I love the Bushveld. Who doesn’t? The flat-topped trees, the animals, the sweetness of dawn light on blonde grass. And the animals. The fresh-mown grass smell of elephants, the round stripey rumps of the zebra, the thrill of seeing a leopard looking disdainfully at you from a tree.
But there’s another kind of bushveld, much closer to Johannesburg, that I’ve come to know and love. It is the Waterberg, a name that will puzzle you until the rainy season.
And then, oh. The Waterberg, true to its name, springs forth streams of water from solid rock, turning dryland into wetland, bringing frogs out of hiding, sending fingers of water out to turn sandy game paths into sudden rivulets.
It has handsome umbrella-shaped wild syringas and high craggy cliffs. It has Schwarzenegger Termites (that build their nests under rocks, slowly lifting them over years) and the resurrection bush that might seem dead in the dry winter, but which can turn green in minutes when given water.
To walk here is an unsullied pleasure, especially for plant-lovers. There is an elemental joy in finding a Transvaal gardenia in flower, a wild gazania, a paintbrush plant springing up joyously in the middle of nowhere, and the cheetah-spotted leaves of the scilla pushing up between the rocks
There are parts of the Waterberg (which includes the beauteous Marakele National Park and the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve) where you will find the Big 5. But I prefer the places off the beaten track, places where I can walk without being nervous.
My imagination is seized by the Palala River, which rises here. It is a perfect place to sit and dream, to watch the baboons, as naturalist Eugene Marais once did, and in parting, take a drink from one of the cleanest rivers you’ll ever find.