Hot springs are to campers like what sweets are to kids: you can never get enough. We took a dip at three resorts in the Western Cape and camped up a storm.
To own a resort with a mineral hot spring is like being born with the proverbial silver spoon in your mouth. With the luxury of a inexhaustible source of hot water, the battle many resort owners face is half won. That’s not to say that all hot spring resorts were created equal. The three Western Cape campsites we visited each has a character of its own, and there’s something for every type of camper. At The Baths near Citrusdal you feel at one with nature as you camp beneath big shade trees, and even though the campsite is jam-packed, there’s still plenty privacy. The ATKV’s Goudini Spa is the polar opposite and is geared for a large number of visitors. It’s about 5 km from Rawsonville and just the right spot if a super-long supertube is high on your family’s holiday priority list. And the Warmwaterberg Spa near Barrydale creates the feeling of a farm camp where you pitch next to a dirt road and relax in bubbling hot water for a day or three. >
Unhitch and unwind
For this resort you have to book way in advance because it’s popular. The guard at the gate of The Baths knows you’re coming because when you stop here his first words are: “Surname please?” He walks back to his office and checks a list. “Your stand is number 22. Report to the office first. It’s straight down this road.” The stands start to the right of the road as soon as you drive through the gate. Just hope there’s not a car approaching – the half-kilometre dirt track runs up a small hill, but it’s narrow and two caravans won’t be able to squeeze past each other. Driving to the office with your caravan in tow is a mission, because you have to turn your vehicle around where the road ends in a circle 150 m further. This struggle to get to the office is unnecessary. It makes sense to first unhitch at your stand before clocking in at the office.
To the left of the entrance road there’s a stream that runs back towards the office, and on both sides of the water are large trees. Besides the few stands to the right of the road, the rest are beneath the trees next to the stream. The 20 or so stands snake along the river up the hill towards the office. The stands are all the same size and range from huge to tiny patches that allow only a car and a tent. Keep that in mind when booking, especially if you’re camping with a motorhome. In some spots the branches hang low and you’ll struggle to park your motorhome there. The abundance of shade is all good and well, but it also means there is little to no grass on the stands, so bring a tarp to remedy the situation. At least the ground is sandy and its not a struggle to drive your tent pegs in. The stand number is on the stand’s electricity box, and this operates with a standard domestic socket. Your light is also at the box and you can switch it on and off yourself. The boxes aren’t in the same spot on all the stands and at some you’ll need an extension cord of at least 10 m. The garbage bin is close by, but the taps are hidden and you don’t see many of them. There are quite a few loose steel braais standing around that you can use if you didn’t bring your own. Remember your grid.
The Baths’ bathrooms are enough to ensure a return visit. It looks new and from the outside its simple yet stylish, but on the inside it’s neat. There are three of them: one close to the bottom end, the next one near the middle stands, and the biggest one at the top, near the office. The bottom two each have two family bathrooms, a separate toilet, as well as a scullery. The family bathroom has a shower cubicle, toilet and basin with a mirror. Your heart may sink when you enter and see a shower curtain, but the curtains here aren’t like those that start flapping as soon as you turn on the taps. The bottom of the curtain is about knee-height above the ground and doesn’t bother you. The basin might be a bit low for a tall person, but it’s good for kids. The bathrooms at the top have separate facilities for men and women. There are three ceramic basins on a mosaic slab and behind it is a colossal mirror on the wall. The shower cubicle has a wet and dry area plus a bench to put your toiletries. At the bottom stands there’s another square building but this hasn’t been in use for a number of years and is really
Some of the buildings in the resort are more than 100 years old, and it looks like the wall around the pool isn’t far behind.
only for emergencies because there are only two toilets in it. (This structure has since been demolished and new bathrooms are being built on the same spot. – Ed)
To the pool
The pools are next to the office and a bit of a walk if you’re camping on one of the farthest stands. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons you come here and the hot water on your skin will totally refresh you. Some of the buildings in the resort are more than 100 years old, and it appears the wall around the pool isn’t much newer. It’s covered in creepers and creates a slightly Mediterranean vibe. But that’s completely forgotten once you see how everyone enjoys the water. The source of the spring is behind the office and is enclosed in a small structure. (If you want to go have a look, get the key from the office.) >
The water runs in at the shallow end, which is a pity because it’s hot and can be uncomfortable for little ones. The water is about 43 °C at the source, with roughly 105 000 ℓ of water streaming out of the ground per hour. It’s enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in a day. Next to it, on the other side of the wall, is another pool with cooler water, and close to where the road ends is a building with four spa pools. They’re empty and there’s a note on the door that says it’ll be renovated in January 2018. If you’re up for another short walk, get a cooldrink at the shop opposite the office and take the kids to the rock pools in the mountain – the pools lie directly behind the building – no more than 40 m or so – at the circle. There are two stone pools. They’re each about as big as a Jacuzzi and the hot water runs to here as well.
When it comes to resorts, the ATKV doesn’t do anything in half measures, and Goudini is no exception. When you stop at the gate, it almost feels like you are about to enter one of those fancy modern security complexes. The paved pathway runs next to neatly trimmed bushes all the way to the office. This parking area makes no provision for vehicles towing caravans. We visited during the school holidays, and it was bustling. The pools – and obligatory holiday entertainment – is right behind the office, and the annoying sound of hip hop music travels far. Before you even enter the office, you see a framed certificate to the left of the door. The word “Taal” is printed big on the certificate and below the statement: “The system that people use to communicate with each other and build relationships.” The words “Ulimi” and “Puo” are also printed on the certificate – the Zulu and Tswana words for language. It’s busy in the office, where three receptionists help guests. Two of them are on the phone taking bookings, while the third one ensures we quickly get through the paperwork. You’re given a stand, which is just as well because this place is filled to the brim.
A block with blocks
The campsite is about 100 m further on the path that runs along the left of the office. It’s a square block of 100 m x 100 m. On the periphery large trees stand shoulder to shoulder, with more trees in the middle. If you had to look down on to the trees, you’d see a big circle around the ablution block in the middle. There’s also a paved road along each side and the stands are on both sides of it. There’s no favouritism when it comes to comfort because each stand has its own paved block of 7 x 7 metres on or next to which you can park your caravan. That’s great, because you won’t find yourself in a mud bath if there’s a cloudburst, and you can get your caravan level without much effort. The only problem is to get >
your tent pegs in the ground, because the rocks are densely packed. The stands are numbered, but the number is painted onto the paving stones, which makes it difficult to see in some cases. There are manhole covers on some parts of the paving, and you might think it’s a drain for grey water, but it is, in fact, irrigation for the grass. Each stand has a fixed kettle braai with a grid that swings over the opening. Most of the braais are to the back of the stands. Your tap is in front next to the road with a drain area underneath it, and the power socket is next to the tap. You share the socket with your neighbour, so remember your blue caravan socket. It’s not a train smash if you forget yours though – you can buy one at the shop for a reasonable R160. Opposite the entrance of the resort are another five stands next to each other. They also have their own paving, but there are no trees. Three of the five have shade cloth over the paving.
The most important place
You can see the ATKV knows how to keep a busy campsite’s bathroom clean because whenever you walk past you see a cleaner. They also didn’t hold back with the interior finishes. A row of white ceramic basins are sunken into a granite slab, each with a mirror behind it. You don’t feel boxed in, and you’re spoilt with all the space. On the wall are containers with handwash – similar to what you’ll find in upmarket malls. The showers each have a wet section with a swing glass door and a stainless steel bench on the dry side. The bench is about as big as an A4 sheet of paper. The scullery is located in the middle of the building, between the male and female sides.
The heart of the matter
Technically speaking Goudini doesn’t have a mineral source where the water streams from the earth. A source was discovered in 1719, but after the earthquake in 1969, it dried up. After that several boreholes were made to reach the water. The water’s temperature is 52 °C but cools down to 38 °C when it reaches the pools. There are two big hot springs in a lovely garden with green grass and a row of palm trees. The one next to the supertube is the more popular of the two – the temperature of the water here is 38 °C. The other one is slightly cooler (35 °C), and next to it is a pool with cold water. The supertube is busy because it’s free. The take-away kiosk, restaurant, bar and resort shop is to the back of the pools. The shop is super-neat and well-stocked, and there is also an ATM if you run out of cash and your kids want money for ice cream. On the opposite side is a putt-putt course (you pay a deposit of R20 per person). But Goudini’s crown jewel is the indoor pool, 200 m further behind the office building. If you walk in early in the morning, the steam is so thick you can’t see the opposite side of the pool. There’s more than enough safe splash space for kids and it’s big enough to fit a whole school into it. The three private Jacuzzi rooms (R50 for four people for half an hour) are to the left of the pool. A patio stretches to the far end, and you can see all the way to Worcester over the vineyards. You can also see the busy N1 from here. The games room is next to the pool building and has a few pool and foosball tables (R5). Bring your own ping pong paddle and balls if you want to use the ping pong table.
Warmwaterberg lies on the R62 – if you’re driving from Cape Town, just outside of Barrydale, the start of the Karoo. Shortly after famous Ronnie’s Sex Shop there’s a turn-off left to Warmwaterberg. A long, straight dirt road stretches out in front of you. You almost expect to see George and Lennie from Of Mice and Men walking down the road. It feels as if time stands still here. Warmwaterberg Spa’s grounds of more than 600 ha lies in front of you against a hill, and it’s surprising to see there’s no fencing or even a boom gate. Some people pitch their tents beneath the pepper trees right next to the dirt road. These days we’re so used to living behind locked doors, but here you feel like you’re relaxing on a farm far away from everything – things are safe. There’s a long, white building next to the road. It used to be the stables, but nowadays there’s an office behind the last door, with the bottle store next to it. The stoep enhances the old character of the building (some of the other buildings on the farm are also more than 100 years old). Chrismerie van Zyl sits in front of her computer crocheting. She says she used to camp here as a child with her grandfather. In the early days the hot water streamed down the mountain and people camped on both sides of it. Today the source has been capped and the water is directed via pipes. One of the black-and-white photos against a wall shows the building next door that still exists today. It was the sanitorium where more well-to-do people came in search of relief from their aches and pains. The spring was discovered in the 1700s, and even well-known political figures stayed here. The statesman Dr. D.F. Malan apparently came here on his honeymoon. Chrismerie points to the resort map to the right of the office table while she explains which stands we can choose. You can’t help but smile when you look at the map. It’s neat and hand-drawn and a few >
colour photos have been stuck to the paper to indicate, for example, the pool, office, and other buildings. The photos are slightly faded, but you can make out the respective landmarks. Lastly, Chrismerie takes out a sheet of A4 paper, puts it in front of you, and turns it towards you so you can read it. She points out the rules: departure time is 10 am, no music is allowed, and neither are pets or drones.
There are a few buildings on the site, amongst them a restaurant, a few chalets, and even permanent caravans. The stands are spread out all over the resort, with a few opposite the office and some behind the pool. The biggest group of stands close to each other are behind the office against the hill. They are laid out on terraces, fairly even, and have mostly grass and shade trees. The electrical point’s standard domestic socket is close by, and there are also a few loose-standing braais and garbage bins standing around. There’s even a grid or two if you need it, but that’s it. If you prefer more privacy, there’s a large stand with a reed fence around it – it’s directly behind the office and also has grass and a shade tree. Two tame roosters are slowly making their way from the bottom stands and look at ease amongst people. This is not our last encounter with these feathered residents – that night they make themselves comfortable on one of the benches in the showers in the bathroom opposite this block of stands. They become quite restless when you come closer, but they don’t leave. The next morning, before sunrise, you hear them crowing from the bathrooms, but it’s not long before they’re up and moving on again.
The water has a slight brown tinge because of the iron levels.
Something you also don’t see often at other resorts is only one tap at each basin and in every shower. The hot spring’s water comes straight to the bathrooms, and if you turn on the tap, you smell the ice in the water. It’s just the right temperature and you won’t freeze or scald yourself. To the right of the bathrooms are two other rooms, each with a sunken bath that can hold 1 000 ℓ. These are the Roman baths – a handrail helps you descend the stairs into the steaminghot water. Five toilets in a row (each in its own cubicle) are left of the bathrooms and there’s a wall with two basins on it – it looks new and is for general use. The scullery is covered and next to the toilets.
Bath a second time
The hot springs are across from the office and are fenced in. There are four square pools, all next to each other. One is cold and two hot – these are for adults and older children; next to it is a smaller shallow bath for the little ones. The water has a slight brown tinge because of the iron levels. The source delivers about a third of the water compared to the one at The Baths (790 000 ℓ per day) and the water is 44 °C at the source. But it’s cooled down when it reaches the pools. If you want to go out for dinner or send the kids to buy some ice, there’s a big hall on the other side of the pools. There’s a café and a bar and restaurant. There’s also a ping pong table and pool table that uses R5 coins.
BIG AND SMALL. The stands differ in size and so do the swimming pools. If the larger pools get too crowded you can always retire to one of the smaller rock ponds.
SCORCHING. The indoor pool is big enough that you can swim in peace, and there are shallow areas specifically for kids.
TRUE BLUE. The campsite has standard domestic sockets. The resort shop sells blue caravan sockets if you forgot yours.
A PLACE IN THE SUN. The facilities aren’t posh and overbearing. Everything is appropriately rustic with a focus on nature rather than architecture.