Words and Photographs by Chris Marais
From lush English-style gardens to desert lands, Victorian farmsteads to stone corbelled houses, the variety on offer at farmstays in the Karoo is astounding. Here are a dozen top spots to hang your hat in the Heartland.
1. Glen Avon Farm, outside Somerset East
The youngest Brown living on the heritage farm of Glen Avon is the 9th generation of this family to have stayed here. As you walk around this farmstead and its outbuildings, you are seeing centuries of history: an old mill, a shearing shed that once served as an officers’ mess in the Anglo-Boer War, massive oaks with ancient markings and the impressive Boschberg mountain range looming overhead.
Contact: +27 (0) 42 243 3628
2. Cavers Country House, outside Bedford
Cavers is all about the most stunning garden, one of the firm favourites of Bedford’s annual Garden Festival. There’s an elegant manor house for guests and dinners range from farm lamb to venison, with farm-fresh milk, yoghurt and cheese on offer.
The Bedford area is 1820 Settler country and Cavers is one of its top historical assets.
Contact: +27 (0) 46 685 0619
3. Noorspoort Guest Farm, outside Steytlerville
Set in the neighbourhood of impressive Cape Fold mountains, Noorspoort is owned by the Craven family and has long been a venue of choice for wedding planners, photographic instructors, school outings and those on romantic escapes.
Expect to snuggle into goose down duvets when you sleep in the old main homestead. In fact, they even offer a course on goose farming if that catches your fancy.
Contact: +27 (0) 49 835 0001
4. Lowlands Country House, near Cradock
Now you’re on a sheep, pecan and cattle farm in the middle of the traditional Fish River community. Old families live around here, and they still play tennis most weekends at the local club and pray together on Sundays at a venerable little church nearby.
Ask your hosts (the Bowkers) about all the day tours in the area, which include trips to the Mountain Zebra National Park, Nieu-Bethesda and the Olive Schreiner Museum. And there’s a swimming pool that is a blessing on a hot summer’s day…
Contact: +27 (0) 71 393 3354
5. Hillston Guest Farm, outside Middelburg
Right next to your little stone cottage is an Anglo-Boer War blockhouse riddled with bullet holes. You don’t really sleep closer to history than this.
One of the delights of Hillston is to be able to walk over the veld to one of the nearby ridges and gather in the awesome views below.
They also feed you like royalty and if you like blue cranes, get up early in the morning and watch them take off from a nearby dam.
Contact: +27 (0) 49 842 1627
6. Schanskraal Country Manor & Lodge, outside Middelburg
Schanskraal is an upmarket country escape that comes complete with Manor House and Arabian studs.
The venue has become internationally famous for staging the South African 160km Endurance Riding Championships in October.
For those who like action holidays, Schanskraal offers superb wing shooting, horseback riding and rock art outings.
Contact: +27 (0) 49 842 2326
7. Ganora Guest Farm, outside Nieu-Bethesda
Ganora is one of the model guest farms in the Karoo. The owners, JP and Hester Steynberg, are interesting and committed hosts. And the farm, tucked away in mountain folds near the legendary village of Nieu-Bethesda, is idyllic.
JP has a keen eye for fossils and takes you on very interesting ‘stone bone’ outings, while Hester runs a meerkat rehabilitation centre which children find fascinating.
The farm has a superb fossil museum, the food on offer is top-class and the lodgings are most comfortable.
Contact: +27 (0) 49 841 1302; Mobile: +27 (0) 82 698 0029
8. Poplar Grove Farm, outside Colesberg
Here it’s all about stoep-sitting, drinking in the peace and going for long contemplative walks in the veld. Or you can attend periodic Zen Buddhism retreats..
The farm belongs to Margie and Antony Osler. Antony, a spiritual teacher and writer, is the author of Stoep Zen and Zen Dust.
There are several places to stay on the farm, including a lovely self-cater cottage. It has no electricity, no television, no cell phone signal and no wi-fi. But it does have good books, candles, hot water from a donkey boiler, a fire place, a profoundly comfortable bed and stoep that will help restore your sanity.
Contact: +27 (0) 51 753 1356
9. Prior Grange Farm, outside Springfontein
Another great farmstay with many offerings, Prior Grange lies on the N1 highway and is an ideal country stop-over for families. You’ll definitely want to stay more than one day.
Blackie de Swardt is a farmer with a particular interest in the Anglo-Boer War. There’s an old blockhouse on a hill at Prior Grange overlooking the N1 – and he can take you up there and tell you stories you’ll never forget.
Prior Grange also has a special Farm Trail around the homestead which is very interesting and, if you’re lucky, there’ll be a weekend cricket game going on at The Oval, the nearby farm pitch.
Sheryl de Swardt runs five guest cottages and ensures the meals are of excellent quality.
Contact: +27 (0) 83 310 3284
10. Rooipoort Farm, outside Philipstown
Kay Fourie and her husband Andries live on a seventh generation farm called Rooipoort, only 15 minutes out of Philipstown. Here, she offers guest accommodation in and around their splendid old house with its thick walls and high ceilings.
There are black eagles and blue cranes to see, and lovely walks in the Karoo veld and koppies. Another of the attractions is Kay’s intriguing art. She has recently produced a beautiful series of lithographs of local people.
Tel: +27 (0) 83 277 414211.
11. Stuurmansfontein, outside Carnarvon
Early in the 20th century, a bywoner (subsistence tenant) called Fanie Bergh and his family came to live in a magical place called Stuurmansfontein, tucked in a fold of rolling hills of the Northern Cape.
The Berghs lived in an exquisite corbelled house, a beehive-shaped home of rocks that held the heat of the sun in winter, with thick walls to keep them cool in summer.
And this is where you’ll be staying. It’s comfortably kitted out, and when you read the guest book you’ll see Stuurmansfontein is well-beloved around the world.
After supper on a clear night, just step outside and take a seat. You’re suddenly in a world of bright stars and utter peacefulness.
Contact: +27 (0) 82 221 7500
12. Boere Plaas, outside Nieuwoudtville
You can stay in a fully-furnished cottage or, like we did, opt for a rustic little dwelling ‘out in the flowers’. And, when the spring flowers are in bloom in this part of the world, this is precisely where you want to find yourself.
The stone house is charming and very cosy inside. You cook on a gas stove and play gin rummy by candle light.
And when you wake up in the morning and look outside your window, you find yourself in a dazzling world of colour. Good morning, Namaqualand!
Contact: +27 (0) 27 218 1217