Here I am, gobsmacked, at Elandsfontein Private Nature Reserve, about an hour north of Cape Town along the West Coast.
It’s so blimmin’ nice here and I hadn’t expected it. Sonqua Manor – the accommodation on the Elandsfontein reserve – is a full-on safari lodge of the best sort, in an area where good taste is not usually a driving factor. (Nearby lagoon-side Langebaan town is a prime example of bad taste houses in a beautiful setting).
But Sonqua Manor isn’t like that. It’s got safari style in abundance, allowing the gently undulating, fynbos wilderness to take centre stage. Completely open to the view, the lounge and dining areas have no front wall, which forces you to stare out to the low bush and a horizon of blue sky.
There’s a constant hum of insects, frogs, birds and bees, with the occasional antelope, buffalo, zebra or ostrich breaking the blurred outline of the bush. I keep looking up from my screen to admire it and to see what bird is chirping so loudly or whether the leaf-mimicking bug has moved. Then pop! my laptop battery goes – oh what the hell, do I really have to work right now?
Then I remember that this is what I do for a living and I am not a rich bitch who can actually pay to stay at all these divine places. I’m a safari tart who gets to go there anyway and tell you about it.
‘Is this the best job in the world’ I often wonder, and “Yes” , I think it must be. Vitalis, the Ranger in the flowers reckons his is, but hey, we are both in the same place at the same time, so what’s the difference? But don’t be fooled into thinking that luck had anything to do with it. I always pictured myself in this lifestyle, I just hadn’t factored in the actual money, just the surroundings, so I got exactly what I’d imagined for myself. And I have absolutely no complaints.
None at all here at Elandsfontein – nothing to complain about. Quite the opposite – I barely have enough gushing words to tell you how brilliant the staff are. The best combination of fun and laughter and understated professionalism, which means they do their job without you even noticing and you think to yourself, ‘if I had a safari lodge I would try and pinch those guys‘. So guess how they came to be here….yes, you got it. Owner Arie Dempers, tempted them away from their last jobs in Namibia and KwaZulu Natal to his patch of paradise on the Cape West Coast. And they seem to like it here, and who wouldn’t.
This is the place I want to own. It’s close enough to Cape Town for meaningful cosmopolitan life whenever you want it. It’s close enough to Langebaan to go for a swim in the warm ocean lagoon in your lunch hour and it’s so far in its own wild space to make it feel like a million miles from anywhere.
There’s no electricity at Elandsfontein, but you wouldn’t be aware of this, as a generator provides power but is so far away so you can’t hear it thrumming. It’s a good excuse though, to make use of fire and candles for the evenings at Sonqua Manor and create an atmosphere that is the cissies version of camping.
In true safari style there is an early morning and late afternoon game drive or walks, but the pressure is off because there’s no need to chase down big game like lion and elephant, as there aren’t any. This is not their preferred habitat, although fossils in Elandsfontein dunes shows differently with fossilised elephant bone and sabre-tooth tigers). Elandsfontein has buffalo and loads of giant eland antelope, springbok, kudu, zebra and lots of tortoises and unseen snakes.
The flora is especially significant with every bush giving off a different medicinal fragrance like the cure-all buchu bush and wild sage. Birdlife is abundant with kites and larger raptors and eagle owls that sit on posts and stare at you.
Elandsfontein is the kind of place you come to get away from it all and they are having great success in attracting local people for a quality safari experience at a price they can afford. It’s both of those things and has achieved 5-star grading from the Tourism Grading Council, courtesy of yours truly (yes, I am a star grading Assessor).
It’s got the vaulted thatched roofs, rough plaster walls and discreet wooden decks. The bathrooms are b..i..g with a bath and an inside and outside shower. There are plenty of lotions, potions and body scrub for self-pampering. Beds are big too with twin beds converted into fulsome king size and linens pressed like you never get them at home.
Enough compliments now…oh just one more…the food is fab. Private dining in your room, terrace or anywhere you like for the romantic or just plain antisocial. You’ll be asking for some recipes to take home……so far I want to know how to make the coconut cake with crispy sugar top, the mushroom soup and the beef strips with caramelised onion and chilli prawn and lychee curry.
Fossils Litter the Ground
Finally, one of the most unique and special things about Elandsfontein Nature Reserve, is their fossil bank located in a wild, white dunescape on the estate. Dr. David Braun – Lecturer in Archeology at University of Cape Town says, “It is the most important middle Pleistocene (200,000 – 800,000 yrs ago) fossil deposit in Southern Africa. Fossils of giant buffalo, oversized hyenas and the short-necked giraffe literally litter the ground. It’s freaky that these dense and heavy pieces bone are hundreds of thousands of years old and they are everywhere.
And there are human artefacts too, like hand axes left here by our ancestors, although the rocks from which they are sourced are at least 20km away.
Good evidence that these sites were not disturbed, is that some of the animal bones are found in anatomical positions – indicating that the animal must have remained in situ when it died and was not swept here by a river.
It’s really fascinating and if the archaeologists are here when you come they will explain what’s going on. They are really hoping to find a human skull, which would be extremely significant as there is little known about ancient man during the Pleistocene period.
Did I say that you get to the dunes by quad bike? I’ve gotta go now cause somebody just shouted out, “on yer bike.”