By Julienne du Toit
Pictures by Chris Marais
This is how our hardy ancestors lived hundreds of years ago on the wide plains of the Karoo: They played musical instruments, read books made from paper, took long walks together, thought a lot, probably drank a lot and did an awful lot of cuddling under handmade goosedown duvets.
Sometimes you need to be disconnected from the world to get your motor running again.
HOME TO ROOST, NEAR STEYNSBURG
Staying at Home to Roost is like time-tripping 50 years back to your favourite aunt’s farmhouse. On the walls there are prints of pastoral scenes, children and dogs and chickens.
The kitchen is full of quaint devices from the pre-electric past, like old irons and manual egg beaters.
In the lounge, there are jigsaws, a knitting basket with an invitation to knit and donate squares for blankets for charity, and books – including old-fashioned romances with delightfully corny titles.
There’s good walking. The plateau is a remarkable place to be at dawn with a grandstand view of the high ironstone krantzes being touched by first light.
- Home to Roost sleeps six in the house, with bunk beds outside for an additional eight people. Michael and Lesley will show you how everything works, then leave you to enjoy the peace. They live on another farm nearby. Thandekile and Nancy Kose and will light the donkey boilers, ready the braai fire if needed and clean up in the morning if requested.
- Contact Lesley or Michael on email email@example.com or call 048 885 9077.
POPLAR GROVE, NEAR COLESBERG
Poplar Grove is a simple Karoo sheep farm south of Colesberg. But it is also a place of formal Zen Buddhist practice. During the week-long retreats held four times a year, one particular cottage is invariably the first to be booked out – but you can stay there any time.
The stoep sofa of the stone cottage is the perfect place to spend time with a book. Go for a long walk into the poplar forest, or to the labyrinth. Watch the ironstone koppie darken and disappear while lighting the candles and fixing supper on the gas stove in the neat kitchen.
Poplar Grove is the home of Buddhist teachers Margie and Antony Osler, and the inspiration for Antony’s bestsellers Stoep Zen, Zen Dust and his latest book, Mzansi Zen.
“In this wild and tender place may we ever hear the sound of truth in the whispering of stars, in the turning of windmills, in the silence of the veld.”
- The stone cottage sleeps two, but there are other two other nearby hermitages, similarly free of electricity and wi-fi, but supremely comfortable.
- For more information, call 051 753 1356 or 082 816 5903, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit stoepzen.co.za.
LETSKRAAL FARMSTAY, NEAR GRAAFF-REINET
Restoring a 200-year-old farmhouse that once belonged to famous trekker Andries Pretorius from near-ruin was a work of love over many years for present owner Johan Minnaar.
Letskraal today is a model of careful and correct restoration, and almost certainly the most authentic 1800-era Karoo farmhouse open to travellers.
And as befits such an historical place, there is no electricity. It is also one of the most beautiful Karoo farmsteads you will ever see, with classic lines and a glorious smooth lawn in summer.
In the afternoon, everyone is inevitably drawn to the comfortable chairs near the cypresses and grapevine pergola, the windpump spinning and sending fresh groundwater splashing into the dam.
- Letskraal has three graciously appointed bedrooms and can sleep seven people. There are two full outside bathrooms, and even a real wagon that can be used for sleeping during the softer seasons of spring and autumn.
- For more information, visit letskraal.co.za.
HILLSTON FARM NEAR MIDDELBURG
Hillston is a working sheep and Angora goat farm remarkable for its Anglo Boer War history, its wide open skies, iconic views and its food.
There are two guest farmhouses. One is an ironstone cottage with an Anglo Boer War blockhouse beside it.
The other guest accommodation is a remote and glorious old farmhouse (the Country House), atmospheric, off the grid and set on the wide grassy plains of Hillston farm.
It has four bedrooms, with beautiful wooden floors and beamed ceilings, a lovely farmhouse-style kitchen with coal or wood-burning stove, a gas stove and fridge.
The dining room has an open fireplace and the separate sunroom is the perfect place to settle with a book or card games.
Wander outside to listen to windpumps spinning and sighing in stereo, watch clouds sweep slowly over you, look out for blue korhaans, go for long walks in the wide open veld to see the unmistakable flat-topped hills of Teebus and Koffiebus.
CORBELLED HOUSES, NORTHERN CAPE
In a rough quadrangle between Loxton, Carnarvon, Fraserburg and Williston, there are a few dozen beehive-shaped stone corbelled houses – with some of them now open for travellers.
Built more than 150 years ago by trekboers and their servants, they remain a silent memorial to a time long past, when stone and clay were the only building materials.
Those that have been restored into guesthouses are mostly just as electricity-free as they were centuries ago.
Stuursmansfontein near Carnarvon is one of the best known. It has been beautifully restored, combining modern day comforts of a gas stove with a real old asbosskerm for cooking on an open fire.
You’ll see the remains of the bywoner way of life – an old threshing floor and beautiful corbelled grain store.
Rooyvlakte near Loxton is thought to be the easternmost corbelled house in the Karoo, set in splendid isolation in the vast apron of veld a short walk away from a shady poplar forest and wind pump, just below an ironstone plateau.
- Stuursmansfontein sleeps up to 6 people comfortably, while Rooyvlakte is far more intimate, better suited to a couple. Both have ingenious outside showers and toilets, and are fully equipped for catering.
- More information about Stuursmansfontein can be found by clicking here. Alternatively call 053 3826 097 or email email@example.com.
- To stay at Rooyvlakte, contact Hanneke Wiese of the Rooi Granaat in Loxton on 082 805 2982 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.