It was a hot and muggy day, the kind of weather you get before a thunder storm. We celebrated Richard’s birthday with a delicious breakfast on the deck around the pool, marvelling at the view across the hills and valleys, in so many hues of green.
Reluctant to leave this beautiful area, we decided to go prospecting for gold in the Millwood forest! I’d seen a pamphlet for the Millwood Goldfield Museum, Mine Tour and Tea Garden – and as always, those magical two words “Tea Garden” galvanised us into action.
We drove north along the Rheenendal Road – in daylight now – and saw a couple more signs for local arts-and-crafts places, like Forest Children (I wonder what that means), Bushpig Fabric, Faerie Glen Berry Farm (uuuhh!), Heatherhill Herbs (aaaahhh!) and Forest Horse Rides (ooohhhh!). We passed the Portland Mini Mark, where we could have hired a DVD last night, and the Portland Manor, which – please note – does not sell milk, and turned in at Bibby’s Hoek, signposted for ‘Millwood Goldfields’.
We followed the well-maintained gravel road that wound up the mountain through indigenous forest so dense and impenetrable that you could not imagine any paths down there.
Occasionally, though, we came to a turn-off to the start of a hike; sometimes there were grassy picnic areas with solid wooden benches next to which you could park your car. One of the shorter walks is Jubilee Creek, which goes through the dense forest to a waterfall and back again; there was also a walk called Krisjan-se-Nek.
When we came to a sign that said, simply, “The Big Tree”, we stopped to have a look. I thought it would be a long and sweaty walk through the forest to get to this Big Tree, but there it was: in a clearing right next to the road, encircled by wooden decking. Peculiar, no?
It was a massive tree, which made it very difficult to photograph. Here’s my attempt:
A huge green sign set out the dimensions and age of the big yellowwood tree:
In addition, there was a memorial in the form of a massive gravestone, which looked a bit unreal, rather like a prop that had been taken off a movie set. It was a memorial to Dalene Matthee, the much-loved South African author of Circles in a Forest and Fiela’s Child, both of which are set in the Knysna mountains. The latter was even made into a very nice, although rather weepy movie.
According to another big green sign, the yellowwood tree marked the start of two walks called ‘Circles in a Forest’, one of which was 3 km (about 1.5 hours) long, whereas the second was 9 km (or 3 hours) long. I’m not sure how they did the calculations there. If 3 km takes 1.5 hours, then 9 km should take 4.5 hours, or is my maths that bad?
But I did quite like the quote they included from Circles in a Forest (1984):
“… Between man and the forest lies but a thin veil. Like a cobweb. Like an invisible mist through which you can see if you could open your eyes wide enough. …”
By now, though, we weren’t interest in veils, cobwebs or mists. We were focused on finding a quaint little tea garden at the top of the mountain, which might well be closed as it was Sunday! One of the Tea Garden signs close to the entrance had said ‘Open’, but that wasn’t necessarily a guarantee, as the person in charge might have forgotten to change the sign around when they left last night.
Suddenly, we emerged out of the indigenous forest into an open area, in the middle of a pine plantation, where a vast swathe of hillside to our left had been cleared of pine trees. It was quite startling to realise that this was a working forestry plantation and not just a scenic indigenous forest mountain reserve. The road hugged the side of the mountain as it emerged out in the bright sunlight, and we saw a couple of houses up ahead, overlooking a deep, densely wooded valley.
“That’s gotta be the Tea Garden!”
There were a number of huts scattered over the hillside – they could by hikers’ huts or forestry workers’ huts, I don’t know. The road continued on and on.
Eleven slow kilometres from the Bibby’s Hoek turn-off, we finally arrived at oh-so-quaint-looking Mother Holly’s Tea Garden, which was surrounded by a white picket fence and said ‘Open – Tea and Coffee’ – truly words that made our hearts sing. When we parked our now rather dirty white car, we noticed that ours was the only vehicle here that wasn’t a four-wheel drive.
Inside the tea garden, we were greeted by three little moustachioed terriers, which cautiously sniffed our legs before trotting off to sniff at the other customers. A man and a woman were sitting at one of the tables outside, and a young couple with their very small boy arrived minutes after us. We were the only visitors.
Inside the house, there were tables and chairs arranged around the main room, and a very interesting and lovingly prepared museum explaining the history of the area in an adjoining room. I asked the friendly woman who came over to greet us, whether there was a short walk we could do before we had tea here. She explained that there was indeed a short walk down into the forest behind the house, and up again through the fynbos.
In the meantime, Richard had approached her husband, who said that he could take us for a tour of the mines with his little tractor and cart, which would take a little over an hour. Although we were keen to do the tour, as the man sounded very knowledgeable about the mining activities that had happened in this mountainous area during the late 1800s, we decided that we’d do the short Miners’ Walk instead to save time.