Swellendam: The Overberg's unexpected adventure hub

2016-09-14 21:30 - Lauren Manuel McShane
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For all the times I’ve travelled through Swellendam, I have never once stayed there.

During family road trips we were always heading to the Garden Route and occasionally stopped off in Swellendam if we missed the Riversonderend stop.

So this time when I visited with my husband Vaughan and baby Caleb, it was truly surprising to discover just how many outdoor adventures there are to have in Swellendam and its surrounding areas.

I figured we’d be able to bike around town and visit the national monuments plus a few out drives from there, little did I know that a day after arriving I’d be micro-lighting a little too close to the dam’s waters and watching the sun set from the sky.

Staying at Schoone Oordt Country House

For three nights we called the  Schoone Oordt Country House home. Gurgling fountains, manicured lawns and lemonade in the lounge was the order of the day here and my son Caleb loved every minute spent crawling on the grass, splashing his hands in the icy pool and entertaining guests at breakfast with his charming smile. Our hosts Fidiney and Ian zoomed about catering to all of our needs, playing with Caleb and delighting us with knowledge of a bit of the house’s history and the care taken by its current owner, Alison Walker to restore and preserve its beauty.

A visit to the dusty original jailhouse 

While Vaughan got some work done in the shade of our honeymoon suite balcony (a request from us to be far away from guests to block out Caleb’s night cries), I strolled around town on a hot afternoon with Caleb in his carrier. I stepped inside the dusty original jailhouse and visited the Ambagswerf (tradeyard) made to replicate a place where workers once toiled and carried out their trades as tanners, blacksmiths and shoemakers amongst others.

Wildebraam Berry Farm

When the sun began to swirl its golden glow over the farmlands, I hit the dirt roads past Wildebraam Berry Farm to the home of Elizabeth Ross and Warren Bradley. Warren welcomed me in through a farm gate with the name reading ‘Die Skooltjie’,past horses on the other side of the fence and a little red beast of a tractor. This humble, talented couple threw in the city life for small town living and to start up their own business. Elizabeth proudly showed me her handmade (one of a kind) dolls; the photographer, whale protector, swimmer and gardener among them. While she crafted the dolls and her online illustrations upstairs in the loft, Warren carved his unique wooden toys at his workshop outside.

This enterprising couple admit that freelancing is not for the faint-hearted and can be tough at the best of times, but they wouldn't go back to their old lives for anything and also plan to begin new business of growing and selling cut flowers to a nearby nursery. As we sipped coffee around the table, the sun streamed in over a bowl of lemons, succulents and flowers from their garden. A surfboard hung on a turquoise wall as a reminder of the ocean they missed so much.

Founders of Friends of Marloth - a mutual love of the region

First thing on Saturday morning we met up with the Founders of Friends of Marloth at the entrance of the Marloth reserve. Sakkie Nel, Bruce Geils and Alex Hayn (along with their families) greeted us and led us alongside the mountain slopes towards the Duiwelsbos trail. We were greeted with a sign that read “ Keep out, restless bees”. Luckily Koloniesbos was just as chilled with ample shade for us to tackle with a baby and off we went.

The Friends of Marloth began out of a mutual love for this region, passion for nature and of a willingness to share its pathways and slopes with everyone- local and visiting. As we followed the energetic Sakkie up over slippery tree roots and beside massive boulders, he described his love affair with mountain biking, Marloth Reserve and how his two boys have been enjoying these hiking trails since they were young. Bruce and his Wife Simone, moved to Swellendam 12 years ago and want their kids to grow up thriving in nature. Their heart’s desire is to be able to mark out trails for mountain biking and hiking to make these route accessible for everyone of varying fitness levels.


We continued upward stopping briefly to eye the baboons looking at us from behind the trees. A wonderland of roots, foilage, trees and little streams unfolded all around us. What started out as a trail in the harsh sunlight made a sweet escape into the coolness the forest. Upon reaching the water, we rested on boulders as the kids splashed around in the water and some hopped from rock to rock. Trickles of light made it’s way through the canopy reminding us that it was nearly time to head back. Heading out the reserve, fynbos blanketed mountains merged all around us beckoning us to return and explore more of its corners.

Umshanti Watersports Centre at the Buffelsjag Dam

After a brief rest and nap for Caleb (parents never really rest while on holiday with a baby), we headed to Umshanti Watersports Centre at the Buffelsjag Dam. Even at 4:30pm on a 30 degree Celius day, Oom Kosie declared it too hot to head into the sky in a microlight.

This being my first flying adventure in small vessel, I was just so excited to head up at any point and nodded when he said we could wait by the dam for him to go up for a flight first to test the wind and temperature.

We lazed in the Spring sunshine overlooking the dam where kids canoed and  a boat cruised. The heat seemed to silence the water which presented itself as a large glass pond. I peeked through a cactus to see a party of people on a barge braaiing and enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine. Before I knew it, I was whisked away with Oom Kosie on his quad bike to the runway aka dirt strip for my flight.

Breathing in and out steadily I eyed the majestic microlight and my tiny seat with nothing but the air to cover me. I barely had time to tie my seatbelt before we had accelerated into the air. Oom Kosie reminded me to hold onto my phone, because if it hit the propellers, that would be disastrous. I cringed at the thought of losing my phone but only realised the true danger of it hitting the propellers once we were up with nothing but fresh air, wind in our hair and the earth far below.

Experience every ounce of joy, thrill and terrifying plunges

We zoomed down low over the dam, almost close enough for my dangling feet to feel the spray and flipped upward way too swiftly. He veered over the waving slopes of the mountain and pointed out the endless rock pools cascading down towards the dam. My heart skipped many beats while soaring over the thicket of forest before turning over the cattle grazing riverside. Turns out my stupid iPhone had reached it’s storage limit and couldn’t take anymore photos.

In the end that worked in my favour as I could truly experience every ounce of joy, thrill and terrifying plunges this microlight had to offer. Clutching my phone with white knuckles and trying to see through the wind tears ( I was sans sunglasses), we waved and smiled at the party-goers on the boat below.

With one final dip, I wondered what would be worse, crashing into the water or the mountain but thankfully Oom Kosie knew his baby well and glided us over back to the dirt road that was the runaway. I felt our speed, looked at the dirt road and seriously doubted the ability to land smoothly. I closed my eyes, lifted my legs up in preparation or a rough jolt but to my amazement we landed gently and drove back next to the hanger.

Back in the Conservatory of Schooneoordt, Chef Obakeng spoilt us with tender Overberg fillet and pork loin as candlelight flickered and Caleb grew restless of the day. Three nights here was never going to be enough, but at least I’d sampled a tiny bit of the adventure that awaits any traveller visiting this gem in the Overberg, just 2,5 hours away from Cape Town.
 

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