Late last year as the moon circled the earth one last time to mark the end of an unusual year, I took a road trip north of Cape Town to spend a weekend at the remarkable Naries Namakwa Retreat in the Northern Cape.
Travelling by invitation of Theresa Gibbon, who does the PR work for Cape Country Routes, I joined a group of fabulous women for a road trip that took us largely north and off the beaten track. Gathering for a night in Cape Town and staying at Hippo Boutique Hotel, we enjoyed an indulgent meal at Thali Restaurant next door before rising early the next day to hit the open road. We headed up the N7 towards Springbok, before veering west in the direction of Kleinsee, shortly after arriving to the Naries Namakwa Retreat.
A privately owned 6000ha farm dedicated to conservation and sustainable living, I was lucky enough to be staying in one of their three magnificent Mountain Suites a short walk (or drive) from the Manor House. After settling in and enjoying some time at leisure, we meandered up the hill to the Gemsbok Lapa lookout point. Here we joined manager Julene Joubert for canapés and a glass of chilled white wine, as she told us more about the history of Naries and the vision of the people who care for is as we watched the gently setting sun.
We learnt how the Spektakel Mountain got its name, and about the program Naries launched in 1999 to re-establish indigenous antelope. They are still busy with the rehabilitation process, but the reserve is now home to about 50 gemsboks, 40 springbok and a number of klipspringers, among others.
After being holed up in the city for months on end, the moment brought a reawakening of the senses in a place where I found a most welcome copper tinged escape …
The rocky landscape at Naries is so beautiful and unexpected. Remote, dramatic vistas, exquisitely unique accommodation and wispy clouds teasing the wind across the deep blue sky awaited us at this most welcome escape. Some of our party stayed in the Manor House, while I walked into this dark thatched dome that is the Mountain Suite which was to be my home for the weekend.
The standalone Mountain Suites are built into commanding boulders, blending naturally into the surrounds, while within the mustard thatched dome, every comfort is considered. An indulgent bed, giant bath, endless little touches and distracting views across the unfolding layers of mountains. Resident geckos peer out curiously throughout, as though there to welcome you.
On our full day at Naries Theresa, Martine and I took an 11 km guided walk through the diverse landscapes. Beautiful wildflowers, boulders, rocky river beds and fynbos awaited us. Our hike was followed by a picnic lunch at the impressive viewpoint, a great reward.
Of course, behind each of my most memorable hiking experiences is a guide bringing the landscape to life and teaching me about the surrounds I find myself in. The hours on the Naries Namakwa Retreat trails were no different, with the knowledgable Simeon Bok at the helm. Eon, as he is called, has a long relationship with the area and an incredibly light touch on the environment, it was an absolute pleasure to spend the morning with him.
The four of us traversed land that led to river beds, over hilltops and into dramatically cut valleys, learning about the geology and vegetation, pausing often to admire the layers of hills and mountains, seeking out the green trail markings, fully immersed in nature – it was wonderful. In my mind, there is no better exploration than on foot.
With Naries resident guide extraordinaire Simeon Bok.
The finds on our walk, great and small, all about following the green arrow.
My hike rewarded with this view across the unfolding mountain ranges towards the coast, just 40km away, and visible from here on a clear day. What a gift time in nature is. On arrival at the lookout point Julene presented us with beautiful packed picnics, which we so enjoyed.
Naries, an escape to brilliantly wild lands
A beautiful and romantic hideaway, Naries is well-positioned for exploring the greater Namakwa region, from the Richtersveld in the north to the shipwrecks in the west. It’s particularly wonderful during the wildflowers season. Perched on the top of the Spektakel Mountain – and what a spectacle it is, the views and the dramatic sunsets over the Atlantic seaboard some 60km away are unsurpassed.
As a retreat, it offers space, peace and tranquillity.
Its three accommodation options complement the romantic settings. There are 5 classic rooms in a Cape Dutch-style Manor that are elegantly designed and that open onto the farmyard, as well as two self-catering cottages for the more independent traveller. Uniquely luxurious are the remotely placed domed Mountain Suites, thatched units, built into the magnificent granite boulders, each with a view of the plains below.
Sold on a Dinner, Bed and Breakfast Basis, with meals served in the Manor House Dining Room. Naries does not have a public restaurant and only serves in-house guests. The meals are carefully planned, prepared and served by a team that works to what is in season, and available on the farm and within close proximity. Hike, go bird watching, stargaze and game view – or simply relax next to the swimming pool.
The Naries Story, then and now
The barren plains of the north-western interior caught the attention of the Dutch settlers from the earliest days. In 1655, a mere three years after landing at the Cape of Good Hope, the first expedition of its kind, lead by Jan Windvogel, set off from the Cape Town castle aiming to explore and make contact with the groups of people who lived in the interior north of the Cape.
The first recorded contact between the Nama-people and Dutch settlers took place in 1661 when an expedition led by Pieter van Meerenhof ventured into what later became known as Namaqualand. Although impressed by the peaceful nature of the Nama’s, it was his account on the wealth of their metal ornaments that caught the attention of his sponsors back home, resulting in numerous explorations into the copper-rich mountains of the region.
The property was a commercial farm for generations with sheep and goats prolific until about 20 years ago. Naries is transformed now and is all about nature and returning the land to it’s intended and original glory. There are gemsbok and springbok which have been reintroduced, and natural wildlife such as leopard, caracal, black-eared fox, duiker, steenbok and baboons that call this home.
The current owners have an admirably gentle approach to the environment, a strong commitment to conservation and a vision for the community and the future of Naries. It’s a soulful place, and this gentleness is felt throughout and infectious.
Naries, what a precious escapist place you are. Till we meet again.
Hippo Boutique Hotel
Hippo Boutique Hotel is set in the heart of Cape Town and is where we spent our first night. Offering contemporary accommodation and iconic views of the Mother City, the 4-star graded boutique hotel has 20 en-suite standard rooms with back-facing views of Signal Hill or front-facing balconies or views overlooking vibrant city streets, and five double-volume executive suites, each uniquely decorated to a signature theme.
All rooms are fitted with modern essentials to ensure a comfortable stay, including microwave, coffee and tea station, and flat-screen satellite tv. The hotel facilities include secure ground-floor and basement-level parking bays, a lift to all four floors, a swimming pool and lounge deck, with a 24-hour reception desk to arrange airport transfers, in-room spa treatments and tours to the best of the city. We dined at Thali Restaurant.
Cape Country Routes (CCR)
Cape Country Routes South Africa is a leading group of owner-operated and managed accommodation and activity establishments. With more than 20 privately owned hotels, lodges and guest houses located on the scenic and historic routes in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape. Each carefully selected for its character, charm and romance, they offer the best accommodation and activity options to suit every taste and budget. For more info see: firstname.lastname@example.org and www.capecountryroutes.com.
Our smooth comfortable ride from Cape Town to Naries was in the incredible Ford Everest. It was SO good to be roadtripping again, the experience enhanced by the stop at Desert Rose farm stall, and the extremeley generous ‘padkos’ packed for our return trip home.
The Essential Details
Naries is located 27km outside Springbok (N7) towards Kleinzee (R355). For more information call +27 (0) 27 712 2462 or +27 (0) 76-238-2934. Email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You need at least a two-night stay, three or longer would be better, and a visit can easily be combined with time in the Richtersveld and Namibia. Ask about the specials that they are running right now. Guided activities can be arranged when booking, these include 4×4 Shipwreck Tour, Explore Namakwaland, Namakwaland flowers, Orange River Rafting and the Richtersveld tour.
** I travelled by invitation of Theresa Gibbon and was hosted throughout by Cape Country Routes, making the smooth ride there courtesy of Ford South Africa. Thank you all so very much!
** Hippo pics off their website.