The machine gun rat-tat-tat of pneumatic drills and the distant grinding of heavy machinery herald the boom in Cape Town real estate. Every day another development pops up, springbok-like. "Whenever the rand dips towards 18 to the pound, Cape Town becomes a long-weekend destination," says Luc Deschower, owner of Les Cascades, a boutique guest house (African furniture and art, nothing fluffy or Victorian).
However, a long weekend in Cape Town, as culturally diverse and picture- perfect as it is, hardly does South Africa justice. After sieving hot white sand through our toes at Camps Bay and surfing South Africa's gastronomic wave at La Colombe restaurant in Constantia (Mark Thatcher country), we left the beauty of the city and drove 270km north up the west coast into the Cederberg mountains. South Africa is a fabulous country to see by car. The roads are virtually empty and mercifully straight. You can "ooh" and "aah" at the scenery, or shut your eyes and floor the pedal with almost total impunity.
Under cloudless skies we bowled past wheat fields, vineyards, scorched plains punctuated by eucalyptus trees and a sign reading: "Ostriches getting laid. Please no hooting". The further inland you drive, the wider the horizon. The southern hemisphere often plays this trick - down south, you can pack so much more scenery into one eyeful than in Europe. I suspect the Earth is pear-shaped.
Soon I'd run out of superlatives to capture the scenery and started to dwell on abstracts like the wonderful sense of space, the light, and the "why do I live in London?". By the time we'd sped through Citrusdal, home of Outspan oranges, and Clanwilliam (ditto rooibos tea), and began to climb into the Cederberg - a rugged belt of sandstone outcrops that split the coast from the Great Karoo - I was already dreading the return trip.
The Cederbergs resemble the aftermath of a vengeful act of God, with gnarled and shattered boulders angrily hurled about. The landscape carries an intimidation that feels extraterrestrial. Just as I was thinking we'd disappeared into a hole in the time-space continuum, a large gate presented itself by the roadside, emblazoned: "Bushman's Kloof, Relais & Chateaux". Eight kilometres further along a dirt track, we reached a series of immaculately whitewashed houses and emerald lawns. "Welcome, Mr Ross. Here are details of your spa treatment." Yes, this definitely was another part of the galaxy. Bushman's Kloof is an escapist's utopia, an incongruous piece of civilisation amid the mountain desolation. "I keep thinking I'm Meryl Streep," says my wife, dazed by the scenery. "I haaard a faaarm in Aaafrica."
Few wilderness reserves in South Africa have the guts to advertise their lack of "big five" as a main selling point, but Bushman's Kloof is one of them. You can walk or cycle along designated trails, drinking in the peace and soul-nourishing beauty without being pounced on by lion, charged by rhino or trampled by elephant - although you might be tickled to death by one of the 30 rare Cape mountain zebra, kudu, bontebok, gemsbok, rhebok, springbok and several pairs of Reeboks that are all kept on their toes by two brown-eyed hyenas. In your room, there is a check-list of hundreds of animals to tick off. This is Africa lite, the version for people who crack if they stray more than a few metres from five-star hot and cold running luxury.
Did I tell you about the spitting cobra? To avoid being blinded, shield your eyes with your hands and peer through your fingers. The puff adder is even more respected, thanks to its lightning-fast strike and potent venom. But the most savage beast you're likely to encounter here is the owner's dog Zoe, six inches of terrifying Maltese terrier.
Each guest at Bushman's Kloof is assigned a ranger. Ours, San- Marie, was the multi-tasker's multi-tasking Jeeves. A walking Who's Who and What's That of African wildlife, she could drive a 4x4 while panning a searchlight and commentating on flora and fauna. …