As much as I’ve gotten 3rd degree burns from one too many abysmal dating catastrophes in the past, at heart I’m still very much a romantic. Having recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, I’m just not so sure I want to say “I do” anytime soon. Not that there’s any hurry to murmur those two words at present. But I do believe in love and grand overtures hold a definite enchantment. As for clandestine getaways, roadtrips and delicious adventures with a significant other? Bring. It. On!
When a friend suggested we take a midweek break and spend a couple of nights in a cave, I was packed before the conversation was through. Donkieskraal is a haven conveniently close to Cape Town (a two and a half hour drive), nestled against a mountain on the Sandberg family farm. The private game reserve with its unique lodge are home to a vast array of wild creature including blue wildebeest, zebra, eland, kudu, the ubiquitous springbok, black eagle, caracal, aardvark, porcupine and bat-eared fox. Making for magical game drives in the evening or early morning.
Or, as hostess, Tillia Laubscher, explains on our first tour of the reserve, a breathtaking setting to pop the proverbial question. With the lodge as a prime location for earthy, intimate weddings, far out in the fynbos, beneath a burning sunset must be one of the top 5 places to ask for your lover’s hand. And Tillia is the perfect partner in crime! As we drove down to dig potatoes for supper she regaled with tales of picture perfect proposals she’s conspired to create (someone has to set the gorgeous table à deux, champagne chilling, in the middle of nowhere!) as well as a few whose candyfloss ‘taste’ is fairly questionable. Note for the future Mr Hyphen-Nguni :: no marshmallows. Or random rose petals strewn across a bed, edible lingerie and please gods, no proteas. I doubt I even want a diamond. It’s too predictable. Find me a stone with less bloodshed and corruption; I’d be happier with a penguin pebble than a multifaceted piece of pure consumerism. But that’s me. Here endith the rant.
We return to the lodge as the sun is bidding a sad farewell to the sky, casting long shadows along the crags. The rooms themselves are unconventional: you can choose to stay in one of the luxury ‘rock rooms’, beautifully built in harmony with the natural rock face. Or an elegant safari tent. The true blue nature lovers can even camp. A recently reformed camper post the hideous Christmas camping, I opted to get stoned.
The rock rooms, for me, are positively magical. Possibly because my overactive imagination allows me to feel connected to the wise ancestors who lived here long ago. It makes me feel close to nature without the trauma of doing the midnight dash to find a tree to squat behind. As I was there with a friend, we shared a room with two single beds while I eyed out the chalet right at the very end and fantasized about some future time when I might be able to bring someone special, languish in a bubble bath whilst reading sonnets by candlelight. I don’t know what it is about Donkieskraal – possibly all that wedding happiness has soaked into the sandstone, but the place makes you downright romantic.
It’s an equally superb spot for a team building session or conference with its massive central lapa. In my former life, our corporate trainings took place in a ring of impersonal hotels and I realised, sitting on the roof of the communal kitchen, half lotused and gazing serenely at the sparkling pool below: we’re pretty damn lucky here in South Africa. We have a multitude of magical hideaways that double as corporate venues with charm and character. Morning yoga done, (temporary) enlightenment duly achieved, we wandered to the main house to find Tillia. We’re greeted by Kudu, her cloven foot kid, who after welcoming us, jumps on the table and begins breakfasting on a bunch of flowers. Luckily, along with being a professional Engagement Co-conspirator with a wicked sense of style (and humour) she’s still an old fashioned plaas meisie who knows how to handle her goats – very firmly, by the horns. A fabulous chef, we were lucky to sample her sumptuous farm cooking: even simple potatoes pulled fresh from the soil taste like heaven in her hands. And she’s thinking of starting a vodka and potato pairing route in the area – hang onto your Hi-Techs!
The highlight came after a high speed dirt road drive and about six farm gates as Tillia turned tour guide and took us to see a cave cathedral full of Bushmen art. Ravens swirling in the sky above, ancient ochre marks etched into the massive stone face, a sense of timeless wonder pervaded the place. A weird bridge between then and now. Words fail. It was a privilege to visit such a naturally sacred space.
We left the next day with somewhat heavy hearts and a backseat packed with pockets of potatoes (I told you they were good!) Donkieskraal is a place to get away from it all, tap into the magic of the land and connect with your wildly romantic side. For a surprisingly reasonable rate, you can book out the whole place and invite your friends to come celebrate life, love and freedom. Work, if you must (it would make a great writer’s retreat) but whatever you do, put it on your bucket list. Even if you have to get married.
For more information and loads of lovely photos, visit the Donkieskraal Facebook page. To book, either email firstname.lastname@example.org or call contact Tillia on 083 235 4717. And as she wittily remarks: “no charge extra for sunshine, so no refunds for rain.”
Donkieskraal’s is offering an exclusive discount to my blog readers: 10% off all bookings from now until October 1st 2012. Visit scarletnguni.com for details.
With spring just around the corner and after the recent rains, it’s a perfect time to visit and catch the Namaqualand daisies in bloom. It doesn’t get more romantic than that!