This is the life in Vre­de­fort Dome (even if it’s not per­fect)

Our coun­try boasts the old­est and the largest me­te­orite im­pact crater in the world. It changed the land­scape around the towns of Vre­de­fort, Parys and Ven­ter­skroon so dra­mat­i­cally that it has been de­clared a World Her­itage Site. Meet the friendly peo­ple wh

go! Platteland - - FRONT PAGE - TEXT AND PHO­TOS WILLEM VAN DER BERG

• Parys

• Ven­ter­skroon

• Vre­de­fort

To say ev­ery place has “its own charm” is like telling some­one they have “a beau­ti­ful per­son­al­ity”. The north­ern Free State is one of those parts of our coun­try that not many peo­ple get ex­cited about. It’s flat as far as the eye can see. Kilo­me­tres and kilo­me­tres of farm­land. Wild dust storms. Not ev­ery­one finds this beau­ti­ful. Yet this part of the world keeps our tum­mies full, be­cause it’s a food bas­ket where enor­mous quan­ti­ties of maize, sun­flow­ers, peanuts and pota­toes are grown. And where the cat­tle graze amid the rooigras.

It’s as if outer space knew that this bit of planet Earth would be the laugh­ing stock be­cause of her lack of curves and so made a plan: about 2 000 mil­lion years ago a me­te­orite roughly 10km across slammed into the earth here and cre­ated the world’s largest im­pact crater that we know of, one that stretches from Jo­han­nes­burg to Welkom. A half-moon of kop­pies and ridges in an oth­er­wise flat land­scape forms part of the rim of the cen­tre of the crater – the dome.

If you drive through the small town of Vre­de­fort and look over the plains to­wards the north, you’ll see a wooded kop­pie on the hori­zon. Beau­ti­ful. So spe­cial that this area has been de­clared the Vre­de­fort Dome World Her­itage Site. >

Parys

The largest and best-known town in the dome is Parys. What was once a one-horse town has grown rapidly in the past 10 years.

“It’s be­cause so many peo­ple want to live here,” ex­plains Cornea Viljoen at Parys Info & Tourism. She, too, spent many years dream­ing about liv­ing in this area.

“My granny’s peo­ple farmed just out­side Vre­de­fort and when we used to visit the farm, I al­ways imag­ined that one day I would live here.”

Her mother was al­ready liv­ing in Vre­de­fort when Cornea got di­vorced, and so her dream be­came a re­al­ity.

“Vre­de­fort is peace­ful and some­times it feels like I’m liv­ing on a farm. But there aren’t many jobs there, which is why I work in Parys. It takes only a few min­utes to drive be­tween the two towns, and I re­ally en­joy the peo­ple of Parys. Nice peo­ple. Peo­ple who care about one an­other. If some­one’s bur­glar alarm goes off, ev­ery­body wants to know if they’re al­right.”

Many Gaut­engers have week­end houses here, says Cornea. Oth­ers spend week­ends at the many guest­houses or on the guest farms in and around town. “Any time from Thurs­day af­ter­noon on­wards you can ex­pect them. Then Bree Street [the main street] gets re­ally busy.”

A MAN WHO KNOWS ex­actly how quickly Parys has grown is Saal de Jager. Saal, who moved here as a child with his par­ents in 1964, has had an es­tate agency in the town since the late 1980s.

“The first big boom was around 2004. That’s when there were 34 es­tate agents in the town. Then things lev­elled off – to­day, there are 11. The econ­omy is

tight, and smaller houses and flats are most in de­mand. There are al­ready 150 blocks of flats in Parys.

“So, yes, we did have an ex­plo­sion of prop­erty and peo­ple, and that led to prob­lems at the end of the day. Like the wa­ter short­age… No­body pre­dicted that would hap­pen.”

Saal is a mem­ber of the Parys De­vel­op­ment Fo­rum and, since last year, a DA coun­cil­lor. And be­cause he cares a lot about the town, he does his level best to im­prove things.

“I learnt that you achieve far more if you do things, work to­gether and make sug­ges­tions rather than just tell the mu­nic­i­pal­ity what is wrong all the time. That’s how we came to upgrade the wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion plant from 15 me­gal­itres to 25 me­gal­itres last year.

“It’s a good life. On a farm you eat the best meat and veg­eta­bles, and you drink the best milk and wa­ter. When it’s plant­ing sea­son here, I get rest­less and I can smell that freshly ploughed earth.”

It’s a compact wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion plant with tech­nol­ogy that is be­ing used in Africa for the first time.”

Saal’s cell­phone rings ev­ery now and then – peo­ple call­ing him to re­port prob­lems. “I some­times get tired of the com­plaints, but I en­joy find­ing so­lu­tions and see­ing the grat­i­tude of peo­ple. >

The calm wa­ter of the Vaal River is one of the main at­trac­tions of Parys. Mem­bers of the Likke­waan Ca­noe Club pad­dle on the river over week­ends.

Parys is 118km south­west of Jo­han­nes­burg and 326km north of Bloem­fontein. Ven­ter­skroon is about 25km northwest of Vre­de­fort and 15km south of Parys.

1 Saal de Jager, a for­mer Spring­bok canoeist, loves the Vaal River. The wa­ter from the taps in Parys, how­ever, is not so lekker, “be­cause of the al­gae in the river. But if you’ve drunk of the wa­ter once, you’ll al­ways come back.” 2 From the old sus­pen­sion bridge north of Parys you have lovely views of the river. Sun­set is the time when lovers prom­ise each other eter­nal de­vo­tion and af­fix a pad­lock to the bridge as a sym­bol of their love.

3 Asked why he dubbed his un­con­ven­tional pub the Pick­led Pig, Nico Uys said, “I like warthogs and buf­faloes.” 4 This small shop is chock-a-block with pretty gifts and hand-made items.

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