A holiday in the Southern Cape is about more than just hanging out on the beach. South has selected a collection of new tourism offerings, fun family activities and authentic local shopping experiences for you to explore this summer. Also have a look at our diary on page 28 and our online calendar for events happening in the region. Enjoy!
MOSSEL BAY AND SURROUNDS New Stuff
MacYoung Farmers Market in Hartenbos is the new local Saturday morning hangout. Fresh produce, plants, clothing, gifts, breakfast, coffee and live music. Open 8am-2pm. Old Sea Shells turn-off, Hartenbos River 082 337 3414
The ReedValley tasting room is the only physical location in South Africa where you can purchase this exclusive export wine. Herbertsdale turn-off (R327) outside Mossel Bay. Open 10am-4pm seven days a week. reedvalleywines.com
The famous ‘water worm’ at Hartenbos ATKV has moved to Diaz Water Park at the Diaz Hotel, where the Steyn family has reopened the water worm alongside various other upgraded super tubes, slides, a lazy river, a heated pool, braai and picnic areas. Open 9am-11pm seven days a week during summer holiday season. diazwaterpark.co.za
The ATKV Hartenbos’ new fun park includes a water park, play and entertainment areas, mini golf and more. Open 8.30am-11pm during summer holiday season. hartenbos-seefront.co.za
The longest sandboard ride in South Africa, Dragon Dune, comes highly recommended and is open to all ages. Booking is essential with Billeon Surf and Sand at 082 971 1405 billeon.com
Guided walks with elephants at Indalu Game Reserve. Booking is essential at 082 990 3831 indalu.co.za
Take a guided paddock walk and/or carriage ride with the giant horses of Outeniqua Moon Percheron Stud and Guestfarm. R328 between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn. Booking is essential at 044 631 0093 outeniquamoon.co.za
Catch a big fish out at sea with Mossel Bay Deep Sea Adventures. Booking is essential at 072 454 2988 deepseaadventures.co.za
Take a trip around Seal Island in the Romonza boat. Departs every hour on the hour from the harbour 10am-4pm. Inquire about eco-ocean safaris and sunset cruises. romonzaboattrips.co.za
The Dias Museum complex includes a replica of the caravel in which Bortolomeu Dias came ashore in 1488, the famous 500-year-old post office tree, shell museum and aquarium, and ethno-botanical garden. diasmuseum.co.za
Hartenbos Boeremark, Saturdays 8am-2pm at the ATKV amphitheatre. 076 204 3772
Steyn’s Antiques is a treasure chest of antique furniture, collectables and trinkets. steynsantiques.co.za
The Klipheuwel Padstal (farm stall) outside Little Brak River includes a coffee shop and roastery, deli, fresh vegetables, arts and crafts, and more. klipheuwelpadstal.co.za
Déjà Vu Vintage House 7 Marsh Street Facebook: Deja-Vu-Vintage-House
KNYSNA New Stuff
A first in South Africa, try Knysna Scootours for a unique way to experience the Knysna Forest. Descend through indigenous forest on single track and navigate sweeping bends on these non-motorised scooters. Booking essential. scootours.co.za 079 148 3751
Experience the magic of flight with Dolphin Paragliding’s tandem flights at Brenton. From R750pp. dolphinparagliding.co.za 072 199 0622
Open to the public every Wednesday in December, Kilzer’s Kitchen is a cookery school where you get to see how your meal is prepared. Booking essential. kilzerskitchen.co.za 044 382 0135
Garden Route Fishing Adventures offer deep sea fishing trips – a must-do for fishing enthusiasts. Booking essential. boatingadventures.co.za 082 800 3609
Featherbed Company offers a host of fun experiences, including a ferry trip to the nature reserve and romantic lagoon trips on the Heads Explorer catamaran. knysnafeatherbed.com
Ocean Odyssey is the official whale watching permit holder in the Knysna area and hosts eco-tours outside whaling season. oceanodyssey.co.za 044 382 0321
Unwind in the shade of age-old indigenous forest canopies at Garden of Eden. 500m to 1km wheelchair-friendly walkway through the forest. Next to the N2, between Plett and Knysna. 044 532 7793
Enjoy a number of mountain bike trails in and around Knysna, next to rivers and through lush forests. Enquire at Knysna Cycle Works knysnacycles.co.za 044 382 5153
VegTable is a celebration of vegetables and rustic slow cooking. Located in a cottage in a Pecan nut orchard on Mermaid’s Rest farm on the Rheenendal Road. Booking essential. vegtable.co.za 074 833 9516
TSITSIKAMMA New Stuff
The Storms River Arts & Crafts Meander showcases the work of local creatives, including art galleries, home studios and businesses – all within easy walking distance of each other. Pick up a map from the Storms River Information Centre or participating venues. Opening times on map. Updates on Facebook: Storms River Arts & Crafts Meander. Susan Kemp 083 467 9388
The Tsitsikamma Big Tree is an easily accessible giant yellowwood tree inside indigenous forest, just off the N2 near Storms River Village. The decked forest trail is wheelchair-friendly and a perfect picnic spot.
The Storms River Village Market is open every first Saturday of the month 9am-1pm around the Bitou Gallery. Marie Brink 082 573 2442
Tsitrus Café makes great pizza, stocks lots of local products and has a play area to keep the kids busy. Facebook: Tsitrus Café
GREAT BRAK RIVER New Stuff
Seeplaas in Tergniet is the home of Ken Maloney Art, Mont Aime Coffee Shop and Venue, and New Season Design Home Decor. 044 620 2409
Brothers Coffee Roastery at The Pink House imports quality African single origin green beans, roasts and brews great coffee. Facebook: Brothers Coffee
Eat locally harvested oysters and the freshest fish in a rustic ambience on the banks of the Great Brak River at Oyster World. Open throughout the season. Facebook: Oyster World
Buy fresh bread and cake at Peperboom Restaurant and Bakery. 67 Long Street 044 620 3081
Noel Henry’s recently opened deli, The Full Basket, stocks cold meats, prawns, cheese, chicken fillet, ice cream, braai spices, dry cake mixes and more. Open 8am-5pm Monday-Friday. 8am-2pm Saturday, and 9am-2pm Sunday in December only. 072 240 6404
Entertain the kids with craft mornings while you stock up on your arts and crafts accessories at Periwinkle Crafts, Haberdashery and Jewellery. Ground level, 67 Long Street. 082 743 3089
Marnitz Steyn art gallery features the works of the talented Steyn family, including sculptures, wooden home decore items, and woven articles. Open during season, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Saturday 9am-1pm and by appointment. 044 620 2381
PLETTENBERG BAY New Stuff
Enjoy scenic views from the wooden deck of The View Tapas Bar as the kids play on the large lawn nearby. 044 533 0165
Cairnbrogie Mountain Bike and Trail Park is geared for beginner to intermediate skill riding, including kids. Airport Road cairnbrogie.co.za 044 533 9192
Down to Earth is a natural/organic restaurant at the Plett River Lodge. Focusing on health, they serve ethically and locally sourced dishes. 044 533 5843
Visit the various historical landmarks in and around Plett, from the remains of the Beacon Island Whaling Station to the Van Pletten Beacon and Nelson’s Cave, where early man lived along the shore, on the spectacular Robberg Peninsula. plett-tourism.co.za
Take to the ocean and learn to surf with Jamin surf school at Central Beach. Lessons cost from R350pp (Summer 2016-17), including equipment. Booking essential. 082 436 6410
For the kids, nothing beats the water slides at Adventure Land. Waterslides, tube rides, trampolines, braai facilities and a take-away kiosk. N2 between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay adventurelandplett.co.za 044 532 7869
Africanyon offers an exciting kloofing adventure. Must be 12 years or older. From R500pp. The Mill Centre, The Crags. Booking essential. 044 534 8055
Get to know majestic raptors from up close at Radical Raptors, where you can watch aerial displays and even handle some of the birds. Open 7 days a week. Show times 11am, 1pm, 3pm. The Heath off the N2. radicalraptors.co.za 044 532 7537
Walk with cheetahs at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre. Forest Hall Rd, The Crags. Daily from 9am-4.30pm. tenikwa.com 044 534 8170
From mohair blankets to sheepskin slippers, socks and yarns, The Mohair Mill Shop offers the biggest range of mohair products in South Africa. You can also find furniture, Africo-chic accessories, skins and leather. Kurland turn-off from N2, The Crags. mohairmillshop.com
Offering a range of hand-crafted items and furniture, as well as a great spot for the kids to unwind, The Heath in Harkerville is a shopping must. Facebook: The Heath 044 532 7724
In addition to homemade cheese and bread, local produce and beautiful things, the coffee and light meals at Nature’s Way Farm Stall on the Nature’s Valley road are great.
WILDERNESS Family Stuff
Wild X Adventures offers quad-biking, paintball, canoeing, paragliding, abseiling, kayaking, zip-lining and horse rides. Also view the beauty of the Garden Route during a helicopter or small plane flip. Adventures cost between R100pp and R900pp (Summer 2016-1). wildx.co.za 062 398 7818
Eden Adventures offers double, single and triple canoes for hire so pack a picnic and spend the day exploring local waterways. Other activities include kloofing and abseiling. eden.co.za 083 628 8547
Enjoy a guided horseback ride through indigenous forest with Black Horse Trails. Take the Hoekville turn-off from the N2 and head for Beervlei. From R300pp (Summer 2016-17). Cash only. blackhorsetrails.co.za 082 494 5642
Acrobranch is a tree top adventure park where you can slide, balance, jump, crawl or swing through the action-packed courses in the forest canopy. acrobranch.co.za 044 882 1113
Operating from SANParks Ebb and Flow rest camp, Segway Tours takes visitors on a guided tour of the Kingfisher Trail. segwayfun.co.za 081 796 9946
WILDERNESS RIVER SAFARIS offers cruises on a safari-style aluminium boat on the Touw River and Island Lake. Prior booking essential at 081 593 8937 or 082 440 9807
Buy clothing, gifts, trinkets, food and oysters at Timberlake Organic Village between Wilderness and Sedgefield. timberlakeorganic.co.za
Milkwood Wilderness Friday Night Market. 4pm-9pm. Milkwood Centre. Facebook for updates.
SEDGEFIELD Family stuff
Canoe and paddle boat hire and horse rides at The River Deck. Buffalo Bay Road. 083 306 6861
Garden Route Trails offer bird tours, mountain biking in nature, a photographic workshop along the shore at low tide and guided nature walks. gardenroutetrails.co.za
Take a cruise on the Swartvlei lake on Captain Saney’s twin-hulled ferry class boat, the Loose Goose at Pine Lake Marina. 084 793 4722
Moonlight Meander and Starlight Stroll night-time guided tours along the beach. Booking essential 044 883 1015
Head down to the beach and catch some waves – let the guys from Myoli Beach Shop teach you to surf or stand-up paddle. 082 386 5093
Have you noticed the mosaics in Sedgefield? Take the Masithandane Mosaic Tour to learn more about the community upliftment project that beautified the village. 044 343 2658
Enjoy a freshly made breakfast or take home homemade goodies, fresh produce and free-range meats, chicken, dairy and cheese. Wild Oats Community Farmers Market on Saturday 7.30am-12pm, off the N2.
GEORGE Family Stuff
Ten Pin Bowling for the entire family at Let’s Go Bowling in Mount View Resort. 1 York Street mountviewsa.co.za
The Skate Lab will offer hours of skateboarding and BMX fun. York Street (opposite Mount View Resort). 044 873 2808 Facebook: Skatelab George
Enjoy stunning views as you travel on the Outeniqua Power Van railbus from George to Oudtshoorn. Experience the forest, four passes, water falls, six tunnels, fynbos, proteas, bird and animal life, and a panoramic picnic site. Trips start from 7.30am from the Outeniqua Transport Museum. 082 490 5627 [email protected]
Immerse yourself in memories from a bygone era at the Outeniqua Transport Museum, which displays a variety of old motor cars, train carriages and locomotives, including the Emil Kessler (Johannesburg’s first steam locomotive). 2 Mission Road 044 801 8289
Learn more about the town’s history, and especially its role in the timber industry of yester-year and the Anglo Boer War, at the George Museum. Monday-Friday 8am-4.30pm, Saturday 9am-12.30pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays. 9 Courtenay Street 044 873 5343
Discover the inner workings of a modern dairy farm at Valcor Dairy. Kids can also pet the calves. valcor.co.za 082 331 8618
Abused and ill-treated donkeys get a second chance at a happy life at the Barnyard Donkey Sanctuary. Bring some carrots and fruit to feed these humble beasts of burden. On the R102 between the airport and George. 044 876 9975
From afternoon tea to a night market, park runs, a treasure hunt, hiking, mountain biking, and music concerts (bring your own picnic), the diverse fauna and flora of the Garden Route Botanical Garden offers a beautiful and natural backdrop to fun for the whole family. botanicalgarden.org.za 044 874 1558
From farm-fresh products to excellent meals and confectionary to die for, with over 125 food and craft stalls, and entertainment for the kids, the Outeniqua Farmer’s Market is a must. Welgelegen turnoff from the N2. Saturday 8am-2pm. outeniquafarmersmarket.co.za
Local dried fruit, fresh fruit and vegetables, jams, local estate wines and beer at the Kruisaar Padstal (farm stall) in Waboomskraal. N12 towards Oudsthoorn. Monday-Saturday, 8am-4pm. 082 376 4767
Eats and treats at the Roadside Deli @ Hops Valley farm Store Wednesday-Saturday 8am-5pm. Sunday 8am-4pm. Waboomskraal 073 258 4818
KLEIN KAROO Family Stuff
The Cango Caves Zipline is a new two-stage double zipline above a deep Karoo ravine and game enclosure. Bookings 072 214 4578. cangocavesestate.co.za
Be part of an elephant’s natural daily routine by brushing an elephant at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. buffelsdrift.com
Waterslides, camel rides, putt-putt, touch farm and more at the Wilgewandel Holiday Farm in the Cango Valley. wilgewandel.co.za
The Village Trading Post in De Rust is famous for good food, interesting shopping and has a new lifestyle shop in the back. 29 Schoeman Street 044 241 2110
Handmade gifts, arts, crafts and sweets at Klapperbos in De Rust. 27 Schoeman Street. 044 241 2351
Doornkraal Farm Stall on the R62 outside De Rust offers wines from 20 local cellars and unique food items. 044 251 6715
A growing trend towards immersive holiday experiences has prompted the Plettenberg Bay tourism community to devise a range of luxury slackpacking options to extend beyond the town’s more well-known beach offering. South went along for an introductory Plett Trail experience.
WORDS Yolande Stander PHOTOGRAPHS Ewald Stander and Plett Tourism
Gone are the days when holidays were just about working on a tan and visiting tourist attractions. In a world of super fast, superficial tourism offerings, a growing number of holidaymakers are yearning for unique and authentic experiences that expand knowledge and engage all the senses.
Veteran trail guide Grahame Thomson, who was key to the Plett Trail’s development, is among the first we meet. “Plettenberg Bay has an undisputed image of being the ultimate summer, sun and beach destination, but there are so many other interesting gems that are relatively undiscovered. The Plett Trail showcases the Bitou region’s hidden treasures by linking them with hiking and horse riding trails to make up an immersive holiday and unique luxury slackpacking experience,” says Grahame.
Few, for instance, know that Bitou has significant archeological sites – such as Nelson’s Cave at Robberg, which was home to a small human population more than 160 000 years ago – or that Kranshoek was home to visionary Griqua leader Andrew Abraham Stockenstrom le Fleur.
The area is also a birdwatching hotspot, with 50 percent of South Africa’s 841 indigenous bird species found here. It is home to 52 endemics and 32 near-endemics.
The Plettenberg Bay wine region, which has expanded significantly since the first vineyards were established some 15 years ago, is another trail highlight. Grahame says the region now boasts 16 vineyards and produces more than 200 000 bottles of wine annually, many of which are award-winning vintages.
The trail offering, which will be officially launched at the World Travel Market Africa in Cape Town this April, will operate outside the summer holiday season and comprises a range of one- to ten-day guided packages over 100km of rugged coastline, country roads, wetland terrain and forest paths.
Slackpackers can look forward to numerous attractions, including peninsular paleontology, wine-tasting and cellar tours, birding, cultural tours, coastal walks and marine ecology, forest walks and forest ecology, horse trails, community trails, picnic lunches, five-star accommodation and top class meals.
While it sounds daunting, Grahame says most of the hikes are more than manageable for reasonably fit participants. If our group – who managed to pull off a large portion of the trail in cheap tennis shoes and sweatpants – is any indication, experienced slackpackers should find the Plett Trail well within their abilities.
The beauty of slackpacking is that you can experience the adventure and thrill of hiking without the burden of carrying all your supplies on your back, pitching tents, sleeping on hard beds, cold showers and cooking your own food.
Once the day’s hiking is over, you are greeted by friendly faces at one of the region’s top accommodation establishments and shown to a luxury suite with a comfortable bed, soothing hot shower and delicious meals.
We joined the Crags module, which began with breakfast at the enchanting Emily Moon River Lodge outside Plettenberg Bay before a transfer to Keurbooms beach. Our guide, Colin Wylie, shared interesting facts about the area’s geology, birdlife and marine species.
A forest path led to Forest Hall Country Estate, where we picnicked next to the pool before continuing the adventurous hike to Nature’s Valley. One of the most spectacular views of the trail – the snaking Salt River, ocean and beautiful vegetation of the valley – also proved to be the most challenging hiking spot. Our miscalculation of tides turned what was meant to be a knee-deep river crossing into a swim – sweatpants and all! Colin came to our ‘rescue’, eventually carrying all our daypacks and camera equipment across the river. Our day ended at Nature’s Valley beach, before we took up residence at Trogon House – luxury accommodation tucked away in a private forest in the Crags.
The next morning was on horseback, departing from Hog Hollow Horse Trails where owner Debbie Fermor expertly matched horse to rider to ensure even complete novices enjoyed the ride.
Lunch was at Newstead Wine Estate, owned by the Lund family. Nothing beats a glass of ice-cold bubbly after a morning on horseback – or so we believed until Sue Lund laid on a feast that must rank among the most opulent on the Garden Route. It is little wonder visitors return time and again for the exceptional hospitality.
The Plett Trail also includes an overnight stay at the award-winning Kurland Hotel, where adventurers can explore the beautiful country estate, enjoy supper at its prestigious restaurant and overnight in one of its 12 five-star suites.
The final day’s activities entailed a short but exhilarating hike to Redford House – a historic four-star country guest house in the Crags – where we were able to reflect on the journey over tea and scones – the perfect ending to a perfect adventure.
The ten-day, nine-night Plett Trail comprises two main modules (you can do both or either).
The five-night, six-day Kranshoek Experience stretches between the Harkerville Forest and the Bitou River Wetlands in Wittedrift. It includes guided bird-watching, wine-tasting, forest walks, a gallery visit, traditional Griqua cultural activities, nature talks, a visit to Nelson’s Cave and more.
The four-night, five-day Crags Experience explores activities and attractions between Keurbooms beach and Nature’s Valley, the Bitou River Wetlands and Kurland area in the Crags.
One-day specialty guided trails include an interpretive bush walk at Buffalo Hills Game Reserve, the Covie Community Trail of coastline and mountain fynbos ridges as well as visits to Bramon and Newstead Wine, and the Robberg Origins Trail in the Robberg Nature Reserve.
Two-night, three-day options are the T-Niqua Stable Inn/Packwood Trail, the Kurland Redford Trail and the Hog Hollow/Kurland Horse Trail.
Boasting famous shoes, world class art, quaint little shops and inspired eateries, the riverside town of Great Brak River has evolved from a three-building tollgate post in the 1800s to a burgeoning haven for creatives, foodies and nature lovers.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPHS Mike Ehrman
It’s been over 150 years since Charles Searle arrived in Great Brak River as the keeper of the local toll bridge, but his creative talents as a shoemaker remains the backbone of the local economic and artistic legend.
There is, however, more than a shoe factory in town, as a visit by South soon proved.
Elaine and Dries van der Walt own [email protected], a chic art gallery that showcases a variety of South African artists. “We have many fantastic resident artists in Great Brak and, while we support and celebrate local talent, we also show artists from the rest of the Garden Route and the country,” says Elaine.
Names like Charmaine Haines, Hennie Meyer, Llise Dodd, Sanna Swart, Helen Pfeil and Dillon Marsh are signed on the photographs, paintings, sculptures and ceramics exhibited in the trendy space. The array of disciplines and calibre of artists on display make [email protected] a gallery on trend with national and international movements. The space is also a boutique venue for special occasions. “We’ve tried to create something different. Not to show art that tries to be political or crass, but to show quality, friendly art.” 39 Long Street, 082 576 3338
One very friendly local artist is Chris Spies. Chris attained two honours degrees in art from the University of Pretoria and completed the equivalent of three BA degrees in four years, studying in the fields of graphic art, painting, sculpture and photography. “I had the privilege of honing my printing and lithography skills while working under greats like Walter Battis and Gregoire Boonzaier,” says Chris, whose work is often inspired by the style of Gustav Klimt. “Another great inspiration is the old pepper tree outside my studio, thought to have the widest trunk of all pepper trees in South Africa. It has come to represent the Tree of Life. We are connected to trees from cradle to coffin. They provide the oxygen we breathe, the material we build our shelters with and the food we need to survive. We can’t carry on with the blatant, large-scale removal of our trees,” he adds.
Chris is busy with a series in sculpture called Eve. Body casts of women are manipulated and decorated to depict the form and role of ‘woman’ through time. “I hope to show women that they should be proud of themselves. It’s really about celebrating the value of women.” 2 Mossienes Avenue, 071 212 9766 www.chrisspiesart.com
Laurinda Smit is one woman who has brought a lot of value to visitors to her amazing garden at 103 Steps. A pointillism artist and sculptress in her own right, Laurinda started working in her garden to create a healing space for herself. “Not everyone can walk the Camino when they need to heal, nurture themselves or find inner peace. I started the garden to bring that nurturing into my own life on a daily basis.”
The name is derived from the 103 steps that lead visitors through a magical, calming landscape filled with glimpses of whimsically mystical sculptures and installations. “I make use of anything from crystals to found objects like stones and driftwood. I hardly ever have a pre-planned idea of what I’ll do with any object, but rather let myself be led and inspired by the object itself, as well as the plants in the garden,” she says.
The garden also features a labyrinth and small amphitheatre where Laurinda hosts intimate events, but it really comes into its own on the first Wednesday of each month. “I light a few candles near the entrance and visitors are welcome to take a candle and walk the garden,” she said. “To find that nurturing for themselves, or to just experience the essence of life in a sacred space.” 146 Sandhoogtepad, 044 620 3144
The herb lady
Affectionately known as Great Brak River’s own ‘herb lady’, Cecile Hough has a 20-year romance with herbs. She pours me a cup of delicious homemade herbal tea made from seven herbs with fruity undertones, lemon juice and organic, local honey. “I’m not a herb fanatic and I also believe that unless someone can make an informed diagnosis, herbs should not be prescribed for medicinal purposes. We use herbs for their culinary and cosmetic value.” As well as her tea, bath bushes and bouquet garnis, Cecile manufactures and sells her own herbal moisturising cream and foot cream. “When I started giving herbal footbaths over 19 years ago, there were no herbal foot creams on the market so a friend told me that if I could make moisturising creams, surely I could make foot creams. So I did.” Cecile welcomes visitors to Hough’s Herbal Hub to walk in her herb garden while waiting for a cup of tea. “We believe in organic gardening, so visiting parents don’t have to worry about their kids picking something and putting it in their mouths. In fact, we encourage it!” 20 Mossienes Avenue, 044 620 3143
In honour of the Searle legacy, I make a quick stop at Watson Shoes, which was founded when the demand for Charles Searle’s cobbling talents exceeded the capacity of one man’s hands. The factory continues to make quality shoes, including the world-famous Grasshopper brand, and remains the town’s largest employer. Top quality, comfortable shoes, leather off-cuts and leather handbags are available at good prices at the Shoe Stop factory shop. A tour of the factory (when not closed over season) can also be arranged. 1 Station Road, Shoe Stop 044 620 3453,
Factory 044 620 2121, www.watson-shoes.co.za
Into the past
The interesting story of the Searles, even older tales of the region’s San and Khoe heritage, and an alleged resident ghost are to be found in the village’s award-winning museum. Situated in the old school house building, the museum has earned several accolades but museum curator Ina Stofberg says it is not about the awards. “It’s about keeping the stories of our town alive.”
The museum’s recent shoe exhibition, which included a giant shoe made by Watson Shoes and emphasised the village’s rich history of shoes and shoe-manufacturing, was a great hit.
Also depicted are the lives and times of the village’s earliest settlers. “Great Brak River has been photographed since the very beginning and we are lucky enough to have copies of these amazing photos showing different aspects of life in the 1800s. We also have a small collection of San and Khoe artefacts on display, many of which predate the founding of Great Brak by many, many years.”
Ina also tells of a ghost in the house. “A previous resident of the building where the museum is housed told us how his father would be woken by loud footsteps sounding from the passage of the house. The night visitor would walk from the front entrance – which is now our Khoe exhibition room – down the passage, and enter the boy’s bedroom. The elderly male apparition would linger at the foot of the boy’s bed before walking to the wardrobe, opening it, and lingering for a while longer before taking its leave.” 13 Amy Searle Street, 044 620 3338
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT Die Ou Pastorie Teetuin
Die Ou Pastorie is at the heart of Great Brak River. Delicious meals, a variety of homemade baked goods and delightful gifts make for a must-visit. 8 Long Street, 044 620 2388
Peperboom Restaurant and Deli
A longstanding landmark and favourite pit stop, Peperboom offers designer breakfasts, gourmet burgers and ice-cold beers. The deli offers freshly baked goods. 67 Long Street, 044 620 3081
Periwinkle Crafts, Haberdashery and Jewellery
With over 1 400 different product lines, Periwinkle is a creative oasis with many fresh ideas for arts and crafts, quality craft supplies and a stunning range of silver jewellery. 67 Long Street 082 743 3089
De Vette Mossel Grootbrak
The original fat mussel knows how one is supposed to really enjoy seafood: in abundance, with sand under your feet and the smell of the ocean in your nostrils – right next to the sea. Enjoy more than perfectly prepared seafood, enjoy an experience. Just off the R102, Great Brak River turn-off from N2. 079 339 0170 www.devettemosselgrootbrak.co.za
Beatnix Leatherworks has been handcrafting leather cases and handbags in Great Brak River since 1992. Combining only the highest quality material, design and workmanship, Beatnix cowhide and calfskin bags and cowhide cases are truly timeless. Visit the factory for a quick tour (on request), but note that the factory will be closed from 11 December until 11 January. But don’t despair – you can still find their quality goods at the Shoe Stop. 1 Willow Street,
044 620 2744 www.beatnixleatherworks.co.za
Uitspan Saturday Market
Explore treasure troves of fresh produce, freshly baked goodies, crafts and other gems on the first Saturday of every the month. Held on the public green in front of the Pick n Pay in Charles Street, the market runs from 8am to 1pm.
Festivals Celebrating all things botanical and fragrant, the Fragrance Fest takes place in February at Friemersheim outside Great Brak River. The festival is linked to the village’s Fragrance Route, a self-drive or cycle route featuring a lavender farming project, farms and attractions. More information on the festival and the route from Great Brak Information Centre. www.proemb.co.za 044 620 3338 [email protected]
The Great Brak Muse Fest takes place in Spring each year and includes an array of art, food, workshops and more. www.musefest.co.za Great Brak Information Centre (inside museum)
13 Amy Searle Street, 044 620 3338, [email protected]
Open weekdays from 9am to 4pm, except Wednesday 9am to 4.30pm. An information centre will soon also operate from the De Dekke centre off the N2 at the Great Brak River turnoff.
Mossel Bay is so cool the original humans camped here. So did the first Europeans and thousands of seafarers since then. Today, visitors come to see pirates singing, dive with sharks and drink tea dressed in vintage fur. And up the stairs of the region’s only public lighthouse, on a clear day you can see forever.
WORDS Denise Lloyd and Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz and supplied
The history of Europeans at the tip of Africa did not start with Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, but in Mossel Bay on 3 February 1488 when intrepid Portuguese sailor Bartholomeu Dias and his crew missed the tip of Africa and came ashore at Munro Bay.
Several extraordinary experiences are intricately linked to Mossel Bay’s connection with Dias and the town’s convenient position for sailors circumventing Africa. The natural spring from which Dias replenished his water supply still runs today. The Milkwood tree – believed to be South Africa’s first ‘post office’ in which passing sailors left letters in a shoe since 1500 – is still there and a ‘shoe’ post box now serves as a receptacle for those wishing to post a letter or postcard from this historic site. While it sounds quite ordinary to visit a museum, the Dias Museum complex houses several surprising exhibits, including the largest shell collection in the southern hemisphere. www.diasmuseum.co.za
St Blaize Lighthouse
The only lighthouse open to the public in the Southern Cape, St Blaize offers a unique view of the bay up to Buffalo Bay point. The keeper will take you on a tour, tell you how the original mechanism worked, how it has been automated and other interesting titbits of bygones. Access is via Montagu Street. Monday to Friday 10am-3pm, excluding public holidays. A new, unique opportunity to overnight in the keeper’s old cottage next to the lighthouse can add to your extraordinary to-do-list. While basic self-catering facilities are available, you will have to bring your own bedding. More upmarket accommodation is also available nearby. Booking is essential. 021 449 2400 or [email protected]
While the life size replica of Dias’ caravel in the museum is well-known, it is not common knowledge that the dry dock hall in which it is housed has exceptional acoustics and is a regular venue for classical concerts. The caravel has even served as impressive ‘stage’ for a Gilbert and Sullivan Society production of Pirates ofPennzance. Future concert information from organiser Cedric Downard at [email protected]
First-time visitors to Santos Beach may be forgiven for thinking they are in Brighton in England. The twin of this world famous silver domed Victorian beach pavilion was built in 1906. While it may no longer attract royalty such as the Prince of Wales, who visited in 1925, the impressive structure is worth at least a photo in your album. Restaurant 044 690 4567
In the days before floods caused irreparable damage to large sections of the scenic train tracks between George and Mossel Bay, the town used to be a regular stop for the stately Blue Train, and home to the world-renowned Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train. Mossel Bay remains, however, the home of three remarkable track-related experiences.
The Diaz Express, which consists of three restored railway trolleys, offers booked group excursions for up to 32 passengers between Mossel Bay and Great Brak River. In high summer season the service also runs regular return shuttles to Hartenbos. www.diazexpress.co.za
Santos Express Train Lodge, a set of old railway carriages right on the edge of Santos beach, is listed in the Top 10 Quirky Hotels in South Africa. Last year they added two beautifully restored upmarket Royal Suite railway coaches to their backpackers’ accommodation portfolio and restaurant. Dating back to 1919 and 1921 respectively, the en-suite coaches offer king size comfort – two of which boast real Victorian baths. The owners plan to add a silver service dinner carriage. www.santosexpress.co.za
The eclectic Blue Shed Coffee Roastery in Bland Street is housed in the old workshop for petrol-driven railroad trucks. The long table, which forms a focal point, covers a pit where the mechanics used to work under the trucks. www.blueshedroasters.co.za
Quay 4, better known as the harbour wall of the country’s smallest working port, has become a tourism hotspot with new eateries and unique offerings. In addition to the only shark cage diving experience in the region (www.whitesharkafrica.com) and the town’s oldest tourism product, Romonza boat trips to Seal Island (http://romonzaboattrips.co.za), fresh fish and chips are now served from a red London Bus (www.londonbus.co.za) and the Mossel Bay Oyster Bar (www.mosselbayoysterbar.co.za) offers shellfish and champagne with an unsurpassed view of the bay.
Movies at Monroe
Should you be in Mossel Bay on a Thursday night, the weekly old movie night at Monroe Theatre showcases old, mostly black and white, movies and includes a light meal. See our story on Page 58 about the theatre and adjacent Déjà Vu vintage shop and tea room. 7 Marsh Street 082 415 9588
Historical Mossel Bay on Foot
Few coastal towns can boast 69 beautiful historical buildings and sites within easy walking distance. If history and architecture is your thing, pick up the detailed and well-researched guide from Mossel Bay Tourism on the corner of Market and Church streets and put on your walking shoes – you will not be disappointed.
There are two out-of-town offerings that should also be on your extraordinary to-do list: Back in time
In 1997 scientists came upon caves so archeologically important it changed the way science views the origin of humans. The Point of Human Origins Experience at Pinnacle Point is led by one of its discoverers, archaeologist Dr Peter Nilssen, and promises to be scenic and informative. 071 690 8889 www.humanorigin.co.za
Simulator or real deal
Renowned for training air force and commercial helicopter pilots from around the world, the Starlite International Aviation Training Academy in Aalwyndal was the first in Africa to boast a twin turbine helicopter Elite simulator. Ultra-high resolution graphics of Mossel Bay and most of the airports in South Africa will ensure your simulator experience feels extraordinarily real. R1 350 for 30 minutes. Real helicopter flight lessons start at R1 250 for an introductory flight. Tailormade sightseeing trips start at R400 per person, minimum three people. Elsabe Carstens 044 692 0006 or 074 933 0570
Mossel Bay Tourism
Corner of Market and Church streets,
Central Business District Mossel Bay
044 691 2202 [email protected] www.visitmosselbay.co.za
Open seven days a week. 8am-6pm on weekdays; 9am-4pm on weekends and public holidays
At the end of a road, on the edge of a lake, a recently renovated lodge, new spa and restaurant are adding five-star value to Sedgefield’s tourism offering.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
The fate of Lakeside Lodge was sealed the day Cape Town-based English businesswoman Penny Streeter went for a drive around the lakes while on holiday in the Garden Route.
At the end of a winding road she came upon an extraordinary property for sale, boasting a unique view of Swartvlei estuary, and immediately saw its potential. “My mom came home that night with the kind of enthusiasm she has for all her many projects and we knew it would be just a matter of time before we would all be knee-deep in making the dream come true,” says Penny’s son Adam, who has been overseeing the upgrades and extensions.
Penny and her mom, Marion Hewson, own the A24 Group – an international medical professional placement company employing more than 27 000 people, which started with an extra phone in the hallway of the Streeters’ London home many years ago. “I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning and my mom sitting on the floor of the hallway with her register, sorting out nurses for hospitals where staff had not arrived for their shifts. Her visionary attitude and drive for excellence is behind everything she does, which is also evident in the new Lakeside Lodge and Benguela Cove Brasserie and Restaurant.”
The lodge’s nine self-catering units were renovated entirely and turned into five-star luxury bedroom suites, including a honeymoon suite, with bed and breakfast services. An outside building became the luxurious spa and the swimming pool also received a facelift.
The most noteworthy upgrade was the consolidation of the lounge, bar and billiard room into the extensive brasserie and restaurant. On good weather days the seating spills onto an expansive lawn with an extraordinary view of the lake, mountains and Sedgefield town in the distance. At the edge of the lawn a mini boma and braai, as well as a cleverly designed amphitheatre – inserted into the bank below the lawn – also have the view and overlook a jetty and shallow water launching area.
Lakeside Lodge and Spa, incorporating Benguela Cove Brasserie and Restaurant, reopened to the public as a high-end establishment in December 2014 and is fast becoming a firm favourite for good food, outdoor concerts and high teas. “Our first Jazz at the Lake event was very well-supported and we intend hosting many similarly unforgettable events in future,” says Adam.
Lakeside is the first of an ambitious plan to promote the family’s wine and olive oil produce, which is grown on the Benguela Cove Estate outside Hermanus. There too, the Streeter family saw the potential of well-situated property and initially bought a residence on the estate. “When the estate’s main investor died, Benguela Cove started to suffer and my family decided to buy it before it affected the value of our own property there.”
Benguela Cove is the closest vineyard to the sea in South Africa and, like Lakeside, is situated on the water’s edge. Benguela Brasserie and Restaurant is the first of several eateries the family intends opening, which will all serve as set-off points for Benguela wines and olive oil. Adam, a trained chef, will be overseeing this side of the business and is currently adding the final touches to their second restaurant, Benguela on Main, in Somerset West.
“Lakeside Lodge and Spa, incorporating Benguela Brasserie and Restaurant, is the type of destination you want to bring your friends to when showing off the wonders of the Garden Route. Good food, a beautiful setting, a chance for some pampering and plenty of things to do – the epitome of what this stunning place represents,” says Adam.
LAKESIDE LODGE Stay
Nine bed-and- breakfast rooms, including luxury, superior and honeymoon suites.
Swimming pool, croquet, and fishing.
If you stay, you can use the mountain bikes, kayaks and canoes free of charge and a speedboat is available for skiing and wakeboarding. Deep-water launch facilities for larger boats are available nearby.
Pontoon boat trips are available at extra cost to lodge and restaurants guests.
Wine and Dine
Benguela Brasserie and Restaurant is open from 8am to 9pm. Closed from 5pm Sunday and all day Monday during winter.
Benguela Cove Wines are available at cellar prices.
Lakeside Spa offers a wide range of treatments and is open to the public. Booking 044 343 1844 or 083 473 3858
Take the Swartvlei turnoff inland from the N2 highway, west of Sedgefield town. Turn right where the road splits and follow the signage until the road ends at the lodge, about 2km from the highway.
In a secret valley between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna hides a magic carpet of roses – one with its roots in ancient history but with a distinct African and uniquely South African twist.
WORDS Heidi Sonnekus PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Greyling
There are 6 000 rose bushes in Rae Gilbert’s gardens at Bosky Dell. It was an empty nest project – done on her own terms, in her own time and for her own family – never intended to be open to the public.
However, Rae says: “Some time forever ago, a friend of a friend visited my neighbour up the hill and on a walk around their premises, glimpsed a corner of my garden below. She wondered what I was doing, building Versailles?”
Recognising exceptional gardening on sight, the curious visitor – who just happened to be Sheenagh Harris, president of the World Federation of Rose Societies – asked her hostess to phone Rae and arrange a visit.
But for this bit of synchronicity, Rae’s garden may never have been opened to the public nor would it have morphed into a magnificent venue for musical and artistic events. Today her Pavilion and Lovers’ Walk draw brides and grooms from across the globe.
“At the time my effort was still very new in terms of gardens,” Rae recalls. Yet word spread via Sheenagh and her rose-connections through the South African gardening fraternity and Rae started receiving groups of rosearians and garden lovers by appointment. Now it has become a much-loved part of her life and a full-time business employing eight locals.
A rich history
Bosky Dell has a marvellous history. Drastically abridged, it goes like this: The central part of Rae’s beautiful house next to the Bos River used to be the hunting lodge of an early Plett harbour master, circa 1840. Afterwards it was farmed – a few sheep, cows, vegetables and probably sweet potatoes, the latter being the go-to crop and staple at the time.
Later the slopes were cleared and pines planted on the steep, cool, acidic south-facing slopes. “Since pine and intensive chemical farming does not support local wild- or birdlife at all, the place was sadly quiet when we moved here from Johannesburg in 1997. And of course pine are very thirsty and the harvesting hard on the environment.”
Rae and her husband Greg chose to semigrate to this area “for the same reason everybody else does: to be able to live in a saner way”. Greg is still involved in the development of medicinal drugs, and the rose garden is but one of many things the dynamic couple is involved in.
They got rid of pine, blackwood, wattle, blue gum and rooikrans. Fynbos was encouraged to do its natural thing outside the electric fences, which keep (most) of the wildlife off the plot and out of the rose gardens. “As the pine and aliens went, in came mongoose, grysbok, caracal, bushbuck, snakes and – listen to that! – birdlife and song.”
Rae describes her magical rose carpet as a “formal garden with indigenous elements”, a bit “fruit-salady”. It has some very formal lines inspired by The Château de Villandry in France and, locally, the Cape Dutch Babylonstoren in the Drakenstein Valley, circa 1690.
She knew she wanted to offset the formal European designs with something bright and ethnic. In the end, a little ethnic rug beneath her feet started her muses dancing. The design with triangles became the cornerstone of her creation, albeit not visible at regular eyeball-level. It is a secret part of the design she delights in, one that “only birds and pilots – and the neighbours on the hill” – get to see.
She smiles at how often planes on their way to and from the Plett airport do an impromptu 360-degree turn and second pass-over to ensure the pilot’s eyes did not deceive him/her (birds are less fussed and don’t do a double take).
However, the beautiful garden she now enjoys did not come easy. Rae had to flatten a little knoll, create a sub-surface French drain to deal with topsoil as fertile as the moon, depleted by years of bad chemical farming practices. Rae desalinated, trucked in hundreds of cubic meters of topsoil, improvised, adapted and learned – and still her first batch of 600 roses drowned while she was on holiday.
She originally chose roses named after South Africans, like the gorgeous Gwen Fagan, named for the doyenne of heritage roses in South Africa and author of Roses of the Cape of Good Hope. But Rae has since ventured into the fields of heritage and heirlooms. She delights in the idea that forebears of some of her blooms originally flowered in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
A personal favourite is the Russelliana or Spanish Cottage Rose, possibly introduced to South Africa by the Portuguese trade ships centuries ago, which she found growing along the bank of the Bos River.
Rae loves the sense of history that roses bring. “Despite their ‘promiscuity’, there is a genetic lineage that can be traced and that remained pure despite hybridisation and interbreeds.”
She runs the garden biologically – pathogenic bugs and fungi are kept in check with friendly bacteria, insecticides are out. Rae loves sharing her roses and has “lent” her garden to artists for exhibitions, floral- and social clubs for inspiration, the Plett Animal Welfare society for fundraising, an athletics club for a trail run and eventually to the public for visits.
She invites guests to “treat the rose garden as you would a park in Europe: bring along a book, blanket and picnic, and spend the morning or an entire day. Take your time, enjoy a cup of tea and feed your soul: stop and smell the roses!”
Visit Bosky Dell
Facebook: Bosky Dell Farm & Rose Garden
044 533 0074 [email protected] or [email protected]
Address: HH34, N2, Plettenberg Bay. (Turn off the N2 opposite The Heath.)
TIMES November 1 – April 30; Wednesday to Friday 10am – 2pm; Saturdays 10am – 1pm. Closed on Sundays.
Guided/special interest tours available by appointment.
Please pay for your self-service tea/coffee and slice of home baked cake (R30 per person) at the goodwill box in the Pavilion.
Keep your eye on small children at all times – there are unprotected water features.
No pets, smoking or music.
Click here for a low res pdf of the original article as it appeared in Summer 2014-15.
While the stormy seas and deep-green forests of the Tsitsikamma National Park have not changed much in its 50-year existence, nearly everything else has evolved for the betterment of man and the environment – far beyond the park’s official boundaries.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
Tsitsikamma is an assault to the senses, in the most pleasant of ways. The crushing seas are loud; the herbaceous fragrance of fynbos mingles with fresh, salty sea breeze; the horizon stretches forever. Every now and then a whale pops out just behind the breakers. In the forest, everything is green, fine and pretty; it smells of wet leaves and soil and dew.
South is here to celebrate with South African National Parks (SANParks) as the jewel in its impressive crown turns 50.
Proclaimed in 1964, Tsitsikamma is the oldest marine national park in Africa and has the largest single no-take area in South Africa. Originally called the Tsitsikamma Coastal and Forest National Parks, it initially comprised a long narrow coastal strip between two rivers called Groot (great). Over the years it has been extended with acquisition and long-term lease agreements, and now covers an area of 63 422 ha, including 34 300 ha that is a Marine Protected Area (MPA). It straddles the border between the Western and Eastern Cape.
In 2009 the park was amalgamated with other conservation spaces in the region and is now referred to as the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.
The Tsitsikamma of today incorporates four sectors that include land from just east of Keurboomstrand, around Nature’s Valley Village, to Groot River (east) in the Eastern Cape. Inland it stretches deep into the Tsitsikamma Mountains, where the Soetkraal section extends along the length of the 40km mountain range, covering 24 392 ha of mostly untouched territory from behind Plettenberg Bay to just outside Kareedouw.
It is the third most visited section of national park in the country, after Kruger and Table Mountain, hosting 200 000 visitors a year. It is also home to one of the most famous hiking trails in the world, the five-day 42km Otter Trail, which has just seen a major upgrade and re-launch.
While Tsitsikamma is a must-visit tourist destination, park manager Lesley Ann Meyer says its mandate remains conservation first, and plays an essential role in the protection of land and sea. “Except for the rest camps at Storms River and Nature’s Valley (De Vasselot), the park is mostly pristine. Twelve rivers run through it; one more forms a border.
“The MPA conserves 11 percent of the Warm Temperate South Coast rocky shoreline and shelters large populations of reef fish that are very sensitive to commercial exploitation.
“There are 211 seaweed species in the park – the greatest number recorded along any stretch of the country’s coastline and equivalent to 25 percent of the seaweed flora of South Africa,” says Lesley.
Tsitsikamma also guards significant stands (29km²) of Afromontane forest, the vegetation type covering the smallest area in southern Africa. Terrestrial flora comprise at least 523 recorded species without counting hundreds of new species of Tsitsikamma Mountain Fynbos that continues to be discovered in the Soetkraal area.
Animals abound, including leopard, caracul, rare blue duiker, bushbuck and Cape clawless otters. Three species of dolphin frequent the area and southern right whales are seen in winter and spring.
“The discovery of new and even Jurassic invertebrate species in the Salt River has been well-published and research and conservation efforts are on-going,” says Lesley Ann.
As the largest employer in the area, the park also has an important role to play in supporting its surrounding community, a task that has gained momentum since the 1990s.
“Educational programmes for school children, in association with the Nature’s Valley Trust, continue. We made great efforts to record the history and heritage of the area and its people, and continue to employ and contract locals in an effort to reduce poverty.
“But operating and maintaining such an important park requires tourism to supplement its state-allocated funds and has as a result systematically developed its tourism offering to ensure sustainability,” says Lesley Ann.
The rest camps offer two very different experiences. Set right on the rocks of raging seas, Storms River is in-your-face wildness with a reputation for living up to its name. Many an unprepared camper has had his tent flattened by wicked winds. Once, a freak wave crushed a sliding door of a holiday flat – several metres above its usual breaking point. While the roaring is ever-present, the log homes scattered along the winding coast are amazingly soundproof and cosy. A wide deck encircles the restaurant, offering unsurpassed views. A tiny man-made beach entertains children and foreigners, the only ones generally willing to brave the chilly sea.
De Vasselot rest camp in Nature’s Valley is a magical forest wonderland with campsites in the shadows of age-old yellowwoods and a tangle of indigenous vegetation. Set along the banks of the Groot River (west) and sheltered from the elements by vegetated hills, it is one of Tsitsikamma’s best-kept secrets. Birds, animals and bugs are prolific. At night it is pitch dark and quiet except for owls calling their mates. A sand dune protects the Nature’s Valley estuary from raging seas and provides safe swimming for children. Often an uncanny silence hangs over the shimmering lagoon and laughing voices travel far across its waters.
The Tsitsikamma of the 1960s
While the park now attracts thousands, some 50 years ago the only visitors were forestry communities from Goesa and Bloubos who used the narrow grassland as additional feeding for their cattle.
Just ahead of its proclamation, the park’s first CEO, Dr Robbie Robinson, was among the first to arrive. Several locals were employed to start work on the Storms River rest camp, among them 17-year-old Popo Scott, who acted as foreman and eventually worked for the park for 43 years. Dr Robinson also stayed until retirement.
South paid Oom Popo, 66, who still lives in Storms River Village, a visit. He has many stories to tell; like the one about Dr Robbie’s semi-tame otter that required a special permit so it could travel with him in a basket to Pretoria on business, the leopard that fell from the cliff at Storms River mouth and the whale that came in too shallow to give birth.
He also remembers a very sad fishing trip in which friends drowned. “The boat was a small thing with just one engine, but we all knew the sea so well… I nearly went with them that day… It happened within sight of the camp, and shook us all to the core.”
Dr Robbie laid out the rest camp, which initially comprised 10 accommodation units. The first day visitors paid five cents to enter.
Work on the Otter Trail, which was loosely based on the old fishermen’s trails along the coastline, started in 1967 and was designed by Dr Robbie from scratch. “He would walk ahead of us, marking the way with tiny scraps of fabric. During the week the team would sleep wherever we were working, go home on a Saturday afternoon, and return on Monday. It was hard work but a good life, with fish fresh from the sea every day and meals around the fire. The worst thing was the puff adders that came looking for a warm spot to sleep… not a pleasant feeling waking up with a snake in your bed,” Oom Popo laughs.
Another world-renowned icon – the dramatic suspension bridge across the 69-metre Storms River mouth that hangs only seven metres above the water – was built in 1969. Exposure to the elements eventually took its toll and the bridge had to be rebuilt in 2006. Its success prompted the commission of another two suspension structures in 2009, which run along the rocky western cliffs inside the river mouth opening.
The walk to the bridges is decked out all the way from the restaurant and is relatively easy. The trail is mostly through indigenous forest with large overhanging trees and glimpses of the sea below. Dassies (rock hyrax) bake in the sun on rocky outcrops, their intense stares charming yet slightly unnerving.
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Storms River, and it’s time to go. I’d forgotten how it pulls at my soul and instantly revives. The next visit will definitely be sooner.
Tsitsikamma at a glance
Size: 63 422 ha, 80km of coastline
Marine protected area: 34 300 ha
Highest point: 1 675m above sea level (Soetkraal)
Deepest point: 80m at 5.6km off shore
While some would presume the quiet life on a farm on the edge of nowhere would be lonely, Tinie Bekker does not agree. When the two guest rooms on his farm outside Calitzdorp are not occupied, a string of interesting friends are bound to turn up, seeking his restful company in the country kitchen or in front of a cosy fire.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz
Boesmanskop is a perfect reflection of this man, who has spent most of his 55 years on this farm at the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains. Quiet, with a discreet sense of hospitality and a talented eye for beauty and design, Tinie goes about life in his own gentle way.
While his house – at the furthest point of a circular road – is out of the way, his life seems full, with a vineyard on the doorstep, an antique shop in town to keep him busy and many friends who visit often. Strangers come too; much of the beautifully restored farmhouse is now elegant farm stay accommodation, and South was lucky to spend a weekend with Tinie.
I sit at his kitchen table as he prepares venison pie for supper. He pours coffee and talks while he cooks.
“The farm has belonged to the family since 1759 and this house was my grandparents’ when I was a child. I grew up here, and know the mountains and streams intimately. I guess the tranquillity of the Swartberg is in my soul.”
Growing up on an age-old family farm had other advantages too, like exposure to antique furniture that has been the backdrop to his childhood. “The beauty of wood, true craftsmanship and elegant functionality depict the furniture of the old Cape era, for which I have great appreciation. Having seen some of this in my grandparents’ house must have borne that love, because I’ve been collecting beautiful things for most of my adult life.”
As the oldest son among six children, Tinie automatically took the reins on the farm when he returned from his agricultural studies at Stellenbosch University. He continued farming tobacco, dairy, ostriches and wine until last year.
Some years back, when he moved from one of the other houses on the farm to the main house, plans to renovate the house and decorate it with his own stunning collection of antiques and collectables were realised. Working with Cape Town-based architect and friend Bertie Schreuder, the original house was consolidated with all its additions and outbuildings, and turned into the spacious home it is today.
From one-man-home to hosting guests
A billiard table is to blame for the shift to hospitality. “I bought the full size table because I always wanted to have one, and it went for a steal. Only after I bought it did I realise I didn’t have a room big enough to hold it. So, I built a building for it,” Tinie grins.
The project became extensive. Since it was separate from the house, it required its own toilet and a bit of a lounge with a big fire place… and a wine cellar… maybe a small kitchen? To tie in with the design of the main house, the billiard room building had to showcase antique elements such as reclaimed door frames and an antique kitchen basin – not to mention reclaimed yellowwood flooring from an abandoned fort in the Eastern Cape and solid wood poplar beams. “My friend Wessel Strydom and I would drive all over in search of interesting building materials, decorations and finishes. It became quite an adventure.
“By no means was this perfectly planned. The length of the beams of the first floor ceiling, for instance, turned out to be a tiny bit shorter than what the width of a full-size billiard room was supposed to be. So the whole building is slightly narrower than it should be, but so what?” he shrugs.
“When we found something we liked, for instance a reclaimed doorframe, we would build around it to make it fit. We discovered a beautiful wall cupboard and then just built the wall out a bit so it could fit in.”
At some point, Tinie realised his increasingly expensive undertaking was going to have to start paying for itself, and the idea of the guest room came up. The billiard room walls were built to become a double storey with an open plan guestroom offering extraordinary views of the mountain and vineyards.
The four-sleeper, open space is roomy, with beautiful items everywhere. The display wall cupboard in the bathroom has coloured glass goblets from around the world. In a corner is an old umbrella stand. Afternoon sun lights up a cement vase on a rugged table.
The décor decisions display Tinie’s own impeccable taste as well as that of friends and family, who all seemed to have contributed in some way or another. One particular friend, artist Hanneke Benade, played a major part in decorating walls, crafting unique door handles and providing paintings. At one time the billiard room doubled as an art gallery, remnants of which still hang on the walls.
“The décor changes from time to time. The house and guestrooms are spacious, and it’s easy to swop a few things around to create a whole new atmosphere. My friends are enthusiastic participants… I think they secretly enjoy a house in which can be played around without it affecting a whole array of inhabitants,” he smiles.
Tinie says his first guests stayed in the new upstairs room in 2006, and since then he has never looked back. In fact, it became so popular that he eventually gave up his office in the converted original outbuildings of the main house to open another guestroom. This unit has the added bonus of a wide stoep that overlooks the pool, gardens, vineyard and mountains. It also has the most magnificent shabby chic bathroom, complete with brass taps, chandeliers and luxuriously deep bath.
But visiting here is not just about stunning views and tranquillity. It is also about visiting with Tinie. While you are more than welcome to bring a few things for a braai, you should really let Tinie cook for you. Undoubtedly an essential part of the Boesmanskop experience is breakfast and supper in the dining room with its long table, stinkwood chairs and crisp linen. You will feel right at home with cutlery and crockery that could have been from your grandmother’s kitchen. The wine will most probably be local, possibly even produced from the grapes that grow on the farm.
After supper, Tinie may join you in the lounge in front of the fire. Most of the conversation will be him answering questions: how old is the house? (He doesn’t know), has his family always owned this land? (Yes), and doesn’t he get lonely in this big old house on the furthest point of a circular road that goes nowhere? (No, not really.) He adds: “I’ve lived like this all my life and am used to it. What’s more, you are here now…” Indeed.
R360 per person sharing, room only, R460 single (2014)
Additional guests sharing unit: R180 per person
Supper R200 per person excluding wine Breakfast R80 per person (2014)
Booking is best by emailing [email protected]
044 213 3365 www.boesmanskop.co.za
Tucked away between the Swartberg, Langeberg and Outeniqua mountains, lies the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve; a magical wilderness at the heart of the Klein Karoo that offers the ideal escape for those who want to feel a million miles away from any hustle and bustle.
WORDS and PHOTOGRAPHS Dale Morris
The clear Karoo skies, free from big city light pollution, offer an endless vista of twinkling stars from atop the park’s highest peaks at night. At sunset the cliffs are bathed in ochre as succulents, fynbos and proteas glow in the warm light. Endless waves of mountains, gorges and gentle hills characterise the Gamkaberg reserve, which can be explored on foot, mountain bike or 4×4.
At the top of the reserve is Oukraal, a camp that epitomises isolation and pristine nature. The accommodation is rustic, with a zinc roof bolted onto a big pile of natural boulders – giving it oodles of character.
Dry stone walls and a fire in the primitive hearth wards off winter’s chilly winds, and one can’t help but feel a little like a bushman of old, sheltered in a cave and surrounded by the solitary sounds, smells and sights of good old Mother Nature.
Oukraal’s design is a work of genius. It blends into the natural surrounds and at no point while exploring the area can one actually see it.
But it’s the long drop toilet that really gets my vote! Open at the front, it offers one a magnificent and dramatic 180-degree view from which to contemplate the beauty of nature, the universe and everything in between.
“Hey daddy,” called my six-year-old son from inside his caveman camp, “Shall we go catch a Zebra for dinner?”
My daughter Mia giggled from her secret little alcove between the heavy rocks. The two had been playing Survivor from the moment we arrived at Oukraal for a recent weekend escape.
“Awww,” she cried, “I don’t want another mountain zebra again. Can we go hunt for Eland this time instead?”
Reluctantly I rose from my magnificent long drop throne with its commanding position overlooking the Langeberg range, and gathered up my hunting party of adventurer-wannabees.
“How will we capture it this time?” asked my son “With the big lens or the wide angle?”
“Big lens silly,” said Mia.
The Gamkaberg Nature Reserve was officially established in the 1970s to protect one of the last viable, free-living herds of Cape mountain zebra.
There were just a handful of them alive back then, thanks mostly to aggravated farmers who took offence at their habit of kicking sheep. Hunters targeted them for their beautiful skins while the apartheid government failed to protect them, viewing them as “merely donkeys with football shirts on.”
However, thanks to a concerted effort by Cape Nature and other conservation organisations, the tide was turned and now the species has been brought back from the brink of extinction, with over 50 of them calling the Gamkaberg home.
If you’re lucky, quiet and patient, you may catch a glimpse of these majestic equines as they amble in single file through the fynbos glens and valleys of the upper Gamkaberg reaches. Other species to keep an eye out for are red hartebeest, klipspringers, hyrax, eland and tortoises. Leopards also reside in the park and are often picked up on remote conservation camera traps, but the chance of spotting one of these elusive cats is rather low. You may hear them, though, as their throaty roars echo through the valleys, especially at Tierkloof camp.
It’s the little things
One shouldn’t limit an appreciation for nature to just the animals of Gamkaberg. Despite its fairly diminutive size of about 10 000 ha, the reserve is in fact home to literally thousands of botanical gems.
Protea species that exist nowhere else on earth can be found here, as can rare quartz patches that are the preferred habitat of many unusual succulents, the aptly named “babies bottoms” being my favourite.
These grape sized plants, which turn pink during extreme heat and drought, poke up through the soil, looking just like a tiny pair of sunburned buttocks – my kids couldn’t stop laughing every time we saw one.
Four distinct biomes converge on Gamkaberg, making it one of the biological hotspots of the world.
Mountain fynbos includes more species than the Amazon; the succulent Karoo biome is the richest arid habitat on the globe, while the subtropical thicket component of the park (found at the base of the mountain) is remarkable due to the diversity of its bird and animal residents. Small pockets of Afro Mountain forests exist in the darkest kloofs and most sheltered valleys.
One might wonder why such an important biome is only being protected in an area as small as the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, but manager Tom Barry says there’s more to it than meets the eye.
“There are, in fact, nine fragmented reserves here totalling more than 50 000 ha. The Gamkaberg is just one of those nine. A number of local landowners are becoming involved in sustainable land use initiatives and are joining us as partners in good stewardship programmes. These areas link much of the official reserves together. “Gamkaberg isn’t just an island in a sea of unsustainable land practices but is in fact a central component of a much richer tapestry of well-managed conservation areas that are in the process of being recognised as a Unesco (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage site.
“We are also part of the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve, which covers an area of around 3.2 million hectares.”
Not only is the Gamkaberg a great place to appreciate nature, it’s also a very important area of biological significance and conservation.
And what’s more, it’s undoubtedly the home of the world’s most scenic privy!
Now isn’t that something worth visiting, even if you don’t have a soft spot for babies’ bottoms and football jersey zebras?
Don’t like roughing it too much? The reserve offers three award-winning, semi-luxurious camps run only on solar energy. Each unique camp comprises safari-style canvas tents (with beds) that have been erected atop a deck overlooking the Gamkaberg’s mountain scenery.
There are braai and lapa areas, swimming pools, fully equipped kitchens and, of course, a tranquil ambiance unique to the wilderness areas of the Klein Karoo.
Tierkloof sleeps eight in four tents and costs between R1430 and R1900 for the whole camp. Sweet Thorn Eco lodge sleeps six and costs from R950. Fossil Ridge sleeps four and starts at R950 for the whole camp.
Oukraal costs R110 per person while the Stables (a basic camp) costs from R520 for up to eight people.
Alternative lodging can be found in Oudsthoorn (40km east) or Calitzdorp (70km west).
The Eden to Addo Great Corridor Hike is an epic, 400km trek through moist forests and spectacular gorges, across mountain ranges and rivers – and it’s all for conservation.
WORDS and PHOTOGRAPHS Dale Morris
Forget not that the earth delights in feeling your bare feet,” announced one of the Eden to Addo mega hike guides while removing his filthy boots and smelly socks. “I implore you, please, go naked for this, our last kilometre of what has been an epic odyssey.”
For 19 days we had walked in the idyllic wilderness between Knysna and the Addo Elephant National Park outside Port Elizabeth, and for 400km we had paced and slogged, resulting in severely bruised and malodorous feet.
“Let us walk this final stretch as Mother Nature intended.”
For one horror-filled moment I thought he was going to suggest we strip and frolic across the finish line in pagan solstice fashion, but thankfully it was only our shoes that had to come off.
I looked down at my calloused and swollen toes – then across at the other 24 pairs of similarly unsightly feet – and could not help but wonder if Mother Nature truly desired such an olfactory and visual assault. I very much doubted it!
But off we marched regardless, shoes in hand, toes in dust, and heads held very high.
The previous 19 days had seen us walk all the way from the moist forests of Knysna, across seven mountain ranges, and on to the baking, open thicket of the Eastern Cape. We had crossed numerous rivers, traversed national parks and nature reserves, and followed more paths and tracks than any of us cared to remember. There had been many ups and downs, both physical and emotional, and there had been elation and suffering in almost equal doses.
We all felt extremely proud as we were about to set foot in Addo, but sadly, the spiritual gravity of the moment was lost when waves of ants latched onto our toes. We danced and swore and hopped and ran – eventually most of us gave up and put our shoes back on. I’m sure I could hear Mother Nature giggling.
No walk in the park
The appropriately named Eden to Addo Great Corridor Hike is an annual, never-to-be-forgotten trail dreamed up several years ago by Garden Route resident Joan Berning and her dedicated troop of scientists, conservationists and naturalists.
It begins in the indigenous forest of Harkerville, part of the Garden Route National Park, enters the Tsitsikamma Mountain, crosses several rivers, including the Bitou, Keurbooms and Kouga, and then drops into the Langkloof. After this, hikers cross the Kouga Mountain and proceed through the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve before heaving themselves over the Groot Winterhoek range. Then, all that’s left to do is to cross the arid, open spaces of the Springbokvlakte before summiting the Klein Winterhoek Mountain and on to Addo. Piece of cake eh?
Actually, the Eden to Addo hike is hardly a walk in the park, but it helps that nobody has to carry more than a daypack with them. All bags, food, tents and equipment are provided and portaged from camp to camp by a team of expert chefs, toilet pit diggers, tent erectors, coffee makers and dish-washers. And what’s more, most nights a hot shower is provided, along with a cold beer or two.
Each of the 19 campsites along the route is in a beautiful location. Most can only be accessed by path or on mountain tracks that would make even the hardiest of 4×4 drivers nervous. As such, trail participants get to see and stay in places they normally would never have the opportunity to visit.
It’s a fantastic adventure, but it’s more than frivolous and self-indulgent fun.
“The Eden to Addo walk is a very important way to raise awareness and funds for the Eden to Addo corridor initiative,” Joan told me one night as we sat atop a mountain range amid flowering fynbos. “We are endeavouring to connect the Garden Route National Park, the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve and the Addo Elephant National Park via a system of good stewardship programmes aimed at the adjoining private landowners. If we achieve this goal, we will have one of the largest conservation areas on the planet – a place where agricultural practices, residential plots and ecological processes will be able to coexist in a sustainable manner.”
Not so long ago, great herds of elephants moved freely between the Garden Route coast and what is now the Addo Elephant National Park, but over the past few decades fences have been erected all over the place and roads have been built. The herds of yesteryear are no more, but there are still perhaps a few individuals hiding among the manifold wrinkles of the mountains.
“The elephant is our flagship species,” Joan said, “a sort of rallying figurehead for the people who may support us. However, elephants are by no means our major focus.” She explained that the Eden to Addo corridor project was not about individual species, but rather “the preservation of ecological processes”. It’s about the way all things natural interact with each other. “It’s about nature, about its complexities and how these complexities can, and must be conserved.”
A celebration of nature
The hike is an amazingly diverse romp through natural history. Characterised by stunning scenery and superb isolation, it is a great soother for the soul, if perhaps not for the soles. On many occasions I broke away from the incessant chatter of the group and walked alone to better reflect upon the splendour and beauty around me.
Once up in the mountains, among the swaying fynbos plants, the blooming proteas, misty forests and rolling peaks, it’s quite easy to imagine you are in one of the wildest wildernesses on earth. Waves upon waves of crescent mountains roll across the landscape like silent tsunamis. Touraco birds and guinea fowl engage in vocal battles while their more elegant cousins, sugarbirds and robins and the like, flit among the flowers. I listened for elephants. I heard none. But I did catch the throaty sound of a leopard roaring once or twice.
“We’re walking through one of the most biodiverse regions on earth,” said Joan, interrupting my reverie. We were in a particularly stunning part of the Baviaanskloof, where buffalo and black rhino and other big game were present. “The Cape Floral Kingdom (fynbos) has more plant species than the Amazon rainforest,” she continued, her voice a whisper so as not to disturb and potentially enrage any rhinos that may have been lurking nearby. “And the succulent Karoo biome is almost its equal.”
In fact, there are more animal and plant species along the Eden to Addo route than almost anywhere else on the planet. It’s just that most of it is small. “Take time to look at the plants, insects and birds and you won’t be disappointed,” Joan said. And she was right. The beauty was in the detail. The flutter of a butterfly’s wings, the smell of a tiny bloom, the trickle of a tiny mountain stream.
On my last day of hiking, I felt stiffer than frosted laundry, but I also felt content despite the unprovoked ant assault on the soft bits between my smelly toes. We all trotted with renewed energy for that last kilometre until, eventually, we reached the banks of the Sundays River within the Addo Elephant National Park.
Suddenly, our monumental odyssey was at a painfully abrupt end. It was over and even though after all the hard work my body yearned for it to be so, my mind had become accustomed to the freedom of the trail. I was going to miss the camaraderie, and being out in the glorious wilderness in and around the Southern Cape mountains.
The idea of linking a large area of privately owned land with three separate nature reserves may seem an impossible one, but then again, walking 400km in 19 days is also no mean feat. It was Joan’s determination, encouragement and vision that made it achievable, and it will be that same sense of purpose that will turn her concept of a giant, contiguous and ecologically sound landscape into a reality.
Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, Eden to Addo hikers won’t just have to watch out for puff adders and spiky plants. Maybe, they’ll also have to keep an eye open for the returning herds of elephants … now wouldn’t that be something?
To find out more about the Eden to Addo corridor initiative 044 533 1623 www.edentoaddo.co.za. The Great Corridor Hike starts in September every year and is limited to 25 people. There is also a shorter hike which departs on the same day but for a duration of seven days only — the Taste of Eden to Addo Great Corridor is from 31 Aug to 6 Sept 2013.