The low scudding grey clouds bump up and over the folded lower hills of the Waterberg. They’re the advance guard of a cold front marching north and, this morning, you can feel the chill in the air.
Still, it’s hardly freezing… and I can’t help thinking about the residents of Gauteng, crouched around their heaters and fireplaces.
Here, just under 300km away from gritty, grim and grimy Joburg, winter is to be welcomed, not avoided. And I’ve welcomed it in shorts and tracksuit top as I head out for a walk by myself along the dirt roads and paths of Izintaba Game Lodge. Within a few hundred metres, my own circulation has banished the chill and I know that, by the time I head back – to breakfast and strong, sweet coffee – I’ll almost be ready to remove the warm top.
And there’s that unique smell – as dew meets dust – that is the aroma of peace, of space, and of freedom.
I walk purposefully and somewhat slower than I would along a road. And I’m quiet, remembering a skill from a bush war a lifetime ago. Because of this, I walk almost into a clutch of blesbok youngsters, who are more startled than I am and bound away… only to stop a little further on to interrogate this apparition. They’re not quite certain if I’m a threat or not, so they move, quickly and quietly, deeper into the bush.
I stand still and absorb.
The bushveld anywhere – but especially in the Waterberg – at this time of year is a perfect antidote to the depressing city rat race.
I’ve been heading to the bushveld for the last 20 years, after discovering its charms in the pre-1994 years when I was covering right-wing politics. The one positive thing about some of these rightwingers – apart from their great hospitality (as long as you were white) – was that many of them lived in places like this. You could almost understand their bitter-einder attitude to allowing someone else to control this country.
Many was the time I’d pull over to the side of a country road, switch off the engine and just breathe in the essence of the place, the only sounds being the rustling wind and the ticking of hot metal in the car as it cooled down.
And, one of the best things about the bushveld is being able to walk around. Many game places these days harbour large and dangerous animals and getting about on foot by yourself is outlawed. However, while you may see the Big Five and all manner of interesting animals and birds from a vehicle on a game drive, it’s not the same as Being There, of having Africa descend around you like a comforting cloak.
A bushveld break should, above all, include the opportunity to walk and to be alone.
At Izintaba, which is in the Melk Rivier area outside Vaalwater, about 70km from Modimolle (aka Nylstroom), that’s exactly what you can do. On the 1 200-hectare reserve, there are plenty of roads and trails, which allow meandering or even serious hiking. The game is safe… there are leopards in the area and there have been sightings of a wandering pack of wild dogs, but nothing you should be concerned about.
On a late afternoon walk, as dusk is descending, I see what looks like a little white dog in the bush. I watch it for a while, with the naked eye and then through binoculars… but my wife can’t see it. Later, owner Nikki tells us they have an albino bat-eared fox on the property and that must have been what I saw.
The next afternoon, as we enjoy coffee next to the dam, an excited Andrew, Nikki’s husband, drives up to tell us that they have seen the bat-eared foxes and they’re headed our way. We wait and are privileged to see not only the white one but his three brown family members jogging along with him. I’ve never seen a bat-eared fox – never mind a white one – and the two sightings make the visit to Izintaba one to remember.
Izintaba has a number of well-equipped thatched cottages, as well as a communal pool set among the rocks – for the warmer times. The beds are perfect for an afternoon snooze or a place to read your book. There are all manner of walks you can do, as well as drives… some of which are 4x4 or require a car with good ground clearance. My Subaru Forester coped easily, so it’s nothing to be worried about if you have an all-wheel-drive. But, as I said, walking is the way to do it.
As the sun sinks, there are two lookout points – wooden decks which elevate you above the mopane and terminalia trees – where you can take your drinks.
For the more energetic, there’s a small dam on the property and you can row or paddle around in boats.
Best of all, you can sit around a braai fire – or inside around a fireplace in the thatched cottages – and discuss your day.
Or, as I did, once everyone else had gone inside and the cold blanket of night had descended, you can sit with your glass of red wine and watch the moon come up over the terminalias.
Life’s simplest pleasures are the best.