Tsitsikamma cattle roadblock

We decided to break away to the Tsitsikamma for the day and rather than just driving in and out on the N2, we took the scenic R102. The three biggest industries in the area are forestry, tourism and dairy so everywhere along the way you pass plantations, dairy farms and accommodation and activity establishments. What we didn’t expect to encounter was a roadblock made up of cattle. As we crested a little hill I realised that there was something in the road about a kilometers ahead. And not something like a car or a person, but a lot of somethings. A herd of cows being moved down the road from one farm to another with the herdsman in front leading the way.

Rather than just sitting in the car I pulled over and we all hopped out to experience something that is very unusual for city slickers like us, being surrounded by a herd of cows in transit.

Being an 18 year old teenager, Chaos Boy didn’t really show any interest, but Miggie was a lot more excited and inquisitive about the whole thing.

We barely got going when the next herd appeared in the road. This one was moving a little faster with the two guys in the lead breaking out in a jog every now and then with the cows nipping at their heals.

This is what road trips and exploring on country roads is about. Experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

We picked strawberries in Hankey

I am way behind on my blogging.  Like in “get Dr Strange in here with the Time Stone and send me back 6 months so I can try to start and catch up” behind.  Life is getting in the way and life is made up of work, family, kids, sport, etc, etc, etc…  That plus having a teenager in the house that occupies my laptop all evening, which have now conked out for the third time in a year. The laptop, not the teenager.  Freekin hell, please remind me never to buy an Acer computer again.  That is if I ever have money to buy a laptop again with what Miggie’s indoor cricket is costing me.  Anyhow… We picked strawberries in Hankey, in January, which is a good 4 and a half months ago already, but I would really like to share it with you. 
Madele’ Ferreira has been growing strawberries outside Hankey in the Gamtoos Valley for over 20 years and for the last few years they have managed to produce strawberries commercially all year round.  With over 12 hectares covered in strawberries and supplying some of the biggest retail chains around, the Mooihoek strawberries have probably crossed your lips at one stage or another, but only from the shop to your table to your mouth.  Although they have had many requests from people to come and pick their own strawberries they have never been ready for the public to do so.  That was until Madele’s daughter was looking to earn some extra money during the summer holiday and it was decided to allow the public to pick for a limited time only.  The response? Overwhelming and so much more than they ever imagined.

I headed out to Hankey with the family in tow and two teenagers who weren’t very excited about the outing, mainly because they had no idea what they will get to do.  Yes, they knew we were going to pick strawberries, but I don’t think they even knew how the fruit was grown and what you actually have to do. 

On arrival we bought our punnets at R30 each and received the simple instructions.  You can pick as many as you can fit onto the punnet without leaning it against your body.  Pick away!  And pick they did.  Them and many others who arrived on just this one morning.  Apparently, the farm workers could not understand why people would want to come and pay to pick strawberries in the summer sun when you can just buy them in the shop.  Nobody told them that these days it’s all about experiences and not just looking at things anymore, but rather doing.
I sure hope they will open the field for picking at some stage again and perhaps on a more permanent basis as it will do wonders for tourism in the Gamtoos Valley.  For now, I can only stare at my pictures from the day and remember the taste of those sweet red strawberries, most not even making it home with us. 

A wine farm in PE?

Everybody knows the Winelands in the Western Cape based around Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. Then there is the rapidly developing Plettenberg Bay Wine Route.  But did you know Port Elizabeth also have a wine farm?  The Theescombe Estate Wine Farm is located on a 2-hectare smallholding in the Theescombe on the western side of Port Elizabeth.  It’s not quite a big commercial wine operation yet, but they do make wine and sell it from the farm.  But why is it called an Estate Wine Farm and not a Wine Estate?  It is because they make all their own wines on the farm using only grapes from the farm.  This means that they don’t bring in additional grapes from other farms nor do they send their grapes somewhere else for the wine to be made.  Now you’ve also learned something today.   

Why have you never visited Nieu-Bethesda?

It feels like most people I speak to about travelling in the Karoo Heartland of the Eastern Cape have been to Graaff-Reinet, yet many didn’t venture much further to also visit Nieu-Bethesda.  Nieu-Bethesda truly is a very special village located barely 30 minutes from Graaff-Reinet and have a truly off the beaten track feeling to it.  I say off the beaten track because that is literally what it is.  No tar roads in the village, no street lights, no ATM, no petrol station and no night life other than crickets in the dark and the cow you have to swerve out for when it suddenly appears in your headlights.  What the village does have are tons of character (the good kind), history, interesting nooks and crannies, even more interesting people, good food and nostalgia that will stick to you like blackjacks to wool socks long after you have left.
I was going to do a long and detailed post about Nieu-Bethesda but decided that my pictures could easily do most of the talking.  For the rest you will have to visit the village yourself to discover.
Nieu-Bethesda, a town of Karoo landscapes, history, owls, dirt roads and (rusting in) piece

Not a tarred road or street light in sight where a traffic jam means two cars reaching an intersection at the same time perhaps twice a day
Nieu-Bethesda is one of the few places that still have leivore (farrows) with water flowing in them
The Owl House is what put Nieu-Bethesda on the map and well worth a visit
The late Helen Martins spent most of her life in the town and the latter part of it transforming her ordinary Karoo home into a place of colour and light.  Over the years she and her assistant Koos Malgas, used concrete and glass to create a multi-coloured house and fantasy garden.  In the Camel Yard visitors will find statues of owls, camels, wise men and much more and one can literally get lost In your own thoughts trying to take all of this in.  Shortly before her 79th birthday, Helen Martins committed suicide by drinking caustic soda.  It is said that at the time her eyesight was failing because of damage from ground glass and that depression was getting the better of her.  
Doesn’t matter how many times I visit the Owl House, there is always something different to discover or some new angle to photograph 
One can’t simply visit Nieu-Bethesda and not buy one of the hand made cement owls being sold outside the Owl House.  I still have the owl I bought on my first visit to the village in my garden.
The Nieu-Bethesda cemetery has graves dating back to the early days of the village with the one of Helen Martins with its cement owl headstone standing out 
The Karoo is famous for the fossils found there and Nieu-Bethesda seems to be right in the thick of things when it comes to fossil records.  The Kitching Fossil Centre in the village is well worth a visit.  The guide shows visitors how they clean the rock off the fossils and do a walking tour to the river bed to show you fossils in the rocks.
If you really want to learn more about fossils, Khoi San artifacts and rock paintings then you have to visit Ganora Guest Farm a little outside the village.  Ganora has one of the biggest private fossil collections in the country in their fossil museum and if they ever established a Jurassic Park in the Karoo then I would want to be with owner JP Steynberg as he knows everything there is to know about the prehistoric animals found in that area. 

Yes, that is the fossilised skull of a very small dinosaur

Don’t think that a tour through the Ganora Fossil Museum would be a boring affair

The Karoo Heartland is known for it’s amazing hospitality and farm stays are becoming more and more popular.  At Ganora our little group were just in time to help bottle feed the hanslammers (hand reared lambs).  Not the kind of experience that us city slickers are used to or get to do every day.  
My visit to Nieu-Bethesda was way too short, taking up only a Sunday afternoon and Monday morning before the meeting I had to attend.  Way too little to explore and experience properly.  One needs at least a weekend, arriving on the Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday after lunch, to have a chance to get to know the town properly and visit at least a few places.  If you do want to know more, do check out this very comprehensive list of things to do in Nieu-Bethesda on the ECTOUR website. 

Hart Cottage at Glen Avon Farm

I told you a little bit of the history of Glen Avon Farm and the historic Glen Avon Watermill outside Somerset East in my previous post.  Glen Avon has a number of other old buildings on the property with the oldest being Hart Cottage.  Built around 1817, Hart Cottage is the only remaining of three of the original cottages built on the farm.  It’s was painstakingly renovated and is being used as self catering accommodation for visitors to the farm.  In the background on the right is one of the farm’s two old homesteads.