Some time ago, when I was doing a search for mazes and labyrinths in South Africa, I had read about an intriguing place called Soekershof in the area of Robertson, Western Cape. Not only were there several mazes and labyrinths to roam through on the farm, but it was also well known for its extraordinary collection of outdoor succulents.
So we decided to celebrate Mothers’ Day last Sunday, 10 May (and to pre-celebrate Richard’s birthday on 18 May, just in case the weather was too nasty to do anything exciting next weekend), by driving out to Soekershof, or “Seekers Court”.
It’s located on a farm in the Klaas Voogds (West) area, between Robertson and Ashton. Fortunately there’s quite a good map and instructions (and even the GPS coordinates so you can program them into your navigator) on the above website.
The day began with a most magnificent blue-sky sunrise, with the full moon just visible above Devil’s Peak in the west. We picked up my Mom from home, and headed out on the N1 in the direction of Worcester. As we were pushed for time – according to the website, the Maze Quest began very strictly at 11h00 – we decided not to travel the scenic route over the Du Toitskloof mountains, but forked out the required R23.00 toll to zoot through the Huguenot Tunnel (see Turtle SA for more information about this tunnel).
The scenery was spectacular – jagged mountain peaks, lower slopes covered in vegetation of various shades of green and earth, a stream flowing gently along the bottom of a valley, an isolated house in the middle of it all… We’ll definitely have to plan another visit to this mountain range between Paarl and Worcester. We continued along the N1, trurned roughly south at Worcester, drove through Robertson, and then listened closely to our navigator, as it brought us to the turn-off to the Klaas Voogds West estate, where we turned onto a gravel road. A few minutes later, approximately two hours after we’d left Cape Town, we reached the entrance to Soekershof.
As we circled into the signposted parking area, we were welcomed by Herman van Bon, who owns this farm with Yvonne. I had spoken with her on the telephone a few days earlier, when I’d inquired whether they’d be open on Mothers’ Day, and he seemed to be expecting us.
We grabbed our hats (it was a sunny day), a rucksack with a water bottle and some sunscreen, and the camera, and followed him as he led us down to a big shed. He told us about the history of the farm and gave us a quick background to the folklore of the area. We were given two home-made umbrellas to use: one was a heavy bent metal pipe with a giant butterfly at the top end, while the other had what looked like the hood of a cobra snake on the top of a slightly lighter metal pipe.
So, suitably shielded from the rays of the sun, we walked over to the “Stone Age Cinema”, where we learned a little about the story of Klaas Voogds and his encounter with an angry elephant. Although we weren’t sure how historically accurate the story was, it was very strange and interesting!
From there, Herman walked down towards the main Klaas Voogds Maze with us. We paused briefly to look at the grave of
Herman waved a cheerful goodbye-for-now to us, heading back up to the main house to welcome the next group of visitors, as we followed his instructions to the start of the 13,870 sqm Klaas Voogds Maze. We’d been given a laminated sheet of instructions, explaining our Quest, and felt that our first task was to sit down on a convenient bench at the start of the maze to “study the manual” and get our bearings.
Our next task was to walk the Cacti Labyrinth, which is a classical 5-circuit labyrinth. I loved the feeling of walking its circular spirals, and found it had such an unusual energy, probably because of the golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii – also known as ‘Mothers-in-law cushion’!)! I wonder how many cacti labyrinths there are in the world? (See also here)
Before plunging properly into the confusing network of paths and dead-ends making up the maze, we oriented ourselves to a tree, marking the spot of the so-called Fingerpointing Maze. The story goes that the ghost of Maarten Malherbe, the founder of Soekershof, still roams around the farm at night, and the sound of his walking stick clicking on the stones was often heard. When Yvonne and Herman found his walking stick in the loft of the barn one day, they mounted it in the middle of this funny little maze. Maarten’s ghost sometimes sits on the bench, where Mom and Richard went to sit. I meanwhile stood on the tree trunk and tried to point my way into and out of the maze, but got hopelessly lost!
We made our way to the elephants’ walk, and to the final resting place of Klaas Voogds, before finding the right turning to reach a rather peculiar landmark: a big canoe sticking up from between a pile of rocks. I won’t tell you the story, so that I don’t spoil any surprises.
We really liked this spot, a huge sundial, called – intriguingly – “the Observatory of the White South African Country Women”, which apparently shows three different times of day on the longest and shortest days of the year. We sat down for a while on the handy bench, while trying to work it out.
Wandering back and forth and forwards and backwards along paths between hedgerows and shrubs that were too big to see over or through, we found a few little treasures, like a clay owl with bright blue eyes on the top of a post, a wooden bird perched ontop of another, and the resting place of another peculiar character.
In the end, although we found a little hillock with a wooden post sticking out of it (another strange story is bound up with that), from where we tried to get our bearings, we still couldn’t figure out the way back. Herman had reassured us that we could ‘escape’ via ’emergency exits’ and then walk all around the outside of the maze back to the main house, but I was convinced there had to be “a right way back”! And besides, I didn’t want to bail out!
But, frustratingly, we had to be rescued by going around the outside of the maze. Drat! We’ll have to go back again to figure out ‘the right way’!
After accepting Yvonne and Herman’s offer of refreshing glasses of water with lemon, and hearing a little more about the folklore and history of the farm, we were shown to the perfect picnic bench underneath two Rhus trees at the edge of a dam. It was surprisingly cool there. We lugged our cooler box from the car, and I unpacked a delicious cold lunch of couscous with grilled butternut, rocket and feta cheese, lots of salad ingredients, cheese sandwiches, and a thermosflask of tea. Yummmm….
Reinvigorated, we carried the now much lighter cooler box back to the car, and strolled leisurely down to the Philosophers’ Garden. I really liked this: there were plaques of stone or wood dotted about, with wise words and quotes engraved or carved into them. For instance: “A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single footstep”. And “Work is love made visible.” And all of it against the backdrop of the beautiful Langeberge.
I suddenly spotted these two HUGE locusts doing what nature does best: pro-creating. Quite frankly, I’m not quite sure we should have allowed them to continue, because I would have a heart-attack if these things decided to visit me at night!
As we emerged from the Philosophers’ Garden, Yvonne came down to join us and to give us a quick tour of the Succulents Garden. This had been created in 1965. After flourishing for some time, it fell into neglect for more than 24 years. When Yvonne and Herman bought the farm in 2000, they decided to restore and extend the garden. They had shown us photos of what the farm had looked like at the time – it was mainly just rocks and sand, with a few isolated plants here and there. A remarkable transformation had taken place in the last 9 years – most likely due to good hard work, tempered by a dose of delightful, playful humour!
Yvonne was astoundingly knowledgeable and well-informed – considering that there are over 2,400 different registered species of succulents, cacti and exotics from different continents compressed in this comparatively small area, we found it amazing that she appeared to know the names and location and growing needs of every single one of them! And she patiently answered our barrage of questions.
The huge cactus in the background of the next photograph had been planted in 1910. Can you believe it? That means it’s 99-years old! Extraordinary! I wonder how many of us will reach such a ripe old age – and still look so good?!
Our last stop was the little nursery, where Yvonne proudly showed us her collection of lithops, which are also known as “flowering stones” or “living stones”, because they mimic pebbles in their environment as a method of camouflage and self-preservation. (If you want to know more about lithops, see here.)
It was really unfortunate that we were pretty tired by this time and didn’t have the energy to explore all the other features of Soekershof. It had been a very interesting and informative visit, so we’ll just have to go again!
If you’re interested, I’ve posted more of the photos on my Picasa album here.
You can see some more Soekershof blog sites: