Graaff Reinet, the historical little town in the Eastern Cape, is the most delightful combination of small-town wonderful and golden countryside. Take a meander through the mists of time with me; to a time where streets were wide to accommodate ox-wagons, game wandered freely across the plains of Camdeboo and farmers, well, they farmed much as they do today. The town itself has grown and modernised while still retaining its old-world charm as South Africa’s fourth oldest. The architecture, including the unmissable NG Kerk, is incredible and visitors can choose from a selection of traditional venues including the restored Camdeboo Cottages and Drostdy Hotel for a few nights’ comfortable rest. Just strolling through the jacaranda-lined streets instils a sense of small-town bliss for a road-weary traveller. Take a walking tour of Graaff Reinet if you don’t want to miss a single treasure. Once you’ve freshened up, you’ll want to get out and explore the countryside, which includes superb scenery, private game reserves and the beloved Valley of Desolation at the Camdeboo National Park. Be prepared for golden and grey vistas, South African wildlife and some of the best sunsets in the Southern Hemisphere! Don’t discount this special Karoo town when planning your trip across South Africa. Here are five of my favourite moments from just 36 hours of exploring…
GAME DRIVE AT MOUNT CAMDEBOO
Just a short drive from town, you’ll find yourself in another world: the world of Mount Cambedoo. A place where cheetah laze under a tree, the vulnerable mountain zebra gallops the golden plains and the rare white rhino may just be closer than you think!
Our game drive started with a sighting of six rhino, moms and calves, just grazing within sight of the lodge – they were covered in red dust from a mud bath and completely unperturbed the vehicles. Our lucky streak continued as we were fortunate to spot a cheetah napping away after a hearty meal, and mountain zebra, before finally settling on a mountaintop to enjoy a golden sunset and a sundowner before heading back to the lodge for our al fresco dinner. That’s when things really got unforgettable. A Karoo traffic jam!
Our guide spotted some fresh rhino droppings on the mountainside road and, as we turned a corner, in the fading dusk, there he was: a beautiful, real-life rhino – just metres in front of us. What a moment. Hardly bothered, although incredibly insistent that he take his time, we did what anyone would do in a traffic jam: creep along and wait; although, the sights and sounds where a darn sight better than any gridlock I’ve ever seen! We spent 45 minutes following this rare and endangered creature, the hardest part was putting my camera away and staying in the moment, because you know that something like this will never happen again and you don’t want to witness it from behind a lens.
MOUNT CAMDEBOO is a private game reserve outside Graaff Reinet that focuses on the conservation of vulnerable and endangered species such as the white rhino, cheetah and mountain zebra. In addition to game drives, guided walks and stargazing, the reserve also offers accommodation in the form of three manor houses, a secluded cottage and a safari tent camp.
FLY KAROO OVER THE VALLEY
Where to begin? A helicopter flip over the ancient Valley of Desolation will leave you feeling both dwarfed and invigorated, somewhere between being awed by nature and thrilled at a heli-trip over, what could very easily be, Jurassic Park. You could expect to see dinosaurs wandering the plains of the valley! The Valley of Desolation has formed over 100 million years and is a sheer spectacle of 120m high Dolerite cliffs and columns. Fly Karoo offers an exhilarating flip over the valley and the Camdeboo National Park with beyond-breath-taking views. This short trip provides a birds-eye view of Graaff Reinet, the Ngweba Dam, the Valley of Desolation and the Camdeboo National Park. This is a must-do for first-time and returning visitors to the Karoo Heartland.
FLY KAROO is Graaff Reinet’s first helicopter charter service, offering scenic flights which enable visitors to Graaff Reinet to visit popular sites in the surrounding areas. Charters are also offered to nearby locations such as game lodges and Port Elizabeth airport.
DINNER ON THE MOUNT
The sun sets at its own special pace in the Karoo, sliding gently towards the distant mountains and turning the light that special golden colour that feels unique to the Karoo Heartland. It’s magical and romantic. Couple this lovely light and fresh summer air with an al-fresco dinner at Mount Camdeboo and you have a recipe for an unforgettable Karoo experience. Following an afternoon spent game viewing and realising how close the wildlife is to your cosy dinner table, makes this doubly special. And here’s a not-to-well-kept secret: the Karoo folk really know how to cook! The talented chefs at Mount Camdeboo have taken inspiration from South African cuisine and recipes that date back to the early Cape settlers, reinventing old favourites with a light, contemporary touch.
STAYING IN GRAAFF REINET
An overnight stay (or three) in Graaff Reinet will reinforce the feeling of having stepped back to a time when porches were deep, floors were wooden, and hospitality was as warm as the wide streets in mid-summer. Graaff Reinet has a number of converted and restored guesthouses and hotels complete with superb cuisine, crisp linen and first-class service. As there is so much to see and explore in, and around, Graaff Reinet, settle in for a few relaxing days, unpack your bags and allow the folk of the Karoo Heartland to take good care of you. Next time, I’ll spend more time explore the museums and architecture.
SUNSET AT THE VALLEY
I’ll never tire of sunsets at the Valley of Desolation. Once you’ve seen the valley from the air, you can truly appreciate how vast and magnificent it is. However, sitting at a picnic bench, sundowner in hand and watching the rock formations change from fiery orange to black silhouettes against a navy sky is one of the surest ways to experience everything that is special and unique about the Karoo. In that dusty golden light, you can see forever.
The Karoo is an open and honest place, consisting of outstretched plains and a massive sky spun across its desert-like landscape. In a way it looks like a straightforward, uncomplicated country that doesn’t hide much. Drenched in sun and soulfulness for a large part of the year and, stretching itself like a never-ending runway, an empty palm promising nothing but space and time to dream, the Karoo does, however, has its own unique way of taking visitors by surprise.
Allowing the seasons and the weather to fill its vast expanses, it’s easy to be absorbed by the rhythm of the seemingly noiseless but pulsating, vibrating, beating heart of the landscape. But on your wanderings you might just pass a mountain – blue and hazy in the distance but earthy and tortoise-shell textured up close; drive by a clump of aloe vera succulents or prickly pear trees and, suddenly, as you continue your apparently plain-sailing journey, find a place unexpected and appearing as out of nowhere.
Nieu-Bethesda is one of these surprising places: a few kilometres outside of Graaff-Reinet, as you turn off the N9 and follow the road swirling into and through hills and cone-shaped rock formations like massive beehives, you will find, folded inside the flanks of the Sneeuberge like a sophisticated secret, a village of wonders.
This place, with its untarred roads and complete lack of streetlights, provides enough space for stuff that dreams are made of and endless possibilities. At night, the stars are clearly scintillating in the sky above a town devoid of lights. From this village’s dust and quietude magic reinventions appear constantly. This is one of those spots where people make do with their dreams, make viable their visions; where conjuring ideas into a concrete reality is a necessity. A hamlet that provides a blank canvas to tie many to and bring about more of themselves.
It happens in various ways, of course. People spin their own stories, their own shapes, be it in clay, or paint, or food, or drink, or running B & Bs with beautiful names that reflect the different aspects of the town: Zonnenstrahl (Ray of Sunshine), Meerkat, Aandster (Evening Star), Klein Geluk (Small Happiness), the Brewery Loft, the Outsider, the Water Tower (originally a water tower, then turned into a a Buddhist meditation room, these days a place to rest and dream), Starry Nights, The Cow Jumps Over The Moon and the Bethesda Tower.
In The Brewery and Two Goats Deli’s yard on the outskirts of town, a bed swings noiselessly from chains between trees. An outdoor bath stands close by, facing the hills towards Kompasberg.
Here the bees are alive and well and happily buzz around visitors. A perfect place in which to forget about the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitats; to sway for a while within the unique cadence of a place untouched by life’s frenetic haste.
In the backyard of the Owl House, Helen Martin’s cement statues, like a fantastical, stationary exodus, bears witness to a pilgrimage. A personal, inward journey of pain, of longing for purpose, of forever reaching for the light which here she made concrete and universal in her own way. Surrounding the sculptural crowd on their way to Mecca, a fanfare of words and letters are twisted in the wire fence and are uttered in the sounds of the wind that resonates its way, like a voice forever searching, through the narrow throats of beer bottles like glass flutes. A small universe of things seemingly unsaid but sculpted in forms and shapes as meaningful as the words snaking through the wire hedge. Inside the Owl House light and colour and shadows and a regular dose of sunshine dance in a daily wake on shy, shuffling feet through the house and fall in shafts, like stardust, through the rooms of Helen’s home.
Outside local people sell copies of her owls – eyes wide like all-knowing children – and mermaids with mosaic fish tails and the children greet strangers as they pass, dancing and playing in the patterns the strangers’ footprints leave in the dirt roads.
As you enter the town, the imposing Dutch Reformed church towers above everything. White, huge, baked and bleached and white-boned in a bold and blazing sun, it seems to guard the small village. Strict and pertinent, it keeps a close eye on the goings on, its bell resting like a silent promise in the clock tower.
In the third floor, top room of The Tower, in the community art centre’s backyard, an immaculate round bed fills the space, covered with a ‘love quilt’ made at the project. As one reaches the top floor, spiralling upwards, you expect a princess at the window and a grinning prince trying to scale the wall outside but it’s only Athol Fugard’s donkeys one can see, happily munching on grass and afternoon brightness next door at the Waenhuis.
In the entrance of the Waenhuis the escaped princess awaits visitors: frozen in the brown, bronzed, arm-less torso of a mannequin, she seems ready to cast a spell on visitors as they enter. A southern hemisphere Venus de Milo, dressed in a leafy skirt, a pink feather headband and pearls around her neck. Because, if you are lucky enough to be visiting here at the end of July, you might be celebrating Christmas in July, 1920’s with a Touch of Pink (2017’s theme). Here in the Waenhuis every corner has a story to tell.
O’ Keeffe and Kahlo spring to mind as sudden splashes of colour and the definite, deceptively simple lines of natural materials, of wax and wood and bone serve as a viewfinder, as a reminder, a link to the landscape surrounding but also pervading the people and their art. And as a visitor, the echo of equanimity, as if cut from the hidden depths of desert cloth, will call you back time and time again.
Because, as mentioned, the Karoo is a magical place: seemingly arid but wonderfully resourceful and rich. Next to the dusty streets of Nieu-Bethesda, the water from a spring on a plateau above the village flows through the old stone water furrows. Don’t be surprised if you see a pink feather boa – Priscilla Queen of the Desert-esque – floating autonomously over scrub and bush or dangling carefree from a quince hedge; if you are invited to come and shop at the Honesty Stoep or if you come across Roesemaat (Rust’s Mate) an old, rusty shell of a car. Here the passing of time is celebrated, nearly everything gets recycled or decorated and celebrated.
Exploring the Karoo is a journey of delicious discovery. It allows you to dance with your dreams in the dust; serenade with the stars; let your imagination run havoc; shake life’s turbulence from you. Where you can discover a place where worlds happily trespass upon each other: the old and the new; the past and the present and maybe even glimpses of a possibly hopeful, more tranquil future.
Hierdie is my klein wêreldjie op die stoep. Hier agter die somskerm sit ek en skep illusies met syfers. Die kantoor is omtrent sestig persent van my lewe. Hier is die hele betekenisvolle , onverstaanbare sirkelgang van mense se droomwêrelde. Hier is alles aanwesig en leweloos wat lewendig gemaak moet word. Hier word prestasies en teleurstellings bepaal deur die syfers op die sompomp en die note van die joodse-orrel. Quibus Auxiliis? Alles word gedoen in oorleg en ontleding van die beheerbare – en nie-beheerbare veranderlikes.Die misteriespel waarin die bekende en die onbekende en die aardse saamgeweef word om tot ‘n oplossing te kan kom, om drome ‘n legende te maak. Om te sien of aan die verlange en begeertes voldoen sal kan word op die kontantantvloei-beplannings en besigheidsplanne.
Ek wil weer suidwaarts ry. Wil verby plase ry, wat van horison tot horison strek, daardie boere is almal dobbelaars wat dobbel oor die volgende jaar se reën en soveel jaar het die steentjie verkeerd geval. Mens kan aan hulle ‘n eer gee vir hulle entoesiasme. Lewe en sterwe word ‘n uitdaging. Stel jou ‘n lewe voor tussen daardie karoobossies en omtrent geen gras nie en die reënseisoen wat onvoorspelbaar is. Dit is droog daar en het hulle baie min reën oor die afgelope vier jaar gehad. Tussen die Karooplante het ek melkbos, koesnaadjies, lewerplante en aasblomme nog gekry, wat die droogte kon oorleef.
Die primitiewe aardgodin is so onvoorspelbaar, daar in die Karoo.Die een dag vrek warm, volgende dag koel en in die middle van die week, is dit witter as spierwit. Die berge word toegevou onder ‘n kombers van sneeu. Dis ‘n stukkie aarde wat homself kort-kort vernietig en dan met ‘n reënnag en donderslae herrys tot die mooi van die Kamdeboo. Uit die materiaal van berge en dale kry ‘n plek vir elkeen ‘n ander gestalte, en skep elkeen vir homself sy eie mooi en eie onthoue.
Die nagte van hierdie landskap is enig. Die helderheid van die sterre maak dit ‘n handvat ver, en dit het die romanse van die eerste tye van die aarde. Jou buitestaan neem jou op ‘n wandeling deur die stories van Homerus. En hier is dit so duidelik en so naby, jy hoor die gode lag, of is dit ‘n maanhaar-jakkals?
Oom Dickie is ‘n patriarg van die Kamdeboo. Almal ken hom. As mens met Oom Dickie gesels is dit ‘n bedevaarttog na die verre gisters en eergisters. Dit is ‘n verset teen oud word en verset om die mooi te vergeet. Alles kleef in sy herinneringe, die verlede bestaan uit die landmerke van baie gebeurtenisse. Hy en Vona het saam die droogtes en ellende van ‘n leeftyd mee gemaak. Sy vertellinge het ‘n waas van romanse oor hierdie lewe. Uit sy vertellinge word die legendes weer lewendig. Ek kuier al jare daar en met verloop van tyd het ek ‘n waardige burger van die huis geword. Dis gasvrye mense, groot en sterk in hulle omgee. Die gemeenskap weet alles van mekaar af, hulle skinder, maar dis nie bloot ‘n geskinder nie, dit is net die omgee wat niks ongemerk sal laat verbygaan nie.
Ek reis weer die winter se besoek aan die Karoo en sy mense.
Ek koop ‘n windpomp vir Ockie by die beroemde Middelburg draadwindpompmaker van TV en selfoon faam. Die padbord wys na Graaff-Reinet en die Lootsbergpas. Ons is baie na aan ons bestemming. ‘n Bordjie langs die pad wys die rigting na die Uilhuis en ons neem die koers daarheen. Ons ry stadig op die grondpad en ek geniet die Karoo.
Die oneindigheid strek van Oos na Wes en Noord na Suid. Die dag gloei en skitter in ‘n glans van sorgeloosheid, van ‘n vrede op aarde. Die pad vleg deur die Karoobossies.
Ons bereik die kunstenaarswêreld van die Uilhuis in in Nieu-Bethesda; ‘n stukkie vreemde wêreld wat met glas versier en bemasker word, die siel van die vrou, Martins, wat nooit tot ruste kan kom, wat met haar verwaarloosde skaduwee en verdwaalde gees deur haar beeldwêreld, van glas en sement, soek.
Ek het ‘n groot behoefte, wat diep binne brand, om hierdie vreemde vrou se wêreld met iemand te deel. ‘n Wêreld wat vir my somme-brein vreemd en so onwerklik is. Die gees van die mens is soms so onbepaalbaar, talle male verberg onder die daaglikse bestaan en roetine.
Ek neem die eie lewe onder oënskou, as ek hier ronddwaal. Ons is termiete, wat eers lank onder die grond, as termiete – eier in totale duisternis lewe, vlerke vir ‘n kort tydstip kry, vir oomblikke in sy lewe hoog vlieg, in plaas van ‘n ewige heerlikheid verloor hy sy vlerke en begrawe hy homself in totale duisternis ondergronds in sy daaglikse roetines.
Ons is die verbanne kinders van Eva, verban uit die paradys, waar ons as jagters-versamelelaars in harmonie met die wêreld geleef het, verdryf in die woensty in, waar jy in die sweet van jou aanskyn jou brood moet verdien en elkeen vir homself is en die duiwel vir ons almal. Wag ‘n bietjie nou met die swaarmoedigheid, nou smeer ek botter aan die galg.
Ons vertrek later na Graaff-Reinet en bereik die plek van Oom Dickie die middag. Die volgende dag besoek ek en Mariaan die uitkykplek oor die Vallei van Verlatenheid.
Grillige strukture verrys uit die bodem van die Karoo. Dit is ‘n mirakelwerk wat geen menslike argitek kan namaak nie. Ek kyk uit op die steengeworde droom van die Groot Skepper, miskien was dit Sy oefining van ‘n Picasso/Dali meesterstuk, kontoere van ruimte en lyn en kleur en lig en skaduwee, ‘n grootsheid wat ‘n eienaardige, onwêreldse, gevoel veroorsaak.
Hier is ‘n tydloosheid teenwoordig wat kontoere en ruimte harmonies reflekteer. Ek staan geeiland op die berg en beleef die ontsaglike ruimtes van die Kamdeboo. Die lug is ‘n lewende leemte met onsigbare golwe wat die wit wolke aanja en, aan die sye, die wolke uitrafel. Met elke besoek wil ek ‘n stukkie van hierdie ewigheid vasgryp en diep in my bewaar. Hierdie is ‘n agresiewe soektog na myself in die wêreld se afgeleë plekke, in ‘n poging om ‘n antwoord oor die self en die menswees te vind en weer vir ‘n kort tyd tot besinning te kom. Ek is ‘n onrus-mens wat gedurig opsoek is na die lewe vol verwikkelinge en somtyds vrede soek, hier weg van die polsende lewenspatroon. Ek verlang intens na vrede en staan met ‘n belewenis in my hart en besef hoe vreeslik ek aan daardie daaglikse geheg is. Ek besef dat ek weer ingedruk en verseël gaan word in my werk se kokon van rekenaars en tegnologie. ‘n Muur wat ‘n mens omsingel en wat in my in sy grense laat verdwyn en toebot in die lewe. Hierdie geleende tye maak van die lewe weer ‘n avontuur, waar ek hier staan geniet ek elke oomblik daarvan in ‘n vreugdevolle oorgawe. Ek probeer om die gevoel met ‘n volle kwota van realisme ontleed, maar my hart gesels sy eie taal, wat ek nie kan begryp of kwantifiseer nie. Die hart se woorde het geen beperkings, geen verbod en geen grense nie. Daar is net ‘n verlange na ‘n metgesel, na daardie wêreld vol verwagte vreugdes en hoogtes, tye om saam te klets en lag en gesels oor die lewe. My gedagtes is opsoek na haar wat ek nie ken of van weet nie. Miskien moet ek my kantoormasker vir die lewe afhaal.
Die ander reis waarheen ek op pad is, is ‘n baie waardevolle reis. Die reis tussen mens en mens. Dit is intiem en kosbaar. Alles wat waardevol is, word in die geheue bewaar, dit bring herinneringe in relief. Met die gedagtes kan ek wandel in my eie klein wêreldjie, dit is goed en behoort ten minste aan my. Die Sotho’s het ‘n gesegde “ Motho kè motho ka batho. “ – Mens is mens deur mense” en met sulke besoeke kry ‘n mens so baie dinge terug wat die jare van jou verwyder en versmoor het. Ek spekuleer oor die lewe, wat my in ‘n kou, soos ‘n budgie toesluit, analiseer my behoeftes en besef dat die kennis van die verstand soms ‘n verwydering van die gees veroorsaak en dat alle vrede tussen jou en die natuur en mense dan skielik baie ver en onbereikbaar is. Daar is ‘n binnehuil, diep in my gemoed, sonder trane,
Moeders is die kosbaarste op aarde. Hulle vul ons geestelik aan in ons wêreld van verwagtings en teerhede. As hulle nie meer daar is nie, is daar ‘n groot leemte van iemand om jou blydskap en leed te deel, om sommer net te klets oor allerhande dinge en gebeurtenisse wat vir ander mense onbelangrik sou wees, ‘n oomblik van ontvlugtinge as met ma gesels word. Mariaan ruk die stilte oop, toe sy op ‘n los klip trap. Ek is terug in die werklikheid. Ek keer terug na die wintervelde, na Oom Dickie en Vona, waar ek weer baie verhale van hierdie wêreld hoor en Vona se heerlike kos en liefde sal geniet, op hulle beurt twee legende van die Kamdeboo en Karoo.
‘Passenger accommodation is provided on the following goods trains when run: 09h02 Mondays, Wednesdays, Friday: Rosmead – Schoombee — Hofmeyr’ proclaimed the South African Railways Intercity Train Time-Table. Being a steam buff and holidaying on a nearby farm in the Middelburg district, the invitation was impossible to resist and shortly before the appointed departure time we found ourselves on the platform at Schoombee station – where the branch line to Hofmeyr started — together with assorted milk cans, some sheep and a variety of farm implements vying for places in the few goods trucks which made up the ‘mixed’, with ‘white’ passengers (prior to being covered in soot) being accommodated in the rear of the guards’ van.
Trollip Siding (our destination) was shown in italics in the Time-Table and was therefore bereft of resident staff. This meant that the train would stop ‘on request only to pick up or set down passengers’ who were charged with the responsibility of ‘advising the conductor or guard beforehand of their destination in order that the necessary stop may be arranged’. Unearthing this worthy, who was busy counting sheep and milk cans, was difficult, but eventually convinced by our story (Trollip being a siding where only post was occasionally ‘set down’), he held a lengthy conversation with the train driver and we were assured that the necessary stop would be made.
Now we were faced with the challenge of buying tickets, which meant tracking down the station master, who carried out all duties at Schoombee – including ensuring that the crew of the mixed were adequately stoked up with ‘moer koffie’ for the arduous journey to Hofmeyr. After being found studying his signals intently — to ensure he didn’t send the train back to Rosmead — and clearly puzzled by a request he had never been faced with before, he nevertheless carefully wrote out ‘two second-class single’ tickets to Trollip and then directed us to the guardsvan together with the milk cans, while the sheep and farm equipment were allocated trucks of their own.
Seated resplendently on the green leather seats which separated us from the blue of first class, (third class ‘non-white’ passengers en route to shearing duties in Hofmeyr had an antiquated balcony coach of their own in keeping with the spirit of the times), we waited anxiously for the ‘right-of-way’ whilst partaking of some rather dubious ‘refreshments’ purchased from the kiosk at Schoombee, which was manned by the station master’s wife who was summoned from her house on the odd occasions when trains passed through.
The time-table – such as it was – was now in considerable disarray by the disruption of normal proceedings, aggravated by the unwillingness of some of the sheep to board the train. Finally, with much whistling and letting off of built-up steam, our Class 24 engine shuffled out onto the branch line with its motley collection of passengers, animals and farmware. With only 120kms to cover for the return journey to Hofmeyr and a day to do them in, it soon became apparent that no attempts were going to be made to make up time, but with a pristine karoo morning to enjoy and the steady beat of the engine to reassure us of some progress, we sat back and let the experience (and the soot) wash over us, together with wafts of yet-to-be-shorn merinos.
The unexpected stop at Trollip undoubtedly played further havoc with the timetable as the driver obviously hadn’t ‘set down passengers’ in years – only post and the occasional sheep who’d forgotten to buy a ticket in Schoombee and been asked to leave the train after failing to respond to the time-honoured cry of ‘Alle kaartjies’. After another intake of ‘moer koffie’ however – possibly fortified with just a dash of Klippies — the crew and engine had gathered sufficient strength to respond to the guard’s green flag, and the train puffed slowly away towards the fleshpots of Hofmeyr, leaving us to contemplate our journey together with the post. Our only regret was that there had been no dining-car to savour ‘Fried 74’ and ‘Cabinet Pudding’, those perennial SAR favourites which had everyone clamouring for less in days of yore.
How sad it is to pass Schoombee now and see the line weeded over, the station deserted and a general air of melancholy and decay pervading over what was once a bustling little community. ‘Those were indeed the days’…
We invited blogger, Anje Rautenbach of Going Somewhere Slowly to spend 24 hours with us in Bedford, Karoo Heartland.
There’s something irresistible about roses. Maybe it’s the royal connection or the carefully layered petals, the intricate swirls, the care that goes into growing it or perhaps it is the smell; perhaps the reasoning behind its irresistible nature lies in that moment of anticipation, of gently grabbing the rose by its stem, lowering your head, and then breathing in the sweet scent of serenity.
Bedford knows all about the irresistible nature of roses, in fact, when a group of South African Old Rose enthusiasts attended the World Heritage Rose Congress in France in 2009, they were inspired to develop an Old Rose sanctuary in South Africa to reserve and perpetuate the valuable genetic traits of South Africa’s old roses which were brought to the Cape of Good Hope from the early 1600s onwards.
What was an idea in 2009 became a reality and it bloomed in 2012 when the SA Rosarium, located in Bedford in the Eastern Cape, was officially launched at the World Rose Congress. Five years later and the Rosarium – with its numerous unique heritage roses – has become a must-stop spot for visitors and a colourful sight to see, unmanicured, unpretentious and quite unbelievable; especially during Bedford’s annual Garden Festival.
When you stop and smell the roses it quickly becomes clear that Bedford is a garden town. Residents live close to nature with their fingers in the soil, their beings in the present, their hearts of hospitality in their smiles and with an eco-mindedness that inspires change. You’ll find flowers, trees, herbs and vegetables in the community, at businesses, in home gardens and even at the Duke of Bedford Inn, an elegant Victorian hotel; locally grown, from the chef’s garden to your plate.
Bedford is a garden town but there’s more to it than just the gardens.
Over the years, with the right amount of sunshine, love, care, warmth, fresh air, time and space – all key ingredients to keep plants in a pristine condition – the town has grown. And not necessarily in size, but in heart.
Over the years Bedford has grown and attached itself onto the hearts of visitors as a town that leads by example; a town focused on recycling, a town focused on uplifting and empowering the community, a town focused on teaching, a town focused on mindfulness, a town focused on going forward yet staying true to their humble roots.
Over the years, and after more than a decade of Garden Festivals, Bedford has grown into a town – a destination – you have to experience, you have to indulge in, you have to feel.
4 THINGS YOU MUST FEEL IN BEDFORD:
Eagle Hout Padstal
The Eagle Hout Padstal is well-known for its restaurant, nursery, gift shop, eco-brick and herb garden and for handcrafting solid wood furniture – a talent that has been passed on from generation to generation. But of course, there’s more to it than what you see from the outside. There is also another passion present: recycling and upcycling. At Eagle Hout they recycle anything from cans to plastic to fibre optic cables (which get innovatively transformed into droppers for fences, walkways etc.)
The Apprentice Deli
From dainty sweet treats to wholesome meals, The Apprentice Deli has it all. A passion for food is ever-present in this Hope Street restaurant, plus in true Bedford-style, they also play a strong role in uplifting the community as it provides hospitality training.
Thrive in Bedford
Thrive in Bedford is a new addition to the town but the idea behind it is not new but a dream that blossomed into reality. Thrive is a collaboration of holistic nurturing facilitators – Kim, Cathy and Suzie – who believe in making sustainable lifestyle-shifts to nurture and nourish mind, body and soul. Thrive in Bedford offers workshops and retreats where you can learn more about food and nutrition, gardening, creativity, mindfulness and yoga.
The best time to visit Bedford is during (or around) the annual Garden Festival when private gardens – which have been nurtured and nursed during the year – are open to the public, such as Maasström Farm, The Long Garden, The Cooks Garden at Albertvale Farm, the Township Gardens and 8th Durban Street. The Rosarium is open to the public throughout the year, but the best time to visit is around October and November. The Chef’s Garden and the Caltex Bio Garden at the Duke of Bedford Inn can be viewed throughout the year and offers guests the opportunity the learn more about how to turn your backyard into nutritious food. Another point of garden interest not to miss during your visit is the Eco-brick and Herb Garden – an upcycled garden from a green construction method – at Eagle Hout Padstal.
For accommodation and dinners, put the Duke of Bedford Inn on your Bedford itinerary and you can also enjoy breakfast and lunch at The Apprentice Deli, Sugar Shack, The Village Farm Stall and Eagle Hout Padstal. To take a piece of Bedford home with you, visit the Hope Street businesses, all part of the Duke of Bedford Inn’s hotel courtyard or Eagle Hout Padstal, which also sells plants. If you find yourself in Bedford during the last weekend of the month, visit the Bedford Morning Market (on Saturdays).