Where is your favourite place in the whole world? That magical breakaway, etched deep in your heart. A place filled with memories and laugther. A place of small discoveries and disproportionate excitement. A place you want to share with others, but also keep to yourself. Where you can escape from the stress of fast-paced modern life, and reboot. Where you find the time to read a novel that’s been waiting for you, or page through a field guide…but where reading emails suddenly seems a lot less important. Where your mind finally manages to shift down into neutrality, stimulating your creative thinking, and filling you with inspiration. Where you can engage in your passions. Live life. And best of all, feel that emotion so elusive in adults –  boredom. A place you will think back on one day, and consider every day there as time well spent.

For me, for the last 12 years, this escape has been our holiday home in Bushwillow Estate, on the shores of Vaalkop Dam. Especially when I lived in Gauteng, this was the perfect weekend breakaway. At only 1,5 hours from home, mostly along good tar roads, it was close enough to justify impromptu weekends, or even just day trips. In fact, a couple of times during longer visits such as glorious sunny and stormy December holidays, I raced back to Pretoria to go feed our cat, and then just retraced my steps. A holiday home at the coast is great – but in reality you’ll only get there once or twice a year. We go to Vaalkop every second weekend.

The second major drawcard for me, is the safety factor. I love big game as much as any Africa-born naturalist, but having lions and elephants roaming around does limit you significantly in terms of exploration. Bushwillow is already siuated within a proclaimed 7,500 ha nature reserve and bird sanctuary, and exciting and innovative plans are underway to incorporate the property into a larger network of reserves. This proposed Heritage Park would house the Big Five and other potentially dangerous animals too. But the fenced Bushwillow Estate allows you freedom to explore on foot, on a bicycle and to stop your vehicle, hop out and check out a dung beetle or move a tortoise out of the road. Parents can rest assured that their kids are safe when they embark on imagination-fueled expeditions in the surrounding veld, or when they play hide and seek in the bush.

Where is your favourite place in the whole world? Mine is here:

The background story

A little background. As a town and regional planner, my father, Derick Peacock, was involved with the original subdivision of Bushwillow into forty units. At that time – in the mid-1990s – we also purchased one of the waterfront properties as an investment. Fast forward a decade or so, and an offer came in to buy this land. We went to have a last look before we sold it. As we stood on the shore of the dam, scanning for waterbirds, a Cape Clawless Otter suddenly appeared and started foraging stealthily along the bank, just below us. Because the water was muddy, the otter resorted to using its fingers to feel and probe fearlessly for crabs and other prey. We stood watching that otter for the better part of an hour, and I believe that moment changed our whole perspective.

Here we had a beautiful 1 ha plot, overlooking a 1,066 ha dam teeming with fish and birdlife, plus incredibly rich mixed bushveld and savanna terrestrial habitats. All in a comfortable climate and malaria-free zone. And within easy reach. And so we changed our minds, and our future. We started building the house in 2005…as I write this in 2017, I know that we made the right decision.

Bushwillow has played such a pivotal role in my life. I have spent thousands of hours there: birding, researching, nest-finding, sketching, sound-recording and photographing. But quite apart from biodiversity, the house has been the location of many personal highlights: getting engaged to Ronel; my bachelor’s party; our honeymoon; many birthdays and Christmas celebrations; my son’s first holiday at three weeks old.

So it is with a heavy heart that we decided to sell. With my brother now based in Australia, and myself on the West Coast, we simply don’t get to go to Vaalkop often enough, as much as we’d love to. But, we are also very excited to share this special part of Africa with you. And to give you the opportunity to experience this unique lifestyle in nature!

ABOVE: Bushwillow Estate, showing the layout of the 40 stands. The one for sale is #24, Sentio. Click here to view/download a high quality pdf version of this map.

To do list: Vaalkop Dam

Relax • Put your feet up • Sleep late • Get up early • Read a paperback novel • Read a whole bunch of magazines • Play a card game • Play a board game • Watch a movie • Project a movie on the wall for family movie night • Plant a tree • Identify a tree • Make a sunbird feeder • Put out bird seed •  Visit the settling ponds • Go for a game drive • Take a short night walk • Look for the glowing eyes of spiders at night • Get a UV torch and find some scorpions • Build a bat box • Build an owl box • See how many bird species you can identify by their calls • Do the same, but only in ten minutes • Find a Finfoot •  Scan the skies for raptors high overhead • Listen for hippos grunting at night • Try to spot a crocodile • Invent a cocktail • Hit Sun City and the Valley of Waves • Listen for katydids and cricket at night • Attract insects with a special light • Photograph and identify butterflies • Catch an antlion • Watch where a dung beetle rolls his ball to • Spot a Pearl-spotted Owlet • Try to find a nightjar, in the day • Go searching for snakes on the road after rain • Get into geology • Do some frogging • Field test different flashlights • Get a spotting scope • Hone your photography skills • Do a long exposure shot of the stars • Name those stars • Ride a mountain bike • Go for a run • Go for a walk • Go for a stroll • Stand still • Compete in Birding Big Day • Update your birding lifelist • Plan your next overseas trip • Prune some bushes (it’s therapeutic) • Walk in hiking boots • Walk barefoot • Don’t wear a shirt all day • Wear the same clothes all weekend • Make a fire in the fireplace on a cold day • Make a fire in the firepit outside, just for the atmosphere • Have a proper braai • Whittle • Whistle • Identify dragonflies • Catch a gecko • Go walking in gumboots after the rain • Drink sundowners at the view site • Drink sundowners on the deck • Drink sundowners in the pool • Drink sundowners on the barge • Make a photo wall • Play in the sand with the kids • Watch a storm in its entirety • Go and watch a game at the local watering hole • Visit the quaint shop at Beestekraal Stasie • Play a round of golf at Sun City • Bring a golf cart to Vaalkop • Go for a cruise on the barge • Try to find a rarity • Phone your mom • Search puddles for baby terrapins • Catch a frog • Record a frog’s call with your phone • Paint something • See how many animals you can spot from your bed • Take an outside shower • Make your own pasta • Teach the kids a game from your youth • Think • Write • Work, if you really have to (at least it’s in a picturesque spot) • Play ‘kleilat’ • Climb a hill • Shoot at targets with a slingshot • Play your favourite record • Binge watch a whole TV series • Eat lots and lots of chococlate • Climb a tree (to work off the chocolate) • Choreograph a fun dance with the girls • Find your faith • Find some wildflowers • Make a boquet of wild grasses • Try to make a fire with sticks or stones • Go fishing • Tell fireside ghost stories • Sleep in a tent on the deck with the kids • Take a power nap in the hammock • Prepare a really intensive dish • Prepare a really quick dish • Eat lots of fruit • Make New Year’s resolutions, even if it’s July • Have a guys weekend • Have a girls weekend • Have a fancy dress party • Watch nature documentaries • Switch your phone off • Don’t wear a watch • Write a book • Get up in the middle of the night for no reason • Have a midnight feast • Have a picnic • Find a Foam Nest Frog • Visit Pilanesberg and see the Big Five

Twelve years, twelve highlights

1Red-billed Queleas. In some summers these superabundant seed-eaters invade the bush around the house in incredible numbers. Their sleepy swizzlings songs are a constant from dawn to dusk, even drowning out the droning of the cicadas. We have had endless hours of fun with the queleas – you can see some videos here. One December we were planting some big indigenous Combretum trees around the house, and we had dug some deep holes. Like I said, being relaxed leads to creativity. So I put a camping chair in the hole, and constructed a makeshift shadecloth hide over myself. Put out some bird seed, and within minutes I had a thousand queleas literally 30 cm from my face. When they got a fright and took flight, the combined wind generated by their wings seemed like a gale, blasting with that pet shop smell and millions of dehusked seed shells. Incredible! Queleas often fly into the house, and on one memorable occasion, a Pearl-spotted Owlet followed them in looking for an easy meal!

2The splash pool. Can there be anything more soul-satisfying than lounging in a small, 33 degrees Celcius pool, with a drink in one hand, a soggy paperback on the deck next to you, and a bunch of Cape Vultures cruising overhead? I guarantee you will spend the vast majority of the day in this pool on summer days. And even summer nights.

3Porcupines. At times, a family of these impressive creatures lives under the deck. When the last francolins stop calling, you start hearing the porcupines’ quills rattling and shaking under the deck before they emerge and stroll off into the African night. They have nibbled a few PVC pipes here and there, but that’s a small price to pay for the privilege of sharing your home with these guys. When they are absent, Warthogs, Dwarf Mongoose and even an African Rocky Python sometimes make themselves at home under the deck.

4The barge. Our slow but steady motorized barge, to be sold with the house, is the perfect way to explore the 1,066 ha dam. It is stable enough to put up a tripod for birding or photography and wildlife often allow a very close approach. Try some fishing, identify waterbirds, or have an onboard braai. Keep an eye open for hippos though!

5Summer storms. Violent, erratic, unpredictable and utterly spectacular, these storms unleash a torrent of much-needed water on the landscape. The process usually starts with incredible winds suddenly sweeping up from the dam – take this as a cue to get inside, quick. Seemingly within minutes huge cumulonimbus towers ascend the purple heavens and then sound their fury with deafening thunder and lighting that momentarily transform the gloom into searing brightness. Better than anything you can see on TV!

6The spacious wooden deck is where you’re likely to be if you’re not in the pool. The moment you arrive you can throw open all the stacker doors to let nature in, and soak up the views of the dam. You’ll have most of your meals out here, with occasional distractions like antelope running past or an African Fish Eagle calling overhead.

7Insect lights. After a university entomology course, I bought a special bulb that attracts insects. As its gets dark, you hang the bulb next to a white sheet in the bush. After a few minutes, that sheet is absolutely covered in all manner of bugs: huge dung beetles, breathtakingly beautiful moths, delicate lacewings (antlions), vicious mantids and countless other micro-fauna. Of course, this feeding frenzy brings a multitude of frogs which are quick to take advantage of the easy pickings. Not for the squeamish, but if you can stand a few bugs in your clothes, seeing the splendour of insect diversity in this way is astounding.

8Late afternoon strolls. A stroll along the dam’s shore is the perfect way to end a long day of doing absolutely nothing. The last rays of the setting sun cast an almost ethereal glow over the water, turning whites into golds as if through alchemy. You’re likely to have Rufous-cheeked Nightjars flitting about overhead if you stay out late. And keep watch for Double-banded Sandgrouse materializing by the water’s edge to quench their day-long thirst.

9An outside shower. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, why not give it a try? It is simply awesome – the soapy water mixing with the dappled shade of the tree overhead, steam rising, and birds calling all around you. Contrary to what you might expect, it is especially enjoyable on a cold winter’s morning. It just takes a little bit of courage, and then ecstasy.

10Banded Groundlings. When you walk down to the dam, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by dragonflies with black-tipped wings. These are Banded Groundlings, and they are following you in the hope that you’ll disturb smaller insects for them to catch. Their reaction times are so quick that they easily steer clear of your feet, even if you’re running.
11Family time. Vaalkop is a place to connect and reconnect. To spend time – quality time, not just five minutes while waiting for the kettle to boil – with your loved ones. Be it your spouse, kids, parents, grandparents or just friends. One of the most fulfilling parts of visiting the dam over the last decade, has been the time spent with people. It is only when you step out of the daily grind of work, finances, responsibilities, concerns and appointments, that you can truly connect. Get into stimulating conversations. Feel true empathy. Find out what’s really going on in other people’s lives. And live. Together.
12Discoveries. For me, life at Vaalkop is all about learning and making discoveries. They don’t have to be grandiose, life-changing or even worthy of a Facebook update. But they have to be special to you. I remember marveling at the intricacy of an Acacia Katydid’s camouflage (see blog here). Finding the eggs of a White-throated Robin-Chat in a secluded corner of the decking. The joy at finding that some Yellow House Bats had taken up residence in the bat box we had put up for them. Watching a Barn Owl bringing food to her chicks in the roof. Learning to distinguish the different species of parasitic indigobirds by the mimicry of their hosts in their songs. Finding a Sundevall’s Writhing Skink under some firewood one evening. Making a sketch of a juvenile Marico Sunbird outside the front door. Counting several hundred Comb Ducks moulting on the dam. Showing my kids how an antlion’s den works using a plastic straw. Hearing a multitude of Banded Rubber Frogs calling after the first rains. Star-gazing. Finding an erruption of white flowers on a specific soil type. And in the process, rediscovering yourself.

336 bird species

 1066 ha Vaalkop Dam

7500 ha reserve

336 bird species

40 properties

28 units

1 ha plot

8 people

4 bedrooms

4 bathrooms

2 garages

2 storeys

1-4 ownership

ABOVE: A map of the wider area, showing Bushwillow Estate’s location on Vaalkop Dam’s western shore. Access to the large conservation area to the west is possible, and there are a multitude of tracks to drive, walk or cycle. Non-birders will be suprised to hear this, but birders will understand: make sure to visit the sewage works and settling ponds near the main gate – these are a magnet for birds. Properties on the southern shore and eastern leg of the dam are mostly private game reserves. The closest small settlement (fuel, basic shop) is at Beestekraal, about 20 minutes to the south. Otherwise you have to head down to Brits, up to Thabazimbi or west to Sun City. Click here to download a high res pdf version of this map in A4. There is also a large format version with a list of common birds. Click here.
ABOVE: Kickstarted with the recent official proclamation of the Vaalkop Nature Reserve, some exciting plans are underway to link several conservation areas in North West Province, and create a mega ‘Heritage Park’. In the future, it is envisioned that Pilanesberg National Park will link to Vaalkop Nature Reserve and further east to Borakalalo National Park. Click here to download a pdf version.

More information

Where is it?

Vaalkop Dam and Bushwillow lie in North West Province, in South Africa’s northern bushveld biome. The site is within easy reach of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Getting there takes about an 1,5 hours. From Pretoria, travel north along the N1, then west on the N4 to Brits. Continue north for 44 km (passing through the town of Brits which has a small hospital, shopping malls, vehicle workshops, emergency services etc.). Take the turnoff to Beestekraal, turn right at the T, and continue for 11 km. From here it is a short drive on a dirt road, passable in any sedan vehicle, to the gate. Total distance from Pretoria is 114 km. From Johannesburg one could also drive directly on the R511. Total distance from the Buccleuch Interchange is 120 km. Sun City and Pilanesberg National Park are only about 40 minutes from Vaalkop.

The reserve and estate

Bushwillow Estate borders Vaalkop Dam. It is subdivided into forty plots, and currently has 28 privately-owned units built (note that some plots will not be developed). All the houses are holiday homes, as full-time permanent residency is not allowed; except in the case of the caretaker / manager. The entire estate is securely fenced, and access is through a phone-operated first gate, and a manned second gate. The focal point of the reserve is the 1,066 ha Vaalkop Dam itself. No watersports are allowed on the dam, and only low-wake craft may be operated. As such there is a sense of peace, silence and tranquility, which is not disturbed by low-speed barges. This is one of the main drawcards of the house – which is to be sold with a barge included. Bushwillow Estate is stocked with game. There is a large communal swimming pool, and a game drive vehicle storage facility. In addition to the property at Bushwillow, access to the large adjacent bird sanctuary / reserve section is possible at a nominal cost. There are no facilities here, but the reserve is stocked with various game animals, and there is a network of roads to explore, as well as a spectacular view point.

The house

Number 24 at Bushwillow is named Sentio – in reflection of the fact that all one’s senses are stimulated here: see the glare of the full moon on the dam; hear Ostriches booming in the distance; smell the wet earth after a storm; taste the slightly acrid yet alluring taste of a wild raisin fruit; and feel the texture of a lichen-encrusted Acacia branch beneath your fingertips.

The property is approximately 1 ha in size. Its eastern borders extends down to the 100-year flood line of Vaalkop Dam, and from there it extends in a strip up to the main internal access road. The house lies some 300 m from the road, so the (very little) vehicle traffic is not noticeable at all. Both the neighbouring properties have already been developed, but because of the dense bush you feel totally isolated. The house has its own private entry road, as well as its own footpath down to the main hiking trail that runs along the dam shoreline.

The house is built roughtly in a cruciform shape, with the master, en-suite bedroom to one side and the two main guest bedrooms with their separate bathrooms on the other flank. Each end of the house has its own outside shower. There is an open plan living room / kitchen which lives out onto the massive wood deck. The main living room area is flanked on three sides by glass stacker doors that can be fully opened. A fireplace, pool table, lounge set and oversized kitchen island complete the picture. From the main living room area, a staircase extends to the upper storey and another semi-private guest room with its own bathroom. The views over the dam are especially arresting from this upper level, and the windows open up right into the treetops to give you a bird’s eye view. The outside deck runs along the full length of the front of the house and extends to a separate lapa area with a bar counter and basin, and an approximately 3×3 m, solar-heated splash pool. There is a roofed garage which comfortably fits two large vehicles. The garage is walled on two sides, and was built with the possibility of conversion into an additional private guest room in future.

The house is to be sold fully furnished, in a modern rustic style with an African chic fashion. This includes stove/oven, fridge, dishwasher, microwave and other kitchen appliances; leather couch, various lounge sofas, bar stools and deck chairs; a pool table that converts into a large dining table; six single beds and one queen bed; and a stunning outside table cut from a full timber trunk. The house runs on municipal electricity and electric geysers. Tap water is drinkable, although bottled water is more palatable. An alarm system is installed (but is very seldom used). The house is serviced once a week by cleaning staff. Additional cleaning services can be arranged. Linens are washed by on-site staff at your request. Basic gardening and maintenance staff are at hand. A full-time manager is resident on the estate.

Price and ownership options

The house is to be sold for sole ownership, or under fractional ownership by 2-4 partners. The house may not be rented out, but guests are more than welcome. Up to 8 people can be accommodated at any one time, and there is ample parking. The asking price for the plot, fully furnished house, and barge, is:

ZAR 3,200,000

Contact details

If you have any questions, want to find out a bit more, or would like to arrange a visit, please do not hesitate to contact us. You are welcome to contact me, or you can contact the owner, Derick Peacock, directly. Experience a unique lifestyle in nature. Today.

Faansie Peacock
Tel: 084-515-1207

Derick Peacock