Hid­den gem


You might not find Pun­tjie on a map, but it’s worth the trip

As far as sea­side re­sorts go, the “hid­den” vil­lage of Pun­tjie on the Cape South Coast is in a class of its own.

Roughly four hours’ drive east of Cape Town, seem­ingly ab­sent from the map, lies the sea­side vil­lage called Pun­tjie. Un­like most other coastal spots to­day, it re­minds you of a long-for­got­ten time, charm­ing you with sim­ple ar­chi­tec­ture and dra­matic scenery.

We first heard the name Pun­tjie men­tioned by a wealthy Jo­han­nes­burg busi­ness­man, who de­scribed the area as one of the most al­lur­ing land­scapes he’s ob­served on his trav­els through South Africa. His name is on a long wait­ing list of peo­ple ea­ger to buy land in the vil­lage. In­trigued by what this ex­clu­sive par­adise would be like, we find our­selves on our way there.

It turns out that find­ing Pun­tjie could be dif­fi­cult, as it’s only ac­ces­si­ble by dirt road, south of Ver­maak­likheid. We rec­om­mend us­ing a map to lo­cate the es­tu­ary of the Dui­wen­hoks River, where Pun­tjie sits.

A small sign that reads “Pun­tjie, no tres­pass­ing” lets vis­i­tors know they’ve ar­rived. Don’t be alarmed by this sign, as the lo­cals are friendly and they wel­come vis­i­tors.

Upon our ar­rival, we meet Date Beukes, who’s agreed to give us a tour of the vil­lage and the inside track on Pun­tjie’s de­vel­op­ment and set­tle­ment. Date has been a part-time res­i­dent here since his birth. His house used to be­long to his grand­mother, who left it to Date’s mother. He, in turn, took it over in the early 1980s.

Date lives in nearby Ver­maak­likheid but of­ten spends time at his house in Pun­tjie. He used to be based in Cape

Town, and would come to Pun­tjie once a month for a week­end get­away with his fam­ily, but now that he’s re­tired he’s only 10 min­utes away and vis­its more fre­quently.

Be­sides the house Date main­tains, his fam­ily also owns a few other houses in the vil­lage. Passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, th­ese prop­er­ties will re­main in the fam­ily un­less they de­cide to sell them to the Molly Lazarus Trust, which was es­tab­lished to pre­vent fur­ther de­vel­op­ment in Pun­tjie.

The bind­ing na­ture of the trust means few peo­ple are able to pur­chase prop­erty in Pun­tjie, if at all. This is not a place one merely buys into. There’s an ex­ten­sive wait­ing list to own a plot. Many would try bribery, even of­fer­ing mil­lions, to get them­selves higher up on the list – but to no avail. The only way to get your hands on real es­tate here is to wait your turn, which may take years.

“Most of the peo­ple are old, old fam­i­lies who all know one another. They’ve been here for gen­er­a­tions,” Date says. A fam­ily has to move out and no­tify the trust be­fore any­one on the wait­ing list can move in.

Walk­ing around, I im­me­di­ately un­der­stand why no one wants to leave and so many want to get in. Life in Pun­tjie is leisurely. With the fresh ocean breeze and the sound of waves crash­ing be­low the cliffs, it’s a balm to the soul.

As we wan­der along dune trails, Date no­tices that I’m ad­mir­ing the sim­ple style of the thatched A-frame cot­tages and ex­plains that the kap­styl ar­chi­tec­ture dates back to the 18th cen­tury, when the first set­tlers here fol­lowed in the foot­steps of the Por­tuguese founders.

Date con­tin­ues on the sub­ject of the Por­tuguese her­itage. He says although most fam­i­lies in Pun­tjie aren’t new to the area, it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one is ed­u­cated about Pun­tjie’s his­tory.

In the 1500s, when sail­ing was the only means of in­ter­na­tional trade, business and travel, many passed around the south­ern cape of Africa fol­low­ing the Agul­has and Benguela cur­rents. Por­tuguese nav­i­ga­tor and car­tog­ra­pher Cap­tain Manuel de Mesquita Per­e­strelo was do­ing ex­actly >

that when he and his crew ship­wrecked north of the Great Fish River in 1554. He was one of 64 sur­vivors out of a to­tal of 473 crew mem­bers and pas­sen­gers. They first set eyes on Pun­tjie while mak­ing their way through the bush to De­lagoa Bay, where they were res­cued. In the years 1575 and 1576, Per­e­strelo re­turned to chart the south-east­ern coast­line of South Africa.

A set­tle­ment was only es­tab­lished here when free burghers be­gan fish­ing the Dui­wen­hoks River. Even­tu­ally, more than 200 Por­tuguese fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies called it home. The de­sign of the set­tle­ment re­in­forced a cul­tural way of life, with in­hab­i­tants liv­ing and thriv­ing off the sea and the Dui­wen­hoks River mouth.

Pun­tjie is sit­u­ated where the Agul­has ocean cur­rent, which flows south from the warm Mozam­bique and Mada­gas­car cur­rents, min­gles with the cold South At­lantic Benguela cur­rent, which flows north to cool the warm trop­ics of the equa­tor. To­gether, the two cur­rents are recog­nised as part of the global “con­veyor belt” cir­cu­la­tion. Dur­ing win­ter the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the Agul­has and Benguela cur­rents drives pow­er­ful winds up the moun­tains skirt­ing the coast­line, thus forc­ing air to con­dense and rain to fall, re­sult­ing in mild win­ters when a wet, grey haze of­ten cov­ers the land­scape rapidly.

In Ver­maak­likheid, in 2004, such a rainy win­ter sent floods through Pun­tjie. Date says sec­tions of the Dui­wen­hoks River rose by as much as six me­tres in one minute! Although the majority of the houses main­tained their foun­da­tions and sus­tained only min­i­mal dam­age, all that wa­ter still wreaked havoc on the land­scape, with long-term neg­a­tive im­pacts on the nat­u­ral veg­e­ta­tion.

As the river swelled, alien trees that had been cut down but never re­moved from the agri­cul­tural high­lands be­gan drift­ing down the Dui­wen­hoks and took root down­stream, in­vad­ing the river banks in Pun­tjie. The na­tive species were no match for the in­vaders. The bat­tle be­tween alien and in­dige­nous veg­e­ta­tion in the area con­tin­ues to rage. The in­va­sive species, un­like the na­tive ones, haven’t adapted to South Africa’s dry ar­eas and ef­fec­tively use more than their fair share of wa­ter.

This used to be more of a prob­lem dur­ing the early days of the de­vel­op­ment, when res­i­dents re­lied heav­ily on the rain run-off from Bronn’s Dam,

There are 54 cot­tages in Pun­tjie, blend­ing seam­lessly with the land­scape as if they have al­ways been here.

just up­river from Pun­tjie, to fill their reser­voirs. To­day, how­ever, the vil­lage’s wa­ter re­serves no longer cause much con­cern, as lo­cals usu­ally bring their own drink­ing wa­ter and use a so­lar­pow­ered bore­hole to ob­tain bath­wa­ter. The reser­voirs, built in 1940 by Date’s fa­ther-in-law Lool de Jager, still re­main but are used much less. Date’s reser­voir, I later find out, is used so sel­dom that it’s filled to the brim.

There are 54 cot­tages in Pun­tjie, blend­ing seam­lessly with the land­scape as if they have al­ways be­longed here. Each is con­structed in the same fash­ion, be­gin­ning with a sturdy hard­wood A-frame (the orig­i­nal ones were con­structed from lo­cal milk­wood). The roof is thatched with lay­ers of reed grass, se­cured with twine.

Paraf­fin lanterns are hung from the

rafters inside, pre­serv­ing the tra­di­tion of simplicity. A win­dow faces the sea, pro­vid­ing light dur­ing the day and wel­come sea breezes in sum­mer. Many of the orig­i­nal cot­tages did not sur­vive, but those that did have been ren­o­vated on con­crete foun­da­tions, which ex­tends their life­span.

Be­cause so many of the cot­tages have been ren­o­vated or re­built, the set­tle­ment to­day con­sists of both large and small houses – the larger ones be­ing more mod­ern. The smaller struc­tures were used pri­mar­ily for sleep­ing and did not in­clude a kitchen. Orig­i­nally, cook­ing was done in a des­ig­nated kap­styl build­ing or over a fire out­side. This ex­plains why th­ese smaller cot­tages are built par­al­lel to the shore: they would shield the cook­ing fires from the pre­vail­ing wind.

To­day, many of the newer cot­tages have a coal stove with an alu­minium chim­ney in the kitchen. Sleep­ing ar­range­ments have also changed over the years: in­stead of hav­ing only one big bed on the floor where ev­ery­one slept to­gether, a more mod­ern large cot­tage of­fers sep­a­rate beds. There are two dou­ble beds at the back of the house and two sin­gles in front, with a cur­tain sep­a­rat­ing the two ar­eas for pri­vacy.

Date ush­ers us inside his cot­tage – the one that used to be­long to his grand­par­ents. It’s one of the larger houses, and was re­built in 1985. Con­struc­tion took about a week and cost R2 900 (equiv­a­lent to R80 000 in to­day’s mar­ket). Date was crafty: in­stead of us­ing a cur­tain to sep­a­rate the sleep­ing ar­eas like in most of the other large cot­tages, he in­stalled a bed in the rafters with a lad­der lead­ing up to it.

Date’s fam­ily also owns a small flat­bot­tomed boat with a sim­ple en­gine. It was ac­quired in the 1960s by Date’s un­cle, who traded a leopard skin for it. The boat is still used by the Beuke­ses, es­pe­cially Date’s son, Ti­nus, who works with the Two Oceans Aquar­ium in Cape Town, catch­ing and re­leas­ing fish. Dur­ing one such fish­ing ven­ture Ti­nus caught a puffer fish that’s not na­tive to the re­gion. He sent it to the aquar­ium in Cape Town, where it was re­ha­bil­i­tated. It was later flown to Dur­ban and re­leased in its nat­u­ral habi­tat.

Acts such as this are in­grained in the lo­cals’ at­ti­tude to­wards the sea. They know that the weather here can turn vi­o­lent at times, so they have great re­spect for the ocean.

Pun­tjie has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous changes but, com­pared with de­vel­op­ment else­where, it re­mains largely un­touched. The at­trac­tion of the place is its simplicity, and the de­vel­op­ment re­stric­tions are its strength. The peo­ple who live here make thought­ful de­ci­sions and, if nec­es­sary, take ac­tion to sus­tain Pun­tjie. They limit their use of the re­sources around them, rever­ing the beau­ti­ful coast­line be­stowed upon them. Un­for­tu­nately, Pun­tjie’s ex­clu­siv­ity pre­vents the av­er­age per­son from en­joy­ing its re­lax­ing pace and scenery. One may still visit the vil­lage on a day trip, how­ever, and chat to the lo­cals, who are more than will­ing to share a story or two.

1 The view of the seafront row of cot­tages in Pun­tjie from a small cave on the beach. 2 Some of the cot­tages over­look the Dui­wen­hoks River. 3 This is the first brick house that was built in Pun­tjie. 4 A sun­set shot taken from the beach. 5 A typ­i­cal kap­styl cot­tage in the seafront row in Pun­tjie. Kap­styl, di­rectly trans­lated, means roof-truss style, re­fer­ring to the build­ing method.

ABOVE A row of old boat houses are lo­cated in front of Date’s hol­i­day home, next to the Dui­wen­hoks River. LEFT A thatcher is busy lay­ing thatch on the frame of a new cot­tage be­ing built in the same style as Pun­tjie’s his­tor­i­cal kap­styl cot­tages. Thatch­ing is a skill that was first brought to South Africa by Mo­ra­vian mis­sion­ar­ies.

1 A small cave on the beach be­low the vil­lage. 2 The seafront cot­tages in Pun­tjie have a panoramic sea view. 3 The inside of one of Date Beukes’s cot­tages in Pun­tjie.

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