Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

The dramatic drive to Jonkershoek
Nature Reserve, with mountains
forming crested waves to the right and
rising up in jagged peaks to the left,
is the perfect build-up to the stately
Assegaaibosch Manor House. The
homestead, built in 1790 and acquired
by CapeNature in 1960, is situated in
the Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve,
the 204 ha reserve within the larger
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.
The thatched house is surrounded by
180-year-old oak trees, some split open to
create tempting hideouts. Upon entering,
the heavy metal latches on the wooden
shutters covering all the windows beg
to be released to allow the breathtaking
views to pour inside.
This imposing self-catering guesthouse
is now a national monument, affording
guests a journey back in time as well as
the solitude of untamed, mountainous
nature. There are features aplenty – high
ceilings with yellowwood beams, broad
doorframes and wooden floors, an
Aga (in working order) and bread
oven, (which I didn’t have time to test)
– that create the authentic ambience
of a bygone era. These are curiously
juxtaposed with modern conveniences,
such as microwaves and hot showers,
that ensure visitors of comfort. And
there is cell phone reception, so your
Blackberry can keep beeping merrily.
This is leopard country and there
always is the distant hope that one
might catch a glimpse, a swish of a tail,
of these shy nocturnal cats. Certainly,
their presence has diminished since the
Neethlings, the last family to occupy
the farm, boasted trapping over 200
animals. A more likely encounter on
our evening stroll is with the puff
adders or Cape cobras common to the
area. We keep a careful watch where
we tread, reassuring ourselves that the
rustling in the tall grass is nothing but
mice. We don’t even spy a rock agama,
the lizard known for its eccentric headbobbing
The only creature we do meet, is
a dog on a leash. On hearing that
I’m writing about Assegaaibosch,
the dog’s owner pleads with me not
to tell people how incredible it is
otherwise everyone will want to visit,
saying “It’s so wonderfully peaceful
without them.”
And she’s right. As the sun sets, the
sky turns a sumptuous peach and frogs
bring the day to close with their chatter.
It’s time to head back to the homestead
and build a roaring fire, perfect for
toasting marshmallows, while telling
tales of the leopard we’re yet to encounter
and the mountains we’ve yet to climb.
The next day, with the first rays of
the sun, we are woken by birds joyfully
spilling their full-throated song in the
valley where birds are abundant – 135
species have been recorded.
We spend the morning doing a 10km
circular cycle through the Jonkershoek
Nature Reserve. It appears to be an
epicentre for cyclists and just about
everyone is training for the Ironman
and if they’re not cycling, they’re
jogging. Lycra-clad cyclists whiz by
at alarming speed but we take a more
leisurely pace, stopping regularly by
gushing streams.
At lunchtime, it’s time to head back to
Cape Town. It’s impossible to believe that
we’ve been away for less than 24 hours.
Steeped in peace, I take the hour-long
drive back, realising how little it takes to
shrug off the insidious stress of the city
and resolving to do it more often.

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