Steam­ing hot

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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Destination Western Cape Hot Springs - Text and pho­tos Leon Botha

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.

Shady spot

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 loos

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.

Camp town

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.

Farm style

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.

Un­hitch

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.

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