The Central Karoo is auditioning for a major role in a period film. A British director and his technical advisors, seeking a venue for a film that requires an 1860 setting, are looking for sites between Laingsburg and Loxton. Last month the central Karoo starred in an international 30 second TV advertisement – that it took a week to make. The script called for a Nevada Desert scene, and the British directors, from a well-known company, which has filmed such major movies as The Blade Runner, chose a spot outside Merweville. The required desert scene was created. A chapel and roadside bar were built alongside the gravel road, left-hand-drive cars were flown in from the USA and a windmill was even moved to create a better atmosphere. Filming started at dawn each day and ended after sunset. The indoor scenes were shot in the Beaufort West Showgrounds Hall. The theme of this advertisement, made for J & B Whiskey, was love – a couple for each other and both for the product. In the story line, they met at the roadside bar, married in the next door chapel and drove off into the setting sun, to live happily ever after – one hopes. It was thus essential that the sun set at the end of the road and at this Merweville location the TV crew found an ideally perfect spot.


Professor Andre Konstantinovietch Ignatinko, head of Afrikaans in the Department of Afrika Studies at the University of Moscow, thoroughly enjoyed his visit to the Karoo. He and his family visited the Andre and Martie Lund who farm at Elandsfontein, near Beaufort West. There they enjoyed the warm, open-hearted hospitality of the farm. Andre took them out for a drive through the veld in the very early hours of the morning so that they could watch the sun rising over the plains. On this ride he explained his ecological approach to farming and also shared with them some of the history of this sector of the Karoo. This visit was one of the highlights of their holiday said Professor Ignatinko, who is returning to Russia at the end of January, but aims to return ;to South Africa to complete his doctor’s degree. He recently completed his Master’s Degree at the University of the Free State. His subject was cultural problems of the Free State. He says he enjoys Afrikaans and finds it a wonderfully colourful idiomatic language in which it is easy to express oneself. He says he feels that it is vital that the language be conserved and that it will be South Africa’s own fault if this language is lost. He chose to complete his degrees in Afrikaans as it is the youngest Germanic language in the world, he says. He added that he did not find difficulties with pronunciation nor with the grammar and speaking this language because in many respects it had similar sound patterns to Russian. And, when he returns, he says, he will definitely be visiting the Karoo again.


The Central Karoo is widely known as one of the country’s top birding venues. Our own William Quinton Bird Association does excellent work promoting the area and counting birds. This Club will be hosting a visit from the Sandton Bird Club on the weekend of February 25 to 27. Well known birders, such as Gordon Maclean, Clive Hopcroft and Richard Brooke, from Cape Town, will also join the group over that weekend.


The Beaufort West Show Committee is hard at word to ensure that this year’s event will be an outstanding occasion. Two major South African horse competitions, as well as a boerbok regional championship, will be central to this agricultural show. There is already a great demand for stalls and, at this year’s event, there will also be a huge VLV (Vroue Landbou Vereeniging – Women’s Agricultural Union) section.


When Gill Watkins, an executive of Rank Xerox, England, visited South Africa for the first time, she decided to include a trip to the Karoo. Her main reason for this was that the overseas market usually refers to this area as “the central desert region.” However, on arrival she was amazed – no sand, no dunes, just spectacular scenery. She arrived in Beaufort West just after it had rained. The veld was lush and the mountains green. There were actually streams running down the Molteno Pass. Most of all she loved the colours, particularly the changing hues of the mountains. She became an instant fan of the Karoo


The Inter Cape day time bus service through the Karoo has started. For a few weeks in December these busses did not run due to technical problems, however, the service is now once again on the road. Karoo dwellers have welcomed the service – particularly those who experience difficulties in catching the very early or late busses that pass through the area. Inter Cape also offers a special walk-on-walk-off ticket to tourists. Those wishing to tour the country by bus can now get off and onto any of their busses anywhere in the country. This will enable visitors to see a great deal of South Africa and to overnight in places of their choice.


At the side of the well-worn sandy road, which meanders from one empty homestead to another in the Hell there is a tiny family cemetery. Most of the headstone inscriptions were lovingly carved on flat slabs of Karoo sandstone collected from the veld of the narrow valley, or from the slopes of the towering Swartberg. But, over the years, the wind and weather has not been kind. Most stones have tumbled down and the inscriptions have become obliterated. However, those that are still legible indicate that this is the graveyard of the Marais family. Some graves date back to the 1880s, and several are of people, like the Mosterts, who married into the Marais clan. The odd one out and the most intriguing, perhaps, is the grave of a young, nine-year old boy, George Sebastian du Toit, The inscription contains no further information that he was born in 1939 and who died there in 1948.


Oom Sampie se Padstalletjie (Uncle Sampie’s road side stall) in Prince Albert opened just in time for the Festive Season. Tourists to this area have thoroughly enjoyed visiting there and digging around among the interesting things on display and for sale. Johana Luttig is normally behind the counter and this stall was her idea. She thought it would be the best way of introducing and promoting the area’s delicious range of dried products – including wors, figs, fruits and other products – to passing tourists.


Val Strickland, a recent visitor to South Africa from Canada, has an interesting link with Beaufort West. Val’s maiden name was Devenish and, one of her early relations, J G Devenish, was the town’s fourth magistrate in 1857. Val is a great adventurer. She travelled the country on a shoe string after the WWII and even had a flourishing tour business. She married and moved to Canada, but now is toying with the idea of returning.


Jan Schoeman, better known as Outa Lappies, has donated one of his exceptional embroidered creations to the Fransie Pienaar Museum in Prince Albert. The museum is absolutely delighted about this because his patch work creations are known far and wide and even internationally. Jan Schoeman, who as child i\lived in Klaarstroom, says his best friend one day came to church in a pair of patched britches. The other children laughed and poked fun at him and he was so hurt that he ran away. Right there and then Jan decided that wearing patched clothes should never be shameful. Over the years he work hard to turn patchwork into a fashion statement. He succeeded and, at times, has so many orders for his creations that his has trouble fulfilling them.


In addition to having the highest winds in South Africa measured at its airport, Beaufort West, also once had the highest death rate in the country. This was in the last century when chest sufferers flocked to this region hoping for a cure. Some had waited just too long.


Generally the Christmas Season was a good one, particularly in respect of accommodation. Most venues were heavily booked and many, at times, were full. Also there were pats on the back for good service in several instances. Tourists were impressed when they were not simply turned away at places that were fully booked. They greatly appreciated the efforts that some Central Karoo establishments made to find them alternative accommodation. It seems several places, when full, made phone calls to others in an effort to try to assist tired travelers and this was done in the name of service and at no cost. The result? Tourists have praised the Central Karoo as being tourist friendly. “It is wonderful to see such op-operation in a region,” said a man from Germiston. “I am definitely coming back to stay with the man who found me an alternative place to overnight when I was tired and weary from a long day’s driving. He deserves business. He wasn’t greedy, he was more concerned because I looked so worn out. Without hesitation I will recommend his accommodation to my fiends!” There were also many words of praise for the Beaufort West Publicity Association and for Louis Kamfer and Anel Kayser, the teenagers who so efficiently manned the caravan information service at the entrance to the town..


And, there was also great praise for Alta van Bosch, a bi-lingual school girl who make walking tours through Richmond, so successful. She placed pamphlets at the hotel and at guest houses inviting tourists to join her on walks through the town. On these she was able to point out the town’s architectural heritage, the Victorian post box, the unique Saddle Horse museum and the Dutch Reformed Church. This church has the highest pulpit in South Africa It was made by Louis Anhuyser, the man who did the woodwork in the Groote Kerk in Cape Town. During the visits to the church Alta arranged for the organ to be played. Tourists unanimously agreed that they thoroughly enjoyed these visits.


Generally tourists enjoyed themselves, it seems. They mostly felt well cared for, but there were some hitches. Among the worst was a problem with deposits. It appears that sometimes a booking was made and a deposit sent. However, in one instance, a month before the holiday was due, one potential visitor was retrenched, and lost his car. He had to cancel. He appealed for his deposit – or at least a portion of it to be returned – it was an amount of R300. His request was refused and the whole amount was held. In the light of his problems and on the brink of the festive season, he considered this to be most tourist unfriendly and even telephoned Satour for guidance. The accommodation venue stated that they had turned away other booking for the same dates and that they had bought food. Obviously everyone must manage their businesses their own way, however, Satour and the Karoo National Park have given some guidelines. They suggest when and what percentage of the deposit to hold, always bearing in mind that perhaps an accommodation establish might like the tourist to come and holiday with them once his circumstances improved.


A Guest House Association has been established in co-operation with Satour to ensure marketing standards are the same and maintained through each region. The main aim of the association will be to establish regulations so that start can be made with the grading of accommodation establishments. It is expected that guidelines will be published within the next few months to enable a start to be made with grading in April.


A new overnight accommodation venue has opened in Richmond. Known as Lekker Rus, it offers fully furnished, comfortable rooms in a large and luxurious house. The cost is R75 a room (each can accommodate three people). There are kettles, cups, tea and coffee in the rooms, which will all soon have en-suite bathrooms, and a huge, cool verandah, where guests love to relax Lekker Rus, at 98 Loop street, is managed by Jean Lucas, a great believer in the personal touch and tourists service. She does much to create a welcoming home-from-home and comfortable atmosphere throughout the house, from decor and furnishings, to flowers.


A top German vet, who is interested in sheep farming and researching the causes of hip dysplasia in German Shepard dogs, recently visited the Karoo. He is Professor Wilhelm Brass, head of Veterinary Science at Hanover University. He came to South Africa to visit Professor C Hofmeyer, former Dean of the Veterinary Faculty at Onderstepoort, who now lives in George. Professor Brass and his Brazilian wife, Lilian, have a large sheep farm at Porto Allegro in Brazil, so he wanted to discuss sheep farming with a Karoo farmer. They thus visited Marry and Mariette de Villiers at La de Da, and discussed Merinos and Dorpers. Professor Brass is also interested German Shepherds. He flies to Germany quarterly to study X-rays of all puppies to make recommendations which could minimize problems with bone structure occurring in the breed.


The story tellers of Prince Albert are to challenge each other on January 26, to find out who is the best teller of tales in the district. This event will take place at the golf club to raise funds for the museum.


Klaarstroom, a tiny hamlet with a string of interesting historic old buildings along its single street, was the site of the first wool washing plant in the Karoo and home to the last transport rider. The first farm in the area was granted in 1777, long before there was a route through the Swartberg. Once Meiringspoort was built-in the mid 1800s to allow wool to be more easily transported to the coast. Alcock and Company then set up the Karoo’s first wool washing plant at Klaarstroom, so-called because of its clear waters flowing down the mountains. Initially the place had been called Pietersberg. In its day it has a thriving hotel and several businesses. One of which, a general dealers shop, run by the Bernhardts was a trend setter in its day. It kept the most up to date catalogues and would order literally anything. There are several historic farms nearby, such as Vrolikheid, a national monument. There are also some interesting brakdak, clay-roofed houses and a mud and straw brick house on one of the farms.


She is actually a South African who works at Shell in Holland and lives alongside the north sea at Scheveningen. However, Lizette Upton is mad about the Karoo. She said: “In December in Scheveningen it is very cold and grey and the wind seems to blow continuously. It is then when I long for the colour and sunshine of South Africa, so this year I decided to come to visit the Karoo and to become part of this huge, open, silent world. It is a wonderful area, particularly at sunset when the Karoo becomes filled with the most superb fragrances. And, in the evenings, it feels as if the stars are so close that you could just reach up and touch them. After this delightful restful and relaxing time in the Karoo, I once again feel ready for the hustle and bustle of Europe.”


If you stand on the koppie on Juriesfontein you can easily trace the route that the postmen of yesteryear took from Beaufort West to Murraysburg delivering post from one farm to another. At Juriesfontein there is a huge heap of tiny white pebbles at the foot of the koppie and behind this lies an interesting tale. Here the postmen had to make a detour through a kloof and go round the koppies. As is usual in the Karoo there were tales of ghosts and evil ones, perhaps even robbers lurking in these shadowy areas. So these tiny white stones were dropped off at this specific spot. They were said to be powerful enough to ward off evil and even to bring good luck. So, each a postman got off his horse at this s pot to stretch his legs and answer the call of nature he sought a white pebble to drop on the heap. Over the years the heap grew into a considerable pyramid. Today visitors to this farm laugh when they hear this story, but no one ever leaves this spot without seeking a white pebble and dropping it on the pile. Not that they believe in ghosts – just for luck, they say.