Blouberg Camp

The place: Nestled at the foot of the Blouberg Mountains

The people: BaHananwa

Co-operative: The African Ivory Route Blouberg Tourism Primary Co-operative

Beneficiary villages:  Buffelshoek, Inveraan, Burgrecht, Bogna, My Darling

Best known for: Rock climbing, hiking, birding, rock pools and the rock art of the nearby Makgabeng Plateau

First impressions of Blouberg: a thunderstorm gathering and then sending spears of lightning over the surrounding sandstone massifs, and a wood owl greeting us as darkness fell at camp; then a night of wood owls and fruit bats hooting and chirping a mysterious lullaby. A special place, where the mountains tower above, the Bosehla River runs nearby, and a symphony of different birds call and sing.

Five traditional rondavels are spread out spaciously amongst a range of trees that would delight any botanist; giant euphorbias stand out against the several peaks circling camp. There’s a large boma and fire pit, covered dining area and communal kitchen outfitted with cutlery, crockery, and pots and equipped with a gas hob, refrigerator and freezer. Rondavels each have two three-quarter beds, en suite toilets, hand basins and bucket showers. Camp is lit by paraffin lamps and solar lanterns; there’s no electricity. A 12V USB/cigarette lighter chargers is available in the kitchen to charge your cell phone. Guests should bring their own wood.

Rock Climbing – One of the most popular belay routes in the country ascends the local peak Lenare, meaning ‘place where there are buffalo’. According to camp guide Khomotjo Sekiba, many buffalo used to roam the high pastures up there, but were driven off by veld fires. Roughly 20 families still live there, though, in the tiny village of Hananwa; camp guests may visit if pre-arranged. Southern Africa’s largest colony of Cape Vultures lives on the peak.

Hiking – Other peaks, Setswe (elbow) and Monna a Sena Moriri (man without hair), and paths through forests of wild olive, euphorbia, yellowwood, leadwood, boerbean, clustered fig, buffalo thorn, river bush willow and countless other trees offer hours of scenic walks and climbs, guided or on your own. You may run into small buck such as duiker or bushbuck; not so likely to see the civets, caracals, small spotted genets and leopard in the area, but perhaps. And you’ll definitely hear, and spot, a lot of birds.

Birding – Blouberg has been declared an Important Birding Area (IBA), with more than 232 species recorded. Sit in the camp’s boma, or anywhere, at sunrise with a cup of coffee and you’ll think you are in an aviary; its extraordinary how many bird calls are layered one upon another, in part due to the camp’s proximity to the Blouberg Reserve. The wood owl is the signature bird at Blouberg, along with the Cape Vulture, but you’ll also find various types of bulbuls, black-headed orioles, red-collared barbets, Cape white eyes, crested guinea fowl, ground hornbills and green-spotted doves, among many others.

Swimming in Rock Pools – The Bosehla River near camp has a number of rock pools for swimming and jumping/diving when the river is full – including Le-t’siba la Makgowa, or ‘pool of the white people’, so named during apartheid days.

Nights Out – Camp staff can organise drinks at a local tavern and/or supper at a local home, if pre-arranged.  Over the week-ends there’s always a party at the local tarvens; a great places to learn to dance.

The Makgabeng Plateau – This ancient sandstone plateau not far from camp, measuring roughly 250 square km and 200 metres high, is unmissable. Rocks and embedded fossils there date back 2 billion years, and rock art at roughly 600 sites charts the history and culture of the San/Bushmen, Khoikhoi, Northern Sotho and Hananwa.

Many sites have overlays of art from different periods/peoples. We had time for only two of the sites (and many are off-limits): the Therianthrope or Shaman Site, and the Great Train Site, both on Thabananthlana, or ‘pointed mountain’, a spiritual, rainmaking site of ancestral graves and various rituals.

Blouberg Camp guides liaise with local rock art guides for the journey; we were lucky to get the highly informative Felix Mosebedi, a young Hananwa who’s grown up in the vicinity and has been trained at Wits University’s Rock Art Research Institute. “We used to visit these sites when we were very young, herding our goats up here,” Felix said, leading the way to the Shaman Site and its San paintings of animals and the trance dance, central to Bushman rock art – essentially a recording of what the shaman experienced while entranced.

Felix’s favourite site, he says, is the Great Train Site, featuring a massive painting – in this case 19th-century/turn-of-the-century Hananwa finger painting – depicting the siege by the Boers and the capture of Hananwa resistance hero, Chief Kgalushi Ratshatsha Lebogo. The train represents the one that took Lebogo to a Pretoria prison in 1894; there are also dozens of soldiers/commandos painted in whites and ochres on the sandstone walls, all comprising an early form of protest art. “It tells us who we are and where we came from,” says Felix of the site. “We are very proud of it.”