BootsnAll Blog

BootsnAll

December 26th, 2008 .....

After spending a week in Cape Town we took the N7 tarred highway and headed north. Since it's a 7 hour drive to the Namibian border, we decided to stay a night somewhere in between to break up the drive. After reading about the Cederberg Wilderness Area in the Lonely Planet, described as a "must-see", I checked the "Alternative Route" (accommodation guide for independent travellers which I had picked up free at the hostel) and read about a lodge bordering the wilderness area.

We were supposed to turn off the highway 29 km from the town of Citrusdal. I had been keeping an eye on the odometer, but for some reason, we missed the turn and ended up in the next town of Clanwilliam. After stopping for more concrete directions from a local ("it is just after the little store on the left that is closed now, it is just before you get to the red and white tower") we headed back south, only this time, there was no missing the big green sign. We realized why I had missed the sign - it was because when we had come over the hill, we entered into a green, lush valley where farm labourers were working on the left hand side in a watermelon field, and on the right hand side, I was distracted by watching a white egret land on a horse's rump out in the grassy field and the horse bucked the bird off! I had never seen that before and it'll be one of those scenes that I'll always remember.

We turned east off the tarred highway onto a reddish dirt road and over a narrow bridge. The Olifants River Valley (Olifants means Elephant in the "Afrikaan" language) used to have the highest concentration of elephants in Africa, with one herd having 250 or more - now unfortunately, there are none. We continued another 4.2 km on this dry, dirt road before reaching the sign "Gecko Creek". I opened the gate and we drove in, noting a sign that read Danger Pasop with a picture of what looked like an ostrich on it. Surprisingly, this Pasop was right beside the roadway but by the time I had got my camera, it had gone.

We continued driving over a tiny, narrow bridge and along a dirt track over the hills and through the valley. As we drove, small green signs indicated a 25 km/hr speed limit and warned of Wild Animals and Tortoises. The area is full of small and large clumps of grass, brush, and and other unique vegetation so I was on the lookout for something to pop out at us at any given moment. At the top of one of the hills, a Danger sign read Wolf with a picture of a wolf on it. I questioned whether there are wolves in South Africa or was this just a joke?

Continuing on, after about a 10 minute slow drive on private property, we arrived in a valley to Gecko Creek Lodge - a 517 hectare private nature reserve . The setting couldn't have been more magical - a perfect paradise in the remote African wilderness. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by the owner/manager, Linton Pope, as well as his North American timber wolf named Hoka. Linton had rescued Hoka from being put down years ago and he is now a treasured member of the Gecko Creek family. We were briefed on some very important "Wolf Rules" which were further explained hanging up in the kitchen.

Linton introduced us to Charles, an employee of the lodge originally from Zimbabwe, whose wife and children still reside there while he makes a living and sends his salary home from South Africa. Charles showed us to our wooden cabin with a spectacular view overlooking the valley, nestled between the Cederberg Mountains. For a moment, I was worried that I had not converted the Rand to the Dollar properly and that this place was $400/night and not $40/night! If the wooden cabin (king-sized bed, soft African-themed linen, walkout french doors, with a hammock on the front private) had an ensuite bathroom and electricity, it might just carry that price tag!

Charles then showed us around the property - a very clean, beautiful salt-water pool overlooking the valley and "Leopard Rock", his and her washrooms with hot showers. There's also what is called a "boma" - a small, circular area where guests gather at night to lay back on bean bag chairs, drink, converse, and star gaze around a campfire. Also located in here are several "braai" (a barbecue; a South African institution). Finally, Charles showed us the "lapa" - a large, thatched common area used for eating and socializing, as well as the grassy area just outside where Linton welcomes his guests to sit around for a "sundowner" and exchange their stories. If you ever find yourself at Gecko Creek, be sure to ask Linton how he was finally able to teach Hoka who was dominant and the funny story about the Canadian girl who thought that "Pasop" was a particular species of bird.

After a relaxing swim in the 35 degree C heat (it is not the uncomfortable, humid heat we get in Canada), and a refreshing shower, we made our way to the lapa for dinner. I had read that there were "prepared meals". However, we were advised that they no longer offer this service, but not wanting to have to drive into town (30 km) after driving all day, luckily Rhino (a visiting tour guide) and Ingrid (a very kind German lady who helps out around the property and is the resident "wolf-sitter") came to our rescue and served us our best steak and potatoes dinner yet - topped off with chocolate mousse.

The next morning we headed into the friendly town of Clanwilliam for groceries, etc. Already at this point, we knew we wanted to stay longer to relax and soak up the spirit of Gecko Creek. What had originally started out as staying a day or two, ended up being 6 nights and 7 days. For those of you following our blogs, this is uncharacteristic of our travels which have been on average, one, two, or maybe three nights. We quite easily fell into the routine of sleeping in, enjoying our morning coffee in the lapa, going out for a hike or short-distance driving excursion, coming back hot and in need of a refreshing swim (pool temperature was 82 F which was perfect), having a warm shower, then meeting up with everyone for the 6:30 p.m sundowner. After a couple of sundowners, then everyone headed for the kitchen or braai to begin dinner. We alternated cooking dinners (well, at least I have two varieties of spaghetti in my repertoire), then it was relaxing late into the night with a glass or two (or 3) of red wine either by the fire in the boma or else the comfort of the lapa.

Gecko Creek Lodge and the Cederberg Wilderness Area truly deserve a 10-day stay to explore its many assets. Cederberg is a 71,000 hectare area has world-renowned rock and cliff climbing as well as caves with 1,000 year old San (indigenous people formerly known as Bushmen) rock paintings. At Gecko Creek, Charles gave us a tour to Leopard’s Rock which hides 10,000 – 12,000 year old San rock paintings (they have been carbon dated from a museum employee). As well, we hiked to Elephant Rock (it really does look like an elephant, along with a second elephant just behind it) as well as a climb to the very top of Gecko Creek property with a stunning, 360 degree view of the mountain range.

At the National Park entrance of Algeria, just a 10 minute drive down the dirt road, we also trekked to the waterfall and soaked ourselves after the climb up in 40 degree heat during midday (note to self - leave much earlier and remember to take water!!!). We also drove to one of South Africa’s finest wineries, a further half hour down the road. This winery has won many national awards for its fine wines. We picked up a fine red Pinotage for only $5. Further on, we went horseback riding down in the valley and through small streams, looking up at the majestic mountains. 4 km further down the road are caves with 1,000 year old rock paintings. Linton also arranged for us to take a scenic flight over the Cederberg Wilderness Area in a 12 seater plane. Another day was spent driving an hour to the Atlantic Coast to see Bird Island at Lambert's Bay and the thousands of Cape Gannet sea birds on their rock island.

But, as one of my favourite sayings goes, "All good things must come to an end." Well, I guess they didn't have to. We could have stayed for months - Gecko Creek is just one of those rare, remote, pieces of paradise tucked away in a corner of the world that has yet to be truly discovered. I sure hope it stays this way. Although the owner was strongly against installing electricity, the high cost of operating the pool, etc necessitated it. Plus, I think guests prefer an ice-cold drink in 35+ C temperatures. For anyone out there contemplating writing an autobiography, poetry, music, or any other form of literature, this is the place to do it! Check out their website at www.geckocreek.com

After a heartfelt goodbye, it was time to move on to explore new countries in southern Africa. Next stop - the remote and sparsely populated, desert country of Namibia!

Lisa