Fragrance in Travel Literature- South Africa




Travel in South Africa (1921])
South Africa. Railways and Harbours Board


Durban Berea, a low-lying range of hills behind the
town, is the fashionable residential quarter. It is
luxuriantly foliaged, with fine vistas over the Indian
Ocean, vivid tropic gardens round the residences, and
a brilliant sunshine enlivening all. Gorgeous flowers
such as one is accustomed to see only in hot-houses,
here grow as lustily as cabbages elsewhere, and with
less attention. The native fruits — papaws, guavas,
mangoes, grenadillas, tangerines, pineapples, are strange
to the new-comer, but so fragrant and subtle of flavour
that the smell and taste of them long haunt the
memory, and when one comes across them again, as
centre-pieces on European dinner- tables, they revive
happy memories of sunny Durban.

It is a shallow tidal river, about half a mile wide
at its mouth, and navigable by small boats for about
eight miles. It flows between on the one side sugar
plantations and banana groves, and on the other side
picturesque hills and territory reserved for the natives.
Suddenly, as you round one of the hills, the right
bank rises loftily and heavily wooded with trees
which in summer stand wrapped in blossoming
creepers. There the anvil bird sounds its metallic
note, the violet cuckoo glints in the sunshine, and the
tiny honey-sucker darts its blue and scarlet head
into the fragrant chalice of the moonflower. There,
too, the little gray monkeys have their home, and in
neighbourly not to say meddlesome fashion make the
freest use of adjoining banana groves, little being
beneath the notice of their burning inquisitiveness,
or beyond the reach of their small grubby hands.

It was a perfect day, such as one seldom
meets with out of Africa. Later it would be burning
hot, but now in the dawn the land lay fresh and
fragrant. Cool, wan-
dering breezes came
fitfully, and on the
horizon hovered the
miracle of an African
sunrise.

Along those flats, in the days of the ox-wagon,
the worn teams used to flounder with their heavy
loads to and from places as distant as Pretoria.
That is completely changed, and trains now carry
the country's produce. It has become a rich pro-
duce, and the trains steam night and day to carry
it ; long trains from the plains and hills, with coal
from local Glencoe, Dundee and Dannhauser ;
trains of mixed cargoes, especially wool, hides,
meat, and wattle-bark and timber from highland
pastures and plantations ; grain trains from the
maize-belt ; and trains fragrant with fruit.

The road in places penetrates the forest, as near
Balmoral, and mostly it runs through valleys filled
with wild beauty, as at Homtini Gorge, whose slopes
are densely wooded.
The hills become greener, the streams more
numerous and livelier, the whisper and the fragrance
of the forests deepen, as you proceed.
In parts of those surroundings the placer miner
once sought gold, on the whole with indifferent
success. Millwood, now almost deserted, was the
centre of that enterprise.
It is alluringly situated, commanding views over
hill and forest, with occasional glimpses of sea as
far as distant Mossel Bay. The glorious climate, the
forest setting, the rushing mountain stream, recalled
with peculiar charm the similar scenes described by
Bret Harte in his Californian tales of the old mining
days. The minstrelsy of the birds, the peace, the
fragrance, the salinity of the place, were a mental
and spiritual bath. One is cleansed of all unworthy
feeling, except perhaps of envy — envy of the life,
even if it were unprosperous, that those departed
diggers had led around Millwood.

Much of that countryside is moor, shut in here and
there by sterile-looking mountains. But go a little
way off the beaten track, the moors are aflame with
colour, the seemingly bleak mountain slopes are
fragrant with the scent of buchu and wild tea. No-
where, in the season, is there a more generous display
of wild flowers than around Riversdale and Swellen-
dam. And at Nuy and Robertson, where water is
led in canals for miles to the fields, the land is very
productive. One is reminded of parts of France.
It is a sunny countryside, carefully cultivated. Many
quaint old villages are passed on the way, their ancient
church spires picturesquely silhouetted against the
mountain background ; and over all is an air of peace
and of rural felicity.

Our first feeling on stepping from the train was one
of disillusionment. Nothing remarkable was in sight.
But by the time we reached the modern hotel this
feeling changed. There was a warm stillness and
tropic subtlety of perfume in the air, and the general
spirit of the place was so debonairly charming, that
after we had made our first excursion, leisurely
exploring the river in a typical African canoe, the
spell of the place had us under its sway.

And thus as a preparation for the great and final
charm of the falls themselves, we drifted idly on from
island to island, seeing continuously something
picturesque or unusual, until the time for returning
arrived. Then the canoe was turned, and before us
lay the loveliest sight imaginable — the Zambesi at
sunset. Into the transparent waters deep shadows
sank and lay. The perfume came from hidden
orchids, strange odours of a foreign land ; and some-
thing of the barbaric spirit of the place pervaded
especially the woods, and one felt that here one looked
on a corner of the world that is much as it was in the
beginning, unconventional in its beauty and freedom,
where by the mighty river the antelopes still come
at dusk to drink, and the teak still stands in trackless
forests, and the wild turpentine mingles with the
acacia to scent the languorous air with old-world
odours. Through the glossy green tree tops the
slanting rays filtered faintly, save where some solitary
palm, stark in the flare of the sun, diffused the failing
light, as the canoe glided swiftly and softly through
the gathering southern night.

Inshore, George is a quaint sunny Eden, full of
rural charm and sleepy loveliness. Ancient oaks
throw their shade across the roads; little white houses
peep between the stems; there is the drone of bees upon
the air and the tinkle of running water beside the
kerb.
Secluded among the many plantations of the Forest
Department, George is a very fruitful and charming
old place, whose gardens snare you with perfume, so
that, with rural philosophy, you allot another spell
to leisurely wandering, among forest walks and nearby
inland canons along " the cool sequestered vale of life."

As evening fell we drove from Capetown ten miles to
historic Constantia. It was pleasant to speed in the
perfumed dusk, through great avenues of trees, past
sleepy gardens and vineyards. The electric-illumined
foliage, the dark mountains looming alongside, and a
crescent moon above the fir-belt, made a scene to
remember.

Then to the nostrils comes the scent of orange
blossoms and the heavier musk of the mimosas, which
latter stand like guardian naiads of some sylvan
deity, flinging their incense abroad. Here doves
coo throatily, the bulbul has its home, egrets skim
through the sedges, and an occasional rose-coloured
trogon is seen. Here bamboos wave their elegant
tendrils against the blue of a summer sky, and from
afar, faint and faultily, the plaintive notes of some
Eastern song are borne, from the bank where, like
Rebecca of old, slim Indian women carry the water -
gourd on head.

It is with a pang, at such a time, that he recalls
those other days on the veld, when he rose with the
dawn. Along the winding sheep paths, in that cool
gray hour, the guinea-fowls would slink, one behind
the other, with raucous cries of complaint till the
seed beds were reached. Around would lie the
quiet veld, the pungent odour of wild herbs scenting
the strong air, with may-be here and there a vapoury
remnant of the night, and overhead, in the cloudless
sky, the lingering morning star.

AT dawn, on the second day after leaving Cape-
town, we were in somewhat desert-] ike
surroundings. Around us was the Karoo.
The mist-wreathed peaks, the aromatic woods,
the glint of the great Cape combers were far behind ;
and now the rails gleamed across the lonely, drab,
but health-giving plains, where the pure air invigor-
ates, and the spaciousness and peace soothe.

The glaring
sands, the quiver of the hot moist air, the brazen sea
may be trying in summer ; but the silence and the
shadows of the jungle are then particularly inviting.
There the fan-palm and the tree-fern throw a twilight
of their own, in which faltering sunbeams wander,
stencilling little sun-pictures. Sharp shadows lie
across the outer paths, the long green corridors are
dim, and in that half light of the jungle's heart a
great peace reigns. It is a place for relaxation.
Heavy odours steal from the orchids like a drug,
distance-borne and heard as in a dream, the surf
booms dully on the bar.
There are no majestic cocoa-nut palms such as one
finds farther up the East Coast of Africa, nor are
there any lofty, wide-girthed forest giants such as one
sometimes sees in Rhodesia. But the palm-like
wild banana, the variety and beauty of other trees,
the profusion of blossoming climbers, and in summer
the ferns and occasional orchids, form a very pleasing
combination whose appeal is added to by the quiet
lagoons, and a Pacific-like surf on a Pacific-like bar.

It was with a pang that we realised the fact,
for the tour below had held many happy hours.
But, as someone from the heats of India has said,
a breath of the snow blows away twenty years
of a man's age, and makes a boy of the veteran
when again he smells the hills. There was at the
time no snow on the Drakensberg, yet undeni-
ably it was exhilarating to travel at that high
altitude, in a rarefied atmosphere that had a distinct
mountain tang ; for we were now in the environs
of the mountains, and mist-wreathed peaks stood
on the horizon.

We liked the Karoo especially towards evening.
Gradually the stunted bush grows dusky, a smell of
thyme and trodden veld-herbs hangs 4n the cooling
air ; the dust-trail which followed the home-coming
cattle has vanished again, and afar, from the smoky
huts of the Kafirs, the disconsolate notes of a con-
certina come, like a sob through the desert night.
An air of pastoral peace pervades the scene. The
Kafir fires blink in background, where blanketed
figures lie stretched on the warm soft dust. For a
while drowsy voices come from the verandah, then
these too cease and sleep rules the farm.


Pioneers in South Africa (191-?)
Johnston, Harry Hamilton, Sir, 1858-1927


The Kan valley had an edge of round, broken, and cliffy
hills, dotted with verdant acacias. The bases of the heights
were clothed with blooming, sweet-scented acacias, from
whose black stems the silvery gum trickled, while their
blossoms perfumed the morning air. Blue rollers hovered
overhead, vociferating in concert with the gaily-painted,
screaming parrots {Poeocephalus)^ and discordant Guinea
fowls whose noises were further augmented by the whirl
of francolin and sand-grouse rising on every side, while
insects of green and gold buzzed and boomed amongst
the foliage.


Harris noted the tree habitations of the Bakona which
had so impressed Moffat, and further observed the enor-
mous ** colony nests", containing 300 or 400 birds, of the
Sociable Weaver-bird {Philceterus socius)^ which were built
in the tall *^ giraffe" acacias, amid the delicate pinnate
foliage, the white thorns, and the brilliant yellow tufts of
small sweet-scented blossoms. Farther to the east the
giraffe became plentiful, and enormous herds of quagga
were seen — mostly progressing, like wild duck, in single
file.

The smell arising from the aromatic bushes crushed
down by the wagon wheels resembled that of an apothe-
cary's shop, yet it was hard indeed to find grass for the
oxen, who from time to time went for two and three days
without any proper food. After one such trial they came
to a group of thirteen peaked hills, and to their intense
relief observed smoke rising at the bottom of them. This
was a signal from their Hottentot horsemen that, aided
by the cunning little Bushman, they had found water,
and not only water, but plenty of grass, a most gratifying
sight to the travellers, who remembered their half-starved
oxen.

At the foot of
this interesting range of table mountains wound a broad
periodical watercourse, its banks clothed with rich verdure
of every hue, with stately groups of acacias, pleasant
shrubs and sweet-smelling plants, and with the most
luxuriant grass, which in places reached to the oxen's
bellies.


Storm and sunshine in South Africa (1910)
Southey, Rosamond


One spot on the Flats I loved above all, it lay at
some distance from the road along which we so often
drove. This was a pond covered with water Inchies,
beautiful white lilies that during the flowering season sent
their fragrance far over the Flats. Even now, absurd
though it may sound, whenever I am ill I always smell
those lilies. In imagination I invariably go back to my
Uncle Richard's Sir Richard Southey cool, dimly-
lighted rooms, I feel the warm, scented air come through
the sun shutters and hear the innumerable doves in the
pine woods round the dear old Dutch-built house where
my uncle lived. Then the scent of the lilies comes to
rne and I even see the Malay women wading in the
shallow water and busily cutting the lilies. Of these they
make a stew dear to the heart of the native, and a still
more unromantic interest attaches to the beautiful arum
lilies from the native's point of view, for they cut these
in quantities and use them for feeding their pigs ! The
fancy with regard to my beloved pool is so firmly rooted
in my mind, that when during an illness last spring, I
only smelt my lilies faintly, I was afraid that the pond
and its lovely freight had perhaps been done away with.
I wrote out, therefore, to a friend to ask if anything had
been changed, and was much relieved to hear from him
that all was still as I had known it.

NEARLY all the houses in the Cape suburbs were built
on the Dutch pattern, and well the early Dutch settlers
knew how to plan their dwellings. Slave labour was made
use of, and the houses were excellently built. I do not
know whether Southfield, my Uncle Richard's house, was
as old as the days of slave labour, but it was single storied,
as were all the early Dutch houses, and it stood far back
from the dusty road, with a long stretch of grass in
front and pine woods folding it in at the back. These
pine woods extended for a long way and were very
beautiful, but they were a source of anxiety to my uncle
owing to the danger of fire. They were very popular for
picnics, and friends used often to beg for the use of them,
requests that were never refused in spite of the chance of
stray sparks setting light to the dry woods. The scent
of the pines on hot summer days was delicious, and we
loved to wander in them, the only drawback being the
heavy sandy paths that made walking very tiring. On
one side of the house was a large paddock that, in the
days before the Newlands cricket ground was made, was
in much request for cricket matches.

WE were very sorry when the time came for us to leave
beautiful Entabene, and the pleasant times we had had
there came to an end. The wealth of loveliness there was
in the woods all round the house is still a pleasure to think
of. The wattle trees and the acacias made a perfect rain
of blossoms and delicious scents, and low down on the hill,
about a mile distant from the house, was a line of syringas,
as they were called, but they were not the same as the
syringa we know at home. The blossoms were purple,
and had a scent that was too strong to be pleasant at
close quarters, but as it came through the air at a little
distance was delightfully sweet. On these trees were
innumerable circalas, and the curious thrumming noise
made by the insects and the sweet penetrating scent of
the trees are always woven in my mind with the ride or
drive home on summer evenings through the valley.


Our flower
garden, however, was very bright and the roses were our
joy. The old-fashioned sweet smelling rose bushes were
a relic of the reign of a former tenant of the place, and
three of them that were my special favourites covered as
much space as an ordinary small room, and after a night's
rain they were a glory indescribable, one mass of sweet
scented golden beauty. All that flowers want in Natal
is water, and during a dry season, when no thunderstorms
relieved the heat of summer, my bath water was
divided every day between the roses and our veranda
garden. Here we had begonias, ferns, and arum lilies,
that all grew in profusion, a tecoma too, with its delicate
pink flowers and graceful leaves, and a cactus climbed over
one of my bedroom windows. I always knew when a
great creamy cactus flower had burst into bloom, by the
sweet scent that floated in through the window when I
woke in the morning. Just opposite that window was a
moonflower, the datura of India, whose white trumpet
flowers smell so exquisitely at night. I am very fond of
" the flower of death," and we had plenty of them both at
Entabene and Ravenshoe. We had indeed a wealth of
flowers at the latter place, the red lilies that seem to need
no water, and flower throughout the dry season, as well
as tuberoses, were there in quantities. A curiosity among
flowers that I once saw and smelt in the Cape suburbs,
was one of those awful carnivorous lilies that grow in
Central Africa. I have an idea that the root of this
particular horror came from some part of Rhodesia. It
was in shape rather like an arum, but grew on a short
stalk, and was coloured a deep tawny yellow, streaked with
red. I never saw anything so repulsive among the beauties
of Nature, it was loathsome to the eye, and worse still to
the nose. I retreated after one glance at it, for I felt as
if the thing must be alive, it looked so cruel. I could not
imagine how the acquaintances who took me to see their
strange possession, could let anything so vile contaminate
their beautiful wood. They had, however, been wise in
planting it at some distance from the house.

The Okavango River; a narrative of travel, exploration and adventure (1861)
Andersson, Charles John, 1827-1867



The westward heights are
fringed with splendid foliage, descending to the mar-
gin of the stream. Eastward, the pilot's tower be-
tokens the care Avhich the Admiralty takes in giv-
ing security and confidence to those who live on
'the profound deep. 1 Its site is well chosen, upon
a lofty promontory, and may be seen at twenty
miles distance. How highly picturesque are the
sides of its elevation, covered with every variety of
evergreen shrubs, spangled with blossoms of every
hue, and fragrant as beautiful! Huge masses of
rocks intersperse the shrubbery, and these of vari-
ous romantic shapes, some with well-formed arches,
Oriental, Gothic, and Roman ; others, deeply cav-
erned, reiterating, with thundering yells, the stun-
ning sound of never-ceasing breakers, appear the
abode of the Furies, and, foaming with ire, forbid
approach or investigation.


"The country which on this expedition we pass-
ed through was every where delightful as far as the
eye could reach ; and the deep, green woods, with
their fine umbrageous foliage, gave us a grateful
shelter from the heat of the sun, which, as the day
advanced, began to be oppressive. Nothing could
be more striking than the stateliness of the trees,
most of which were flowering evergreens, present-
ing to our view a great variety of beautiful pen-
dent bunches of flowers of all colors — blue, white,
scarlet, and yellow — yielding at the same time a
most delicate fragrance, while the ground beneath
was studded and enameled with a multiplicity of
curious wax-like little stars, daisies, and harebells.


At the foot of this interesting range a noble peri-
odical water-course shaped its way, its banks clothed
with a rich verdure of every hue, while here and
there sprang up stately groups of acacias, inter-
spersed with pleasant shrubs and sweet-smelling
plants. Grass, also, of the rankest and most lux-
uriant description, fragrant with odors, reached, as
they labored along with the huge and cumbersome
vehicle behind them, the oxen's bellies. In the back-
ground, and, indeed, almost every where around us,
the scene was bounded by extensive and lofty
mountain ranges, the magnificent and almost fault-
less granite cone Okonyenya rising in a distant
corner, in isolated grandeur, to a height of about
2200 feet above the neighboring country. Alto-
gether it was a striking and imposing spectacle,
wanting only a large body of permanent water to
make its beauty perfect.

The forest we were now passing through was
composed entirely of the tree called, in the Damara
language, omutali. This tree has a dark olive-
green leaf, in shape like a cloven heart, and emits,
when rubbed between the fingers, an agreeable aro-
matic scent. On the under surface of its leaves are
innumerable little insect-cells, of a sweet, sugary
substance. These cells are said to be much relish-
ed by the natives, who collect them in great quan-
tities as an article of food. The bark of the omu-
tali is of a yellowish-white, while its heart is of a
light mahogany color, and, as far as I can judge,
capable of receiving a very high polish. This part
of the tree is very closely grained, and so hard as
sometimes to blunt, at a single stroke, the best-
tempered tools. When a strain is applied to it
longitudinally it appears exceedingly strong, but a
sudden jerk or heavy transverse pressure will shiv-
er it in an instant. Being straight and slender, I
tried it for disselbooms, but, having demolished
three of them in the course of a single day's jour-
ney, I gave the experiment up. For building pur-
poses and household utensils it seems that this
wood is well adapted ; it is exposed, however, to
the attacks of that destructive little insect, the
white ant.

The evening was calm and balmy, and the atmos-
phere steamed with sweet aromatic scents rising
from the grateful earth, just refreshed by heavy
thunder-showers. The solemnity of the hour and
of the scene, with all the circumstances of my posi-
tion, plunged me into a reflective mood ; and reflect
I did more than was my wont, for I had ample cause
to do so.