Travelling north on the West Coast Route you may have noticed !Khwa ttu on your right just before Yzerfontein. Next time, go in, explore. It’s the kind of place that you enter and immediately unwind. In fact, there’s so much to see and do that it’s best to book in for a night or two.
Perched on the slopes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean !Khwa ttu was previously a derelict 850-hectare wheat farm called Grootwater. In the late 1990s, the late Swiss anthropologist Irene Staehelin bought it, restored the original buildings and dedicated the place to the San. They now run the place and receive training, mentorship, and skills through a variety of programmes.
There’s a wide range of accommodation offerings from luxury to tents. Guesthouses have ocean views while the romantic two-bedroom luxury bush lodge is more remote and to the east of the West Coast highway. Nearby is a glamping experience in double tent units or the basic tented camp – you must try the shower under the stars. A bonus is that all places include breakfast in !Khwa ttu’s restaurant.
Don’t miss the guided tours. Joram Useb was a teenager and one of the original guides when !Kwha ttu was founded. He left but returned and now, aged 44, he continues to guide groups. “!Khwa ttu means water hole in the !Xam language,” says Joram leading a tour of the cultural center which is divided between three buildings. Dedicated to San culture and education, two are renovated farm buildings, the third is purpose-built and opened on Heritage Day last year.
The First People exhibition depicts where the San tell their stories through paintings, recorded tales, films, background text, and artifacts.
The second is the renovated farmhouse where an exhibition titled Encounters covers the community today, their language, land claims, and genocide.
The highlight is the new building housing the Way of the San exhibition. It features interactive, floor-to-ceiling audio-visual and static displays. Seen from a distance it blends into the natural contours of the land with a planted roof above a curved ribbed ceiling with glass walls overlooking the plains below. Don’t be surprised if your tour is interrupted by one of !Khwa ttu’s gigantic tortoises as it wanders through the building leaving a trail of slimy grassy poo behind. There are four species of tortoises at !Khwa ttu.
Another must-see experience is the herbal tea tasting ceremony. “!Khwa ttu staff have blended three abundant herbal plants with Rooibos to make a Wellness Tea which is sold in our shop,” says Nunke Kadhimo. She is another original !Khwa ttu student who has studied to become a registered guide. Born in Namibia, her parents originally from Angola, the family moved to Kimberley around 1990.
Another tour is the San guided experience of traditional lifestyle including hunting, identifying tracks and stories behind each animal. The tour also includes a visit to a replica San village where visitors hear stories of San life, from jewellery and fire-making to storage and hunting implements.
During our visit, Nunke halted her presentation when she was startled by a snake passing by in hot pursuit of a tiny mouse. Having passed by the edge of the camp the mouse retraced its route followed by the cobra.
This was not the only hunt we witnessed. The previous evening, cycling south we witnessed an aerial hunt by a Yellow-billed Kite of a Spotted Thick Knee probably protecting her eggs or fledgeling. Hiking, running and mountain biking trails are a good way to view reintroduced animals that once roamed the area – eland, springbok, kudu, gemsbok and lots of zebra resembling nature’s version of the local Sishen-Saldanha train.
!Khwa ttu has a gift shop and nursery, medicinal garden and tractor tours, lessons from San trackers on how to stalk the resident animals, conference and wedding venue, team-building and birthday parties. Asked about his feelings of !Khwa ttu Joram says it’s far from the community it supports and those who are updating the information and supplying the objects. “It’s very expensive to maintain and so it all depends on the number of people visiting the place.” He adds that it also depends on future generations and how they see this place. “They have different ideas to those of us who created !Khwa ttu. We have to accept these culture changes”. And that’s probably why this place works.
Open 7 days a week
Time: 09h00 to 17h00
Distance from Cape Town: 70km
Where: Grootwater Farm, R27
Contact: (c) +27 (0)22 492 2998 or email [email protected]
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Karen Watkins started out as a travel writer and photographer supplying articles for numerous newspapers and magazines including Indiwe, Country Life, Go, Good Taste and others. Joined Independent Newspapers Limited in 2007 to work one year with Special Projects writing marketing copy before joining the Constantiaberg Bulletin as a multi-media journalist writing news and taking pictures until May 2019. And now she is writing for West Coast Way