Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)

At the end of May, we spent a couple of days at the delightful Somerset Gift Getaway Farm, tucked away in a narrow little valley at the foothills of the Langeberge, just outside Swellendam.  This is Part I of the story of our stay in that area. Here are the links to the other parts:

  1. A river ramble to Baboon Kloof with a happy dog (Part II)
  2. Lunch in gaol, a berry liqueur tasting, and yawning horses (Part III)
  3. A challenging hike to waterfalls and rock pools in the mountains (Part IV)
  4. A new friend, a short canoe trip, and happy horses (Part V)
  5. Across Tradouw Pass to Barrydale (Part VI)
  6. Homeward bound via Cogmans Kloof Pass and Du Toits Kloof Pass (Part VII)

——————-

There was a mad rush on Tuesday to prepare for our trip to Swellendam. Richard’s sister Tanya had come down to Cape Town for a week, and so she was joining us for a well-earned mid-week getaway. By late afternoon, we were finally ready to leave. I had one last snuggle with Tuffy-Cat, who had witnessed all our preparations with dismay, and reassured her that we would return safely in a few days.

“Yeah, right,” she said, miserably curling up into a tight ball. “You’re always going away and leaving me here on my own. You know I can’t switch the heater on myself, and it’s so cold when you’re not here.”

Aww, poor munchkin.

“I can’t believe you’re abandoning me again.”

Bye-bye for now, Cape Town

We hit the rush hour traffic on the N2 outbound, but it wasn’t too bad. It was flowing smoothly, and we soon reached the outskirts of The Strand.

In honour of the imminent start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on Friday the 11th of June, the street vendors at the traffic lights were selling colourful flags – primarily South African flags, but also the flags of many of the other nations participating in this event.

There were flags that could be clamped to windows, flags that you could mount on the radio aerial, and even those odd little elastic mirror-socks (for want of a better word) that you can wrap around your car’s side mirrors. They’ve become extremely popular in the last few weeks, no doubt fuelling our national sense of patriotism! (Unfortunately, they are also very easy for enterprising thieves to nick, if you leave your car parked anywhere! So it wouldn’t surprise me if the same pair of socks has been sold more than once!)

On the N2 towards Sir Lowry’s Pass

Grey clouds hung heavily in the sky as we cruised steadily towards Sir Lowry’s Pass across the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Several new traffic lights have been installed on this stretch of the N2, but they aren’t in operation yet.

On an open space at the side of the road, a group of youngsters was playing an impromptu game of soccer; their goals were cans placed on stones. Despite the muddy pitch and the looming rain, they were in high spirits. What a stark contrast to the high-tech, super-luxurious soccer stadium in Green Point!

As is obligatory on any extended road trip, we had taken along a flask of thermos tea. I’d also picked up some fresh rolls and chocolate croissants (oooh!) at the local bakery, so we were all set for a picnic on-the-move. Let me tell you, it was delicious!

By the time we approached the turn-off to Grabouw and Elgin, our tummies pleasantly full, we had to switch on the car’s headlights, because it was already getting dark. On our left, I could just make out the massive township that has sprung up in the outskirts of Grabouw. We passed the Palmiet Pumped Storage Scheme (see also here), which is a massive hydroelectricity plant in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. Tours are available at the visitors centre, although you have to book in advance.

Shortly afterwards, we passed Kromco, with its fruit factories and piles of crates, all neatly stacked ontop of each other. Traffic was fast-moving on this stretch, people were eager to get home or to reach the outlying towns before dark. Cars were overtaking each other, dipping in and out of the oncoming lane.

The Overberg

We sped down the Botrivier Pass with its hairpin bends and made it safely to the final straight descent to the small town of Botrivier, and thus found ourselves in the region known as the Overberg.

Google Earth screen capture of Route from Cape Town to Swellendam

Similar to the area of Malmesbury and Mooreesburg north of Cape Town, this too is a landscape of rolling hills covered in wheat fields, with isolated farmsteads standing amidst clusters of dark green trees. Lines of tall trees and low shrubs signalled the existence of small streams, meandering between the fields.

We seemed to be heading straight towards a mountain on the north-eastern horizon. It is actually a cluster of peaks, one of which is known as the Swartberg and ‘Die Plat’ – rather paradoxically, as it is anything but … er… flat. But perhaps it was named humorously?

Approaching Caledon with its cluster of mountain peaks

Shortly before reaching these mountains, the N2 swung south, to skirt their lower slopes. At the same time, the R406 turned off sharply to the north, skirting the western slopes, and taking the intrepid traveller to the quaint towns of Genadendal and Greyton, at the foot of the magnificent Riviersonderend Mountains.

Genadendal (which means ‘the Valley of Grace’) is the first and oldest mission station in South Africa, having been founded in 1738 by the Moravian Missionary Society. Greyton, whose nickname is ‘The Jewel of the Overberg’, is a gorgeous little town with ‘leiwater’ canals bringing water to pretty, thatched cottages. Both are definitely worth an extended getaway.

Caledon

We passed the large town of Caledon, lying on the right side of the N2, downslope from the mountain. The turn-off to the botanical gardens with the Venster Restaurant, where we had stopped on a previous trip, appeared on our left.

Isolated houses, square blocks with yellow windows cosily lit up from within, and contrasting against the darkening sky, appeared on the left. Tendrils of smoke rose up from their chimneys, dissolving into the air.

The N2 swung left and right, up and down the low hills, gradually approaching the long jagged range of the Riviersonderend Mountains. We passed a picnic site beneath a sheer rock face rising up on the left. A patchwork of fields lay spread out on either side. Whitewashed houses huddled in the shelter of some trees in the distance. A smooth grey blanket of clouds hung heavily above us.

I spotted a sign to somewhere called “Nethercourt”:

“On the nearby farm Nethercourt visitors may view the little cave, known as Het Ziekenhuis (the hospital) in which ailing travelers were sheltered in former years. A small, rustic wooden hut stands on the banks of the river running through Nethercourt farm and is an ideal hideaway place for 2 – 3 nature lovers, wanting to camp out in the country. If you need hot water for a shower you must be prepared to make a ‘donkey’ (an Afrikaans term used to describe the process in making this type of fire).“ (Nethercourt)

Sounds unusual, doesn’t it?

Riviersonderend

The Riviersonderend Mountains stretched out along the north-eastern horizon, their peaks hidden in the dense grey clouds. Picnic spots shot past in the dusk, lined by white fence posts to make it easier to see the edge of the dirt track leading to the concrete tables and benches. Rows of perfectly round hay bales were neatly arranged in a field next to the road.

As the sky darkened, the cat’s eyes on the road began to glow: orange on the left, red along the centre line, and red on the far side. Chevrons indicated an upcoming curve. Glittering chains of colourful lights in the distance signalled the presence of houses; we were approaching Riviersonderend. The R406 from Genadendal and Greyton joined the N2 from the left.

Riviersonderend in the early evening

We drove slowly through the small quiet town of Riviersonderend, welcomed by the brightly illuminated Shell Garage at the western entrance to the town. We passed a large truck, loaded with spherical hay bales, like the ones we had seen in the field. The Caltex Garage signalled the eastern exit from the town. It was another 56 km to Swellendam.

The moon had risen; it was already high in the sky ahead of us, an almost full moon. Swirling clouds revealed its pale white face, before shyly drawing a veil across it once more. We were following the red tail lights of a car driving a little way ahead of us, its headlights shining brightly. We kept a steady following distance, because it made it easier to see where the road was, whether it was going up or down, or swinging left or right.

Somerset Gift Getaway Farm

The rustic sign to our getaway farm

The turn-off to the De Hoop Nature Reserve on the south coast flashed past. We crested a hill, and a long line of glittering lights below told us that we were fast approaching our destination. We peered into the darkness, as we passed turn-offs to Swellendam, which lies just off the N2, keeping a sharp look-out for our turn-off to Sparrebosch.

Google Earth screen capture of Swellendam to Somerset Gift Getaway Farm

At the turn-off, we swung left onto a gravel road. This led us past the large prison complex of Sparrebosch, our headlights sweeping briefly across rows of tall barbed wire fences.

A gentle drizzle was falling, smearing the windscreen. The darkness on either side seemed quiet and deserted. Suddenly, the edge of our headlights swung across two dark horses, huddled together in the drizzle, pressed against a barbed wire fence.

About 6 to 7 km after we had left the N2, our path was blocked by a gate in the road, signalling that we had arrived at our destination: Somerset Gift Getaway Farm. I climbed out to open the gate. My hiking boots squelched in the mud, as I lifted up the circular chain on the one side, and swung the gate open as far as it could go, so that the car could squeeze past safely.

The main entrance gate to Somerset Gift Getaway Farm

On our left, the dark shadow of a large house loomed up suddenly. A short distance later, we saw a sign: “Bushbuck and Loerie Cottage”.

“Stop! That’s our’s!”

The sign to our cottage

Loerie Cottage

Dion had thoughtfully left on the lights in our cottage, which we could now see clearly silhouetted against the dark shape of the hills behind it. The cottage stood on a gentle slope, slightly up from the road. We parked in front of a row of wooden stakes that barred entrance to a wide expanse of lush green lawns. In the steadily increasing drizzle, we quickly grabbed as much luggage as we could carry, and scurried up to the house.

The lounge and dining room

“Oh! It’s so cosy!”

“Look! An indoor fireplace!”

“Brilliant, let’s make a fire tonight, it’s really cold up here.”

The main bedroom

There was a spacious lounge and dining room area, merging into an open-plan kitchen, and there were two bedrooms, one with a double bed, and one with two single beds.

The second bedroom

There was also a bathroom with bath and toilet.

Apparently, there was also a shower outside, under some trees next to the house. Naturally intrigued, I ventured out into the darkness with my tiny torch, to have a nose around while Boetie and Sussie were figuring out how to prepare supper. Although I walked all the way around the house, there was no sign of the shower. I did, though, get thoroughly splattered by the wet branches of a tree, which I accidentally brushed against, but I don’t think that counts as having a proper shower.

Never mind, the morning light would reveal all! (Indeed it did – and the outdoor shower proved a hit!)

The outside shower and bathroom

Back inside, Tanya had magically gotten the gas stove going, and a pot was on the boil for the spaghetti. I’m strictly an electric stove kinda gal, as gas, quite honestly, makes me jittery. I’m always fearful that the bottle, the pipe, or the stove will develop a leak and that we’ll fall asleep and just float off into eternity… or that the whole damn thing will explode the next time anyone innocently strikes a match.

I know it’s not entirely rational; after all, some perfectly intelligent people I know do swear by cooking with gas, what with its environmental friendliness and efficiency. That’s fine, you go right ahead. I’ll just wait outside while you make supper, okay? Call me when supper’s ready, and I’ll gladly do all the washing up for you afterwards. Fair exchange?

The rustic but well-stocked kitchen

Dion had thoughtfully left two pages of very helpful instructions and guidelines on the dining room table. I studied these thoroughly. One of the points was that the water from the tap was brown, because it was mountain water.

Ah! Yes.

We had noticed that.

So it was not a sign of a pipe having burst. Good to know.

However, it was safe to drink (phew). And he had considerately supplied us with a couple of large bottles of mineral water just in case we city folk were a little unadventurous. Awww…

As it is, we learnt that it was perfectly fine to use the mountain stream water for preparing food and boiling water for tea and such-like. But we erred on the side of caution when it came to filling up our water bottle for a hike with unboiled water from the tap, as none of us wanted to have any tummy upsets caused by the consumption of unfamiliar water.

Due to the prolonged drought all along the Garden Route, there is a serious water shortage, with some areas hit particularly badly. The water level at the little dam below our cottage should be far higher up the slope, but they haven’t had proper rain in months. We were very conscious of the fact that we had to use water sparingly.

While the spaghetti was on the boil, we tossed together a small salad (to balance out the carbohydrates from the pasta) and prepared some tomato sauce from the packet (it was late, we were hungry, and frankly too lazy to go the whole DIY chopping-and-dicing-of-onions-and-tomatoes route).

Richard manfully got a fire going in the little wood-burning stove. This endeavour was almost scuppered by the fact that yours truly (eh-hem…) had forgotten to pack a box of Blitz firelighters. Blush. We hadn’t even brought along an old newspaper to crumple up, and the logs from the outside braai area were a little too damp to catch fire without persuasion.

Fortunately, Dion must have been psychic, because we located a box of Blitz and some matches tucked away in a trunk in the lounge.

The indoor fireplace

And so, we had a tasty and wholesome supper at the dining room table, while the little stove began to glow happily. The logs crackled and sparked, as their dampness evaporated.

Uncharacteristically, Sussie had only brought a single pair of shoes on this trip: her takkies (running shoes). They were woefully inadequate for the present conditions, which involved squelching mud and water-logged lawns. Not surprisingly, her feet were thoroughly wet and cold. We carefully balanced the shoes ontop of the wood stove, rotating them like a chicken on a spit, in the hope that they would be dry for our planned hike the next morning.

We rounded off our supper with a delicious mug of tea and a slice of cake. Well, perhaps more than just one slice of cake. I’d baked two cakes on Monday – one chocolate, and one marbled chocolate-and-vanilla – to take along on our trip. Were they good?!

It really was very cosy in our little Loerie Cottage.

No wonder our eyes began to feel rather heavy.

Zzzz….

4 thoughts on “Swellendam, here we come! (Part I)

  1. It is great with many photos, and a very good idea to show the maps too. Is it a long trip? It looks so to me. I will read your story little by little, it is very interesting.

  2. Hello, Reggie! Finally getting around to reading your latest adventure. Like Birgitte, it may take some time. Well, it actually depends on interruptions. if it remains quiet, it will be possible to continue reading for a while. I am feeling bad about Sussie’s feet. Also wanted you to know that we have a gas stove and it’s never been the slightest problem. I grew up with electricity, though. However if you will do the dishes, I do believe we have a deal!

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