It’s road tripping time.
As much as we all look forward to a break at the end of the year, it can easily become a disappointing time, filled with rushing around, over-spending, fighting crowds and trying to entertain bored kids.
My anti-dote to holiday madness is a road trip in the Cape West Coast. Here slow living is celebrated and I can recharge while I am having fun.
Many attractions on the West Coast are close enough to Cape Town to enjoy as a day trip. There are two easy to follow Routes: the Culture Route and Foodie Route. This time I’m exploring the Culture Route, stopping off at Mamre Werf, Darling and !Khwa ttu San Culture and Education Centre.
!Khwa ttu what ?
I don’t understand why there are not queues of cars waiting to discover this place with the unpronounceable name. !Khwa ttu is an NGO situated on what was the farm called Grootwater on the R27, 74km from central Cape Town, and it has a lot to offer.
Not only can you learn how to pronounce the name, ! is a click sound, one of at least five different clicks used in the SAN language, you can also get a taste of life back in the days when the SAN people roamed these hills.
The main building that houses the restaurant, museum, craft shop and info office is accessed by a drive up to the top of the hill from where you can see Yzerfontein beach, Table Mountain, and the hills heading back towards the town of Darling.
Pet friendly, wheelchair accessible and kid loving, the drive is worth it for the eating experience alone. Fresh seasonal produce, local wines, and in or outdoor dining for breakfast or lunch is a culinary adventure not to be missed.
I enjoyed the game drive that took us deep into the hills past grazing Eland and Kudu, but I really loved the walk with the SAN guide.
The small courtyard where we assembled to meet our guide is surrounded by walls covered in brightly coloured murals depicting SAN life. Large static display boards tell the stories of the SAN by means of images, quotes and narratives. There is a lot of wisdom to be found here if you pause to read and consider these words.
From here we step out into a panoramic vista of sea, sky and bush and the thin black line of the man made R27 cutting through the landscape.
The walking route we take winds down a narrow path and regular stops are made to examine and smell various indigenous plants as the guide tells of their various uses, many medicinal or for sustenance.
At a sheltered clearing we stop and sit on logs around a fire. An old kettle bubbles and hisses on the coals and we are handed a mug of tea made from boiling up twigs plucked from the bushes we passed. It is unusual but very refreshing, and good for us too, we are told.
A lesson in the making of a bow and arrow shows that I would never have survived and it is not as easy as it looks. Interesting facts about the dress codes ends with hilarity as we try on a variety of animal skins that do not cover very much at all. This experience left me with a new respect for the SAN people and a reminder that we should not let go of everything from the past. Ancient wisdom needs to be preserved, and this is the core function of !Khwa ttu. They run a school that teaches SAN folks from all over about their culture, heritage and how to use this information to teach others and make a living as a SAN guide.
For the more active explorers, mountain bikes routes and hikes of various distances and degrees of difficulty are offered, and maps are available at the info desk.
The children’s programme that runs during the holidays is a big hit. I suggest you check in on their website to get regular updates. But this is what was on offer in December 2015:
For R75 parents can relax while kids aged 6 to 12 are entertained from 9am to 10:30. Their own SAN guide takes them on a bike ride exploring the paths in the reserve. Stops are made to collect materials and then the children are taught how to make their own bow and arrow, and how to track animals. Cold drinks and snacks are included in the price.
Under sixes are entertained for free. Seated in the shade of a huge tree the little ones are taught songs and dances, play games and shown basic bird and animal tracks. Adults can take this opportunity to enjoy breakfast at the restaurant.
Bring walking shoes, binoculars, a camera, a sun hat, a bicycle, an appetite and a curious mind.
Open 7 days a week | Free entry
R150/person for an 1,5hr San Guided Experience. (Group bookings essential)
Distance from Cape Town: 74km
Where: Grootwater Farm, R27
Contact: (c) +27 (0)22 492 2998 | [email protected] | www.khwattu.org
The Mamre Heritage Walk
At the Mamre Werf, 57km from the centre of Cape Town, you can get a dose of culture and heritage while you get back into nature. The 8 historical buildings are complimented by huge trees, colourful gardens and grassy fields. There are rocks to climb up, streams to investigate and plenty of open space for the kids to run around and get rid of some energy.
The new Mamre Heritage Walk map ensures you do not miss anything. Follow the arrows as the path leads you to eight charming historical buildings before taking you on a short walk up the hill. Here you will find the cemetery and the headstones that tell their own stories. Look out for the ruins of what must have been the house with the best views in times gone by.
Explore on your own with the map, or ask for a guide to add a richness to the experience, with their stories and facts, all shared with great pride. The guides are local folks who are rooted in Mamre, going back many generations. They have all the real stories to tell, the ones that you will not find in the history books.
With your head full of stories and your heart full of nature, the best way to sit quietly and absorb the spirit of Mamre is in the little coffee shop, aptly named Tori Oso. This name means a place to meet, eat and chat. Not only will you find great coffee and cake here you will also get a heart -warming dose of West Coast hospitality.
Distance from Cape Town: 59km
Where: Off R27, via the R307 between Atlantis and Darling
Where: Church Street, Mamre
Contact: +27 (0)72 972 3539 | +27 (0)73 378 8801
The Tienie Versveld Wildflower Reserve
The little 20 hectare reserve is 12 km outside of Darling on the R315 which is the road the links the N7 to the coastal R27 road.
This reserve is a little conservation success story. Tienie Versveld, a nature lover and owner of the farm Slangkop, donated this land to SANBI (South African National Botanical Gardens ) in 1958.
His reason was to preserve the Swartland Renosterveld, a highly endangered, bulb rich, indigenous vegetation.
The reserve has two sections of boardwalk and narrow sandy footpaths that take you through the veld, marshy areas, a small wetlands and a dam. Please stay on the paths to avoid damaging any of the precious plants. The best time to view the flower displays are from August to October.
The Tienie Versveld Reserve is also a bird watchers heaven , and there is a strong possibility of spotting some of these feathered friends. The Cape Longclaw, Spur-winged goose, African Pipit, African Stonechat and Bokmakierie
Next time you pass the wooden style that gives access to this reserve, stop, park your car, climb over the style and see what nature has to show you.
Where: 12 km outside of Darling on the R315