Rose’s Round-Up December 1994 No 22

LAINGSBURG CAST AS A STAR

The picturesque area around Laingsburg formed the backdrop to TV advertisement for the new Audi station wagon. “We chose this location because it’s pure magic”, said Donna van Vierden, co-ordinator for producers Peter Gird Productions in Cape Town and advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather. “The splendid and breath-taking scenery from arid, almost moonscape rocks to soft rolling green hills and the lusher vegetation of the mountains showed the vehicles off to perfection”, she added. About 21 people were involved. This included the film crew directors, as well as agency and client representatives.

KAROO CAPTIVATES BELGIAN VISITORS

Two journalists from the tourism unit of Radio 1, a major station in Belgium, recently visited the Karoo. They were Greet van Thiernen and Ingrid Hannes. Travel agent, Ivan de Sutter, accompanied them. His main interest was in the accommodation venues of the Karoo and special holiday packages, such as hunting, hiking, and game viewing. Greet displayed great interest in interviews and capturing the sounds of the Karoo, while Ingrid took many photographs which will be used to promote their broadcasts. The group overnighted in Gamkaskloof, The Hel, and they agreed that this was a wonderful experience. “The silence in this little isolated valley is quite remarkable”, said Greet. The next morning they visited Prince Albert, and then it was on to Beaufort West for a day visit to the Karoo National Park and some holiday venues. Next day they travelled to Matjiesfontein for a delightful meal. All three thoroughly enjoyed their stay.

WHEN LIONS SING AND A TOWN CLERK PLAYS

The Black lions in song, the Beaufort West Town Clerk squeezing sounds from a concertina to the accompaniment of a guitar and old church organ, not so long ago cast a spell over two Belgian Radio journalists. They were conducting interviews for Radio 1, a major Belgian radio station. Greet van Thiernan, of the station’s travel unit, first recorded Karoo night sounds as background to the interviews. Then came an impromptu musical gathering at the Beaufort West Museum. The Black Lions a Kwa-Mandlenkosi group sang Xhosa and English songs. Greet and Ingrid Hannes, a photojournalist, were enchanted. Real “Boeremusiek” followed. The old organ was coaxed into life by Johan Schultz of the Electricity Department with Andre Malan on guitar and not traffic patrol (his normal day job is a traffic policeman). And next year’s tax hikes faded away in the mellow sounds of town clerk, Dawie Uys’s, concertina rendition of several well-known Afrikans songs.

GREAT PRAISE FOR THE ‘LOERTJIE’

The Laingsburg ‘Loertjie’, the special little local newsletter which was sent out with the November issue of Round-up, received great praise. The regional tourism office received many telephone calls from townspeople, former residents, and tourists. Journalists interested in doing some follow up stories also called. The geology of the area was particularly interesting to most readers. A British tourist, a distant relation of Thomas Laing, after whom the town was named, fortunately happened to be in the town when the newsletter was published. He took a few copies with him to show friends and family in England. In this issue we take a closer look at Klaarstroom.

THE BLOODY FLAGSTONES

Ray de Villiers, a former Beaufort West resident and Boer War enthusiast, called at the tourism office recently. He shared memories of the town and his research on the Boer War. He once visited Uitspansfontein and, like Peter Greeff and his team, who visited a short time ago, also found sangars on the koppies. He traced the path of action and troop movments and wrote an article on the subject. He told the tale of young Dauphin Pienaar, son of the then owner of Juriesfontein, who, while walking in the veld one day, was suddenly confronted by a Boer commando. “Are there English soldiers at the house?” they asked. There were, but Dauphin knew if he warned the Boers the British would shoot him. Terrified, he slowly shook his head and the Boers approached the homestead. Fighting broke out and a Boer was badly wounded. “It was said that the blood never washed out of the flagstones where he fell”,said Ray.

RECORD NUMBER OF OVERSEAS VISITORS

South Africa’ current popular international status has resulted in an increased number of overseas visitors coming to the country which is now rapidly becoming one of the top international destinations. Satour experts say that there has been a dramatic increase in tourists particularly from Britain and British tour operators confirm that tourism to South Africa has doubled within a year. Overseas visitor numbers have risen by 23,5% since June last year and figures for July show the number to be 26,7 % higher than it was in the same period last year. Bed occupation in Beaufort West has risen and the Karoo National Park is fully booked for December.

EXCELLENCE TO BE RECOGNISED

Satour has launched a national tourism awards scheme which will recognise and promote excellence in the travel trade. Known as the Crystal Tourism Awards, these will be presented in co-operation with Thomsons and other trade publications, such as Hotelier and Caterer, and Professional Caterer, as well as the popular consumer magazine, Getaway, and TV programmes, such as Top Billing. “The primary objective is to encourage excellence of service and standards”, explained Greg McManus, Satour’s director of Standards and Promotions.

TOP TRACKER BECOMES A NEWSMAKER

A top South African authority on black rhinos is one of two finalists in the National Parks Board’s first Newsmaker of the Year competition. He is based in Beaufort West and he is well in line to receive this prestigious award. He is Pokkie Benadie, 31, a top tracker and veldwagter (field ranger) at the Karoo National Park, however, a little over a year ago, Pokkie could could neither read nor write. “His progress in these fields has been nothing short of excellent”, said information officer Henriette Engelbrecht, who has been acting as his teacher. “He considers himself to be a child of the Karoo and for the past 17 years served only as a field ranger in the park. During that time, however, he built up an enviable knowledge on the ecology and wildlife of the area. He says he has done this simply by keeping his eyes open”. Because of Pokkie’s excellent record in the field, he ws appointed as a tracker to monitor the movement of the black rhinos which were recently introduced into the park. He does this on foot. “These huge creatures live in a rather rocky part of the park, but amazingly Pokkie can tell exactly where they are, where they have been, as well as what they are or have been eating”, said Henriette.

KAROO COLOURS DAZZLE DUTCH ARTIST

Well known Dutch artist and author, Henk van Woerden, recently visited the Karoo with his wife, Nicole, to collect material for a book. As a child he lived in the Cape for a while and developed a fascination for the vast and beautiful open spaces of the Great Karoo. “The colours in particular intrigue me”, he said. “They never stop changing. In the early mornings the contrasts and highlights are magnificent. From pale, almost translucent pastel shades of dawn, the colours develop throughout the day, complimented by the blue of the sky, yellows and browns of the grasses and the earth through to the lilacs and purples of the mountains. At sundown they flame into rich russets, golds and oranges, which slowly fade until at night, white and silver shades of moonlight wash the plains”.

ROYAL ATTENTION GETTERS

Two marble busts inside the main doors of the Lord Milner Hotel are great attention getters. They intrigue tourists who often enquire about their origins. The busts are of the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia. She was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and she married the Prince in 1858. He became Kaiser Frederick III in 1888 but died the same year and was succeeded by Keiser Wilhelm II, who died in exile in 1941. For years these busts stood in the German Club in Port Elizabeth. Then, David Rawdon, owner of Matjiesfontein, and an avid antique collector bought them at an auction and moved them to the Lord Milner Hotel where they lend a gracious air to the foyer.

HONORARY RANGERS ENJOY THE KAROO

The Karoo offered a “fantastic experience” to about 130 honorary field rangers who attended the Annual Congress at the Karoo National Park. “For many this was a first-time experience”, said information officer, Henriette Engelbrecht. “They arrived as strangers but left as friends”. The congress was attended by delegates from about 15 South African regions. Dr Roger Smith, a well-known palaeontologist from the S A Museum in Cape Town, opened the meeting. Some regional delegates also delivered talks. “Ben Vorster’s discussion of the grazing patterns and habits of springboks was most popular and Pietie van der Walt’s talk on plant cycles and the unique adaptions that Karoo plants have had to make over the years, was also most fascinating”, said Henriette.

BABY ARRIVES – IT’S A KITTEN

There’s a new baby at the Karoo National Park. It’s a kitten – that’s what he offspring of riverine rabbits are called. The park received six rabbits, a highly endangered species unique to the Karoo, a few months ago. A safe habitat was created in an old river bed, but settling them was not easy. They’re fiercely territorial and after being freed, they attacked each other, ripping lumps of fur from competitor’s pelts. “They looked dreadful with awful raw red patches”, said information officer, Henriette Engelbrecht. “But these disputes cooled and now the first kitten has arrived confirming the success of this resettlement programme”. Riverene rabbits have only one offspring at a time and only four in their two to three lifespan.

BAD EXPERIENCE FOR A YOUNG “LADY”

Tswaros, a black rhino, whose name means young lady, was relocated from Augrabies to the Karoo National Park. She was kept in a bouma and after some time released into as safe camp. She, however, broke the fence and stormed into another camp where other rhinos lived. They did not like this and they attacked her. She was severely wounded. With deep gashes, she sought safety in a thickly wooded area and her life was saved by the park’s dedicated trackers and rangers, who searched and searched until they found her. Once they did Dr Piet Morkel, a wild life veterinary surgeon from the Kimberley, was called. ”It is quite nerve racking to follow such a badly wounded huge animal into the bush and to shoot it with a tranquilising dart”, he said, but he knew that this had to be done if she was to be saved. He walked gently long looking for traces of her, and then suddenly she sprang out of the bushes about 10 m ahead of him and charged. Fortunately he had a clean shot and within a comparatively short time she was calmed and able to be taken back to the bouma for treatment. She recovered very well and when all her wounds had completely healed, she was once again tranquilised by Dr Morkel and transferred to Addo National Park, where she will join a herd of about 30 black rhinos.

HOTELLIERS JOIN HANDS

Albert Odendaal, owner of the Swartberg Hotel in Prince Albert, has joined two other well- known hoteliers in a marketing campaign designed to position their establishments as prime venues in the Western Cape Province. The group, which has named itself Cape and Garden Route Retreats, offers personalised itineraries and affordable stopovers in Cape Town, Mossel Bay and Prince Albert.

IRON HORSES THUNDER INTO THE PAST

In clouds of steam and smoke thundering great ghosts hurtled across the Karoo plains recently. Well – sort of electronic ghosts. It was actually a TV documentary entitled Steam Fever, a tribute to the golden age of the railways that once were so central to the romance of the Great Karoo. Virtually all the footage used was shot in the Karoo. It was a fitting farewell to the great steam locomotives that now seem to have joined the dinosaur fossils of the vast Great Karoo.

KAROO CHARMS YACHTING CELEBRITY

After sailing triumphantly into Table Bay harbour and shattering two records, yachtswoman Isabelle Autissier, wanted nothing more than to rest and relax. Isabelle had shattered the first leg of the BOC Challenge Around the World Solo Yacht Race, and had also set up a second record by becoming the first woman to win a leg. She chose to relax in the Karoo. As a professor of marine science, she said the stark beauty of this dry world fascinated her. She had seen it from the air and yearned to become better acquainted with this dryland. She loved it. And she was intrigued by the wealth of unique plant and animal species she saw. She crowded many experiences into her four days as a guest of the Karoo National Park. Isabelle was even lucky enough to see three cerval cats in one night. Now we hear her yacht, the high-tech Ecureuil Poitou Charentes 2, was crippled when the main mast broke in a storm in the Southern Ocean. She is currently struggling through high seas to try to reach a French island base where she will be able to have a new one fitted.

FAREWELL AND GOOD LUCK

Ronel van der Spuy, Prince Albert’s information officer, curator of the Fransie Pienaar Museum, and the person who worked exceptionally hard to put the town on the map has landed a new job. She has been appointed assistant manager at the Cango Caves in the Oudtshoorn area. This is a blow for Prince Albert, as she has developed so many publicity plans for the town and the Olive Festival over the years. The town will continue to work on her publicity proposals. The towns people have joined the publicity association committee and personnel in wishing Ronel everything of the best for the future. This village hopes to remain a good friend to her on this side of the Swartberg. The Central Karoo Regional Services Coumcol is also bidding farewell to Richmond, Victoria West and Loxton. These towns have been moved into the Northern Cape in the new dispensation. We wish them every success for the future.

MURRAYSBURG JOINS

Murraysburg has now become part of the area to be serviced by the Central Karoo Regional Services Council and its tourism department. There are many interesting guest farms in the area, some with fascinating histories. They’ve all been listed in the new Accommodation Guide which has just been sent out to a wide range of people in the tourism industry. In the town itself, there is the Murraysburg Hotel, and Five Roses Guest House. This cosy venue, owned by Elma Immelmn, can accommodate a maximum of six people in an historic old house which got its name because five eligible and attractive school teachers once shared it.

DAY TRIPS INTO THE MOUNTAINS

Many tourists have request information of walking and hiking possibilities in the Swartberg Mountain area. In order to answer this demand Danie and Lydia Swanepoel, have developed a series of short routes on their farm Remhoogte. Birders are in raptures about some of these and some visitors have seen as many as 161 species along these walks. There is also a delightfully cool, woody glade which is suitable for picnics and a fresh water fountain along one of the routes. These routes have become very popular in a very short time and several visitors have requested permission to set up tents along their favourite walks sp that they can overnight under the stars.

BEST WISHES FOR A SUPERB SEASON

Season’s Greetings to all readers of Rose’s Round-up. May the tourists who are intending to visit Karoo venues have a wonderful time and the local venues have a steady stream of visitors. For those of you who are taking a break – you have earned it – have a good time and travel safely if you are going out on the roads.