DeZeekoe in Oudtshoorn

Heat shimmers in waves off the tar, the air is as dry as ostrich biltong and smells faintly of the fynbos that thrives on either side of the road in the rich rust coloured earth. Mountains frame the views in distant washed out greys and the land changes to shades of green as we turn off to De Zeekoe.

DEZEEKOE TREE DI BROWN

This luxury accommodation is on a working farm on the R328, just ten kilometers outside of Oudtshoorn .  It is far enough to get the rural feeling but a five minute drive will get you into town so it really offers the best of both worlds.

Farm life

De Zeekoe has three separate areas offering accommodation to cater for different needs. The luxury suites are at the main reception next to the restaurant and pool flanked by a true Karoo wind pump, play area and fire pit.

DEZEEKOE FIRE PIT DI BROWN

At the top of the hill are the self catering stone cottages offering privacy and views forever and down in the dip are the rustic wooden chalets overlooking the dam.

DEZEEKOE ROADS DI BROWN

Bellowing cows joined the dawn chorus and sunrise called my name. The tick tick of the huge water sprayers drew me like a magnet pulling me in for an unplanned shower, and the horses in the field laughed.

sprinklers early DeZeekoe morning DiBrown

The colours are on steroids and I have to drag myself away to go for breakfast.

DeZeekoe farm machinery Di Brown

This huge digger passes me on the farm path. There is something very sexy about these giant working vehicles.

DeZeekoe farm living Di Brown

The farm is already busy with farmy type activities as I wander back to my room to shower, dress and head off for food.

SMITSWINKEL FRONT DI BROWN

Fed and well coffeed up, it’s time to visit some locally recommended places and Die Smitswinkel is the first stop. The interior is a great collection of #Karoomobilia, I just quickly made up that word, but think of little wind pumps, mugs, keyrings, meerkats, carpets, clothing and of course food, all made in true Karoo style or depicting something iconic from the area.

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Good for an hours browsing at least.

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Then  go out the back and top up with some more coffee, this time from Blacksmith, the roasters with heart. Called the Blacksmith Coffee Movement,  it’s about making fantastic coffee with a good conscience. Fair trade principles are adhered to, and the Barista Upliftment Program offers real hope and opportunities for the youth. Please go and look at their website, buy their coffee and drink some goodness.

BLACKSMITH COFFEE DI BROWN

Oudtshoorn is a perfect starting point for a circular drive you will never forget. You need an early start and a whole day to really enjoy this, and probably the next two days to return to your favourite finds.

Some highlights of this route include R328. Known as the Cango Route, there are plenty of attractions on the 50km you travel before reaching the start of the mighty Swartberg Pass. Olive estates, Karusa Winery and Tapas, Kobus se Gat country pub, Wilgewandel Holiday Farm and Bella Mia Olives and Pottery to name just a few.

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Plan a day or three to visit and explore the fine wines and ports from the Klein Karoo Wine Route.

Take your time as you navigate the Swartberg Pass, stop at the viewing points and marvel at the genius engineering of Thomas Bain. The building of the pass was completed in 1886 and used only by carts and wagons. The first time a car  traversed the pass was in 1904.

swartberg pass views Di Brown

These views have to be photographed somehow, and I was forced by Anje to resort to extreme measures to get the shots I wanted.

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We left too late to do the whole route and after passing signs telling us that the road might be closed we passed a lorry coming the other way who said we could continue. We got totally side tracked by the burned veld and the proteas that survived, that we never made it to the top.

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flower Di Brown

Burned proteas Swartberg pass Di Brown

Earlier in the year when I planned to drive this amazing pass, a short way up, this happened and the pass was closed. Maybe next time 😦

OVERTURNED TRUCK ON SWARTBERG PASS DI BROWN

On completing the drive over the pass, you can either carry on for about 10km to the town of Prince Albert, well worth a visit, or turn right onto the R407, continue on to the N12 and drive along the prettiest pass in South Africa, the Meiringspoort Pass.

This will take you into De Rust. Visit the Village Art Scene, enjoy a donkey cart ride, and do not miss the Doornkraal winery just out of town or Mons Ruber  directly opposite. Pot stilled brandy, witblits and entertaining conversation await you. From there a drive of 25km will take you back into Oudtshoorn.

Curious ostriches come to say hi, or buzz off from their home on the lower slopes of the Swartberg Pass.

Hello ostrich Swartberg Di Brown

Driving back into De Zeekoe the dipping sun got our attention and the race was on to find the best spot for some pics.

DeZeekoe road Di Brown

DeZeekoe river sunset Di Brown

We raced around the farm like lunatics, stopping to gasp, click and do another 360 scan before we finally settled at the river.

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Joggers and cyclists passed us as we sat here in awe.

DeZeekoe irrigation Di Brown

We waited until the very end, silent, humbled by the show that the Karoo sky put on.

The next night we went to the dam and were rewarded again with a spectacular show.

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The only sounds are the birds and the frogs and the click of a camera.

 

DeZeekoe sunset over dam Di Brown

DeZeekoe dam sunset Di Brown

DeZeekoe is a nature lover and photographer’s dream.

An activity not too miss is a Meerkat Encounter on the property. Ethical, incredible and discounted to DeZeekoe guests, you can read about my experience here.

Walk the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trail

The Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails

Say the word Biosphere and my mind conjures up images of science nerds, serious folks in lab coats carrying clipboards, and fervent chaps in conservation khaki tying themselves to trees to save the lesser spotted puddle newt.

The Cape West Coast Biosphere is a little different, and while serious work is being done by them, they have found a way to make Biospheres an everyday, normal word by embracing the tourism industry. Book Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails of your choice and see the West Coast like never before!

 

bundu bashing Di Brown Darling stagger

What is a Biosphere?

Biosphere reserves are areas of natural beauty rich in fauna and flora. They aim to find a balance between development in the area and the preservation of the cultural diversity and indigenous treasures. Biospheres seek ways to grow sustainably, create employment and work within a dynamic framework that ensures better lifestyles in an earth friendly manner.

Where exactly is the Cape West Coast Biosphere?

It starts in greater Cape Town a mere 14km from the city centre at the Diep River in Milnerton and extends 140km north to the Berg River at Laaiplek. It encompasses numerous small towns and coastal villages as well as vast areas of Renosterveld, Sandveld and coastal dunes and beaches. The West Coast National Park is the heart of the Biosphere Reserve, and attractions like the West Coast Fossil Park and quirky town of Darling are in the buffer zones.

There are 598 biospheres is the world, 74 of them in Africa and 6 in South Africa.

Q: What can I do for fun in this Biosphere? A: Go on the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails!

Di Brown Darling Stagger. over the hill

You can start with any or all of the five trails that have been created by the Biosphere. The Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails cater for walkers, hikers, cyclists, paddlers and anyone in need of a break from the city.

These trails are a little different to most. While slack packing is nothing new, wine and olive tasting on a walk is certainly unusual, as are breaks for huge West Coast meals, mid walk swims or being halted by the guide to allow a tortoise to cross the path.

The Cape West Coast has always known how to live slowly. Life is to be enjoyed and savoured at a comfortable pace, not rushed through with our eyes fixed firmly on the future, rendering us incapable of enjoying the moment we are in. This is the ethos of the trails. Designed for fun, relaxation and perhaps a little education if you so desire. You will eat well, drink well and be transported to comfortable or luxury accommodation.

Even better is the flexibility allowed. You can book a standard trail or you can mix it up, add activities, skip others or custom design your personal dream West Coast experience.

The standard Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails are as follows:

EVE’S TRAIL is a 2 day, 30km wilderness hike in the West Coast National Park. Little creatures and sandy beaches, wild flowers and ancient memories, this walk is about getting back to the basics of life and finding harmony with the earth. Pure soul food.

THE 5 BAY TRAIL is a scenic, 2 day, 38km coast hugging hike between the coastal villages of Paternoster and Jacobsbaai. There is always time to stop for a swim, paddle or bodysurf on this route.

THE WHEELS OF TIME TRAIL

This ride is about 100km over two days and is aimed at recreational cyclists and those who enjoy the back roads and byways rather than super smooth tar and high speeds. No need for those odd lycra outfits here.

As it is all about the enjoyment, a support vehicle offers not only food and drink, but also a break should you decide to rest in the car for a couple of k’s.

THE DARLING STAGGER

Here is a little taste of my experience.

We had a leisurely breakfast at The Granary in Darling before being transported to !KhwaTtu to start our adventure.

breakfast at the Granary Di Brown

Walking in single file on the hard shoulder of the R27, a major road linking Cape Town and St Helena Bay, drew a few hoots and a couple of curious looks from passing motorists and a noisy tractor. We soon moved off the road and bundu bashed for about a kilometre until we reached a rich red gravel road. It was perfect walking weather, fresh, cloudy, but not actually raining yet.

We covered about ten km on this gravel road, pausing to inspect unusual fynbos plants, spider’s nests and a killing field full of dead tortoises. A variety of antelope made brief appearances in the distance and our guide told us of the leopards that live here but are rarely seen. We might have quickened our pace a little at this point.

Di Brown. Our guides on the Darling Stagger

Finally the path brought us to the sand dunes and the beach. Walking in soft sand is heavy going. A gale force wind had us bent double and covering all but our eyes with scarves to avoid being sand blasted beyond recognition.

The sea was the most peculiar soupy green, and the waves left vivid patterns of lime coloured foam on the beach. This was apparently a phenomenon known as an algal bloom.

The crazy green, the wild wind and the remoteness of this beach made me a little mad and I decided to take off my shoes and paddle a little for a close up photo of this peculiar sea.

Di Brown Darling stagger Yzerfontein beach, the green is called an Algal Bloom

Top tip.

Never turn your back on a wave.

Of course I got drenched and obviously it started raining.

But guess what? I was having a great time.

We were collected a few kilometres on and driven back to Darling where we feasted at The Flying Pig before going back to our hotel to thaw out and change and off for another feast at Bistro 7.

The following morning we really did stagger around the interesting town of Darling, taking in the museum, the Darling Sweet, Evita se Perron and other quirky shops before heading to Darling Brew for some serious beer tasting, food feasting and a brewery tour. A return visit is on the cards as Darling alone is worth staggering about in for a whole weekend. There are great wineries to be discovered and tasted and of course there is the beer.

Darling is just one of the towns on these trails, so if you love to relax, eat, drink, cycle, walk, explore and throw in a bit of nature, go to Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve and start browsing, planning and booking your next country break.

First glimpse of the sea, and glorious details in the vegetation Di Brown

Fast Facts about the Biosphere.

  • It is the only biosphere that has a nuclear power station, an oil refinery and a toxic dump site.
  • It is the only biosphere that encompasses a city boundary.
  • It is an excellent venue for shore-based whale watching, and is not overcrowded like most other spots.
  • It includes a RAMSAR site (Langebaanlagoon) with a deep-sea harbour to accommodate ore carriers.
  • It includes Dassen Island, one of only two breeding sites in the country for Pelicans, as well as the largest penguin colony.
  • It has the largest colony of gannets, based at Lamberts Bay.
  • It has a Fossil park: West Coast Fossil Park, a National Heritage Site.
  • Groote Post vineyard produces Chardonnay of choice for SAA business class and has won many awards.
  • Darling Cellars, the largest local producer of a fine selection of wines is based in the Biosphere.
  • Most large industries in the area are currently BEE compliant.
  • The Swartland wheat fields described as the “Breadbasket of South Africa” are part of the Biosphere.
  • Langebaanhosts the largest hobie cat sailing regatta in the country every Easter weekend.
  • The World championship sailboard competition is annually held at Big Bay.
  • Blouberg is one of the top five kite surfing venues in the world.
  • The Berg River estuary is one of the largest salt producers in country (Cerebos).
  • It is the home of the dried fish industry (Bokkems).
  • It has an excellent climate, lower rainfall and warmer winters than Cape Town; and cooler summers owing to the cold Atlantic
  • It still has large open spaces and a BIG blue unpolluted sky.

For more information or to book visit: www.capebiosphere.co.za/trails

Contact them on trails@capebiosphere.co.za or 0861 872 457

Follow them on Facebook Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails and Twitter: @CWCBioRes

candelabra brightens up the renosterveld Di Brown

For more information on West Coast Way Routes and the list of 101+ Things To See And Do in the Cape West Coast, visit their events page. Choose to go on a self-guided adventure drive by following the routes, or book an air-conditioned trip to top West Coast attractions in South Africa.

 

 

Offbeat in Bethulie

Gariep River

Bethulie is probably not on anyone’s bucket list. It should be, but most people don’t even know where it is.

I’ll give you a tip. If you can find the biggest dam in the country on a map, you will find Bethulie. Situated within spitting distance of the Gariep Dam, it is a 50km detour off the N1 onto the R701. Colesberg is the closest town, but if you want a precise location, here it is.

The centre of Bethulie town is 30°29’47.21″S and 25°58’39.50″E

This area is not holiday brochure pretty. It is not a feast for your eyes; it has more depth than that.

I see Bethulie as more of a balm for your soul. It requires human interactions, ears that will listen to the stories that hide in the history, the heritage and the generations of the townsfolk.

It loves a mind that can activate the imagination. It thrills a visitor who will try to understand the desperate times of war and concentration camps, and appreciate why monuments to Ox Wagons and horses, commandos and missionaries exist. It welcomes all who want answers to questions like why was it once named Murderers Pass.

Don’t get me wrong, Bethulie is not ugly. The surrounding area is rugged farming country and the town is a mix of Victorian houses, unremarkable homes, exquisite National Monuments and some stores begging for a paint job. It is a real town, not a made for tourists money trap. It delivers countless surprises if you are happy to walk through the town and get dust on your shoes, sunshine in your hair and  find stories that imprint your heart forever.

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The Royal Hotel Bethulie .

What attracts local and international ghost whisperers, bibliophiles, military historians and bikers to this remote Free State lodging?

This hotel has no sign announcing itself to the world. At first sight I thought it was a rather derelict yard of horse stables or perhaps a disused barracks of sorts. There was no reception area, just an ordinary looking side door that was opened to welcome me inside, and what I saw rendered me speechless.

A long corridor of books wall to ceiling , a passage that bent and turned revealing more books and eventually opened into a cluster of rooms that housed the bulk of the 30 000 books that line these walls.

Book lined walls, Bethulie Hotel

While my mind was still trying to process this lovely quirky interior design, I found myself in yet another room that defies belief. Three walls of shelves are packed with 24 000 vinyls of every type of music you can imagine. The total collection numbers around 80 000 records. (Those of you over 40 will know vinyls as LPs.)

A small stage and impressive sound system are the focal point of this room where an impromptu show by local poets and a song writer reminded me what a creative and talented nation we are. This show would have received an encore on any stage in the world.

Dinner is an event to be savoured slowly. It is served with pride, fine wine and lively conversation interrupted only by the irresistible urge to scour the shelves for a long forgotten song to add to the playlist on the turntable.

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I was very right and very wrong in my first impressions.  In the 1860s the original building started as a trading store.  Some ten years later it was converted into accommodation and grandly named the Royal Hotel. As things have turned out it has never hosted a royal of any description but in its early years it was used by at least two Free State presidents.

In 2005 Anthony Hocking took ownership and has very successfully rebranded it as a sanctuary for books and vinyl’s. Read more about Anthony’s story here, it is a fascinating one.

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 What’s the big deal about the bridge?

You will be badgered, nagged and encouraged to take the 7km drive to the bridge. If you are not immediately enthusiastic about this strong suggestion you will be told that it is the longest road and rail bridge in South Africa. It is the DH Steyn Bridge and was built in the 1960’s from local sandstone. It is 1.2km long.

I gave in. I went to the bridge. It is just easier to say yes.

To the east is the magnificent sight of the Gariep River flowing into the dam of the same name. Sandstone hills and the first lights from the village draw your eyes to the distance. Cows lie down on the embankment, birds dart and swoop millimetres above the waterline, fish jump, and the sun is perfectly posed in the centre of the horizon.

To the west the river is much narrower and darkly mysterious as it bends out of sight snaking through the gorge.

Gusts of wind raise gooseflesh all over, and then calm and warmth and silence are restored. Low railings beg to be climbed over, to stand in the middle of the train tracks, and feel the residual warmth radiating off them. A whistle, a rumble that turns to a growl and a call to action, and I hop clumsily over the railing to the safety of the road. The thunderous noise of tons of steel locomotive beating a rhythm on the tracks as it crosses the bridge to a different province enthralls me.

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And then the sun begins its journey to the other side and the sky is a painting of mad clashing colours and unworldly shapes.

In the darkness faces smile and heads nod as understanding of the allure of the bridge is absorbed. It is a spiritual place where nature will not be ignored. It is much more than a crossing over a river. It is somewhere to find silence, to allow your heart to listen to unspoken messages, to breathe cleanly and deeply, to find the stillness inside yourself.

To some people, it might be just a bridge: to the folks of Bethulie it is a place to visit to meditate, to congregate, to celebrate, to integrate. Is that too many “ates”? Ah well, it’s true, that’s what the big deal is about the bridge.

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If books are not your thing, and you absolutely loathe music and bridges perhaps you could try something else.

Tee time.

For under ZAR55 you can play a round of golf on a 69 rated course and have a caddy to help you along the Karoo style fairways to the grass putting greens.

Play for the views. The Bethulie golf course is laid out against a backdrop of sandstone mountains with views of the Bethulie and Gariep Dams, and you can see that damn bridge too. Although there are no water hazards, the course is challenging for an average player and I am sure if you tried you could land a couple of balls in one of the dams.

The Gariep Dam

The dam was built in the 1970’s and is the largest dam in South Africa. At full capacity it spans 320 square kilometres.  South Africa’s newest town is the one developed around the dam and has the imaginative name of Gariep Dam. The area offers loads of water sports and wet activities as well as plenty of land based fun. For more information visit http://www.gariepdam.com/

 

South African road trippers take note.     Bethulie is halfway to everywhere.

Well not quite everywhere but for a first visit it is a worthy stop if you are travelling between Cape Town and Durban or Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. For those who prefer to fly, Bloemfontein is the closest airport, about 200 scenic kilometres away.

Be warned, this town tempts visitors as a convenient overnight stop, however it has a very high rate of repeat business.

Disclosure. My visit to Bethulie was part of a trip hosted by South Africa Tourism. Thanks to Dale, SAT and the Royal Bethulie Hotel. Opinions are my own.

The Funky Fynbos Festival. Celebrating the outdoors like a boss.

It is just after 7 am on a Saturday morning.

I am sitting eating freshly flipped pancakes dripping with cinnamon and lemon juice, sipping the best coffee I have ever tasted. The sun is just starting to warm my bones and I feel my body relaxing after the 3 hour drive from Cape Town.

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Brightly coloured tents displaying artworks, colourful clothes and crafts draw my eyes, and then the sound system comes alive and my feet start tapping to Golden Earrings “Radar Love”

I’m feeling it. It’s the weekend; it’s festival time in Gansbaai.

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Gansbaai is a small coastal town in the Overberg, 163km from Cape Town. It is a good community with a strong emphasis on creativity, earth friendly living and a healthy paced rural lifestyle. Gansbaai and a few of the businesses recently won the top awards for sustainable and responsible tourism. Read more about Gansbaai, its delights, attractions and awards here

I am on a farm called De Uijlenes  . Continue just past Gansbaai and take the left turn onto the Baardscheerdersbos / Elim road and 15km after Gansbaai you will find yourself on this pretty farm in the flower valley.

The event is the 2nd Funky Fynbos Festival and it’s a celebration of the wild flowers, farm life, the wine, food and activities of this very pretty area.

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This year the 3 venues for the festival are the farm and wedding function venue De Uijlenes, the wine estate down the road called Lomond, Strandfontein Caravan Park and the farm and nursery Groeneweide.

The festival is also host to great outdoor competitions. A challenging MTB race on Saturday morning and a tough Trail Run on Sunday morning saw individuals and families pushing themselves to the limits through farm tracks, over rivers, up hills and down into the valleys.

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A new 4 x 4 trail was put to the test by enthusiasts at Strandfontein, and keen fishermen tested their skills and luck on Lake Lomond at the wine estate of the same name.

For the kids Fun Go Karts were a big hit, especially after they found a short downhill path and then the races were on. Face painting, Milo the clown come fire eater and the jumping castle donated by Grootbos kept the kids busy and happy all day.

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The refreshing ice cream from Moo’s Frozen Treats  was irresistible. I had at least one of each flavour and happily slurped and messed all over my hands, face and clothes, and then went back for more. At R5 a sachet, it was not my fault that I totally pigged out.

I spent two very happy days in the fresh air, walking around farms and forests, listening to great music and eating way too much.  The reggae sounds of the Rivertones blew me away, going to find them again and drag all my friends along.

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Of course we all adjourned to the pub on Saturday evening to watch South Africa take on Japan in their first Rugby World Cup game During half time we were entertained by the fire eating Milo, and after the game, magic happened.

As the devastated fans walked out of the pub, 2 of the musicians who had finished their paid stint got together and started jamming. The fire pit was soon sporting a blazing bonfire and we sang along, danced or chilled around the fire as Chris Else and Guy Feldman belted out tunes like they had been playing together for years.

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The highlight of the festival for me was the people I met.  Let me introduce you to some of them.

Kloeks and Henk. This multi-talented husband and wife team have invited me back and I will be going as soon as possible. Kloeks is apparently the best cook in the world and has a restaurant in her home. Henk grew up with a dad who roasted his own coffee beans way before coffee was an urban hipster thing. Henk is now the owner of the Naked Coffee works and says the secret to his coffee is the passion and unhurried pace of the process. I believe him. When not lovingly roasting beans, Henk can be found guiding tours of the ancient caves and shipwrecks in the area.  A local history buff, Henk can tell you stories for as many hours as you have to listen to his tales.

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Wayne Gabb, owner of the fantastic Lomond wine estate. Wayne certainly knows how to add fun into the serious business of wine making and life in general.

The Lomond wines are all named after different fynbos species found in the area. This wine producer works with nature rather than trying to dominate it. For wine that is very different but delectable, get yourself a bottle. I am not even I wine drinker but I enjoyed the Cat’s Tail Syrah immensely.

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There is something special going on in the grapes down there. Perhaps it’s a combination of the salty air, the scent of the fynbos and the imagination of the wine makers?

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At Lomond I met up with pop up chef, Craig Cormack from Roasters. He was preparing a sushi feast using trout caught in the Lomond Lake. We had a great chat about the importance of using fresh seasonal ingredients and how time taken to prepare and cook slowly is the secret to healthy, tasty food. Craig loves what he does and should be checked out by all foodies.

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Henk van der Walt from Overberg Aviation made me brave enough to have my first ever helicopter flip, in the smallest helicopter I have ever seen. It was incredible and I want more. We flew from De Uijlenes to Pearly Beach in the Robinson 44 helicopter and the ocean and mountain views were amazing. I was not brave enough to fly with the door off, but even so, seeing the mother and baby whales and a few sharks through the window was a memorable experience.

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I finally got to meet Cat Nyquist from Panthera Africa, a sanctuary for big cats that are unable to live in the wild.DSC_0528-01

Her enthusiasm for the animals and her determination to educate the whole world on why we must not interact with wild animals is inspiring. More about this sanctuary after I have visited and had the full educational experience. Prosperity for Predators, the Panthera motto gives me hope for the future of our wild life

Sean Privett, from Fynbos Trails and Witkrans cottages.  Sean is a botanist of note and a very innovative, nature loving person. He is also extremely active and has recently opened new MTB routes on his farm, and broke his leg while riding the ultimate South African MTB race, The Freedom Challenge. In between all these outdoor activities Sean does incredible work with fynbos, a nursery, finding new fynbos species and writing a book about them.

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Thanks go to Dave and Caron from Saxon Lodge in Gansbaai, and Michelle Williams from Sorted Solutions who made me so welcome.

I believe this festival is going to grow slowly into something huge and not to be missed. I will be back next year.

Hopefield, where the bees are relaxed and your time is your own.

 

Once again I am on the N7, turning off onto the R45, heading into the wonderful West Coast, this time to Hopefield.

As Table Mountain fades into the distance behind me, I start becoming aware of my surroundings.

I take in the very gentle rise of the hills dotted with the first few wild flowers. I notice the clarity of the colours in the copper, gold and bronze fields, and the deep green rectangles of lucerne, all framed by rich red earth.

I open the windows and it smells like the holidays. The air is clean and carries hints of farm life. The occasional whiff of cow manure mingles with the scent of aloes. The sun streaming into the car combined with the open space all around me is so relaxing that just driving is like a tonic.

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Then I spot that lovely sight of the wind farms, the beautiful white turbines reaching into the sky and catching the energy from nature. I know I am almost in Hopefield. This is a good thing as by now I am practically comatose I am so chilled.

This soporific state lasts only as long as it takes for me to park and get out of the car at Simply Bee.

Lizana from Simply Bee bursts out of the building, her bear hug of a welcome is so energizing she should be sold to Eskom!

Welcome to Hopefield.

 Although the town was named after two land surveyors called Mr Hope and Mr Field, the name is very apt. Hopefield shows me that even in 2015 it is possible to live in a way that is in complete harmony with nature and the environment. The people here are industrious without being hurried. Stress is not a common complaint and they all have that one commodity us city dwellers find so elusive. They have time.

Time to drink a cup of coffee outside, time to chat to a neighbour or help a friend.

Time to have a life.

This is not to say that Hopefield is a sleepy backwater. This delightful town built around the Sout River is a celebration of nature that embraces the modern technology when it needs to. The wind farms, internet companies and responsible tourism ethics are more advanced than in many cities, and the Merry Widow guest house is the very last word on urban hip in its décor. It also has the biggest, most complicated coffee machine I have ever seen.  

What is Simply Bee?

Simply Bee is a successful family business started in 1954 when Derick Hugo became a Bee Keeper. On retirement Derick and Marie resettled in Hopefield and manufactured and sold the honey.

In 2008 their daughter Helena and her husband Pierre van der Westhuizen took over the business and built it into the award winning company it has become.

This is how it came about.

Helena lived in the USA for 22 years and worked as an interior designer. This talent is very evident in the Simply Bee showroom which seems to glow in the sun from the colours of the honey and the warm woods of the beautiful old cabinets, sideboards and tables used to display the huge variety of products.

Simply Bee honey jar

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Shortly after her return to Hopefield, Helena had a bad fall that immobilised her for a number of months. During this time she started experimenting, or as she says playing, with beeswax and propolis with a growing excitement. Being raised in a family of bee keepers her basic knowledge was obviously already solid, and her passion for the bees is evident when she talks about them.

Helena started seriously educating herself about everything related to bees. She talked to bee keepers, she read scientific journals,  conducted her own experiments, and observed her hives.

Then she did a course in Essential Oils given by a respected expert in Riebeeck Kasteel, as these natural oils complement and enhance the beeswax and propolis products.

Helena is one of many women who have a very sensitive skin, so her first experiments were products that she could use herself. They worked well and she started giving them away as gifts.

The gifts were very popular and the news spread via word of mouth and suddenly there was a growing demand.

Helena’s dream was to create a range of products that were suitable for sensitive skins, but more importantly, were priced so that all women could afford them.

With a good product at the right price, growth is inevitable and Helena went from word of mouth sales to selling at all the local markets. This expanded to stocking various pharmacies and shops in the area and now most sales are done online.

The range consists of over 60 products.

  • A full range of skin care products for women, many containing that wonder ingredient propolis.
  • Men and babies have their own special range of soaps, creams and lotions.
  • Candles, soaps, body balms, nail creams and hair care make wonderful gifts and are very affordable.
  • Pure and Raw Fynbos honey is a healthy choice for the whole family. There is even honey for kids presented in a teddy bear shaped bottle.
  • For the home, linen and room mists are the perfect natural alternative to chemical fresheners, and the leather and wood polishes make housework eco- friendly.
  • For animal lovers there is hoof balm for your limping horse, or swarm lure for bee keepers.
  • For outdoor enthusiasts the insect repellent does the job very effectively.
  • Fill up your First Aid box with natural antiseptics and ointments that work.

Simply Bee products can be purchased from 190 stockists in South Africa and the company exports to the UK, USA, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mauritius.

The Feel Good Factor.

  • Simply Bee has created employment for eleven local residents so far, and they source all other suppliers and support services from the area.
  • Simply Bee is honey badger friendly and all their hives are placed on stands.
  • The bee hives are in fynbos rich areas where no commercial farming occurs. This means they are not exposed to any chemicals, making their honey 100% organic.
  • Conservation and the purity of their products are foundation of the company. All natural ingredients are only taken from plentiful renewable sources.
  • Helena personally controls the production process and ensures that distillation, extraction, steaming and hydrolysis are kept to an absolute minimum to retain the natural purity.
  • The Simply Bee Observation Centre provides education and awareness of the important role that bees play in our lives and the benefits of honey and other products.

Simply Bee display 1

Bring honey and bees into your daily life.

 To encourage bees to your garden, plant Lemongrass. Bees love it as the Queen bee has a phenorome that smells like lemon, this attracts them to the plant. A garden full of bees is a happy, healthy garden.

  • Mix 1 teaspoon of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in half a cup of hot water. Drink daily. Where possible buy cinnamon sticks. They can be ground in a coffee grinder.This recipe can be beneficial to sufferers of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arthritis
  • It is the only source of the antioxidant, pinocembrin, which is associated with improved brain function.
  • Honey contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals and water.
  • Did you know that you could live on honey and nothing else?
  • People suffering from allergies can also try this remedy but must use locally produced honey as this helps to build up your immunity.
  • Eat fats and make them work for you
  • Mix 1 teaspoon of honey with half a cup of luke- warm water and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Drink daily.This allows the body to absorb the good fats and eliminate the bad fats fast.

The Simply Bee Observation Centre.

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This educational, interactive experience teaches everything you ever wanted to know about bees.

A hive has been opened on one side to reveal the intricate workings of the colony. It is observed from behind glass for the safety and happiness of both visitors and the bees. The back door to the observation room is open so the bees are free to come and go as they please.  Honey tasting is offered after the talk.

Packages are available for schools, study groups or tourists and picnic snacks and drinks are included.    Booking is essential.

Simply Bee also has a room dedicated to farms they work with in the area. Displays run for a month and feature one farm at a time. Historical items displayed range from furniture and clothing to old photographs, documents, books and toys. A little story about the featured farm is given.

The tourism office and museum has a fascinating display of memorabilia from the past. One wall is dedicated to a vast collection of old cameras, while another section has some scary looking old medical and dental equipment. Victorian dolls, little girls dresses and stylish accessories will thrill fashionistas, and foodies will enjoy the large table filled with tins, kitchen utensils and crockery.

If you are planning to visit Hopefield, do it on a Saturday so you can mingle with the locals at the fresh produce market. It is just past Simply Bee, look for the big red doors. All sorts of delectable goods are for sale, produced by locals. The market is a great initiative that benefits the whole community.

Don’t leave Hopefield without a visit to the N.G. Church. In 1911 the Forster & Andrews Organ was purchased from England. This organ is so huge that the church had to be enlarged to accommodate it. It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, and is still used every Sunday.

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A few kilometers out of town you will find Die Plaasmol. It is not easy to describe but I will try. Lovely gardens, the most creative recycling I have ever seen, a tea room, a pub, a number of little shops loaded with goods ranging from gifts to preserves, clothing to plants. It would probably take a day to explore this area properly.

Plaasmoll entrance

The owner, Fransie Russouw  is happy to share her ideas as she believes EVERYTHING can be recycled.Camping sites are available and a huge covered area is available for functions. This place is well worth a visit, kids will love it and can run free while parents shop or just relax in the shade and enjoy something to eat.

Plaasmoll crocs

Thanks to WestCoastWaySA for hosting me in Hopefield.