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Article: Our Scent Map of South Africa by Bethany Joy Dawson

Our Scent Map of South Africa by Bethany Joy Dawson

Our Scent Map of South Africa by Bethany Joy Dawson

STORIES Parfums Fragrance Writer, Bethany Dawson, charts her family’s scent journey through South Africa from liquid paracetamol to Prickly Pears.

Tears welled in my son’s eyes as fireworks of colour accompanied the sunset in the Drakenstein Mountains. He was knee-deep in a river with a grubby face. His pile of ‘treasure’ on the bank was growing and his siblings squealed from the reeds. I knew then we had made the right decision to take our children to South Africa.
It was always the long-haul flight that put me off. The thought of airport connections, 12 hours in an enclosed space with wriggling small people and a sleep-deprived entrance at Cape Town airport had me waking in a cold sweat. The reality, however, was quite different. Two of my three under sevens slept all night on the floor of the plane while the other dosed on my lap; family-friendly airport policies made navigating the terminals a breeze and a quiet airplane meant I watched an entire film for the first time in a long time.

Trip of a Lifetime

We spent two months in South Africa travelling from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and beyond. We drove two and a half thousand kilometres, stayed in a dozen different homes and navigated some beautifully wild terrain. ‘A trip of a lifetime’ is what everyone called it. It certainly was an adventure we will remember for years to come but hopefully it will be one of many.  One of the things my family does on a regular basis is a Sit Spot. It is our way of engaging with awe-inspiring landscapes whether they are in the United Kingdom or the Eastern Cape. We find a quiet space and sit still for five minutes with the intention of being present to what we are seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and, occasionally, tasting. It was fascinating to map our scent journey along the Garden Route of the Western Cape, into the Klein Karoo, around the Game Reserves in the Eastern Cape and as far as the Amathole Mountains.

Scent Journey

Our starting point, Franschoek, smelled of ripening citrus, spent plums and the earth after a rainstorm. For us, it was redolent of high factor sunscreen and the liquid paracetamol that made my two-year-old’s Croup more bearable. Onwards to the foot of the Langeberg Mountains where a silt-laden river was pumped into our bath, leaving our skin thick with the smell of soil. We ziplined into a dam and kayaked beneath trees that dangled weaver bird nests from their branches.

A hike into the mountains took us through sweet wildflower meadows and on to a waterfall where the steam rising from hot rocks smelt like a sauna.  The verdant valley where the Groot River meets the sea held salt-laced air and peppery coastal fynbos. It was here we saw schools of dolphins, a huge turtle and a baboon who stole into the kitchen and squatted on the countertop; I won’t describe that smell.  

The Klein Karoo was my favourite. Its barren landscape of sandy soil and scrub vegetation went on for miles and miles. Here we smelled floral prickly pears and thick dust, sheep farm scents and woodsmoke from a hundred fires dotted across the desert.  Onwards to Hogsback, a misty outpost at the heart of the Amathole Mountains. Its Arboretum is home to huge Californian Redwoods, Oaks and Japanese Maples. On a sunny afternoon the balmy bark scent mixed with rich azalea and we spent a long time soaking it up.

A Lifetime of Adventure

The last evening of our trip was spent where we started, in the Drakenstein Mountains. We watched the sun set from the bank of a dam that mirrored the peaks by which we were surrounded. As we quietened ourselves and I paid attention to the fresh, green smell, an African Eagle Owl alighted in front of us. I heard the sharp intake of my children’s breath as we watched it lift above the water and disappear. I will see its face every time I smell the rain. I will picture my children hugging their dirty knees in silence and it will remind me to pursue a lifetime of adventure.

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