Text & Photographs: Chris Marais
Whether you’re a pair of Silver Foxes or a Start-Up Family moving to the platteland, chances are you will end up as successful as your relationship is.
Take the little Eastern Cape Karoo village of Nieu Bethesda, for instance. To the outsider, it’s an idyllic little piece of Karoo heaven. Even the dusty roads are sexy.
But surviving in such an isolated spot, actually making a living there, is another story. In our latest traveller’s companion, Road Tripper Eastern Cape Karoo, we profile some of the people you’re going to meet on your journey to this magical region.
Among them are four of the can-do couples of Nieu Bethesda.
Victoria & Nico of Dustcovers Bookshop, Nieu-Bethesda
Victoria Nance and Nico Zaverdinos are not married, but their books are.
They met up in Nottingham Road at the turn of the century, introduced their substantial book collections to each other and decided it was a great match all around.
“We fell in love at first conversation,” says Nico.
They moved to the little village of Nieu Bethesda (where the force is strong with working couples) and, with few expectations, opened up a rocking little bookshop called Dustcovers.
Each partner had an ace in the hole. Although Nico is book-mad and often to be seen introducing the contents of Dustcovers to visiting readers, he brings in steady family loot with regular assignments as a Dutch-to-English translator.
Victoria, for her part, has a legendary bookish relation by marriage down in Port Elizabeth: Teresa Fogarty of Fogarty’s Bookshop.
Victoria did her “book-time” at Fogarty’s and still relies on Teresa as a mentor.
“And when Teresa is offered book-lots from estates, she lets me know,” says Victoria.
Ian & Katrin of The Karoo Lamb, Nieu-Bethesda
Ian and Katrin Allemann are the tourism stalwarts of the village. They’re constantly in the company of backpackers, overlanding guests, visiting musicians and day-trippers looking for a good meal.
Aptly enough, they met as mutual backpackers in Norway and fell instantly in love. She’s a quirky and practical Swiss-German bustle of energy and he’s a mix of Antarctic weatherman, soldier, vet and renowned (albeit unofficial) Potjie King of the Sneeuberg district.
Ian looks after most of the cooking and social media promotion on the ‘Net. Katrin handles admin, bookings and front-of-house.
The no-nonsense Katrin has this to say to couples thinking of relocating to a platteland village:
“Don’t over-romanticise it all. Find a town you fancy, rent a place, stay for a while and see if you like it. Do not make a quick decision based on a lovely weekend you spent somewhere, with your packets of food from Woolworths.”
“Be aware of the village rumour mill and then learn to ignore it.”
Charmaine & Martin of Ware on Earth Studios, Nieu-Bethesda
Visiting Charmaine and Martin Haines is like stepping into a fast-flowing stream of creative energy.
Whether you’re in the courtyard of their home or in the middle of their studios across the road, you can see there’s a lot going on with these two.
They’re both extremely talented artists working mainly in ceramics. Although Charmaine is conventionally seen as “the talent”, she’ll tell you her husband Martin is the mad genius in the family.
“We bounce ideas off each other all the time, so things evolve around here,” she says.
This is a couple that collaborates on art and living. They’re blessed to have complementary skills. While I’m standing in Martin’s section of the studio admiring his bespoke, metre-high Karoo scrub hare sculptures, Jules is next door with Charmaine looking at her world-famous work.
When he’s not involved with his own projects, Martin finds ways to display Charmaine’s art to best advantage, and moulding the base shapes on which she fixes new and unique figures and faces.
Apart from his crazy, beautiful scrub hares (some with sly looks, others with waistcoats), Martin is busy introducing the art of surfing to the dry Karoo. Don’t ask. Just watch this space.
Hester & JP of Ganora Guest Farm, Nieu-Bethesda
JP and Hester Steynberg are the ultimate “farmstay tag team”.
You arrive at Ganora for your agri-tourism experience and it’s five-star in the country. Hester meets you, takes you off to your chalet and, if there is interest, will introduce you to the meerkat/owl/critter of the moment.
Hester is a farmer’s wife, a farmstay host, a marketer and a professional nursing sister with a penchant for small animal rehabilitation.
And then you meet JP, larger than life and twice as charming. Apart from Karoo farming, his thing is fossils, and he can’t wait to take you out to see Ganora’s incredible wealth of 250-million-year-old natural heritage.
True be told, JP Steynberg has a super-power. He can see fossils where others just see rock.
But your day doesn’t end with these marvellous “stone bones”, because Hester now takes over and shows you the cliff hangings where the Bushman paintings adorn the rock walls.
They swop tasks seamlessly. JP can even be persuaded to drive off to Graaff-Reinet and do the dreaded shopping.