Rose’s Round-Up April 1995 No 25


The memory of beautiful Helena de Vries, said to have been the secret love of South African poet, C J Langenhoven, still lingers at the farm Gideonshoop, near Klaarstroom. She was born in Prince Albert in 1872 and lived at Mirtle Grove, a house now known as Mirtlehof. While studying at Bloemhof Seminary in the late 1890s, she was introduced to “Petite”, as Langenhoven was known because of his small stature. Some believed it was love at first sight. The couple soon became engaged, but this lasted for two years. Her austere Dutch father stepped in as he considered Langenhoven, a self-confessed atheist, far too liberal. Helena later married twice-widowed, Gideon Muller, who had six children. She bore him only one child, a son, Giedie. In 1894 Langenhoven wrote an English poem in her honour. The first letter of each descending line spells “Helena” Memories of Helena fill Gideonshoop. There are fading photographs, Langenhoven’s Afrikaans birthday book, dedicated to her in his own hand, and one of two pressed roses in her Bible. He had its twin and a lock of her hair.


Ann Muller of Gideonshoop loves to serve a traditional old-fashioned breakfast with worsies (little sausages), lewerkoekies (liver patties), as variety of homemade breads and green fig conserve. At times as many as 25 guests visit to enjoy these meals and often they are members of the Langenhoven Society, And, while these guests are enjoying breakfast; in a huge room of the old daggamuur home that Amm and her husband, Gideon, restored, she tells stories of the area, which was first known at Die Koue Vallei (The Cold Valley), and of the unrequited love between Langenhoven and Helena de Vries. Gideonshoop is a popular guest farm, only 7km from the tar road through Klaarstroom.


A pilot springbok skin tanning project will be held at the farm Kareebosch, near Murraysburg, later this month. The first course of its kind, it will be limited to 20 people and conducted by taxidermist, Martin Gous. The aim is to provide under-privileged people, on hunting farms, with skills which will enable them to earn money from the tourist trade. The course is being funded by the Regional Tourism Organisation. A sister project, entitled Venison Made Easy and aimed at developing a wider appreciation for a variety of venison dishes to expand the tourism cuisine of the Karoo is also being arranged.


Prince Albert’s Olive Festival, from May 26 to 28, is going to be the biggest and best to date, say the organisers. Bookings for accommodation and stalls has so far been quite heavy. This has delighted the organisers particularly because this year’s festival celebrates the town’s 150th anniversary.


The farm, Kareebosch, near Murraysburg, is situated in an historic area of the Karoo. There are several San drawings in this area and it is also the spot where South Africa’s first exploration for oil took place. For more than two years teams of 100 people worked three eight-hour shifts, around the clock, each day in their efforts to find oil. But it was all to no avail and now all that remains is rusted pieces of old machinery in the veld Kareebosch also has its own hero. As skirmish took place on this farm during the Anglo-Boer War on July 7, 1901, and Captain W J Rundle of Brabant’s Horse and 6th Dragoon Guards, was killed here. He is buried on the farm. According to Boer War researcher Taffy Shearing Captain Rundle was the spitting image of Robert Redford and very popular among the ladies. These days Kareebosch, home of Willem and Carissa Smuts, is a most popular guest farm. Guests are housed in the original old stone farm house.


“Are the sheep with black heads sunburned?” has been only one of the questions asked by tourists passing through the Central Karoo. Others included: “If there are really so many sheep, why do we see so few?’, “Are these scrubby little bushes really edible?”, “Who looks after the sheep?” and “How can the farmers find them on these huge farms?” Many also ask if there is a sheep show farm in the Karoo. There are almost as many questions about goats and game. One little boy was convinced that the springbok at the Karoo National Park were very friendly because they kept wagging their tails. A pictorial on the farm holiday venues is now being compiled and will in time be able to be seen at the Tourist Information Offices in Beaufort West. A start on this project was made at Trakaskuilen, where photographs were taken of Harold Wright’s team, who still shear sheep by hand.


The popular Rietfontein farmstall and braai venue, south of Leeu Gamka, is now expanding. Owner Hannes Botes has opened a second shop alongside the N1 in Laingsburg. The top-quality products and good service asvailable there has already received many complements. “The entire stock consists of homemade farm products,” says Hannes. “These are immensely popular among city people who pass through the region. Many people enjoy the products so much that we, from time to time, have to send them additional items in the post.”


Tourism, farm holidays, and the management of guest farms, were among the topics covered by Rose Willis during a talk to the Prince Albert Farmers’ Association. Discussing the influx of tourists, the growing interest in farms and ecotourism, she said many overseas visitors preferred rural venues, finding this the best way to get to know an area and its people. “Becoming part of the life on a Karoo farm for a few days, is now being acclaimed as something special,” she said. Tourist loved the range of venues and the choice of being completely cared for or doing their own cooking.


The tough Kanniedood, aloe variegata, has been chosen as the emblem of an important Karoo road safety campaign. The project was recently launched on the N1 between Beaufort West and Lainstburg and information brochures underlining the dangers of overloading, speed and tiredness, were handed out Vehicle roadworthiness was also stressed.


InterCape is back on the route through the Karoo. This bus company now offers a regular Cape Town to Johannesburg service at competitive prices. During the daily 15-hour trip free meals and refreshments are served. There are several stops in the Central Karoo – at the Majtiesfontein turn-off, at Laingsburg, Leeu Gamka, Beaufort West and Three Sisters. This is a day time service and so is ideal for people wishing to see the beauties of the Karoo. The northbound bus reaches Beaufort West at 11h45 and the southbound one at 16h30.


The growing number of foreign visitors to the Great Karoo has been noticeable, which proved promotional efforts are paying off. Visitors include journalists, who are also discovering the attractions of the area. Among recent visitors have been photographers, specialist editors and feature writers, all seeking different angles on “exploring the Karoo”. Among those who enjoyed gaining an insight into this area, which scientists consider to be one of the wonders of the world, was Dr Frank Hoffman, travel editor of Germany’s prestigious travel magazine, Stern. This magazine sells over 1,3 million copies per issue. Welsh freelance photojournalist, Stephen Thomas, proclaimed the area the most under-photographed he’d yet visited and a “symphony of dawns and sunsets”. British specialist writer, John May, was particularly struck by the tales of steam trains, the history of the rail, as well as the blockhouses. The Karoo totally captivated him. It rained during his visit, but that did not upset him. “This such a dry area that I am happy to be the rainmaker of the Karoo,” said.


An NNTV (Netherlands National Television) camera team looking for “something different” for their travel programme recently discovered the Karoo. From Beaufort West they travelled across the vast plains towards the Swartberg and called in at the little hamlets of Seekoegat and small village of Klaarstroom, where they found much to film. This included traditional Karoo houses, churches, ruins and the mountainous area of Meiringspoort with its incredible rock formations. They also travelled up the changing route of the Swartberg Pass and captured this on film These journalists visited Kareedouw Pass and Die Gang, the road which links Klaarstroom to Prince Albert. On their way back to Beaufort West, where they were scheduled to visit the Karoo National Park, they called in at the old abandoned goldfields on Kleinwaterval. Again, they found this a captivating area. As recent rains had fallen at the Karoo National Park, they found abundant game to photograph and this delighted them. The team also took time to film a few short sequences at a variety of Anglo-Boer War sites, including the old isolated graveyard at Deelfontein, once the site of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital. “We found the Karoo to be a wonderful world of colour and images. We will definitely be back,” said editor Richard Williams.


The magnificent mountains of the Vleiland area, near Laingsburg, recently formed the backdrop for TV commercial made for a Dutch Company, Bruns van Wyken. The advertisement was commissioned by Avero Films on behalf of this insurance company and handled by Harry Films, a British production house, and African Sky Productions, a South African agency. The director was Anthony Fokkerweg. A mix of tar and gravel roads was needed and several special effects were created.


Buchu is one of the Karoo’s wonder herbs. Researcher, Helena Marincowitz, of the farm, Sleutelfontein, near Prince Albert, says that way back buchu was a magic healing plant. “Thirteen different species grow in the Swartberg area,” she said. “Buchu is a Khoi word and the plant wass used as a general medicine by the San. They dried the leaves, powdered them and mixed this with sheep fat to make a cream for rubbing onto their skins. Buchu was also part of their marriage ritual. In 1710 a Moravian missionary at Genadendal sent leaves to Madras and Calcutta in India. Early botanists like Thunberg (1771) and Sparham (1775), both of whom we medical doctors, highly praised the plant. By 1821 Buchu leaves were being exported to England and the United States. The Voortrekkers used Buchu for stomach problems and to keep wounds clean. In days of yore Granny’s medicine chests were never without Buchu. Even today the people of the Swartberg area still make a lot of Buchu brandy and vinegar.


The two-day pony-trek at Anysberg Nature Reserve is truly something special. This circular route winds through renoster bush, acacia thorn trees, broken and succulent Karoo veld. There are breathtaking views across the Bokkeveld scale mountains, an abundance of birds are to be seen, as well as a variety of antelope. Anyone can tackle this route. No horse-riding experience is necessary, and riders are encouraged to sleep under the stars and cook over open coals.


“Strange things can happen in the wee hours of a Karoo night to as chap in pyjamas is taking new pup on a mandatory tour of the garden,” said Wally Kriek, who lives on the northern edge of Beaufort West. He said he was just standing there and “hoping to hell that the little Collie would quickly get it over with, when she suddenly froze, went into stalking mode and pointed.” On the garden path sat a silent silhouette. It resembled a large eagle. Not likely, the thought. On moving closer Wally found himself “eyeball to eyeball” with a vulture. “Enough to make you give up the hard stuff,” he said later. The odd visitor seemed to be in bad shape. The bird was herded to cover and into a shrubbery. However, in the long dark vigil that followed the vulture somehow managed to make it to the verandah roof. “from there it slipped, landed on a palm, crashed out of it and then stayed put on the deck. When daylight came Wally hit the emergency button and called the Karoo National Park. They arrived almost instantly. Manager Fanie van Tonder and Assistant Jayjay Minje caught the bird with a blanket. The Cape mountain vulture, as it turned out to be was not injured, but covered with parasites and desperately dehydrated and hungry. Two days later the bird was well on the way to recovery. But the mystery remained. How did this vulture manage to stray so many hundreds of kilometers from any known colonies?


Bird watchers are astonished. A pair of beautiful paradise fly catchers (Terpsiphone viridis) a species which is normally only seen in the lush evergreen coastal regions, river afforested and bushy areas of the Garden Route, are now nesting at the Karoo National Park. “This is absolutely unbelievable,” says Japie Claassen, secretary of the William Quinton Wild Bird Society in Beaufort West. “Research, however, shows that this is not the first time that these birds have been seem in the Karoo. They were once seen at Leeu Gamka and also at Rhenosterkop, 30 km north east of Beaufort West, but that was long, long ago. Incredibly they were also seen on the farm Nuwejaarsfontein, near De Aar.” The breeding air in the Karoo National Park has built a nest 2,2m from the ground in a sweet thorn tree and it is currently filled with three little chicks.


Officers of the old British Indian Army had a decided preference for horses from the Nuweveld Mountains, outside Beaufort West. As part of her research into the Boer War in the Karoo, Taffy Shearing discovered that Peter Daniel Rose shipped scores of geldings to India because the “officers maintained that these horses had harder hooves and better stamina than others.” Horses from Colesberg were also favoured. The Rose family came to Beaufort West in 1837 when Henry Rose took over the farm Klawerfontein from Gabriel Marais. Forty years later his son Peter Daniel is recorded as having paid three guineas a year rent on it. In 1879 the secretary of the Cape of Good Hope recorded that there were between 400 and 500 horses on the farm, bred from “the best English bloodstock and among these are some of the handsomest and liveliest mares in the country.” Klawerfontein was 30 miles from Beaufort West and the journey to town took three hours with stops for water. Oddly enough all the Rose horses were taught to drink water from bottles, a precaution against them being poisoned by contaminated water.


The magic mountain of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, recently beckoned a former Beaufort Wester, and he made it to the summit. Alwyn Steyl, 39-year-old son of Mrs H A Steyl of Beaufort West, and a group of 11 friends recently decided to tackle this grueling climb. Mutual friends had done it and their achievement sparked Alwyn’s enthusiasm. The group flew from Cape Town on a Saturday, started their climb on Sunday and by the next Sunday, they were back, many filled with “an unbelievable sense of achievement.” Alwyn is a land surveyor by profession and prides himself on his physical fitness. He said he needed every bit to conquer that mountain. Would he do it again? Any day,” he said. “The climb offers an excitement all of its own. To stand on that summit is indescribably exhilarating.”