There is something magical about South Africa’s farming culture. Look, I know it has its flaws. It has always been an area of conflict. But it still it keeps this country alive – quite literally.
Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to SA’s economy, but farms are at the heart of the country for many other reasons.
There’s something genuine about being so utterly dependent on Mother Nature, firstly. And then there’s the humble profession of growing and raising food. It’s one of the few jobs where you’re actually able to see the value of your input.
Knowing where your food comes from is something every South African should know. We’re a meat-eating country and therefore, especially, we should know what lies behind those chops on the braai.
And more than that – we ought to know about the lesser known agricultural endeavours of this country. We are one of the world’s biggest exporters of fruit. We are one of only a handful of country that produces mohair on a mass-scale for export. We have some of the best wine growing in the world’s longest wine route.
South Africans are bound together by farmers and agriculture in more ways than one would expect.
So, when thinking about the upcoming Easter break, I thought of how the world typically reflects on this holiday. There are eggs and bunnies and donkeys and what knows more - all farm and farmed animals.
In SA, we have the opportunity much more meaningful connection with farms. Especially on the many working farms that offer family-orientated escapes where you can not only gain some perspective on life, but also gain some insight on how farms operate.
Here are six of our absolute favourite spots around the country -
A working olive farm, Vrisch Gewagt encapsulates the area's iconic export. They produce a beautiful and sustainable extra Virgin olive oil, gently pressed from olives which are full of the goodness from this area.
Harvest time happens between April – June of every year, if you'd like to coincide your visit with the farm's seasons.
There are a few different boutique style accommodation options, including large family homes located far apart across the farm. Altogether, there are three swimming pools and three fresh water dams, with floating decks that are a hit during summer months.
Included in a stay, guests can indulge in fresh produce from the farm, like Guernsey Milk from Wendy the Cow, Extra Virgin Olive oil, Olives, and anything you can pick from the organic vegetable garden and fruit trees.
Apart from the produce, hikers and explorers will also love the ancient mud and stone ruins on the farm that date back to about 1810.
The grand Paradys Huis has been restored to its original beauty, and was the winner for best restored home in the Home & Leisure Magazine. It boasts 3 bedrooms.
There is also the Manor House. Perched on a hill, the manor overlooks the olive groves. It's ideal for families, and it also boasts a big and warm open-style kitchen, four spacious en-suite bedrooms and peaceful views from every window.
The Karoo is almost too wide to define in a single province or space. But in rounding up the favourites this time, I stuck to what I knew – my home ground. The Midland Karoo is the best land for mohair, for maize, for lucern, for cattle and sheep and Angora goats. It’s one of the richest farming hubs in the country, and it’s well worth getting to know.
Langfontein is a working game and cattle breeding farm in the stunning surroundings of the Camdeboo Conservancy outside Graaff-Reinet. Iconic to the area, the farm breeds with exotic and speciality game like roan antelope, sables and endemic buffalo
Farm buildings have been carefully restored to capsulate the atmosphere of a bygone era - not compromising on uber-luxury. The bedrooms have crisp, white percale linen to ensure a good sleep in the clean Karoo air.
The cottage lounges have comfortable couches for reading, fireplaces, verandas and bathrooms with Victorian baths – the perfect recipe for wintry nights or thunderstorm afternoons in summer.
If you’d like to get out, the stunning Karoo towns of Graaff-Reinet and Nieu-Bethesda is close by. For the more serious adventurers, there are three stunning hiking trails which mountain bikers can also use to explore the surrounds.
Lowlands Estate is an Eastern Cape Karoo sheep, cattle and pecan nut farm on the iconic Fish River just outside Cradock.
The River’s presence fuels the farming community in the area, but also ensures visitors have a wide variety of water-based activities to get up to. Canoeing, river rafting, floating on tubes and bird watching are all on offer near the water while the nearby Mountain Zebra National Park makes for an ideal for day visit safari.
Exploring options are endless, or you can just take in the surrounds and enjoy traditional Karoo hospitality.
The farm hosts, Dave and Anne Bowker, form part of a Karoo community that still meets for tennis every Saturday afternoon, and go to church on a Sunday in the iconic 100 year old church at Fish River.
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The Lowlands Country House, which also includes the self catering Lowlands Manor and Dower Cottage, have lovely pools and a tennis court for those who don’t want to venture too far.
They are so well established and renowned, it’s easy to forget that the Winelands farms are some of the most worked on despite visitors hanging around throughout the year.
We picked Babylonstoren out of the vast array of working winefarms because of how close guests can get to the vines and gardens.
The latter is the biggest drawcard perhaps. Covering 3.5ha of the property, they’re lush and magnificent and completely magical – rose vines towering overhead as they twirl around rustic wooden structures, green peppers and lettuces and pumpkins and tomatoes flourishing, glowing with the sort of goodness we only dream of finding in the aisles of our locally grocery store.
Babylonstoren is actually relatively new to the production of wine, with 2015 hailing only its fifth harvest. Despite this, they have managed to produce no less than seven gorgeous wines, including their recently flagship red blend, the 2012 Nebukadneser.
Staying on the farm is also a relatively new experience. The Farm Hotel saw some of the existing farm buildings transformed into sophisticated guest accommodation options with those thick, whitewashed walls, elegant gables and hearty fireplaces that emulate the authentic farm stay experience.
There are six one-bedroom suites, as well as three one-bedroom cottages and four two-bedroomed cottages. The one- and two-bedroom cottages have a lounge area and basic kitchen, which are perfect for small families.
For larger families, however, The Owner's House is a prime Cape Dutch homestead that dates back to 1777. This exclusive house is available on request. It has five bedrooms accommodating ten guests. All rooms have a king-size bed, with two of the rooms having the option of twin beds.
Although this is a working Merino sheep and wheat farm, it is also one of the most beautiful country houses in the Western Cape. It’s old-world charm it it’s absolute pinnacle.
The farmhouse is a stately manor, tastefully decorated with antiques and art – and a massive stuffed peacock boasting in one corner with all its colourful feathers.
The string of outbuildings which once housed a schoolroom, blacksmith's forge and a wind generator’s room, and two ‘waenhuise’ have been transformed into luxurious guest rooms. The thick, solid clay walls insulate guests from the snap of winter and provide a cool summer refuge.
Just as you’ve forgotten it’s a working farm amid all the understated luxury, the gaggle of the resident geese serves as a reminder that the voluptuous feather duvet inners are very much a local product…
The food at Halfaampieskraal is another thing. Breakfasts are usually served al fresco and then at night, an elegant, home cooked three-course dinner will send you off to sweet dreams.
This is a perfect getaway for families with older children, as there is a 'no kids under 12' policy.
Situated in the stunning Caversham Valley of KwaZulu-Natal’s iconic Midlands, Inverness Farm is home to a few resident horses, as well as cattle and free-range chickens. It also gives visitors magnificent 360-degree views of the surrounds, which means that you’ll be able to see the early morning mists in the valleys below, or marvel at the glorious late afternoon sunsets on the surrounding mountains and forests.
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In an almost Biblical way, the farm also produces water and wine. The latter, which is bottled under the NatureZone label, comes from a well which sits 140 metres below the property. The vineyards - Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon - surround the four self-catering cottages and the owners hope to soon bottle their own wine from them.
The cottages, named SummerSon, Shetland, Savannah and Crofters, are able to accommodate 10 people, and all feature percale linen - a must for a farm getaway.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- KZN Exploring: An American Eagle in the Midlands
- Graaff-Reinet: Exploring the Drostdy legacy
- Cradock: River town living at its best