In search of silence: 7 of SA's best destinations to get away from it all
Sometimes we all need a bit of peace and quiet. For some, that means a pampering in a fancy hotel. Others flee to the stillness of the bush. Here, some Sunday Times staffers share their favourite places to go to tune out the world.
1. SAMARA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE, NEAR GRAAFF-REINET
Elizabeth Sleith, Travel deputy-editor
There is no silence quite as profound as the one that descends when you're in the bush and come across a creature that could eat you.
Mid-game drive, our ranger, certain there were big cats nearby, had us set out on foot. We marched for a while in single file but soon, with a finger to lips and a gentle shhhh, the ranger signalled their discovery.
Footfalls stopped and breath was held. Suddenly, nothing at all existed but seven cheetahs, two adults and five teens, basking in the late-afternoon sun. The stillness conveyed our healthy respect for the food chain, sometimes just called "awe".
With his young scattered around him, the Big Daddy cat lay on his side, using a rock for a pillow, and eyed us with disdain. Uh-oh. Might our presence offend him? From the quiet, a gentle rumble rose up - he was purring. It was a sound, at once thunderous and hypnotic and reassuring, that filled the world.
Even beyond the catwalk, it's easy to feel here that you are alone in the world. Driving on Samara's 28,300ha of rehabilitated farmland, a quiet so pensive descends that you may just pick up the stirring of roots under soil.
At night, shapes shamble through the grasses on the other side of the fence, hooves shuffle around the water hole, mysterious creatures shriek in the dark. As it turns out, the best type of silence is no silence at all, but a chirping, snorting, rustling, purring melody. The music of the bush.
• From R5,690 per person per night. Visit samara.co.za
2. LETSKRAAL, PRETORIUSKLOOF
Paul Ash, Travel editor
Of all the beautiful things in this world, these days it is silence that I crave most. The best place I have ever been for that is Letskraal, a remote, historic farmhouse an hour's drive from Graaff-Reinet.
It is a place where the midday quiet was so deep, I could (almost) hear the trees breathing. Yes, there were outbursts of birdsong and the occasional clatter of the windpump behind the house as an afternoon Karoo breeze stirred its vanes. Once, even, there was the far-off rumble of a bakkie passing on the lonely road.
Letskraal has no humming electricity, no cellphones, no fridge, no generators, no planes passing high overhead. There is no droning TV or chattering radio. No roar of traffic or howling race-bike in the morning darkness.
There is only the profound stillness of a Karoo river valley, which, after two days, had completely restored both my equilibrium and my faith in the world.
• Letskraal is in Pretoriuskloof, off the N9 between Middelburg and Graaff-Reinet. From R450 per person per night. Visit letskraal.co.za
3. BALULE CAMP, KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Jennifer Platt, Books editor
I don't do camping. The reasons are all too silly, common and numerous. For one, I need my own en-suite. Also, camping reminds me of those horrendous Orkney Snork Nie holiday films we watched when we were kids - not understanding the Afrikaans humour.
Then there's the fact that I don't like the mothball/damp smell one often finds in caravans. Tents are the worst (why would anyone consider that shelter?) and you have to cook and clean everything (even yourself) in rudimentary ways, sharing those facilities with strangers. Eeeyuck.
But, when offered a camping holiday in the Kruger National Park with my best friend, and promised loads of G&Ts, I said what the heck.
We visited various camps daily, putting up the tent when we got there, and waking up early to take it down. That had been expected and wasn't too bad.
Then we got to Balule. The campsite only offers 15 places for tents and caravans. There's no electricity, no shops, and no restaurant. Somehow, because of this, everybody speaks in their softer inside voices. There's no music, just the sounds of animals and insects. Hyenas lie in wait in front of you while you braai - there's a double electric fence keeping them at bay. It's so quiet you can even hear the mostly silent elephants munching the top leaves of shrubs. It's simply a soulful and blissful experience.
• Balule Camp is a satellite camp of Olifants Rest Camp and not open to day visitors. Visit krugerpark.co.za
4. THE ROBERTSON SMALL HOTEL, ROBERTSON
Andrea Nagel, Features editor
There are hundreds of things to do in the Breede River Valley - also known as the Valley of Wine and Roses. There are breweries to visit, wine farms to explore; underground tunnels to traverse lit only by candles; rocky terrain in which to work up a sweat; countless cellars to inspect; rivers to swim in; honey farms to forage; farm stalls to raid; olives freshly picked from the groves to sample; and lavender to harvest.
The best base from which to access all this treasure is a fragrant little gem in the heart of Robertson, a few hours from Cape Town. But once ensconced at the Robertson Small Hotel, lolling in the lap of luxury with nothing more to attend to than humming-bird watching and G&T drinking, supplemented by the occasional dive into the pool directly from the verandah, it was hard to think of doing anything else.
Come the end of the weekend, we hadn't set foot off the property. We wanted to move in, permanently, and forget work and appointments and commitments. So we booked an extra two nights and to hell with the consequences.
• Priced from R1,610 per person per night. Visit therobertsonsmallhotel.com
5. WESSELSBRON RESORT, JOHANNESBURG
Yolisa Mkele, Features writer
In a world where we are constantly over-stimulated, finding a slice of serenity can feel a bit like trying to catch water with your hands. That said, the feeling is not impossible to track down if you know where to look.
The tricky part is realising that everyone finds their own serenity in different places. Some locate it in the bush, surrounded by predators that could murder you without giving it a second thought. One place that stood out for me some years ago was Wesselsbron Resort in Sunninghill, Johannesburg.
Tucked within the confines of the Leeuwkop Prison complex, this unlikely oasis of calm was a cheap and surprisingly cheerful escape from Johannesburg's hullaballoo. It was perfect for just lazing next to the dam, holding the hand of a loved one and thinking of nothing in particular. Sure, there were hardened criminals a few hundred metres away but the resort was so secluded that you'd barely notice if a mass prison break occurred.
Its greatest attribute may have been how it functioned as a reminder that serenity is not so much about where you go but who you go with. Find the right person and even a resort a hefty stone's throw from a prison mess-hall will feel like heaven.
• There is no web address, the phone number no longer works, and the resort appears to be closed.
6. RIDGE ROAD COUNTRY HOUSE, CLARENS
Michelle Magwood, Contributing Books editor
Driving through the Golden Gate National Park, past the marble tombstones of the tiny Van Reenen family graveyard, past the shady campsite and past the looming, sand-pied buttress that gave the area its name, there are two sweeping loops.
This is the home of the rare bearded vulture and the bald ibis, of dinosaur fossils and intricate lichens among the sesame-coloured grasslands.
In summer, in the late afternoon, glide up the Oribi loop on the left to the vulture hide, or up the Blesbok loop on the right. Take a basket, cushions and a couple of bottles and settle down on the hillside to watch the sunset.
If you're lucky, you'll hear the eerie call of a jackal breaking the absolute silence. Pack up and return to your lovely and peaceful guesthouse, the Ridge Road Country House just outside Clarens. The comfortable, Provencal-style stone house has a stunning view of the valley.
• From R8,800 per unit per night. Sleeps 12. Visit ridgeroad.co.za
7. KIELIEKRANKIE, KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK
Anton Ferreira, Subeditor
Kieliekrankie was so wonderful, it spoilt me forever. I will never be able to go back to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park again, unless I can book at least four nights in one of the wilderness camps.
That's what I managed to do in July, at Kieliekrankie, by some miracle of astrological alignment and the intervention of the gods of online booking.
Kieliekrankie, like the other wilderness camps, offers a completely different experience from the main camps with their hordes of visitors.
There are just four cabins, with space for two adults each, so peace and quiet are guaranteed. Except, of course, for the eerie cries of jackals, the hooting of owls, the late-night hilarity of hyenas, the peremptory pronouncements of lions, and so on.
Kieliekrankie is unique among Kgalagadi camps in that it's not situated on a dry river bed. It is in the red dunes, overlooking a wide bowl-like depression with a man-made waterhole at the bottom. It was against those dunes that I saw five eland, standing stock still as if posing for a rock-art painting. This is exactly what my Khoisan cousins must have seen, right here, under these same stars, thousands of years ago.
• Kieliekrankie, accessible with a sedan, is about 45km from the Tweerivieren main camp. R1,862 per night flat rate for a maximum of two adults. Self-catering, no children. Visit sanparks.org