Get a taste of Ceres
The Ceres valley is known for its apples, pears and cherries, but it also has an adventurous side. Here’s your activity and accommodation guide!
Ceres is surrounded by mountains. As you crest Michell’s Pass, a patchwork quilt of orchards, fields and dams unfurls. The Skurweberg, Waboom, Witzenberg and Hex River mountains all loom over this pastoral scene. The fortress of mountains kept most people out of this fertile valley. Until 1848 that is, when Andrew Geddes Bain built Michell’s Pass through the Witzenberg. The first European settlers farmed with cattle and wheat, but these days you’ll see mostly pear, apple, peach, plum, apricot and cherry orchards. The town was named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility. In winter the mountains are dusted with snow, but when photographer Shelley Christians and I visit in November, they’re shimmering in the heat. The Warm Bokkeveld is living up to its name. (The name “Bokkeveld” was coined by early trek farmers, who encountered large herds of migrating springbok, wildebeest and zebra.) Shelley and I stop at the tourism office, but the door is locked. “Sorry, it’s to keep the baboons out,” says tourism official Suzanne Persens. I think back to all the baboons I saw on the mountain slopes on our way into town… Cars cruise up and down the streets; mostly residents heading into town for groceries. Almost everyone waves hello. Other tourists are scarce and Shelley and I must stand out. After Michell’s Pass was built, Ceres came alive. The travelling time from Cape Town to Beaufort West had been reduced from 20 days to 12! The town became an important stop for transport riders and mail coaches travelling north, even more so when diamonds were discovered in Kimberley in the late 1860s. Later that afternoon, we drive to Fynbos Guest Farm, about 12 km outside town. Peter Nel, one of the owners, chats to us about places to eat and things to do in the area while Leila, his Anatolian shepherd dog, lifts her
head drowsily, studies us with one eye and falls right back to sleep. Peter gives us an unlabelled bottle of wine and sends us off to explore the farm. The garden is peaceful, filled with statues, and there’s even a meditation room with mosaic work on the floors and walls. In the game camps, llamas, alpacas, donkeys and zebras bask in the afternoon sun. There are also some pigs, Billy the goat and a mob of intimidating emus. Maurice Lancaster, Peter’s business partner, says: “The emus came from a backyard in Durbanville, but most of our rescued animals come from vets who call us when people drop them off. It warms my heart to provide a home to all these animals.” Come sunset, I’m settled on the stoep of the cottage we’re staying in with a glass of Peter’s wine. I can’t help but feel glad that the railway line between Cape Town and Kimberley, completed in 1885, rerouted most of the traffic and restored calm to the valley. There’s lots to do in and around Ceres, but I’d recommend doing nothing, too. Braai next to the Breede River and listen to the call of a Karoo prinia. Fish in the river or take in the view of the mountains and orchards. Do whatever you want to relax, just make sure you don’t leave town without a bag of pears or a bowl of cherries. It’s what the goddess Ceres would have wanted.
TOO HOT TO TROT (above). The horses at Fynbos Guest Farm make their way back to the stables after a day spent in the fynbos.