Story & Pix by Chris Marais
On a recent assignment in the Karoo Heartland, I spent a night with friends on a farm in the Bedford district.
After a delicious supper and just before bedtime, the farmer told me:
“You have to see my wind pump. It’s quite beautiful. I’d love you to photograph it tomorrow morning.”
So there I was just before dawn the next day, all lined up with my cameras behind his wind pump, waiting for the light. I knew I was in for a special moment.
This intricate world is waking up. Water gushes slowly into the dam as a wind pump catches the early breezes. A Piet-My-Vrou and his mates are chatting in the old bluegum tree by the sheds. The sheep are curious and watch me working.
The lights are on in the staff cottages nearby, as the stockmen don their blue overalls and drink their first coffee of the day. The farmer is watching an early agricultural report on TV, also with his cuppa. The collie dog is at the front door, tail wagging and impatient to begin his day’s work.
I’m seeing an amber glow to the east. As ever and on time, here is the dawn’s early light. I move my gear from a silhouette stance to somewhere with the rising sun behind me.
That bloody shadow of mine keeps getting into the image frame. I find myself trying to desperately outrun my own shadow, maybe obscure it behind a foreground bush or something. But one’s shadow, like the taxman and the past, can never be outrun. I will have to work around it.
And suddenly here is first light, and the wind pump head glows like a beacon and I feel, for this brief moment, like all my toes are being tickled at once.
Some of my finest travel memories over the past decade have invariably been rooted in the magic, the utter bliss, of time spent on a Karoo holiday farm.
Imagine spending a night in a comfortable, off-the-grid old corbelled house like Stuurmansfontein, outside Carnarvon in the Northern Cape.
Or strolling along a dirt road out at Badsfontein Farm, between Murraysburg and Richmond before your special Karoo cuisine class with the hostess and a well-known chef.
Or simply parking on a picnic blanket outside your chalet at the Karoo Eco-Reserve near Graaff-Reinet and looking up at the Universal Paint Box of Stars.
Or dipping into a delicious braai pack supplied by the folks at Allendale Farm midway between Graaff-Reinet and Nieu-Bethesda, complete with roosterkoek and a large salad – just add the wine and you’re good to go.
Or being entranced by the deep history of old bones and old stones at the fossil museum set up on Wellwood Farm outside Nieu-Bethesda, where some of South Africa’s greatest palaeontologists have been frequent visitors over the decades.
Or meeting the oldest fish in the Karoo out at Ganora Guest Farm, where the Steynberg family are known as the pioneers of local agri-tourism.
Or lazing back under a shady tree on a Saturday afternoon, something cold to hand, watching a live cricket game on Prior Grange Farm outside the southern Free State town of Springfontein.
Or embarking on a classic Karoo mountain bike safari from Mount Melsetter Karoo House and Hunt outside Middelburg.
Or photographing the squadrons of blue cranes departing from the Hillston Farm dam in the early hours, and catching them at dusk at they return in their numbers.
Or watching the sheep shearers at work in the ancient shed at Glen Avon near Somerset East, and taking a hike up to the awesome Glen Avon Falls in the mountains above this historical farm.
Or looking across at the spinning turbines of the Cookhouse Wind Farm from the heights above Olivewoods Farm, where the Wienand family hosts serve you memorable dinners in the evenings.
Or learning about the history of the Pringle family deep in the Baviaans River Valley outside Bedford at Huntly Glen Farm – ask owner Ernest Pringle to show you his incredible butterfly collection.
Or, like me, simply waiting for the sun at it casts its magic light on the spinning head of a wind pump – and another great Karoo day lies before us all.