruik hulle slegs gas en sonkrag en herwin so ver hul kan.
By Oudrif word saam met die natuur geleef. En dit is vir seker nie altyd maklik nie. Hulle probeer so ver moontlik hul eie groente en vrugte kweek. Jeanine – veldgids en avontuurlustige sjef – hang CD’s in die bome rondom haar groentetuin om die bobbejane weg to hou, maar sy voer steeds ‘n stryd teen die ystervarke en hase. En nadat die rivier haar waatlemoene weggevoer het, is sy vir eers genoop om vars produkte op Clanwilliam te koop.
Die dae is stilwarm en die nagte pikdonker, behalwe ‘n swetterjoel helder sterre. Hier span die Melkweg, soos diamante verstrooi op ‘n swart ferweeldoek, oor die hele vallei. Een van die San-legendes vertel van ‘n vrou wat vir haar aanstaande se terugkoms wag, terwyl hy in die veld jag. Eers het sy ‘n handvol as in the lug gestrooi en dit het die Melkweg geword. Daarna het sy die kole in die lug gegooi en dit was sterre wat hom huis toe sou lei. Elke huisie het ‘n stoepie met ‘n sagte rusbank waar jy ure lank na patrone en stories in die sterre kan soek.
Die stilte en die welkome tekort aan hedendaagse geraas en vermaak dwing you om jouself tot die natuur te wend en weer ‘n slag regtig te kyk en te luister. Gewone rotse word sedimentlae wat oeroue stories vertel. Alledaagse bossies kry elkeen ‘n spesifieke funksie: die botterboom se bas is blykbaar die beste manier om by ‘n berg af te gly; die bossie proe soos Aylesburyroomys en help vir tandpyn, terwyl enige melkagtige bossie eintlik baie giftig is, leer ek.
Die gebied is ook ‘n opelug-kunsgalery met kunswerke wat veel ouer as die in die Louvre is. Hier’s ongeveer 25 plekke waar rotskuns bewonder kan word.
Na ‘n heerlike, gesonde ontbyt, behalwe miskien die romerige Griekse jogurt, is ons saam met Jeanine die berge in. Met Bella – die skaaphond wat orals tennisballe bewaar en dan vreeslik opgewonde is as sy weer ‘n speelding ontdek – en Biscuit, die kat wat weier om or die warm sand te loop, in tou, is die Famous Five reg vir avontuur. Hier’s nerens uitgetrapte voetpaadjies nie. “Ons loop elke keer ‘n ander paadjie, want ons wil die omgewing so natuurlik as moontlik hou.”
Jeanine ken haar storie en vertel opgewonde van verskillende argeoloe se verskillende interpretasies van die rotskuns. Uiteindelik sal ons nooit regtig kan weet watter geheimenisse opgesluit le in die ongelooflike fyn tekeninge nie.
Moeg en warm nadat ons oor rotes en droe rivierlope geklouter het, stop ons langs die rivier. Jeanine spring maklik by die 7m hoe krans af. Ek staan 10 minute lank in oorweging en besef vandag is nie die dag wat ek my hoogtevrees gaan oorkom nie en spring by ‘n laer rots af in die diep donker poel. Bella hou my tevergeefs vanaf die oorkant dop. Jy kan ook op die rivier roei en as hy afkom, neem Bill jou deur ‘n paar stroomversnellings.
Moeg gebaljaar keer ons terug na die gemeenskaplike boma. Alle etes word hier bedien en gaste kuier tot laatnag rondom borde gelaai met vars idees en gesonde kos en plaaslike wyn.
Op pad terug Clanwilliam toe kyk ek vir oulaas terug, maar Oudrif het verdwyn. Ek sien nie eens meer die pad soontoe nie. Die berge lyk almal eenders. Ek weet regtig nie hoe om die pad daarheen te verduidelik nie. Kan nie meer onthou hoeveel hekke daar is en by watter vurk jy links moet draai nie.
Snaaks, terug by die huis kon ek ook nie die kaart opspoor nie…
- Oudrif is ongeveer drie uur se ry van Kaapstaf af.
- Koste beloop R375 pppn tydens die week en R495 pppn oor naweke – alles etes, drinkgoed en uitstappies is ingesluit.
- Kontak hulle by tel 027 482 2397 of besoek www.oudrif.co.za vir meer inligting.
- Besoek ook die Olifantsrivierwynroete en ‘n rooibosteeplaas.
- Kunsaashengel vanaf Augustus tot Mei.
- Ry een van die viertrekroetes na Wuppertal.
Esma le Roux is ‘n subredakteur in Die Burger se produksiekantoor.
In South Africa, a Rugged Gallery
for Ancient Art Off the Beaten Path
By Rob Nixon
I Stared in reverie at the 3,000-year-old ocher hand, no larger than a child’s, imprinted on the cave wall. South Africa’s first inhabitants, the San (or Bushmen), didn’t view rock as a solid surface: their shamanic artists marked with reddish handprints, so-called energy points, places where they believed one could travel through a cave wall’s illusory solidity. This ancient hand looked so luminously fresh, so bright with trust, that it invited a different way of moving through the surrounding mountains, the Cederberg.
A baboon’s alarm call, like the abrupt bark of a man choking on a chicken bone, jerked me out of my trance. From the lip of the cave, Bill Mitchell, our guide, gestured toward the Doring River Valley far below us and the ridges beyond.
“In these mountains, in this whole Cederberg area,” he said, “there are seven thousand caves containing rock art. And those are just the caves we know about. Every few months some farmer phones me to tell me about another one he has discovered.”
Mr. Mitchell, a rugged, impassioned 44-year-old and once a prominent Cape Town chef, turned toward the San paintings behind us: a ghostly elephant; an eland (a buffalo-sized antelope with a signature dewlap); and a line of lean, russet hunters striding across the sandstone walls in pursuit of who knows what prey. “The question is,” Mr. Mitchell continued, “do we protect this art better by keeping these locations secret or do we reveal them to the public, in the hopes that more people will care?”
He paused, crinkling his brow. “Personally, I feel we have to take the risk and bring more people out here,” he said. “Try to get more South Africans to identify with this fantastic part of our cultural heritage. Actually, with our heritage as human beings.”
The Cederberg area barely figures on the tourist map of South Africa’s cultural and natural offerings. For many visitors, South Africa remains a two-stop destination, involving a game park and a stint in Cape Town, that spectacular lovechild city of Rio and Vancouver. Because the finest game parks are clustered in the country’s northeast, more than 1,000 miles from Cape Town, visitors often leave the country’s vast middle unexplored, much like those tourists who treat America as two compelling coasts interrupted by a flyover zone.
Yet the riches of Cederberg’s rock art are readily accessible from Cape Town for those willing to undertake a three- or four-hour drive north (some of it on dirt roads) along the dry Atlantic seaboard. Readily accessible, that is, if you can find an inviting place to stay and a guide who knows the caves: it’s notoriously easy to be get lost in the region’s mountainous tangle.
Mr. Mitchell offers a marvelous solution to both those challenges with his creative transformation of Oudrif Farm, 30 miles from the closest town. He has made it a base for exploring the painted caves, some of them less than an hour’s hike from the five cottages he has erected, and steeped himself in the lore surrounding the art.
San paintings continue to be defaced, as they have been ever since Afrikaans settlers entered the area in the 19th century. Back then, the commonest defacement involved penises chipped off by puritans. But these days the risk comes mainly from theft and random vandalism.
Several of the dozen figures before us in the cave that day last April, I noticed, seemed literally defaced, as if somebody had gouged out their facial features leaving only the skull’s outer curve. “No, no,” Mr. Mitchell reassured me, “that’s not vandalism. That’s just the erosion of time. We call those figures hook heads.”
The name is apt: each head had faded to a red question mark as, over several thousand years, the less durable white dye that the San often used to color faces had disappeared.
Seven years ago, Mr. Mitchell stood on the banks of the Doring River and saw possibilities where an outsider might only have seen forbidding, semi-arid hills. In his latest incarnation as river guide, Mr. Mitchell often camped along the Doring with clients. He knew that the surrounding mountains and foothills held a scantily known art collection of international significance and surpassing value.
Mr. Mitchell and a business partner, Patrick Herbert, persuaded a local farmer to let them take out a 40-year lease on 1,975 acres. With help from an environmentally minded Cape Town architect, Mr. Mitchell erected five straw-bale cottages along the Doring. And so began his scheme to share his passion for this tranquil region and the remarkable rock art that it harbors.
I last visited the Cederberg 25 years ago, and nearly died from a mixture of youthful hubris, disorientation and heat exhaustion (January temperatures can hit 115 degrees). A state of dehydrated panic isn’t ideal for appreciating art. So when two London friends, Jerry and Rachel, asked me to join them on a Cederberg venture that promised fine cuisine, art tours, accommodation of understated luxury and river rambles, I leapt at the chance to return, although the disbelieving part of me wondered if they were inviting me to vacation along the banks of the Doring or the Thames.
They had visited Oudrif, Dutch for “old crossing” (it was the one place a wagon could ford the river), several times before, usually in the South African autumn, when Cederberg temperatures dip into the sensible 70’s – a fine season for cave questing and river bathing. We arrived in late afternoon and were soon swimming off the trip’s dust in crisp mountain water beneath an ample sky. From June through August, the Doring – to the delight of white-water rafters – swells into a rapid-tumbled river. But in April, I found a peaceful, half-mile stretch perfect for outdoor laps swum to a rich accompaniment of birds.
A pair of giant kingfishers clacked by, their breasts as russet as the painted figures I would encounter in the caves. A Neanderthal-looking hammerkop – a wading bird with an outsize, anvil-shaped head – probed the banks for frogs. As I switched to the backstroke for the preferable sky view, I could hear the skraak, skraak of a ground woodpecker, a burly, dry country species with an aversion for trees.
Refreshed, I returned to Sonkala (the Old Crab), named, like each of Mr. Mitchell’s cottages, after a Xhosa sign of the zodiac. The accommodations at Oudrif proved almost as revelatory as the rock art. Each cottage is a masterpiece of limpid, intricately achieved simplicity. To a timber A-frame, Mr. Mitchell has attached thick straw walls and straw roofing, covered by a concrete sheath tinted ocher to meld with the landscape. The cottages are energy efficient, and Oudrif draws all its electricity from solar panels and all its water from the Doring River.
Mr. Mitchell has reconciled the environmentally honorable with the aesthetically exquisite: each of his varied cottages is stylishly minimalist. I loved the textured feel of Sonkala’s undulating walls – the absence of flat, straight surfaces reduced the need for decoration. Just bites of color here and there: buttery yellow tiles, a dash of Matisse cerulean blue, an olive Art Deco chair. Mr. Mitchell made the African wire-and-bead curtain tiebacks; a friend painted the curtains, copying veldt flowers and insects that Mr. Mitchell had gathered on his walks.
The cottage’s delicate straw fragrance brought back memories of childhood snuggling in a hayloft: that sensual, slightly illegitimate feeling of exploring the outdoors inside. The straw scent made the walls seem emotionally porous, like some architectural approximation of San energy points, places that are solid yet open to the world beyond.
At dawn, I wandered down the farm road for an hour or so, taking in the clarified stillness and the generous, slow spreading light. Jeanine Webber, who joined Mr. Mitchell on Oudrif almost two years ago, suggested I check out some tumbled boulders where she often spotted African wild cats and bat-eared foxes. I saw neither, but thrilled to the spectacle of a klipspringer – a small, plump, sure-footed antelope – executing gymnastic leaps from rock to rock.
Then breakfast beckoned: platters of papaya, pineapple, mango and yogurt; fresh-baked bran muffins, some with pear pieces, others apricot. Followed by a scrumptious feta, tomato and arugula omelet, brightened with herbs from Ms. Webber’s garden.
There is something doubly gratifying about fine cooking amid a wilderness. I especially appreciated the flow of fresh, inventive salads (not something I associate with the South African hinterland) and the range of desserts, like the drop-dead chocolate and mascarpone torte, which we washed down with local wines, the best of them an award-winning Cederberg chenin blanc.
The attentiveness to detail in the cuisine felt consistent with the land around it. This isn’t dramatic, big game country. Ms. Webber quipped that visitors need to look out not for the big five but for the small five: leopard tortoise, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion and elephant shrew.
On our cave hikes, she’d point to a spot where an aardvark had dug out an anthill, the creature’s powerful tail imprinted against the sand; or to a glorious spread of mauve flowers, growing improbably right out the rock. Mr. Mitchell explained how the plant’s pebbly leaves swelled with the rains, then waxed over self-protectively in summer, jealous of their juices.
In one cave, he drew our attention to a black mass of cement-solid hyrax (rock rabbit) dung. Botanists have used pollen samples from this 20,000-year-old slab of excrement to reconstitute the Cederberg’s rainfall patterns from millenniums ago.
But it was the rock art that dominated our peripatetic conversations. Why did the early polychromatic, fine-line paintings give way to cruder finger painting? Why, 2,000 years ago, did most of the Cederberg’s San art stop? That date, Mr. Mitchell observed, coincided with the next wave of human inhabitants, the pastoralist Khoikhoi, who may have disrupted the shamanic culture.
On our final afternoon, we wandered through a gorgeous dry river gorge to arrive at a reminder of that shamanic influence. In a tiny cave, easily overlooked, a blanketed shaman faced a hunter who was pursuing some eland over a cliff in a mass of tumbling antelope bodies. The shaman, anthropologists deduce, has dreamed the hunter and his quarry into being, giving the sequence both an ancient and a strangely post-modern aura.
Despite its violence, the scene exuded a profound, uncluttered calm, a quality I associate with Oudrif itself. I have traveled extensively in southern Africa and seldom come across Oudrif’s equal. I say this with trepidation, given Mr. Mitchell’s insistence that “the trick in this business is to keep people’s expectations low, so you leave yourself room to surprise them.”
But at a place like Oudrif, there will always be extra room for wonderment.
Oudrif, (27-27) 482-2397 is 187 miles north of Cape Town, 31 miles past Clanwilliam, the closest town. From Cape Town, take the N7 north 156 miles to the Clanwilliam turnoff. In Clanwilliam, take the Calvinia Road 1.5 miles, then turn left onto the road to Klawer. After 12 miles, turn right onto the dirt road to Nardouwsberg and 10 miles farther, turn left to Papkuilsfontien and proceed through a gate marked Saaiplaas. Past the second farmhouse, turn right at the white rock, bear left at the solar panels and you are at Ouddrif.
At 6.1 rands to the dollar, one of the five straw bale cottages (sleeping two) costs $63 a person a night during the week, and $76 on weekends. Included are three meals, wine, beer and soft drinks, tours to the rock art and other activities. Reservations are necessary
In Splendid Isolation
Oudrif is set on a huge farm in the foothills of the Cedarberg, a place of fossils, rock paintings, natural beauty and rest.
Bill Mitchell had given us careful directions to get to Oudrif in the foothills of the Cedarberg. But thinking back, he hadn’t really been precise on exactly how far it was.
After the turn-off near Clanwilliam, the dirt roads meandered roughly in the direction of the Tankwa Karoo, through rolling lands, fynbos and fields of rooibos and wheat.
Every now and then, the map required us to ford the odd shallow river or open remote farm gates.
I re-read the page with instructions. On the bottom was the telltale tagline for Oudrif: “Relax in splendid isolation”.
Finally, we arrived at a strange place on the Doring River, where the cottages are made of straw bales, including the roofs.
Bill Mitchell has worked all over the world, as a gold miner in Australia, a chef in various restaurants, and as a river-rafter operating in Cape Town.
It was while rafting that he discovered this place, so far away from anything resembling infrastructure.
He built the straw-bale cottages by hand, and with no building experience whatsoever, with up to four unskilled labourers to help him. “But I seem to have a real gift for choosing criminals. There were always parole officers driving up and down this road. It was all a pretty steep learning curve.”
Bill is your host, nature guide, bar tender, cook and general entertainer. He has also been instrumental, with his two other partners, in setting up an organic farm to supply healthy food for guests.
He took us on a long ramble to some of the I most exceptional Bushman paintings I’ve ever seen. One in particular, between 1 600 and 6 000 , years old, looked as clear as if painted yesterday. It depicted a shaman at the top, scattering sparks of magic, then buck running in a panic, and falling into a river (the painter used a natural fault in the rock to denote a cliff and river). Below were trance dancers with animal masks and mythical animals.
Oudrif is set on a large farm where the vegetation, a crossover between the succulent Karoo and fynbos, is largely pristine. Overhead, we saw African Fish Eagles, Gymnogenes, what seemed like dozens of Verreaux’s Eagles, Lesser Kestrels and a Booted Eagle. It’s easy to drift into a rhythm of swimming in the river, long walks and bird watching. In summer, you can catch and release yellowfish and other species from the river. And in winter, if you’re brave, Bill will take you white-water rafting.
There are five cottages, each sleeping two. Each one is named after an African sun sign. They are well insulated inside, a grace in the heat of a Cedarberg summer. The light power is solar (the lights switch on when you pull beaded wires) and the geyser is heated with gas.
So near, yet so far away
It is nighttime in the Cedarberg. Far from the city, and undiluted darkness has cloaked the car and the world that I can see has shrink to that which the headlights illuminate. Apart from the constant low-gear grumble of the engine, it is quiet. Suddenly there is a flicker at the edge of the beam. Something small and fluffy has taken fright and a bat-eared fox zigzags into the light. It’s delicate body and disproportionately large ears bob and weave ahead of us before it eventually ducks back under the dark. By the time we arrive at Oudrif, we are three hours and a lifetime away from Cape Town.
Oudrif is a 200-hectare farm straddling the Doring River South Africa’s Cedarberg region. Six years ago, Bill Mitchell, an English-speaking vegetarian, arrived in this land of meat-eating Afrikaans farmers (‘Ja,’ he quips, ‘they still get a laugh out of throwing a carrot on the braai for me’) and started work on a retreat with a difference. Each of Oudrif’s 10 chalets has been constructed from bales of straw, which have been treated, then covered with cement and painted. The eco-friendly result is both practical – the straw provides excellent insulation against soaring summer temperatures – and delightfully aesthetic. Windowsills are rounded, the walls (all painted a rustic biscuit, bar one that bursts with cornflower blue) are slightly uneven and the roof is supported by two off-centre wooden beams. The décor is similarly eccentric – a trendy art deco armchair clashes comfortably with a plain wooden bench covered by a mismatching throw – yet does not detract from the windows that peep onto the river, the hills and the sky.
We are in an area known as the Gifberg, or ‘ Poisonous Mountains’, where almost half the 4000 plant species are endemic. Sometime during June, July and August (if the winter rains come) the region puts on one of the world’s most extravagant displays of floral fireworks. While you can appreciate this exploding palette from the cool of your straw-bale abode or ensconced within a sloth- inducing hammock, the surrounding hills beg to be explored. Guided by Bill, whose local knowledge is an engaging product of experience, anecdote and research, we traipse happily for hours. The ancient hunter-gatherers left an extraordinarily rich legacy of rock art here and I have to be dragged away from each of the four sites we visit. Though highly stylised, some of the images betray flashes of individuality- such as the distinctive feet of the figures at one site – that offer intriguing glimpses of those who painted them.
We take a break at a cave shaped by the waters of a Doring River tributary, where it is always cool and the water is a beautiful green-gold. Apparently, a ley line runs through this spot which, for some, would explain its restorative powers.
However, after two long, soul- satisfying hikes, I am in need of more robust restoration and head for the open-plan kitchen, which is guarded by a fierce-looking gargoyle from Thailand. Bill barely breaks stride as he switches from guide to cook (this ex-river rafter is also a qualified chef) and I tuck into the results – a typical South African braai with five sumptuous salads-with unseemly dedication.
Assisted by a small team that includes his border collie Bella (a black-and-white cannonball that hurtled ecstatically into us when we arrived), Bill Mitchell has infused Oudrif with a unique brand of laid-back charm that, quite simply, puts it in a league of its own.|
Bill Mitchell will have an unusual platform if he runs for President. He would tax the British 50p for every geranium they ever took out of South Africa. That, he says, would provide more than enough money to fund the country’s conservation efforts.
Bill is very passionate about South Africa’s natural heritage – particularly about it’s rivers, it’s plant life and it’s rock art paintings. All three come together neatly in Oudrif, the guest farm he runs on the banks of the Doring River in the Cedarberg Mountains north of Clanwilliam. It’s a fabulous place, more fulfilling its invitation to ‘relax in splendid isolation’.
The five accommodation units are built of straw bales, Plastered over with cement. It’s a construction method over 200 years old, and enjoying a renaissance in the United States. It’s environmentally friendly and, because it provides a natural insulation for the areas extreme weather, eliminates the necessity of power-hungry air conditioning. Solar panels provide the power and the perennial river the water. The cottages fit right into the starkly beautiful surroundings and are both extremely comfortable and decorated with vibrant minimalism.
It’s Bill, though who gives Oudrif a large slice of its unique quality. He is a fabulous raconteur – insist that he tell you the story of the farmer who decided at age 55 to look for a wife, and the one about the tine he went to look for guests that had got lost. A walk with him through the veld to visit some of the superb rock-art shelters in the area is educational and huge fun. He points out the butter tree, used by local children to slide down hills, and which remarkably, con be successfully transplanted from this harsh environment to offices in London where it called a penny tree and is thought to bring good fortune. He demonstrates one of the uses to which the Bushmen put the pêpê tree. They blow through the hollow stalk, which makes the pêpê sound of a baby klipspringer in distress, and so attract the adults to their death. The leaves of the same plant can be used as a remedy for earache and toothache, and to treat epilepsy and boils. He introduces you to plants with a rich medley of smells – the pleasant aromas of wild rosemary and wild sage; the chickens foot; the strong coffee smell released by sun’s warming of the leaves of the skilpadbos (tortoise bush); the self- explanatory scent of the perdepisbos (horse-urine bush), and the unmistakable whiff of excrement from the stapelia known by the locals as ng!a – all of these aromas designed to prolong the life of the plant through attracting pollinators or repelling them.
The rock paintings are extraordinary. Nobody knows exactly what role they played on the lives of the Bushmen, but they carry a powerful spiritual residue that is impossible to ignore. Bill is an able interpreter of the different theories of the art, as well as adding some of his own. There is a shelter on the farm that has been designated as being of national importance, and Bill has access to many other superb sites on the neighbouring farms. Even without the additional attractions, the rock art alone would make a trip to Oudrif worthwhile.
Those additional attractions include very good birdwatching, Fly-fishing (on a catch-and-release basis) for the endangered and endemic fish of the Doring, and white-water rafting. Among his other talents, Bill is a trained river guide. He’s also very handy in the kitchen, which makes meal times very much linger-longer affairs.
When you go there, and you must, don’t leave without saying hello to Bella, Bill’s gorgeous and very amiable sheepdog.
The Last Straw Resort
The straw bale resort of Oudrif in the foothills of the Cedarberg is a far, far better place than you could possibly imagine
You really have to want to go to Oudrif, because it’s very far. All along the winding and bumpy Cedarberg track I kept thinking, ‘It wouldn’t do to forget the eggs for the soufflé if you lived here’. Which in retrospect was a very urban consideration, because if you did live in a place so far from a corner cafe you would jolly well keep chickens. On the other hand, Bill Mitchell would probably just find a way of reinventing the soufflé.
We found Bill and his hyperactive Border collie, Bella, all alone when our hard-working tyres finally reached a rocky cul-de-sac. He emerged from the doorway of a gingerbread house somewhat camouflaged in the middle distance scrub. This time I thought, well, here’s an isolation freak. What on earth do you do this far from Woolworth’s? He seemed unfazed by the arrival of a bakkieful of people and greeted us with the suggestion of tea.
As I was thinking that perhaps we should have brought the milk and would we get back, kidneys intact, before dark, we crossed the threshold of the first of a clutch of ‘organically grown’ houses and blow me down, but I found myself wishing I’d brought a suitcase. What was this oasis of style and comfort that we’d stumbled on? Hand-painted cushions, Greek blue-distemper-look wall rattan furniture and not just milk, but a choice of teas.
Funny how first impressions can be so wrong. To be fair, I had been given a loose brief: “He’s built these houses out of straw bales and people go there to stay.” Straw bales? Sounded highly allergenic, very scratchy and, frankly, a bit rough. So the chick was quite a shock.
So now what’s the story? Bill deftly organised neat rows of stacked crockery into a full-on tea tray complete with freshly home-baked muffins, at the same time answering a battery of questions. They (he and Paddy Herbert) got a lease on the land, 50km east of Clanwilliam, back in ’96. They always planned to do something like this. Like what? Like build houses that were as at one with the environment as humanly possible and open them to people, who would truly, but truly, appreciate the space and the place. “We don’t do business conferences.” Clearly Oudrif is not about team building and leadership but about soul calming and simplicity.
Paddy proposed naming each house (five at the moment) after an African sign of the zodiac. I rather liked Nanana (Virgo) with it’s hand-painted symbol by the front door, but each had its own character, like the star signs.
But the names came later – first, the floors. In fact, very first some architectural advice. Etienne Brewer from Cape Town supplied that. Next came the foundations – or ‘concrete footing’ – with bluegum pole framework set in place. The straw bales came from “down the road”. But what about the machinery, the heavy plant? No, there was none of that. Bill hewed, sawed, dug, laid and packed every last piece of raw and straw material by hand, his own and those of a couple of helpers. They thought it would take about three months to get the houses up. In reality it took about two years.
The lowest bales had to be coated in plastic, the wall ones in chicken wire and clay, with vent bricks to allow them to breathe. The gum poles had to be stripped and organically treated with boron. The surrounding rock is sandstone so it split easily for walls and terraces. Concrete had to be floated on the floors and sealed with a water-based glaze. And the doors had to be brought in and hung – each of them fine, old, generously proportioned originals from a fallen Standard Bank building in Belleville.
Then there was the plumbing to be installed. There’s a solar-powered telephone and electricity supply because the bottom line, says Bill, “is to have minimal impact on the environment.” When people come to stay (and they do all the time), He takes them for walks to the local heritage sites, each time using a different route so as to minimise damage to the veld.
This might all be fair and gentle to the planet, but the creation of Oudrif has not been cheap. The straw bale houses cost in the region of R900 pre square meter to build. But the cost to Bill and to Paddy? Worth every penny by the looks of it.
Paddy still works part of the time out in the business world, but his inspiration and vision seem to permeate the scene. Bill was from Zambia originally. He worked for a corporate, trained as a baker (hence the muffins), spent some time in Australia in hotels and restaurants (his other hat at Oudrif is Chef), has been a landscaper and, more recently, owned a river rafting company in South Africa. In fact it was from the Doring River that he first spotted this site, and I guess you could say he’s never looked back.
There’s always something to do at Oudrif, from hacking down alien bush on the riverbanks to adding finishing touches to the light fittings in the houses. But Bill will tell you the best thing is sharing stories with guests over a late night glass of wine by the embers of a braai fire (unsurprisingly, he’s a vegetarian himself.)
Because it’s in unspoiled, honest, cared-for and caring surroundings such as these that the truth of the matter can be found and mulled over.
A Cultural Wonderland (part one)
Situated just off the traffic-congested N7 is the town of Clanwilliam. This quaint town is well known for the rich variety it offers the tourist. As one of the oldest towns in the country, it is steeped in local history. Clanwilliam is also known for it’s extremely beautiful wild flowers during the flower season and a plethora of hikes and other activities for nature enthusiasts. It is the heart of the Rooibos Tea phenomenon as well as home to the Clanwilliam Dam, which in turn offers fishing and water sports. It is also a base for river rafting on the Doring River and the burial place of Louis Leipoldt, one of South Africa’s finest writers. Just 10km outside of town is the picturesque Pakhuis Pass, gateway to Wuppertal and the Tankwa Karoo. Over and above all of this, Clanwilliam is the base from which to explore the most amazing array of some of South Africa’s finest San rock art.
We spent an enthralling weekend scrambling over boulders and exploring some of the inexhaustible scenic beauty and incredible rock paintings the area has to offer. Our guide was Allan Cameron; Clanwilliam resident of Blue Yonder Adventures, patient and knowledgeable guide and traveller. Before we started out, Allan explained that it was important to realise that the entire field of rock art interpretation has been a continual entire field of rock art interpretation has been a continual process and that, although at present consensus exists on the origin and reasons for these paintings, debate still rages as to the precise interpretation of some of the paintings.
With this warning in mind we set off down the road to the Clanwilliam Living Landscape Project (CLLP). This is a community-based heritage and education project with goals that are two fold: establishing a set of teaching guidelines for the local and visiting school groups, and a job creation programme designed to generate small businesses that are built around the local rock art and other archaeological finds.
We found the CLLP to be truly remarkable. On arrival, Tracy Prosalendis and Lindie Melle, both managers of the project, showed us around their amazing craft shop. Heavy emphasis is placed on rock are and the use of the environment as the chief inspiration for the items sold in the shop. The shop sells an amazing array of crafts, which are handmade by the 20 members of the CLLP. These include, beautiful jewellery, handmade paper and bags based on the animal hide bags by the Bushmen to carry their bow and arrows, wild plants, berries and their other worldly possessions.
We were then introduced to Peter, a youth who had been with the CLLP since its inception. He was to be out guide to the Warmhoek Rock Art Trail, a few kilometres out of town. A Land Rover ride later, we were exposed to the first rock paintings of the weekend. His guiding skills were superb and after letting us marvel at the outdoor art gallery, he went on to explain that up until the late 1970’s people used a “narrative approach” to explain the San art that was found on rocks across our country. In other words, it was thought that the paintings depicted actual scenes from the daily lives of the Bushmen, such as hunting and gathering. This approach is no longer deemed to be correct as the contemporary consensus for the interpretation of San rock art is that “the making of San rock paintings was essentially (or principally) associated with a range of shamanistic beliefs, rituals and experiences and was situated within a tiered shamanistic cosmology and complex social relations”. (David Lewis- Williams, 1998)
Put more simply, produced by Shamans in a post-trance state, reflecting the images and emotions the Shaman had experienced during trance.
Peter went onto explain how, over the years, people had come to this conclusion. Like many of the paintings we were still to come across, the figures in the paintings at Warmhoek were elongated, a form probably representing effects of a trance, in which the body feels stretched. My research has also suggested that a traditional San greeting was, “We saw your long shadows coming from afar” and that perhaps there is a link to this in the depiction of these elongated figures. Images on underwater scenes, death and flying are also common, and believed to be metaphors of trance. Another pointer is the occurrence of figures called “therianthropes” (half human and half antelope figures). These are understood to be Shamans undergoing a transformation into animal form in states of trance.
Fascinated by what I had heard and reeling to learn more, Allan whisked us off to Oudrif – some 50km on the other side of Clanwilliam. Run by Bill Mitchell and situated on the banks of the Doring River, this resort is for people who cherish rest, relaxation, good food, fly-fishing and long’ interesting walks in an area beleaguered with trilobite fossils, prehistoric artefacts and fantastic San rock paintings.
Accommodation at Oudrif is comfortable and completely out of the ordinary. The buildings are constructed out of bales of straw which have been plastered – a method dating back some 200 years. This environmentally friendly, and provides excellent insulation in both hot and cold weather, thus reducing the need for conventional power. The bales and much of the timber (alien trees that were cut down) were found locally, and therefore make the cottages fit perfectly into their surroundings. Doors and windows were all brought from buildings that were being torn down for refurbishment, placing emphasis on the positive effects of re-cycling. Power for lights and hot water is gathered from the use of solar panels, and water comes from the nearby river.
Bill guided us on a hike through Olienhoutkloof, a rocky kloof on the other side of the river overlooking the straw bale cottages of Oudrif. A different path is used each time he takes guests for a hike so as not to destroy the precious mountain fynbos. With a Rock Kestrel and a Black Eagle overhead as well as a klipspringer secretly sneaking glances in our direction before darting off, we made our way to a couple of rock formations that were “home” to some superb rock art.
Sitting here in full view of tangible depictions of our country’s incredible history, Bill explained further aspects of San rock art.
Records show that the San used many different materials in order to paint. Earth ochre’s, clay, bird droppings, ash and charcoal were used as base pigments. These were mixed with adhesive materials such as egg white, blood, urine and the sap of plants. To apply their “paint”, the San used anything from their fingers to sticks, feathers or animal hairs. The paintings that remain today, millennia after they were painted, are generally ochre or black in colour due to climatic and atmospheric conditions having faded some of the colours more than others. This phenomenon explains the common appearance of “hook headed” figures, where the face was originally painted in a colour that has disappeared, while the cap of hair was painted in an ochre-based paint that has stained the rock. This same phenomenon explains eland bodies that appear minus heads and legs, which are thought to have disappeared due to exposure of the elements.
W – V & A Waterfront magazine
Oudrif Farm – Oudrif is magical. Set on the banks of the Doring River in the Cedarberg Mountains, three-hours drive north-west of Cape Town and 45 minutes from the nearest town, Clanwilliam, unique plants, animals, fish and insect species abound. In spring the whole area comes alive with the biggest outdoor flower display in the world; in summer it is a fly-fisherman’s paradise. The river also provides ample opportunity for paddling, swimming and sun bathing on its secluded beaches.
Accommodation caters for two people sharing in five unique, straw-bale cottages perched on a rocky shelf overlooking the river.
Aan die oewer van die standhoudende Doringrivier, slegs 50 km buite Clanwilliam, lê die organiese gasteplaas Oudrif, waar ons foto’s geneem is. Die plaas bied aan sy gaste die geleentheid om die gejaagde lewe van die stad
vir absolute natuurskoon, rustigheid en warm gasvryheid te verruil.
Deur die dag kan gaste die fynbos, ander plante of rotstekeninge op staproetes van nader beskou, en terwyl die die son langs die rivier sak, begin die kombuis wemel. Gasheer Bill hou almal se glase vol terwyl jy weglê aan smullekker, eg Suid-Afrikaanse kookkuns.
Doen jouself ‘n guns – breek weg van die stad se geraas en besoek Oudrif aan die voet van die prentjiemooi Sederberge. Hier voel ‘n dag werklik soos ‘n hele naweek. Dankie, Oudrif!
The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
An exceptional retreat lodge in the Cedarberg backcountry, lies 48 km from Clanwilliam, some of it along rough dirt roads. It occupies inspiring countryside in the transitional zone between the foothills of the mountains and the dry Karoo, with redstone gorges and a wide valley incised by the Doring River. You can pick up early marine fossils on nearby hills, from the days when the area was flooded by an inland sea. More recently, the area was once inhabited by San hunter-gatherers, who left their mark on a number of painted rock-faces in the area. Although there are wonderful walks through fynbos to rock art, this is as much a place where you just chill out – the only rule enforced by the co-owner and manager Bill Mitchell is that there are no rules. The multi-talented Mitchell is also a qualified chef and does all the cooking at this full-board establishment (he’s vegetarian, but will prepare meat dishes). The river has beaches for sunbathing and there are some fine spots for cooling off in its flow on hot days; as a former river-rafting guide, Mitchell can take you onto the water in a boat.
Accommodation is in five straw-bale houses, with stylish retro furniture, built on the edge of the gorge that falls away to the Doring River. (Straw-bale construction is a traditional North American method in which the bales are sandwiched between solid facings – in this case concrete.) The earth-red chalets have an uneven hewn quality that befits their isolation on the rock-strewn hillside, and each has a double and a three-quarter bed; the power for lighting is provided by solar panels and showers are heated.
If you want more sustained adrenaline, the best whitewater rafting trips in the Western Cape set out a short walk downstream from Oudrif (mid-July to mid-September) on the Doring River.
Yellowfishes of the Western Cape Province (Edited)
Experienced anglers in the northern part of the country are adamant that taking the indigenous yellowfishes on fly is far more challenging and requires a great deal more skill to do so than catching trout. In addition, once hooked, the yellows completely outperform trout.
Anglers seeking Clanwilliam yellowfish, Clanwilliam sawfin and the Berg-Breë whitefish on fly are fortunate in being able to fish for them in some of the finest scenery to be had anywhere in the world. Where else can you fish with majestic mountains, bedecked with the uniquely beautiful endemic fynbos vegetation as a backdrop, and carefully tended vineyards or orange groves nestling in the valleys? The Table Mountain Sandstone and indigenous fynbos vegetation combine to yield waters of outstanding clarity and purity in which these splendid angling fishes have evolved. Catching any of these three threatened and elusive species is an achievement requiring detailed knowledge of where to fish, when to fish and how to fish.
Distribution and biology
The Clanwilliam yellowfish only occurs in the Olifants River System of the Western Cape. It looks very similar to and is closely related to the smallmouth yellowfish of the Orange-Vaal River System, which is not surprising as the Olifants and the Orange Rivers shared the same mouth to the sea millions of years ago.
The Clanwilliam yellowfish is the country’s second largest yellowfish attaining an impressive mass of 10 kilograms whereas the sawfin and whitefish are smaller, reaching just over 4 kilograms. All three species are omnivorous, feeding primarily on aquatic insects and algae with adults also taking crabs, frogs and small fish. All, typically, swim in schools with juvenile and adult fish preferring riffle areas and pools respectively. Adult Clanwilliam yellowfish and sawfin are often found in small rivers and shallow pools.
All three species undertake upstream spawning migrations in late spring (October to November) when water temperatures reach 19¾C. The spawning fish deposit their eggs in gravel depressions in shallow riffles. Newly hatched fry collect in the warm nutrient-rich shallows of pools and remain there until they reach about 3 centimetres when they are strong enough to enter deeper and faster-flowing water. Growth is slow and fry may take a year to reach 6 centimetres – indicative of a long-lived species.
All three Western Cape yellowfishes are internationally listed as threatened with extinction. In the Seventies, the indigenous yellows provided fantastic fishing for both locals and visitors from as far afield as the former Transvaal Province. A visitor fishing these same rivers today will have great difficulty finding yellowfish to catch. Surveys by conservation scientists have revealed that they have disappeared from much of their former range and have unfortunately been replaced by alien species such as smallmouth bass, bluegill sunfish, carp, Mozambique tilapia, rainbowtrout and sharptoothcatfish. In the clear Cape rivers, introduced predators, such as small mouthbass, easily located and preyed upon juvenile indigenous species where as dams such as Clanwilliam and Bulshoek have prevented migrating yellowfish from reaching traditional spawning grounds.
Many anglers, who have obviously not given the matter much thought, argue that angling has improved with the introduction of alien fishes, as there is a wider selection of species. Unfortunately, however, this “improvement” has been purchased at a massive cost involving the virtual destruction of a most intricately interwoven and unique ecosystem and the loss of an outstanding indigenous sport fishery. Fly-fishing venues Because all three species of Western Cape yellowfishes are threatened, fishing for them is more likely to be successful in areas where each species still has reasonably healthy populations. As a conservation measure, Cape Nature Conservation (CNC) has encouraged farmers within the catchment range of the three species to stock farm dams with juveniles. The following places are recommended for angling for Clanwilliam yellowfish, sawfin and whitefish.
This resort is on the rugged and spectacular lower Doring River that offers a mouth-watering and challenging variety of fly-fishing environments. The best time to fish this water is from May to October when the river is flowing strongly. Some pools are massive, exceed 7 metres in depth, and contain Clanwilliam yellowfish that will top 7 kilograms. There are no day-use facilities and no more than ten overnight guests are allowed in the five cottages.
Oudrif is versteekte juweel
Blomme kyk, wyn proe, rooibostee drink eb boegoe-produkte aanskaf is min of meer wat in jou gedagtes opkom as jy dink aan Citrusdal, Clanwilliam en die res van die Olifantsrivier-streek. ‘n Ent anderkant dié pragtige dorpie, genestel tussen rantjies aan die Doringrivier, lê nog ‘n versteekte juweel van die streek.
Dit kos wel mooi kophou met plaaspaadjies langs om by Bill Mitchell se uitspanplek by Oudrif, ook die basiskamp van die maatskappy River Rafters, uit te kom. Maar byt vas: die die moeite werd. Hier kan jy saam met die gewese riviergids jou adrenalienkleppe gaan oopdraai op die Doring se witwater, aansit by ‘n lang tafel en weglê aan sy kontreikos en jou dan gaan neervlei in een van su outentieke chalets.
Strooibale wat met draad aanmekaar gebind en waaroor treffende pleisterwerk gedoen is, maak die dakke van die chalets iets besonders.
Maar dis nie al nie. Mitchell hou ook daarvan om sy gaste op ‘n wandeltog teen die rantjies aan die oorkant van die Doring te neem en hulle van die pragtigste San rotstekeninge in die gebied te wys. En, terwyl hy jou van die een rotshang na die ander – teen die rantjis wat eintlik die “agterkant” van die Gif- en Maskamberge vorm – neem, vertel hy jou strykdeur van die groot verskeidenheid veldblomme en ander interessante plante in die omgewing.
“Ek mik daarna om uiteindelik ‘n rotstekeningroete in die gebied te vestig,” vertel hy later terug in sy “onthaalgebied” en bring ‘n gedrukte werk te voorskyn waarin hy presies uiteensit wat hy met die roete beoog, hoe hy die plaaslike mense in die Nardousberg, Agter-Pakhuis en Wuppertal daarby wil betrek en volhoubare ontwikkeling gaan toepas.
Sy eie kennis van die rotstekeninge in die gebied het hy opgedoen deur saam met ander gidse rond te stap en goed te luister, so veel moontlik oor die onderwerp te lees en ook kundiges na die gebied te bring. Nie dat die kundiges altyd geglo hoef te word nie!
“Kyk, niemand weet regtig wat die mense wou sê met sommige van hul rotskuns nie. Dis maar alles vertolkings en vermoedens. Kyk na dié een,” sê hy kort nadat ons onder nóg ‘n rots inskuif en na een van die mooiste werke bekend in die Wes-Kaap staar.
“Hier was ‘n rotskunskenner wat ‘n ingewikkelde verduideliking gehad het oor wat presies uitgebeeld word,” sê Mitchell en gee ons ‘n taamlike ingewikkelde relaas. “ek dink dis eenvoudig ‘n jagtog, met die jagters wat ‘n geraas maak met goed soos ratels, en die bokke aanjaag na die afgrond by die rivier hier agter. Dis ‘n oer-oue jagmetode.” Sy verduideliking klink vir ons in die kol.
Met die terugstap rivier toe merk iemand op “maar ons stap dan nie nou dieselfde pad terug nie.” “Juis nie,” antwoord Mitchell. “Ek wil keer dat ons voetpaadjies uittrap en erosie aanhelp.”
Daardie aand om die lang tafel, met nog gaste wat Vredendal se keurige wyne saamgebring het om Mitchell se keurige geregte te komplementeer, vertel die gebore Zambiër hy het rus vir sy siel ontdek. “Aan die begin het ek die geringste verskoning gebruik om in my kar te spring en Kaap toe te ry. Nou gaan ek miskien een keer in twee maande.”
Mitchell het in Kaapstad grootgeword en gestudeer voordat hy in die laat jate tagtig en vroeë jare negentig in Australië in restaurante en hotelle gwerk en ook tuinontwerp gedoen het. “Ek het in ’91 teruggekom en met riviervaarte doenig geraak tot in ’96. Dis in daardie tyd dat ek dié plekkie langs die Doring ontdek het.”
‘n Vriend die afgelope 20 jaar, Paddy Herbert, het ses jaar gelede die kapitaal verskaf en die twee het die vyf ongelooflike oornaghuisies en onthaalgebied self gebou.
As Mitchell se planne werlikilheid word, gaan Oudrif waarskynlik binnekort ‘n gewilde teoriste-uithangplek word. Dis in elk geval nou ‘n goeie tyd om die streek te besoek, want op pad soontoe kan jy al die blommekyk- en rooibostee-dinge doen. En boonop is die somertemperature in die Olifantsrivier-streek ook berug.
Isolation, relaxation and plenty of activity at Oudrif
By Jon van den Heever
Motoring the 50 km from Clanwilliam to Oudrif, situated on the Doring River, is a little daunting in a small car and I would not recommend doing it at night (that is, leaving Cape Town late) on your first visit. Most of the dirt road is quite passable – easy in a big car or a 4×4 – if a little rough over the last few kilometers. But when you get there you realize why it is worth the effort. It’s the isolation, the complete isolation.
Then comes the next realization: Oudrif is run by an individual who is no ordinary host. Bill Mitchell is a man of the world – tough and knowledgeable, university graduate, one time chef, landscaper and river rafting guide, with a passion for his environment and its conservation. When not entertaining guests, his life is a life of aloneness at night with a good book and a wind-up radio, early rising, hard manual work with his laborer Johannes and striding across the veld with his dog Ella on the lookout for new developments among the flora and fauna, negotiating the rocks and canyons with the ease of a kippering.
It is the river that introduced Bill to this place. In winter when it is running strongly, his former company River Rafters launch at Oudrif to give their clients instant action in the rapids at the foot of the property. Bill and partner Paddy Herbert decided the place was too special not to share with others, at a fee of course.
And so it is that one can enjoy this environment, accommodated in straw-bale cottages, built by Bill and Johannes, that are as charming in their construction as they are in their aesthetically pleasing minimalist decor and comfortable solar and gas-powered en suite facilities. The divider between my bedroom and the sitting area, for example, was constructed of chicken wire covered with reed, sporting s framed art photograph hung from the roof on a wire adorned with beads. The walls are plastered over, but the inside of the roof – also straw bales – is open, giving a similar aroma to thatch.
Bill Mitchell is your chef, barman, entertainer, nature teacher and guide who thinks nothing – if you simply look fit enough – of taking you on a dizzying hike to the Linocut waterfall, over rocks and crags, crossing the river and clambering up the other side to find the most astonishing San rock art I have ever seen, including many ancient hand prints on the rock in an area that was probably used for rituals.
We returned via the dry Doring River rocks which form the rapids. Seeing what lurks below the surface of the pounding water is enough to put any self-respecting physical coward off for life. Bill claims, with a twinkle in his eye, to be as good as six men in a raft because he can “read” the river. I am sure it is not a false claim and I am sure he uses his skill as much for having fun at the expense of his crew as much as avoiding capsizing.
That afternoon we found ourselves on another brisk hike to the top of a Karoo koppie (in this area Table Mountain sandstone meets Karoo shale). Bill reminded us that this was where we originated – in the primordial soup – as he showed us tracks left in the shale by prehistoric worms. In the boma he keeps – with special permission, Bill assured us – a perfectly preserved trilobite, an ancient marine animal that may have been the ancestor of the king crab, the scorpion and the spider.
While I clung to a fence for the descent on the loose shale, and another guest tiptoed gingerly, Bill danced down the slope like a ballerina, making one feel like a geriatric (more than one of which had been up there before without any trouble, he assured me).
If you prefer, Bill can take you on less demanding routes to see the same thing. Just try not to look too fit.
At the “boma” there is a large braai and sundeck area overlooking the river and indoors are the kitchen, sitting and dining areas. Bill is as nimble in the kitchen as he is in the veld and delicious meals were served with a flourish. The clear nights are still and bright. I have not seen stars brighter. With Bill’s high quality, high power binoculars I saw something I had never seen before – an actual nebula in space.
The Agter-Pakhuis, Bushman’s Kloof, Biedouw Valley and Wuppertal areas are rich in historical, architectural, cultural and natural features which are well documented in the handy booklet Beyond the Cedarberg by Peter Slingsby and Ed Coombe. It contains a section on Oudrif. I will certainly have it with me when I head out in that direction again, hopefully soon.