Farm stays make for heaven-sent holidays, and they’re also great value. Keith Bain uncovers some of the best rural idylls in South Africa.
You will reach Kersefontein, eventually, if you just follow directions and ignore that voice in your head (or the backseat) telling you you’re lost. Once you see the wind turbines alongside the main stretch near Hopefield, you’re almost there. Just a few unexpected twists and turns down a back-country road and then you’re deep in a place so utterly faraway, time dissolves; dirt roads, bulging trees, bridges over streams, nuzzling horses, geese on patrol, a cow, sheep, chickens, and what’s with that hog rolling in the muck?
‘Happy as a pig in sh**’ is the expression. I’d barely arrived, and I was that happy.
Apart from those pleasantly organic smells, the deep lungfuls of oxygen and full-body joy of arriving in this bucolic werf, there was Julian Melck, the kind of host who is part of the experience. When he appeared – kitted out for hard graft on the farm – it was with a vast smile, his beautiful Australian cattle dog, Pepe, by his side. Instead of any over-rehearsed hotel welcome, there was a genuine introduction to his home.
Custodian of this land – a farm since 1770 – Julian is the eighth generation in his family to stomp around in boots, fly from the saddle, sow oats and wheat (‘my very modest contribution to feeding the nation’), and work the earth. He’s the first to welcome paying guests, though, offering up converted buildings around the original Cape Dutch farmhouse – a national monument that is also his home – as swanky quarters.
A Hereford beef-cattle breeder and Merino wool-sheep farmer, Julian also breeds solid boerperde so there is never a dull moment and time here is an honest glimpse of old-school farm life where my immediate urge was to unplug.
Relinquishing such technological distractions, I observed Julian and his farmhands working animals from the saddle, or watched how delightedly those happy pigs roll in the muck. Even noticing a cow spying on me from the other side of a wall was entertainment. The long, rambling walks were tonic for the soul, too; lazy spells on the banks of the Berg River; and a chance to discover how the cultivated bits mingled with something wilder at the farm’s fringes.
Julian is one hell of a warm host, turning up the charm over lively, conversation-filled dinners served at his private dining table in the main farmhouse. Which is also where you’ll meet his binnekat, a former lone-ranger named Tom (‘as in tomcat,’ Julian beamed with parental pride). After dinner, we shuffled across to the aviation-themed bar Julian put together (among other things, he’s a pilot, and there’s a runway on the farm) – and the chit-chat went on fairly late, considering.
I hit the hay in a voluminous bedroom – four-poster bed, deep armchairs, stocked bookshelves, regal trimmings, a sense of history that spilled into my dreams.
I woke to the first strains of a rooster and took in the sepia light as dawn spread across the farmyard. And as I allowed my rhythm to sync with my surrounds, there came that thankful realisation, that I’d managed to swap the buzz of the city for the cow-moos and cock-crows of some rural idyll. A place where peace reigns and time is reckoned by something other than a clock.
From R715 pp pn, including breakfast 083 454 1025 kersefontein.co.za
Owner Julian Melck
Your earliest memory of Kersefontein?
I was first legged off to this farm as a two-week old baby. I remember as a child grand parties my parents hosted while I played in the sand on the farmyard with Dinky Toys ferried in by ship from Liverpool. The absence of constant adult supervision is an enduring and attractive childhood memory.
What binds you to
It’s my love for agriculture, surely the most creative work that one can do. Along with my wonderful staff, I prepare, plant and breed – and then harvest. So something tangible arises from all this commitment and effort. And, sometimes, folly!
Tastes of your
I have some dairy animals, hand-milked daily for guest and staff consumption. The milk’s unpasteurised, and the cream not separated out, so it’s the best-tasting you can get. It’s the most expensive milk in the world as you need to look after the animals.
We keep chickens on the farm – they set a good example to us Edison-inflicted hominoids as far as healthy sleeping patterns are concerned. And I don’t have email on my phone; otherwise that noise never stops.
A special spot on
There’s a hill on which my grandfather built a really isolated farm-school. From up there is a magnificent view of the West Coast, the Berg River and the surrounding veld and vlei, with the Piketberg Mountains in the east. I often take guests there for sunset gin parties. Breyten Breytenbach visited the farm a number of times and has described that spot lovingly.
Good value farm stays: countrywide
Sutherland, Northern Cape
Blesfontein Guest Farm
Just 28km southwest of Sutherland you’ll find the
Blesfontein Guest Farm. Perched up on the Roggeveld escarpment, amazing views are guaranteed all year round and come winter, people flock to see snow. This is an ungentrified farm so you’ll see Dorper sheep and Angus cattle. Barns and sheds have been transformed into accommodation. The rough, unplastered stone buildings are rustic but neat and clean on the inside. Hearty farm breakfasts and three-course dinners are enjoyed at the restaurant.
From R380 pp pn
023 571 2631, 083 444 5810
The farmer is a passionate stargazer with his own telescope and loves showing guests the night skies; plus the SALT Observatory is nearby.
Prince Albert, Karoo
Weltevrede Fig & Guest Farm
Turn at the Prince Albert graveyard and follow a dirt road for 25km. In a secluded valley is where this faraway fig farm operates entirely off-grid, with no cellphone reception either. Out of the five guest cottages on the farm, the oldest is the original 1800s farmhouse. One of the new cottages has three bedrooms with a pool and an outdoor pizza oven families can enjoy. Guests can either explore the wild space or enjoy the silence on their stoep.
From R400 pp pn
023 541 1229, 087 095 6229
Bring your mountain bike for the dirt road ride into the village (or to charge up and down Swartberg Pass); hike to Die Hel (expect bundu-bashing); fill your belly with figs.
Kuhestan Organic Farm
Shahzard and Brett Hone retired early to start their organic avocado and raspberry farm on this four-hectare plot on the edge of the forest near Haenertsburg. The weather here is cool and often wet. In your cottage, expect neat and cosy comfort, a full kitchen and a wood-burning fireplace. Take long walks outdoors; pick veggies and berries. In the morning, watch the sunrise accompanied by the chirps of a gazillion birds.
From R750 pp pn at weekends, R1 850 family unit, R2 500 two-bedroom cottage
082 903 7593 kuhestan.co.za
Woodbush Nature Reserve next door; Magoebaskloof Canopy Tours; pottery workshops at Earth Creations; cheese-making courses at Wegraakbosch; Berry Festival in March, Kiwi Festival in May and unpredictable weather year-round.
Nieu bethesda, Eastern
Ganora Guest Farm
The farm offers a sanctuary in whitewashed repurposed farm buildings. The appealing remodelled sheep kraal walls of packed mud and stone, and antique furniture in the self-catering cottage will give you a sense of history. You’ll witness the rigours of cattle and pig farming, see Dohne Merino sheep being shorn, maybe bottle-feed a bleating hansie. Scandinavian guests once told the Steynbergs that their sunsets eclipsed the Northern Lights.
From R560 pp pn, breakfast
included; R1 900 six-person
049 841 1302, 082 698 0029 ganora.co.za
And More The farm is riddled with geological history, fossil beds, and rock art. Hester runs a meerkat rehab centre and you can explore nearby Nieu Bethesda.
Inversanda Farm Cottages
The Dargle Valley is abundant and fertile and you get a fair sense of that even before you’ve reached this farm at the end of the road. This is a traditional beef farm where you might find yourself bottle feeding a calf or collecting eggs from the henhouse. The Judge’s House is big enough for two families; The private Wing is an extension of the farmhouse; while the six-sleeper Barn Cottage was converted from a tractor shed. These all have a stoep for you to relax on.
From R450 pp pn 082 772 1621 inversanda.co.za
For swimming (and tubing), a 3km stretch of the Umgeni River stretches across the farm while there’s also a farm pool. Guests can ramble along the river and picnic at the waterfall. Owners Tom and Lucinda Bate breed and school polo ponies so there are horses to ride and ponies for children.