More and more people are discovering the wondrous mountain territory of Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. Its dramatic “whaleback” rock domes, beautiful bald plates of dolerite, belong to the Bankberg range of mountains. Dolerite, an igneous rock that exploded eons ago through the earth’s surface, cooled quickly, forming smaller, tighter crystals than those of granite. The park is a tumult of mountain slopes and high plateaus separated by lustrous grassland plains, apple-green in summer, honey-caramel in winter.
Many people are not aware of the great stay offered here by the historic Victorian homestead Doornhoek (roughly “thorn close”), sitting on a high rise overlooking a sizable dam. The house comes with its own history. During the Great Trek of 1836, Dutch-speaking pioneers moved into the area, settling on farms here. One of the first permanent farmhouses was constructed on a farm originally called De Doornkloof, granted to Willem van Heerden in 1836. In 1838, subsequently owned by Hendrik Jacobus van Heerden, it became known as Doornhoek, when it’s believed the homestead was built. The farm became part of the national park in 1964 and the building was renovated into a guesthouse. The homestead was a focal point in the 2004 film based on Olive Schreiner’s book, The Story of An African Farm, with a cast that included South African-born Richard E. Grant (now living in London) and Karin van der Laag, best known for her role in the TV series “Isidingo”.
On 15 September 2013 Doornhoek was badly damaged by a fire caused by an electrical short (its occupants were safely evacuated along with their belongings!). It reopened two years later, but this time its oregon-pine floors were replaced by the original yellowwood-style flooring with a few new furnishings, all staying true to the historic Victorian style. The house is elegant, beautifully appointed, and its three en-suite bedrooms accommodate six people.
On a recent visit our vehicles made sure-footed work of two reasonably challenging 4×4 trails, which took us to the crests of two different plateaus. Our wheels clambered over boulders, embedded stones, rock shelves and road washaways to a soundtrack of crunching rock and clanking shale, while we sashayed from side to side on a humpy-bumpy ride. Although we saw no cheetah or lion, several times we watched pouncing bat-eared foxes and on two separate occasions, aardwolf. Rare. We were elated.
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