Rose’s Round-Up November 1994 No 21

NEW CONSERVATION AND TOURISM PLAN

A new “blueprint” for tourism is on the cards for tourism in the Western Cape. At the op of the agenda is the development of hinterland tourism as well as the inclusion of disadvantages communities. A two-day conference was organised at Somerset West by the Western Cape minister of Tourism and Nature Conservation, Mr Lerumo Kalako, and during this, delegates from across the province attended think tank sessions during which a wide variety of input and suggestions for restructuring were gathered. These will be studied and compiled into a White Paper. Detailed findings will be published as soon as researchers have completed their studies of all suggestions which were tabled and on which the White Paper will be based.

THE LURE OF LOXTON

As a young man Barney du Plessis, owner of the Dorpshuis in Calitzdorp, visited Loxton. It was quite by accident, but memories of this town and its friendly community never dimmed. Barney and a friend from the Transvaal had planned a hitch-hiking holiday. They left Pretoria in rain and by the time they reached Vereeniging it was still pouring. A Karoo farmer picked them up and, as the rain was country wide, took them to his farm in Loxton. That was the end of the hiking plans and the beginning of a love for this little village. “The people were so friendly that we spent our holiday right there among the farmers and the townspeople. It was a wonderful experience, a magic old world little village, under a froth of pear blossoms. I have never forgotten the true warmth of this platteland community, now I try to create similar experiences and memories for my guests”, he said.

NEW ‘OLD-FASHIONED’ CONFERENCE CENTRE

A new Spoornet Conference centre has just opened in the old Matjiesfontein Station building. It consists of two extremely modern and comfortable meeting rooms and these are ideal for smaller conferences and meetings – particularly get-togethers where the delegates have to divide into two groups. On the same day that this announcement was made Spoornet opened its Station Museum. This gives a good peek into the world of trains and train travel of yesteryear.

INFO ‘I’ GETS SATOUR ‘DOT’

The Central Karoo Regional Services Council’s Tourism Office is one of the first in South Africa to qualify for Satour accreditation. An info “I”, identifying it as a Regional Tourism Information Centre (TIC) was recently handed to RSC chairman, Herman de Witt, by Satour’s regional representative, Pieter Rossouw. The office now forms part of a network of centres able to supply regional information, assist tourists in planning visits, sightseeing outings, or routes and advise them on hospitality possibilities at various venues. The RSC was delighted that its office qualified as careful budgeting and much team work went into the creation of this centre. This office is ideally placed on the N1 as a major gateway to the new Western Cape. From Beaufort West tourists can plan visits to central areas of the province, as well as to the Klein Karoo, Garden Route, Cape Town, the winelands and other Cape venues.

KAROO STORIES ON SA AIRWAVES

When Radio South Africa roving journalist, Peter James Smith, decided to take a closer look at the Karoo, little did he think he’d find so many people with interesting stories to tell. Many interviews have already been broadcast, much to the delight of the people in the area These interviews covered Greef Heydenrych’s new venison book, sheep shearing and the white springbok he keeps as pets of his Victoria West farm, Beaufort West’s Oktoberfest, Mrs Pat Werdmuller’s experiences of running a farm along with a guest house in Prince Albert and, the almost insurmountable task which faced Elaine Hurford when she decided to rescue Dennehof, the old original farmhouse. Peter also spoke to Dr Sue Milton about the bio-diversity of the Karoo and to Johan Hamman about his collection of model trains, the miniature railroad which he has laid out in the attic of his home and his impressive water garden. Peter visited Matjiesfontein and discussed the village, new museum, graveyard and even the ghost. The response to the broadcasts was overwhelming. They brought the warm hearted people of the Karoo into the homes of the rest of South Africa.

SUCCESSFUL MEETING IN AN OLD COURTROOM

The Annual General Meeting of the Central Karoo Regional Development Council was recently held in the old Court Room at Matjiesfontein. This beautiful yellow-wood lined room, that was built in 1897, was also used during the filming of the TV-series “Arende”. The historic atmosphere of the facilities coupled to the excellent programme of speakers at the Development Council meeting resulted in delegates thoroughly enjoying the various sessions. The whole day, in fact, was most enjoyable as it included a lunch on the old London bus, which operates in the village, and visits to the museums at the station and in the village. Follow up meetings are scheduled for November 28. Members will be informed of venues and times.

PRIZE PEACOCK STILL A WINNER

Most young ladies of the 1800s were good needlewomen. Prompted by the saying that “the devil finds work for idle hands”, they spent much time creating beautiful needlework. Even the young were skilled needlewomen, as a greatly admired tapestry, next to reception area at the Lord Milner Hotel, in Matjiesfontein, proves. This peacock sampler is the school work of Agnes Nimmo, who created it when she was 11 years old and a pupil of the Fauldhouse Colliery School. The intricate design, worked in gross point, contains over two-million stitches and took nine months to complete. Agnes finished this sampler in 1879 and won the Merit Certificate at the exhibition of Public-School Art Work in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880. Everyone who sees it is convinced that today it would win first prize.

BURGER ARTICLE NETS A GOOD REACTION

An article in the Buite-Burger discussing the stories spread across the plains of the Great Karoo kept the telephone in the Central Karoo Regional Tourism Office ringing. This article, written by Braham van Zyl, really prickled the interest in the area and its people. The first calls came from Cape Town and mostly from tour operators and people keen on seeing “something different”. Enquiries flowed in regarding facilities in places across the province. There was great interest in places like Paarl, Somerset West, Elgin, Nuy, Montagu, Worcester, Calvinia, Clanwilliam, Springbok, and Kuils River. One call came in from as far away as Amsterdam, in Holland, from someone keen on visiting South Africa and exploring the Karoo. A huge thanks goes out to Die Burger from across the region.

SECRETS OF THE ROCKS REVEALED

Dr John Almond revealed some secrets of the rocks near Matjiesfontein at a recent Regional Development Association (RDA) meeting. He talked of the black-spotted pudding stones, which can be clearly seen alongside the N1, the 400-million year old Bokkeveld fossils in Seweekspoort area, the Witteberg Rocks, which clearly show stems of a variety of reeds which once grew there 300 million years ago, and the bedded sandstone and mudstone rocks in the Konstabel area, which contain fish fossils dating back to the same time. He also referred to the Dwyka Glacier beds, sometimes called Bushmen tombstones, many of which can also be seen alongside the N1 and the white gypsum streak which can be traced from Matjiesfontein to Prince Albert, and which links to a similar layer in South America.

EVERYBODY LOVES MURDER MOST FOUL

The world of Agatha Christie and Hercule Pierot came to life at the Lord Milner Hotel, in Matjiesfontein, last month when the Cape Times arranged a Murder Weekend there. It was immensely popular. Bookings opened at 09h00 and by 11h00 the hotel was fully booked. Guests in true old-fashioned style travelled from Cape Town by train, alighted at the historic station and crossed the old Cape-to-Cairo Road to enter a world of mystery at the hotel. A series of clues were strategically placed throughout the village and the “sleuths” had a wonderful time solving the murder. In fact, from all reports, they never stopped talking about the wonderful time they had all the way back to Cape Town. Most say they cannot wait for another such weekend.

RIETVELI BECOMES ‘PADDAVLEI’

The popular guest farm belonging to Tony and Marjorie May Kruger, on the road to Seweweekspoort, now has a new name. It used to be known as Rietvlei, but as that was the name of the entire area, and also the name of Christoff Cloete and Sonny Basson’s adjacent guest farm, the Krugers decided to change it. “This was mainly because all the Rietvleis confused tourists”, said Marjorie May. So the Krugers decided to honour the “frog choirs” (paddakore) that are heard throughout the area at twilight and they changed the farm’s name to Paddavlei. “Many people, mainly overseas visitors, find these twilight sounds of this area very restful, particularly when they stay in our little mountain hut”, said Marjorie May. This farm has three different types of comfortable accommodation and all rooms have en-suite bathrooms. Another drawcard is the delicious home cooked meals that are available. There is also a park for caravans and a hiking route on this farm. The route goes across the mountains and right into the heart of Gamkaskloof, the Hell. The mountain hut at located at the start of this hike is a most popular place to stay”, said Marjorie May.

VISIT FROM THE MAN WHO BUILT THE ROAD TO THE HELL

The man who planned the road to The Hell, a legend among road builders, recently visited the Central Karoo Regional Tourism Office. He is Titch Reiley, easily spotted by his sky blue Mercedes Benz, which has covered over 500 000 km and which is almost as well-known as he is. In 1969 he was the man appointed to construct one of South Africa’s most impossible roads – the access to Gamkaskloof, The Hell. He laughs about it today as he recalls the trails of planning this route. “The Department of Forestry had a road from the top of the Swartberg Pass to the first river and huge boulder. We had to take it from there. There were no survey or aerial maps, so we walked mile upon mile looking for a suitable route. Eventually we realised we simply had to follow the donkeys – oddly enough they easily walked up a 10 per cent gradient. Planning this route was a great adventure. I had to rely on gut feel. Koos van Zyl and his assistant on the grader had already finished 75% of the work and I still did not know if I could get the road down to the bottom. At one stage the bottom road goes through the landfill from the top one and we had to build a wall to prevent this landfill spilling over the lower section. Then, literally clinging to the mountain side, I peered at the valley far below. I could see no logical way down, so I went to the bottom and built the road out. This was not easy. All our road building equipment was half way down the mountain with Koos and his team. It had to be lowered on chains. A really scary thing to do. Today people stand at the spot where the lowering began and gaze into the valley below in amazement. They never realise the gambles we had to take. Today people often say that it is a pity there is not a through route. That was simply impossible. There is no way you could get a road out on the other side. It is just too steep”, said Titch.

OVERSEAS VISITORS INCREASE

There are great numbers of overseas visitors in the Karoo at present. They regularly visit the Reginal Tourism Office and inquire about sightseeing opportunities. They also call on the tourist information centres at Lainsburg and Prince Albert seeking information. Many come from the Netherlands and they enjoy listening to Afrikaans and trying to speak a few words. They think it is a “lekker taal” (nice language). Each time they say “lekker”. However, they burst out laughing because “lekker” it is not in their vocabulary, yet, they say it is almost an international word. Other visitors come from Germany, Italy, England and the United States. The few Scandinavians that have called find the heat of the dryland extremely trying.

FOLLOW THE SMUGGLER’S ROUTE

These days many tourists enjoy following the old Smugglers Route between the Great and Klein Karoo. It winds its way through Seweweekspoort, a windy rout which way back in time was used by the brandy makers of the Great Karoo. The road follows the path of the little river that winds through the kloof. This was an easy way to get their products into the Klein Karoo and down to the coast, and it helped them to avoid paying taxes. There is also said to be a ghost along this winding route. He is said to appear on stormy rights to warn users of the dangers of this route. Many claim to have seen his swinging lantern on dark stormy nights. Everyone who uses this gravel road which links the two Karoos agrees that it is a breathtakingly beautiful drive. It starts off on the Laingsburg side of the mountain in the Great Karoo and exits at Zoar and Amalienstein mission stations where tourists can enjoy donkey cart rides, delicious cookies and an aromatic cup of coffee.

KAROO BRANDY KICK STARTS A HORSE

Karoo brandy in days of yore was definitely a produce to be proud of. Reading reports of Bishop Grey’s journeys into the hinterland, Dr Arthur Davey discovered that this brandy had almost magical healing powers. The Bishop had been to Beaufort West, where he was given a bottle of the town’s best brandy. Tucking it into his bags, he left the following day, but his ailing horse, took a turn for the worst and collapsed. He was sure it would die. However, on the suggestion of his travelling companions he poured some brandy down its throat and over its nostrils. There was no immediate effect, so the travellers set off back to town on foot. They were amazed within a short time to see the horse come trotting gaily after them.

SATOUR ACCOMMODATION GUIDE AVAILABLE

Satour’s national Accommodation Guide for 1994/1995 has just become available. It lists all graded accommodation now available across South Africa. This guide gives information regarding costs, facilities and services. There is also a colour photograph of each venue. The list of all requirements for national grading and classification has also been published. The accreditation scheme for bed and breakfast venues is currently being finalised and will hopefully be available towards the end of November.

PUB IS A WONDERLAND OF WOODS

The great talking point in the new pub at the Laingsburg Hotel is wood. A great variety has been used in its creation specifically with the idea of creating warmth and interest. The bar was designed and made by Dries Swanepoel and it includes kiaat, partridge wood, ebony, sneeze wood, both Burmese and Rhodesian teak, ysterhout (iron wood), yellowwood, jarra and S A pine. “Here and there, on the wine racks in particular, there may be bits and pieces of even more exotic woods”, says Dries. “Those who like wood love trying to spot the various varieties”. The thatching canopy of this pub was made by John Arrendorff from MacGregor. Breda Poole, owner of the Laingsburg Hotel, says the new pub was an instant success and lunches here are most popular.

PRAISE FOR THE “LAINSBURG LOERTJIE”

The “Laingsburg Loertjie” has been published to tell participants of the Karoo Marathon more about the town and its surrounds. This new little newsletter has earned great praise, mainly because the items are short and easy to read. A great deal of information has been included and, for that reason, a copy of the” Loertjie” it is being mailed with this issue of Rose’s Round-up.

GREAT INTEREST IN THE BOER WAR?

There was a good response to the Boer War Week recently organised by Peter Greeff and held at the George Museum. There was also a great deal of interest in the lecture delivered by Taffy Shearing on the invasions of the Cape Colony. The formation of Boer War Society was proposed, particularly after Peter Greeff, Ray Cairncross and Bob Mitchell from George so enjoyed a specially organised outing to Uitspansfontein on the Nuweveld Mountains. Would anyone who is interested in joining such a society please let the Regional Tourism office in Beaufort West have their names and contact details, so that they may be invited to future lectures and outings that are being planned and also to exchange information.