Hang­ing Out in Har­ties


Need a break from the Big Smoke? Hart­beespoort Dam is the spot


IJust a hop from Jo­han­nes­burg and Pre­to­ria lies

the bliss spot of Hart­beespoort Dam

t’s a warm and hazy morn­ing on the moun­tain. The ca­ble­way hums in the back­ground and be­low us a wisp of cloud drifts by, sus­pended be­tween our van­tage point on the top of the moun­tain and the glit­ter­ing wa­ter in the dis­tance. Off to one side, we see boats bob­bing at an­chor.

Ta­ble Moun­tain per­haps? Not quite. This is Har­ties, the grow­ing re­sort area in North

West. It in­cludes the town of Hart­beespoort, Hart­beespoort Dam it­self and var­i­ous ad­ja­cent vil­lages such as Broed­er­stroom, Schoe­mansville, Kos­mos, Melodie, Ifafi and Meer­hof.

The dam’s 56-kilo­me­tre shore­line and sur­round­ing ar­eas have been ex­ten­sively de­vel­oped, and the epi­cen­tre of this play­ground is, of course, the dam. “Peo­ple are at­tracted to wa­ter and, given that Hart­beespoort Dam is sit­u­ated so sceni­cally within the moun­tains, it’s a nat­u­ral draw­card,” says Iain Gunn, chair­man of the Hart­beespoort Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion.

“We have power­boat­ing, wa­ter­ski­ing, jet-

ski­ing, ca­noe­ing and, of course, the big tourist boats. In­creas­ingly, those boats are fully booked ev­ery week­end.”

But what of the dam’s well-doc­u­mented bat­tle with wa­ter hy­acinth, the highly in­va­sive aquatic weed said to cover 30-40 per cent of the dam's sur­face area? Ac­cord­ing to Iain, much work has been done on al­le­vi­at­ing the prob­lem and the com­mu­nity is ac­tively en­gag­ing with gov­ern­ment.

We were able to see the scale of the prob­lem for our­selves when, on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, we tried to go out in the boats op­er­ated by Har­ties Wa­ter­sports Cen­tre. Each time we were thwarted by a gi­ant green car­pet of float­ing wa­ter hy­acinth that kept the boats firmly in dock. On the fourth oc­ca­sion we got out on the large dou­ble-decker pad­dle boat to en­joy a halfhour dam cruise amidst the tow­er­ing rock faces and im­pos­ing wa­ter­front homes.

“Wa­ter hy­acinth is a se­ri­ous prob­lem for us and some­times we can’t op­er­ate,” ob­serves Tidi­malo Makhubalo, a man­ager and se­nior skip­per with Har­ties Wa­ter­sports Cen­tre, which runs ferry boats, speed­boats, jet-skis and lux­ury cruises for func­tions such as wed­dings and kitchen teas. Tidi­malo has lived and worked in Har­ties since 2011 and says the nat­u­ral splen­dour of the sur­round­ings makes it a great place. “I en­joy show­ing the beauty of the dam to vis­i­tors,” he tells us.

But Hart­beespoort is more than just the dam. “It's a fam­ily des­ti­na­tion with a lot to see and do,” says Iain. “You can visit a zoo, try ab­seil­ing, go white-wa­ter raft­ing, do bird­watch­ing, see a vul­ture restau­rant or visit a chee­tah sanc­tu­ary. Our slo­gan is

‘Close to the city, out of this world’.”

One of the top at­trac­tions is the Har­ties Ca­ble­way, which car­ries an av­er­age of 12 500 vis­i­tors a month. A to­tal of 1 200 me­tres long, it rises 637 me­tres to a peak in the Ma­galies­berg that of­fers spec­tac­u­lar all-round views. The ride to the top takes seven min­utes, where you can en­joy ex­cel­lent ameni­ties such as restau­rants, ex­press food stalls, a bar and pic­turesque seat­ing ar­eas. It’s top-class and a wor­thy ri­val to its bet­ter-known Ta­ble Moun­tain cousin.

The trails in the sur­round­ing moun­tains are ex­cel­lent for hik­ers and moun­tain bik­ers, who have the added bonus of be­ing in a Unesco Bio­sphere Re­serve – one of only eight in the coun­try. About 2 650-mil­lion years old, the moun­tains of the Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere are among the old­est in the world and are ten times older than the African con­ti­nent it­self.

Awe-in­spir­ing na­ture of another kind can be seen at Glen Afric Coun­try Lodge, set in dense bush, with the tow­ers of the nu­clear re­search cen­tre at Pelind­aba loom­ing in­con­gru­ously in the back­ground. The up­mar­ket lodge at­tracts both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors look­ing for a wildlife ex­pe­ri­ence that in­cludes gi­raffe, ze­bra, wilde­beest, lion, leop­ard and hyena.

But the star at­trac­tions are a 30-year-old fe­male ele­phant named Three and her bi­o­log­i­cal and adopted daugh­ters, Han­nah and Marty, both aged ten. The trio range freely around the prop­erty, and a ranger will take you to meet them.

“This is an up-close-and-per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion,” ex­plains Sam Ma­soni, who has been a ranger at Glen Afric for four years. “The ele­phants en­joy con­tact with peo­ple be­cause they’ve only ever seen the good side of hu­mans. Three is calm, gen­tle and friendly, although she’s big. The kids are play­ful, but if they’re too play­ful we leave them alone be­cause their size and strength mean that they could hurt some­one. Then we rather just stay with mom.”

About 2 650-mil­lion years old, the moun­tains of the Ma­galies­berg Bio­sphere are among the old­est in the world

and are ten times older than the African

con­ti­nent it­self

Not far down the road from the lodge, we stum­ble across the Ama Zwing Zwing Zip Line Tour. With the Ma­galies­berg as an ever-present back­drop, seven zip lines of­fer rides from two to four­teen me­tres in height.

“Guides are con­stantly at your side to en­sure safety, but we’re not too ex­treme,” owner Paul van Voorn tells us. “We get a lot of school groups, cor­po­rate groups and peo­ple of all ages and abil­i­ties. It’s a great way to en­joy na­ture and the great views that we have here.”

Na­ture tends to at­tract artists and the Har­ties area is no ex­cep­tion. At his home/stu­dio on a cliff over­look­ing the Croc­o­dile River, we meet one of South Africa’s fore­most bronze sculp­tors, Di­et­mar Wien­ing. Ger­man by birth and a chef by train­ing, he came to South Africa to work in five-star ho­tels un­til his ca­reer took an un­ex­pected twist.

“I won gold medals for but­ter sculp­tures, and some­body said, ‘You are such an artist you should do that in bronze and be­come a real artist’,” he re­calls. “Within a month I gave up ev­ery­thing, stopped cook­ing and started teach­ing my­self sculpt­ing. I never looked back and had my first ex­hi­bi­tion in a tiny gallery in Rose­bank. It was a sell-out.”

Di­et­mar’s been a sculp­tor for 35 years now and spe­cialises in birds, ma­rine life and ab­stract work. Many of the birds he sculpts

are mod­elled on those he sees in the area.

“We have pho­tographed 130 species just from our bal­cony,” he says en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “We love the beauty of this lo­ca­tion.”

Another Har­ties lo­cal who trav­elled here from dis­tant shores is An­nelies van Gaalen, owner of Van Gaalen Kaas­mak­erij (cheese farm). A na­tive of The Nether­lands, she im­mi­grated to South Africa in 1990 and soon re­alised “there was no de­cent cheese in the coun­try”.

She set about teach­ing her­self the art of cheese mak­ing and be­gan by sell­ing to fam­ily and friends. Things blos­somed and to­day the thriv­ing cheese farm, with its gar­den set­ting and its run­ning and bik­ing trails, is one of Har­ties’ best-known at­trac­tions.

“South Africans have be­come more so­phis­ti­cated in their cheese-eat­ing habits over the years,” An­nelies tells us. “Now we of­fer 33 Goudas and Ched­dars in dif­fer­ent stages of ma­tu­rity, and pro­duce be­tween one and

1.5 tons of cheese a month. We’re ex­tremely busy on week­ends and have many school groups in the week. We use tra­di­tional meth­ods of mak­ing cheese, and do it all by hand.”

We head back to­wards the town of Hart­beespoort, brav­ing the heavy week­end traf­fic. The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute around the dam wall, as only one lane of ve­hi­cles can cross at a time.

At the dam, queues of a dif­fer­ent kind are of­ten in ev­i­dence at French Toast, a Frenchthemed ‘cof­fee café’ which, among other things, boasts its own replica Eif­fel Tower and Pont des Arts – the fa­mous Parisian ‘bridge of love locks’. The café throngs with cus­tomers as we meet owner Paul Kruger – a fifth­gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of the fa­mous 19th­cen­tury pres­i­dent of the South African Repub­lic.

“Un­for­tu­nately I don’t have the Kruger mil­lions,” he tells us with a smile, ex­plain­ing that the venue was used as a film set for the 2014 South African-made movie,


Toast, which was re­leased in 2014. “We

Queues of a dif­fer­ent kind are

of­ten in ev­i­dence at French Toast, a French-themed ‘cof­fee café’ which, among other things, boasts its own replica Eif­fel Tower and Pont des Arts – the fa­mous

Parisian ‘bridge of love locks’

opened around six months be­fore the movie was re­leased, as part of a mar­ket­ing strat­egy to pro­mote the film,” Paul says. “Of course, the movie also helped to ad­ver­tise the restau­rant.”

Is French toast on the menu? “Ab­so­lutely,” he laughs. “The menu con­cept is based on it. We do French toast sticks, cheese grillers in French toast, our fil­let steak comes with French toast…”

Paul is a film­maker by pro­fes­sion and has turned the town into some­thing of a ‘Har­ti­wood’. He also owns nearby Pretville, which is another for­mer movie set that’s now be­come a tourist des­ti­na­tion. It’s fun, colour­ful and over the top. Oh, and the 50s-style diner serves great milk­shakes.

“Pretville is an Afrikaans rock 'n roll film set in the 1950s (think Grease) and was re­leased in 2012. Apart from see­ing some of the sets where the ac­tion was filmed, you can visit the roller-blad­ing rink or see a movie – in­clud­ing Pretville – at the cin­ema,” he says.

Our fi­nal stop is at a Har­ties land­mark – Tan’ Malie se Winkel. Housed in a build­ing that dates back to the time of the dam’s con­struc­tion in the 1920s, it’s a kind of gen­eral dealer-cum­restau­rant that’s built in the style of an old trad­ing post. You can buy home-made jams, spices, an­tiques, melk­tert, real boere koffie and even the tasty, but very smelly bokkoms (salted, dried fish from the West Coast).

Tan’ (aunty) Malie was born in 1921 and died in 2003. The shop was opened in 1984 by her daugh­ter Marita.

No doubt Tan’ Malie would be sur­prised to see just how far the once-tiny area around Hart­beespoort Dam has come.

ABOVE: The Hart­beespoort Aerial Ca­ble­way was orig­i­nally built in 1972, fell into dis­re­pair and was re­opened in 2012. It has spec­tac­u­lar views of the Ma­galies­berg and sur­rounds. LEFT: Cruis­ing on the dam pro­vides ex­cel­lent views of the tow­er­ing rock faces. Im­pos­ing homes are perched atop them.

TOP: The dam wall is ar­chi­tec­turally im­pres­sive and also af­fords good views of the sluice gates. RIGHT: Get­ting out onto the wa­ter is one of the big at­trac­tions at Har­ties – but you need to avoid the float­ing wa­ter hy­acinth.

ABOVE LEFT: Iain Gunn is gen­eral man­ager of the Hart­beespoort Aerial Ca­ble­way, and chair­man of the lo­cal tourism as­so­ci­a­tion. ABOVE: The dam’s 56-kilo­me­tre shore­line has been ex­ten­sively de­vel­oped. LEFT: Up close and per­sonal. Glen Afric Coun­try Lodge ranger, Sam Ma­soni, in­tro­duces writer Mike Simp­son to the ele­phant named Three.

TOP RIGHT: Har­ties-based bronze sculp­tor, Di­et­mar Wien­ing, is well-known for his ma­rine life, birds and ab­stract works. LEFT: Vis­i­tor John Camp­bell tries his hand at zip lin­ing un­der the watch­ful eye of Ama Zwing Zwing guide Fanuel Dal­i­son. ABOVE: An­nelies van Gaalen taught her­self cheese-mak­ing and has turned Van Gaalen Kaas­mak­erij into a must-visit at­trac­tion. BE­LOW: Hart­beespoort, with the dam as its cen­tral at­trac­tion, has be­come a week­end haven for city dwellers from Jo­han­nes­burg and Pre­to­ria.

ABOVE: Paul Kruger, a fifth-gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of the fa­mous 19th-cen­tury po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary leader, is the owner of French Toast. LEFT: Soweto res­i­dents Steven Padi and Nancy Tsha­bal­ala en­joy the replica Eif­fel Tower and Pont des Arts at French Toast. BE­LOW: French Toast calls it­self a ‘cof­fee café’ and was once the film set for the movie French Toast.

ABOVE: Plenty to choose from… shop as­sis­tant Joseph Strydom helps cus­tomers at Tan’ Malie se Winkel. ABOVE RIGHT: Tan’ Malie se Winkel is a lo­cal land­mark built in the style of an early trad­ing post. BE­LOW: Brightly coloured Pretville was once a 1950s-style film set but is now a fun at­trac­tion for tourists. RIGHT: Wait­ress Sunè En­gel­brecht serves de­li­cious milk­shakes to cus­tomers at the Pretville diner.

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