Derek Carstens is a man who’s seen the world, made his mark and recently bought a farm between Cradock and Graaff-Reinet.
The wild magic of the Karoo was woven into Derek back when he was a ten-year-old boy who used to come down here and stay on a friend’s farm every winter.
Derek was always in the woolshed, running around the koppies after dassies, riding one of the farm horses or sitting at the hearth inside a farm worker’s cottage, listening to the old stories of the Karoo.
You could say he’s the perfect example of how a Karoo farmstay can forever change a person’s life – young or old.
Something happens to you when you arrive at the gates of a Karoo farm. Normally the welcome is warm, the sheets are crisp and the lamb chops are sizzling on the fire.
You forget to charge your cellphone. Your electronic tablet goes neglected. The family car doesn’t move for days at a time. Those walking boots see a lot of action.
And the kids? Well, you haven’t spotted them all day. They’re somewhere out there, with the geese or the farmer’s children. Or the shepherd, who’s showing them something weird and wonderful in the veld.
It’s a good thing you’re doing all that walking every day, discovering the secrets of Karoo bushes and the critters that lurk in them. Because most of the time, you’re engrossed in that novel you found in the farm library, or feasting on food grown right here – and prepared from scratch each morning.
Perhaps you booked for a camera course being offered on a farm near Steytlerville, and you’re spent two days traipsing after one of South Africa’s top photographic gurus, learning how to frame a shot. Or you went quilting in Philipstown and spent a morning with the farmers’ wives of the Great Karoo, learning a lot more than a simple stitch.
Karoo farmstays are many and varied. In the Upper Karoo, for instance, you can sleep in an ancient corbelled house where a Victorian-era bywoner (subsistence tenant) once lived. There is no electricity, just candles, the odd paraffin lamp and a wood-fired boiler. But it’s all comfortable and thoughtfully outfitted, so living off the grid becomes a wonderful, if brief, adventure.
In the Little Karoo, your eyes will constantly be drawn to the magnificent range of Swartberg Mountains, with their Cape Folds, their deep-cut passes and spectacular views. There you will be completely entranced by the wine farms and constant parade of ostriches that are the icon of the area.
On some farms you can embark on a Paleo Safari, where the knowledgeable farmer takes you out and shows you fossils and tells you about life 250 million years.
On other spreads you’ll find a family museum, a meerkat rehabilitation project or the tracks of a giant lizard that marched across the ancient landscape back in the Permian era. There’s always a surprise awaiting you on a Karoo farm.
You’re in a safe space, surrounded by open skies, breathing in fresh air and dining on food of origin. You’re learning about the land, about the life-giving ground water of the Karoo, the history of the First People who roved the countryside and you’ve spent time at a remote farm graveyard listening to a poignant legend from the Anglo-Boer War.
Or you’re on your mountain bike on a farm track, burning up months of boardroom frustration and putting some serious sweat equity into your day.
On the other side of the farm, completely out of sight, another couple is hiking to a special spot on top of a hill. From up there, it seems, the world lies below you like a wide-angle spread of beauty and possibility.
While families are finding themselves all over again out here on a Karoo farm, a honeymoon couple are in an isolated chalet or renovated farm house spending time with each other in splendid isolation from the rest of humanity.
The inspiring landscapes, reasonable accommodation rates, friendly farmers, ever-growing variety of Karoo food specialties and the romantic spirituality of the region all conspire to turn you into a return farmstay customer.
In the past, you just drove through the Karoo en route to the coast. Now it has become your ten-day annual hide-out. And your very Special Place.
- For more on Karoo farmstays, see 12 Fabulous Karoo Farmstays;
- For more on farmstays in general, see The Fun of a Farmstay;
- Thanks to the Karoo Development Foundation for providing background material and guidance on this series of articles on farmstays.