Place of shifting sands and endless silence – Kgalagadi update

The rolling red sand dunes and endless silence are what reached into my soul and took root. If you’ve been to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park once, believe me, it won’t be your last time. You become addicted to this ancient land, once home of the Bushmen, and now a national park of 3,8 million hectares of arid savannah, dunes and grasslands straddling SA and Botswana.

What it lacks in roads, it more than makes up for with the herds of giraffe, gemsbok, wildebeest and springbok that inhabit the dry river beds snacking on the sparse green grass. The beautiful camelthorn trees that are ablaze in yellow in spring and provide a home to the huge sociable weaver bird nests. Man-made occasional borehole/waterholes attest to the fact that water is scarce here, the rivers flow every ten years (Auob) or twice in the past century (the Nossob) – proving that the Kgalagadi’s name rings true: Place of Great Thirst. Interesting fact – watering holes names like Craig Lockhardt, Dalkeith and Monro are all evidence of the Scotman Roger ‘Malkop’ Jackson, who surveyed the region post World War 1, and took the liberty of naming them.

At night you can hear the childlike cries of the black-backed jackals, interspersed with the cackle of hyenas and the grunting groans of lions mating calls. The silence, the vastness, the sands and lack of too many visitors are what make this place special, not to mention the sparse array of wildlife that have adapted to its dry conditions, extreme temperatures and little rain.

Springbok huddle
Majestic looking ostrich
A couple of secretary birds
Curious giraffes
Cute baby white faced owls
A pair of pygmy falcons

Birds and beauty in the H’berg!

Taking a walk in the Helderberg Nature Reserve is a breath of fresh air – quite literally!

This is not me being overdramatic. The air in the reserve really is pristine, the clarity of light is intense and the fauna and flora vie for photographic beauty.

Fynbos and flowers make for a heady combination of sweet pure air. And don’t get me started on the blanket of bright blue sky with the occasional white clouds or the sheer vibrant greenness of the lush country vegetation. I thought it couldn’t get much better until I did one of the organized walks in the reserve.

It’s hard not to want to stop every few minutes to photograph the vistas, flowers, birds and beauty all around, as the serenity of the reserve creeps into your soul.

The morning dew made the spider webs sparkle like fairy lights. The birds were vocal and colourful in the early morning light and, talking of the birds and the bees, I even caught two of the resident tortoises making the most of their day in the reserve…

Better than any pick-me-upper, the bird walks are special because of the abundance of birdlife that call the reserve home and thrive in this natural green oasis at the base of the Helderberg.

I’ve been a Friend of the Reserve for a while now but it’s taken me some time to join one of the organized walks – not surprising, given my lack of fitness. I was pleasantly placated to see just how easy the basic walk is, neither strenuous nor taxing and easily do-able in takkies.

Stopping every so often to take photos makes it immensely enjoyable too (if only to catch my breath). One if the other walks I really enjoy is the monthly HNR Photo Club walk, which combines a light walk with great opportunities to photograph the spectacular flora out at this time of the year. Plus experts share tips on getting the best angle in the best light, so it’s a win-win.

Living in Somerset West means that this majestic reserve is practically on my doorstep, meaning there’s no excuse not to visit it often.

On a final note, I volunteer at the reserve and volunteering is a great way to make friends and become part of the community, not to mention I love helping out at this magnificent place!

NC Ep 6 – and finally, the magnificent Kgalagadi

I’ve had a desire to visit the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) for over 15 years. My friends eulogize about it often, which only increased my determination to eventually get there and see for myself what the damn attraction was!

So when the opportunity arose, we booked a year in advance for 9 nights in this special park and before I knew it, I was on the dusty road to the park with a carload of groceries to last us 10 days, a tow rope, a spade (in case I had to dig my car out of sand) and a tyre compressor on loan! Plus I’d had a driving lesson on the Atlantis dunes so I was pretty certain I wouldn’t have to use the spade or tow rope!

The road unrolled all the way to the horizon where land and sky were equally wide open and huge, as we made our way out of Upington to the KTP.

One of the world’s last truly unspoilt ecosystems, this park is a result of the unification of SA’s Kalahari Gemsbok park and Botswana’s Gemsbok National Park. It is 3,7 million hectares and one of the largest conservation areas in the world.

What makes this park so different from say, the Kruger Park, is the red and white sand dunes, the dry river beds, the intense and ongoing lack of water and the ultra sparse vegetation (we were fortunate to see the beautiful camelthorn tree in yellow bloom – a sight to behold and abundant in the park, especially those hosting the giant sociable weaver nests).

The park is sanctuary to the famed black-maned Kalahari lion, as well as lots of gemsbok, ostrich, hartebeest, eland and smaller game like mongoose, honey badgers, bat eared fox and randy squirrel (check the photos to see why…) all of which inhabit and roam the semidesert savannah and endless pans.

If you made it all the way down past my amazing photos, you deserve to read more on this awesome place where you can hear the earth breathing, the night sky twinkling under the weight of the Milky Way and the animals moving over the dusty plains in a rhythm unique to this soulful place.

There is something mesmerizing about the ochre red and cream coloured sand dunes, interspersed with sparse vegetation and the occasional bright yellow camelthorn tree in bloom. Spotting a bird or animal is as random as the vegetation. Timing is everything here. I found this out when I got my best shot of the trip of a little bad-tempered pearl-spotted owlet peeking out of her tiny hole in a giant tree, when others with long lenses and more patience had waited all day for the same shot!

Or when I pulled away from a watering hole only to be told later that four young lions had come walking over a nearby dune minutes later to drink. Yes, timing and time is everything here in a place where time stands still.

It’s funny how a place creeps into your soul slowly and without even a hint of notice and this is what the KTP did – it made me a convert and this is my eulogy to a trip of a lifetime. Hopefully there will be another and another to discover more of what this wonderful place holds.

NC Ep 5 – Springbok to Augrabies via a dozen padstals & Pofadder!

If you’ve ever watched the weather on TV, haven’t you had thoughts about visiting faraway places like Springbok and Pofadder? I have and so I was determined to stop in on these little towns en route from Namaqualand national park to Kgalagadi via Augrabies…

And by stop in I mean drive through or by… lol. If you blinked while driving through, you may miss them.

We set off early that morning, which meant we had to let ourselves out of the few gates leaving the park. I was so intent on stopping in Springbok that morning, primarily because I needed gas, that I almost missed the offramp and landed up in Namibia!

I course-corrected in the nick of town and found the main (only?) road into Springbok. I was spoilt for choice for gas stations and after filling up for the next leg of the journey (and get this, the petrol stations charge you to use their toilets, cheeky) I took the opportunity for a quick drive around town and my customary photo of the local church (see previous blog mention of my Platteland Pilgrimage).

There are some fine specimens around of the quiver tree, indigenous to the Northern Cape. The quiver tree gets its name from the San practice of hollowing out the tubular branches of Aloe dichotoma to form quivers for their arrows.

Talking of names, the early explorers didn’t spend too long thinking about what they should call a place and usually went with the most obviously name. So a spring with thousands of Springbok became Springbokfontein (shorted to Springbok in 1911 – not doubt because of writer’s cramp!)

This place used to be a copper mine haven, and mining began here in 1852. When word got out about the rich copper deposits, the town was overrun by fortune hunters. The town has not changed over the years and still pretty much resembles an old mining town.

Of interest is the NG stone church (klipkerk) built in 1921, the synagogue museum and monument koppie in the town centre which commemorates when the town was rescued from the British by Boer forces during the Anglo Boer war. The Goegap Nature reserve is also closeby and houses the country’s oldest mineshaft dug in 1685 by members of Simon van der Stel’s expedition to the Copper Mountains.

My curiosity sates we got back onto the N14 destined for Augrabies. A quick photostop in Pofadder and then we took the scenic turnoff to Augrabies and were pleasantly surprised to see lots of fertile, lush green vineyards interspersed with dry bushveld. This is because the Gariep river runs through this area.

The Gariep accelerates through a series of cataracts and then plunges headlong for 56 m into a pool about 130 m deep – and this majestic sight is non other than the famed Augrabies Falls. The 6th largest in the world, apparently it is even more spectacular when the river is in flood and 19 separate falls form. An urban legend says that there must be a fortune in alluvial diamonds in the bottom of the pool as the force of the water makes it impossible to enter the pool below. It’s a pretty sight to see with good wooden walkways along the falls and it’s right near the park reception and shop. My only regret- I should have bought ‘Die Mas van Kakamas’ famed liquor at the park shop!

After lunch at Augrabies park we hit the road for Upington, our overnight stop before Kgalagadi. No trip on that stretch is worth its rose quartz crystal without a stop at the Pienk Padstal! An hour later I left with a few kilos of rose quartz (they are like stones in this area – abundant), dates (ditto), jams, candy, souvenirs and lots of other stuff unique to this padstal!

Not much later we arrived in Upington and stopped at a lovely restaurant along the lush orange river. In fact, I’m pretty impressed bu the top class restaurants in Upington and can highly recommend Cafe Zest, where we had the best Karoo lamb shanks ever!

Upington is the main town of the Green Karoo and is much bigger than its neighboring dorps. It’s named after Sir Thomas Upington (an Attorney General of the Cape Colony) and originated in 1871. It owes its prosperity to agriculture and the irrigated land along the Orange River. Interesting fact – the airport with the longest runway in SA is in Upington. A convenient stopover to the Kgalagadi, we stocked up on food the next morning after breakfast and set off for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park via the local salt mines in the area.

NC Ep 4: There be flowers…

I read somewhere that the land of the Nama is a land of contrasts and blistering extremes, where indescribable beauty has been moulded by an unforgiving climate.

Into this setting each Spring the dormant arid winter lands come alive with a flamboyant spread of wildflowers, including many rare and unique species. This is where we were headed, to the succulent Karoo area know as Namaqualand, to see the brimming array of flowers that transform the lifeless area into an exquisite floral display of unsurpassed colourful beauty at this exact time of the year!

But wait, this is also the land of the unique quiver tree and elegant gemsbok and it was with great excitement that I spotted my first ever quiver tree as we arrived!

Back to the flowers … carpets of orange daisies spread as far as the eye can see in the Skilpad section of the Namaqualand National Park. In amongst them were white, yellow and purple flowers, clusters, rows, carpets of wildflowers looking up at the sun.

We stayed in two of the only four wonderful cottage chalets at Skilpad Rest Camp, and they stood on the edge of the flower covered hills overlooking the vast expanse of this park with its varied vistas of granite outcrops and rolling hills to the sea.

From there we spent our days walking amongst the carpets of flowers, driving the offroad dirt trails to spot birds, buck and flora and relaxing on our verandas taking in this spectacular landscape. At night, far from any light pollution, the Milky Way was as clear as the sun, with the stars bigger and brighter than ever against the inky sky. The rest of this story is best told in photos, which better capture the magnificence and magnitude of this beautiful place far better than words could!

NC Episode 3 – Smalltownville en route to Namaqualand

It came as a bit of a shock to find out that 80% of the Northern Cape’s roads aren’t tarred, so driving from Sutherland to Namaqualand via Calvinia, Nieuwoudtville, Garies and other small towns, on a dusty dirt road for most of the way, is how all good stories start!

Although to properly end my tale of Sutherland, before driving off into the sunrise we did pop into the local butcher to pick up the most delicious lamb chops and his special homemade wors, which were a steal at under R200 for the lot!

As soon as you leave Sutherland in a northerly direction, roads — at least of the tar variety — disappear. 

If the dirt roads were a shock to my city soul, the rolling vistas, flattened mountains and stunning scenery came as a pleasant surprise. Best part was that since I was still feeling low from too much SALT (lol) I was a passenger in my own car so could enjoy the passing parade of scenic views of the Hantam Karoo mountains without having to navigate the corrugated dirt roads.

Where the gravel road ends and the tar starts, we discovered the quaint little dorp of Calvinia. The Calvinia Museum is housed in the former art deco styled Jewish synagogue built in 1920. The museum authentically portrays the lives of the early European settlers. Outside stands the Calvinia, a majestic antique steam train in mint condition. I did a quick tour of the uber interesting museum, which is bigger than it looks from the outside, and then popped into the local Calvinia Hotel for a look around. We actually came back via Calvinia from Kgalagadi two weeks later and stopped in there for delicious lamb potjiekos.

Then it was onto Nieuwoudtville on the Bokveld escarpment covered by wheat, heather and flowers, to meet up with our buddies for a quick lunch in a charming garden coffee shop.

I’m fascinated by small town churches so this trip turned into my own version of a Platteland pilgrimage!

After lunch we took the awesome majestic Vanrhyns Pass with its majestic and unexpected views over the Knersvlakte on the descent to Namakwa’s coastal terrace. And then we met up with the N7 to drive the straight road up to the Namaqualand National Park, our home for the next three days.

NC Episode 2 – Sand and SALT in Sutherland

A short drive from Matjiesfontein is Sutherland – although it could be on the moon given its remoteness and slightly out-of-this-world feel. In my excitement leading up to this epic trip, whatever I imagined Sutherland to look like didn’t come close to it. To say it’s a one main road town is apt yet doesn’t begin to describe the place. Calling it a remote landscape is an understatement… read on!

To further add to this otherworldly feel, we were staying at Blesfontein farm, which is about 27 kilometers on a corrugated dirt road 3 kms before Sutherland. If I’d know this beforehand I may have opted to stay in town instead! Every drive in and out was a free chiropractic realignment.

That said, the hospitality, cozy and comfortable accomodation and pretty fields of white bushes of flowers more than made up for what the dirt road lacked (tar!).

The fact that it was also situated on the edge of the escarpment overlooking Tankwa just added to the charm of the place.

We also had the pleasure while bumping (4x4ing) over to see the escarpment, to see the very very rare Star Tree in a remote corner of the farm. Its so called because of the starlike shapes of its fine-needle leaves. I nearly lost the underside of my SUV bumping over giant boulders to get to see this elusive tree. Apparently Blesfontein hosts the only fragile star tree of the Karoo for 100km on this remote area of the farm – preserved for future generations (with good 4x4s to get there to see it!)

No stay in Sutherland is complete without the prerequisite night and day visits to SALT, aka Southern Africa’s Largest Telescope.

South African Large Telescope is situated just 15 minutes outside Sutherland on the highest hill in the area and far enough away from excessive urban light pollution. It is a must for any budding or serious astronomer or idiot brave enough to visit Sutherland.

This collaborative project delivers accurate photographs of the deep space visible from the southern hemisphere and is manned by a mini UN of nations living on site

The observatory hosts a number of telescopes: tours include a visit to SALT, the museum, and observations of the night skies through powerful telescopes. 

We did the night stargazing tour which had two powerful telescopes in a outdoor room where the ceiling rolls back and opens up so that you have an unobstructed view of the night sky. We sat around the telescopes and got to observe obscure and famous stars and planets on a bitterly cold but cloudless evening. The moon was a bit brighter than we wished for but the stargazing was still good. Discovering Saturn’s rings for the first time was a real buzz!

Before the tour we got to wander around the interesting museum and goof around with the free photo booth, which superimposes you onto planets etc. sadly for the museum we were so early we hogged the booth for a full 30 minutes having fun! The other fun had that night (not) was getting lost on the dirt road back to Blesfontein. Even the gps was confused!

The next day we did the daytime tour of the actual SALT facility and that was freakin awesome. It would have been even more awesome if I didn’t start feeling ill at the facility and hurl my guts out on the narrow road down and out of SALT. After that I was laid low for 2 days.I’m still convinced an alien radiated me or something… true story!

While I was laid low and sleeping in the back of the car, my mates did a tour and sun watching at the
Sutherland Planetarium, which is the only privately owned digital planetarium in South Africa (owned by the farmer who owns Blesfontein). Located in the centre of town and hard to miss as it’s two igloos or domes almost in the middle of the main road, the planetarium showcases a wide range of full-dome films and houses a powerful sun telescope in the back.

Ahem – don’t be fooled by the photo above. There’s no actual mall in Sutherland. Just a little shop posing as a mall! What was a sight to behold as the sun set was the 150+ year old NG church in town – and I got the perfect shot of it.

Again, don’t be fooled by the photo. I actually took a SA flag to the Moon with me!

Anyway my memories of Sutherland are great Karoo lamb chops (I’m hoping to become best mates with the butcher’s wife, as she regularly comes to SW to see her son, hopefully with a cooler full of Karoo lamb chops for me!), sand, sand, lots of dusty roads, stars, glorious stars and being sick at SALT. All in all an interesting 3 days in SA’s premier stargazing destination.

Coming soon – Namaqualand and the fab flowers!

Delicious strandveld cuisine at Wolfgat

When I heard that Master forager and award-winning chef Kobus van der Merwe brought something special and totally different to the plate, while also showcasing strandveld cuisine at its best, I knew we had to work a way to include a visit to Wolfgat into our Kgalagadi itinerary.

The eatery is named after the nearby Wolfgat cave – an archaeological wonder containing remnants of an ancient culture, and rumoured gateway to underground passages – all in the charming west coast town of Paternoster.

The now famous and impossible-to-get-into restaurant recently won the coveted title of ‘Best Restaurant in the World’, a testament to his unusual gastronomic style and philosophy: hyperlocal Standveld cuisine or, as he called it – relaxed fine dining.

Kobus’ reverence for his ingredients and their provenance, coupled with his playfulness and skill, made every mouthful a rare and delicious treat.

We arrived early (so as not to be late, as requested in our booking confirmation) and were greeted by a friendly waiter (they double up as servers) and escorted to our pretty little table on the stoep of the tiny whitewashed house. There were 16 diners in total that day, all sat outside on the stoep overlooking the bluest sky and expanse of ocean.

Fine linen napkins and good quality silver cutlery were a clue about what was to follow. Attention to detail like edible wildflowers in water jugs further added to the ambiance.

We started with three little amuse bouchée tastes – one speared on wild rosemary, a mussel with waterblommetjie and sea foam on a homemade wafer biscuit – all served in the most interesting fashion.

Then a little pan with pipping hot bokkom and herb flavored butter came sizzling out with warm homemade crispy sourdough bread for dipping in the butter. It was delicious and I plan to copy this idea at home!

Next was two kinds of oysters, one warmed with sea bamboo and wild mushrooms and a cold one with grapefruit and sea pumpkin were next. One was plated atop smooth beach rocks and the other on a black pristine plate. All the pottery crockery is sourced from a local potter.

The next dish of divineness was a simple yet delicious white bean puree (butter beans) with fried pumpkin seeds, crispy seaweed and veldkool and dune spinach

Springbok loin served as a tartar with sout slaai (beach succulent) and slangbessie (beach berry of tomato variety) with olive oil and slangberry syrup(with spilhaus knife)

Black mussel flavoured with wild garlic masala, softened mebos and bokkom sambals with yogurt and topped with a mussel custard flavored with coconut milk powder and bratslaai.

The next course was Cape bream smoked with rooibos infused tea leaves and lightly poached in butter, served with seaweed topping (called klipkombers) collected on the rocks.

For dessert we had amasi – a slice of guava, topped with amasi sorbet and an orange boego masala on a wild melon leaf, served with picked cucumber with all the flavours and textures mixed together.

I overheard Kobus telling another diner that he won because of his approach to sustainability and the gender split in kitchen, amongst other things

He didn’t know he has won, and found out when he was tagged on Instagram. The award was judged by variety of food critics, sommeliers etc. and he didn’t know they had visited him.

What’s really nice is that Kobus comes out to explain the dishes to you, alternating between tables and courses.

We ended our strand feast with moercoffee in handmade pot cups made by a local potter in Paternoster and served with raw sugar and hot milk.

The menu of the day is printed on a simple page, the cutlery and crockery is simple, elegant and changed per course and the staff quietly efficient.

Exploring the Northern Cape – episode 1, Matjiesfontein Madness!

It’s a scary thing when you realise your eyes are having trouble adjusting to wide open rolling panoramic vistas because you spend too much time staring at little screens! That’s what happened to me on my first night’s stay at Blesfontein, a little karoo farm near Sutherland. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

No Northern Cape story is complete without a visit first to that little Victorian oasis off the N1 – Matjiesfontein.

We set off from Somerset West early on Sunday morning and three padstals (and much more luggage) later, we arrived in this single-road 130 year old privately owned town in the Karoo.

The grand (and haunted) Lord Milner Hotel is the town’s pristine showpiece but there is so much more to explore along the historic road and around the corner! We were warmly welcomed by the self appointed town crier Johnny Theunissen, who entertained us with ghost stories in the old back rooms of the hotel, even propping me up on a chair against a wall to take a photograph with a ghost. I still think it was just a paint stain on the wall – but you be the judge…

While waiting on the open hotel balcony for friends for lunch (that’s another story – just as we were ready to order, the town’s electricity went down so we were moved to the pub to order food – I had a delicious bobotie quiche there!), Johnny ushered me onto his local town bus tour (which took all of 10 minutes) in the old red double decker bus, summoning us with a loud bull horn and regaling us with tales of old, while sharing the town’s colouful history (and referring to his mom as the town owner’s bit of dark chocolate on the side!)

Matjiesfontein is a small privately owned town in the Great Karoo, founded by legendary railway man James Douglas Logan in 1884. The village was bought from the Logan family by acclaimed hotelier David Rawdon in 1968, who returned it to its former glory before he passed away in 2010. It has been in the Rawdon family ever since, meaning the town has been owned by only 2 families in its 130+ years of existence.

Visitors will experience a real step back in time, immersing themselves in living history, as life here is a tribute to the early Karoo, the Anglo-Boer War and Queen Victoria’s England. Guests can explore the historic ambiance of the famed Lord Milner Hotel, its old world charm, gracious servers, and elegant décor – not to mention discovering its ghost stories. You can dine by candlelight in The Hotel Dining Room, served by red-jacketed porters, and feast on local specialities such as Karoo lamb.

Matjiesfontein offers everything that a world-class destination does – yet is wholly unique in the hospitality industry. It’s a place of magic, history and utter relaxation.

If you want to know more about Matjiesfontein, I found an article below which talks about ten (yes, 10!) interesting things you can do there in a day –

”Just three hours outside of Cape Town on the N1, in the heart of the middle of nowhere, lies a town. No wait, scratch that, it’s more like a street than a town. Blink and you may just miss it. But you’d be worse off for it, because Matjiesfontein is unlike anywhere you will ever visit. As if set in another era, Matjiesfontein still holds a grand old appeal with the buildings looking much the same as they would have in 1884 when the town was first established. It may only take you a couple hours to complete the below list but you’ll feel like you travelled back in time. So without further adieu, here are ten things to do in Matjiesfontein.

1. Do the VoiceMap tour

If you do one thing before you visit Matjiesfontein, I recommend downloading the free VoiceMap app (download for free via Google Play or the Apple App Store) and listening to the Historic Tour of Matjiesfontein. This extensive walking tour of Matjiesfontein will give you a surprisingly in depth history of this tiny place. Narrated by the author Dean Allen you will learn about the town’s rich history which includes the very first international game of cricket played in South Africa, one man’s love affair with Queen and country, and the interesting intermingling of war and politics that essentially founded the town. But let me not give it all away. Take a listen for yourself!

2 Visit the Transport Museum

Old cars and wagons sit in the parking lot outside the station and welcome you to Matjiesfontein – beckoning for you to discover more in the transport museum. Car enthusiasts might find the collection a bit on the small side but hey it’s in keeping with the whole appeal of the place! I for one particularly enjoyed walking through the old trains, complete with dining cart. You can even rent out the train for a unique dining experience for groups. Alternatively if you have extra money to spend, book a holiday on the luxurious Rovos Rail and one of your stops could include Matjiesfontein – allowing you to really get into the spirit of this once magnificent railway stop.

3. Take a tour on the red bus

Every afternoon, except Sundays, the town’s loveable tour guide Jon Theunissen (who has lived and worked in the town his entire life) will take you on a laugh-a-minute journey through Matjiesfontein on his very own bus, styled on the red London Double Decker Bus. Lasting ten minutes (at a push) the tour is possibly the shortest hop-on hop-off bus tour in the entire world and we can’t promise that you’ll actually learn anything, but it’s a fun way to see the town and you may even hear the tale of the ghost that haunts the hotel!

4. Stay at the Hotel

Matjiesfontein is perfect for overnight stops or weekend getaways and the historic Lord Milner Hotel provides the perfect place to rest your weary head after a day on the road. Offering a quaint Victorian style with large plush rooms, this grand hotel will truly make you feel like you’ve been transported to another era. Dinner here is also a highlight of any stay with traditional fare such as roast Karoo lamb and springbok fillet on the menu.

5. Poke around the Marie Rawdon Museum

This museum actually claims to be the largest private museum in South Africa. The entrance is located under the train station and leads you into a double story area, comprising of a myriad of interconnecting rooms. The museum is a treasure trove of knick knacks from the Victorian era, originally from the avid collector David Rawdon. As you travel from room to room you will see a variety of antique household goods, clothing, a fantastic camera collection and a variety of machinery and equipment including bicycles, sewing machines and even ancient dentistry chairs and medical equipment.

6. Walk around the gardens

Behind the Lord Milner Hotel you will find the Raymond Crowley gardens. With their rolling green lawns, towering trees, plantation of prickly pairs and reservoir, the gardens make for the perfect place to spend an afternoon relaxing with a book and good ‘ol cuppa tea. Here you will also find the hotel’s swimming pool, looked over by a steel daisy (windmill) and the traveller’s chapel. This cute building simply beckons to any passer by and looks like a great place for intimate weddings or even a quick elopement.

7. Wine and dine in style

There may only be three wining and dining establishments in Matjiesfontein but they are all worth a visit. As mentioned, the Lord Milner Hotel, serves up the tastiest traditional fare in their large dining room while breakfasts here are also not to be missed with a full spread on offer including home made scones. Next door to the hotel, the Laird’s Arms is great for a drink or pub lunch while the cute coffee house is a satisfying locale for those with a sweet tooth.

8. Pick up some memories at the Old Post Office

The Old Post Office is like a beacon in Matjiesfontein – calling to visitors with its stripes of red and white. Today you will find the Matjiesfontein gift shop inside this historic building. Shop from a range of handcrafted gifts including books, clothing and ceramics and take home a memory of the Karoo, while supporting local craftsmen. At the very least be sure to take a selfie outside the post office – the perfect photo op.

9. Plan your next party –

Matjiesfontein is a great destination for hosting a party or wedding. Imagine booking up an entire town just for your gathering! In addition, Matjiesfontein also hosts a number of exciting events every year, including the Anglo-Boer War Weekend as well as some fun music festivals that combine a weekend away with the perfect excuse to let your hair down.

10. Walk it off

Matjiesfontein is surrounded by the picturesque Witteberg Mountains. For those looking to get a little bit of exercise, there are a number of fantastic walks and mountain bike trails through the surrounding countryside. Explore the Karoo on the back of a bicycle or let your legs do the work as you discover craggy cliffs, dry riverbeds and a variety of vegetation. The Witteberg Nature Reserve has five trails to choose from.

Next episode – Sutherland and SA’s Largest Telescope!

Halfaampieskraal – a not-so-secret idyllic hide-away

When we ran out of tarred road turning off the N2 in the Overberg district, I was forced to put my trust in my Garmin GPS. This despite my initial surprise it even knew where Halfaampieskraal was!

We took an obscure, loosely pebbled dirt road meandering through faded yellow wheat fields, sparsely dotted with distant whitewashed homesteads harking back to a different era. Chubby merino sheep huddled together and the occasional long necked blue cranes elegantly strutted through the cropped low fields with fluffy babies in tow.

Overhead a thick duvet of white cloud mostly covered the periwinkle sky, blotting out the sun and hanging low over the sun-bleached fields. It smelt of dust mingled with dry wheat, touch by the recent sprinkling of rain, and the unmistakable smell of fresh country air.

Despite the hour – midday – birds were still chattering in the sparse roadside trees or on telephone wires, and occasionally I saw a yellow-billed kite circling for a ground kill or resting on a wooden fence post. Little beehive boxes thrived along the dirt roadside.

The Halfaampieskraal road marker suddenly appeared (with a little sign underneath clearly stating ‘By appointment only’) and I braked hard, kicking up a red dust sandstorm, for the first of many photo opportunities.

A right turn up the long dirt road gave no sign of the little grouping of whitewashed farmhouses that make up what Perfect Hideaways calls “the perfect place to do nothing at all”.

Then they appeared, dotting the pale yellow landscape like white smudges. Parking and reception signs gave a clue as to our next move.

The farm’s name comes from a half-aam – an aam being a Dutch measure of 75 liters (of liquor) – and what the farm was sold for sometime in the 1700s, along with a white horse and a saddle.

A quick tap on the backdoor of the main house and then we were inside Aladdin’s cave. In the tiny entrance portico we were greeted with a piercing stare by an unsmiling Kudu wearing a floral wreath, as if it had just attended a local Indian festival.

The stark rough white walls of the main farmhouse in no way prepared me for the dazzle of colourful splendor and spectacle inside. Each and every room was a riot of colour, unusual collections (coral, candles, grecian vases, candelabra …) eclectic modern displays alongside antiques.

Clear assorted glass vases, vibrant paintings and faded framed photos, tiny greek statues, mini building models, antique china wall plates, oversized vases bursting with fresh (surprisingly fragranced) flowers, intricately painted walls and exotic oriental rugs all fought for my attention.

From the good old fashioned farm-style food served on vintage silver and porcelain dishes with mismatched cutlery, enjoyed in a colourful and full flower-bursting dining-room with a cozy log fire burning and a view of the distant Overberg mountains, to the deliciously comfortable beds in bedrooms (6 in total, each one decorated differently) beautifully decorated with heirlooms and crisp down-filled comforters on four-poster beds draped with white netting, with heavy velvet curtains to block out the bright early morning light and thick and plush bath towels – this is a different and elegant level of luxury and attention to detail.

It’s hard to believe this is a working farm (sheep farming, I believe), although the three exuberantly friendly border collies, a clutch of brightly coloured hens and cocks, a huge herd of ducks and a large family of squealing pigs and piglets all attest to this.

It you want to take a piece of this heaven home, there is a little shopping area tucked in the library offering the farms’s coffee table books, classy linen scarves, peacock aprons, huge velvet cushions, homemade jams and lemonade and other exotic and interesting pieces to remind you of your wonderful stay.