In the Loop

On a whim RON SWILL­ING turns off into the foothills of the Lange­berg and is charmed by the Klaasvoogds Me­an­der

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - WORDS AND PIC­TURES RON SWILL­ING

A me­an­der through the Lange­berg foothills knows just how to charm

Al­most half­way along the R60 be­tween Robert­son and Ash­ton, a tarred 8.5-kilo­me­tre me­an­der re­mains much of a se­cret in the Robert­son-Breede River wine val­ley. It starts as the Klaasvoogds West road, cir­cling around to Klaasvoogds East and back to the R60.

On the route, which was tarred three years

9 ¿ restau­rants, a choice of ac­com­mo­da­tion, olive tast­ing, a cac­tus gar­den/nurs­ery, and a laven­der and olive farm. It’s a short and sweet me­an­der that has some­thing for ev­ery­one.

First stop on the me­an­der, Sheilam Cac­tus & Suc­cu­lent Gar­den, draws your at­ten­tion. Huge, prickly mother-in-law’s chairs and tow­er­ing cone cacti are part of the large gar­den, which you can ex­plore at your leisure, or take a guided tour with knowl­edge­able Minette Sch­weg­mann, who ed­u­cates peo­ple on the suc­cu­lents of South Africa.

Minette tells me a charm­ing tale of the ori­gin of suc­cu­lents. As the story goes, when God started to walk around the world, some plants de­cided to stay in the vast, windy ex­panses and be­came grasses, some opted to be proteas dot­ting the moun­tain­side, oth­ers chose wa­tery habi­tats and be­came wa­terlilies.

On reach­ing the desert, God ad­vised those that re­mained to store wa­ter in their stems, shed their leaves and put on a waxy outer layer to pro­tect them from the harsh sun, and grow spines to de­ter wild an­i­mals. When the suc­cu­lents even­tu­ally com­plained that they were now too ugly for any­one to love them,

ƒ À

In 2003, Minette and her hus­band Garth took over the fam­ily farm from Garth’s par­ents. Garth’s fa­ther had bought the Sheilam Farm from Lourens Mal­herbe, a cacti and suc­cu­lent col­lec­tor who started the gar­den in 1954, and this col­lec­tion came with the farm.

Minette dusted off the text­books and re­vived her botany de­gree to care for and en­large the spe­cial­ity nurs­ery that houses many rare South African suc­cu­lents, as well as cacti and cy­cads. She prop­a­gates the var­i­ous species by hand and cau­tions the pub­lic, “By tak­ing a plant out of the wild, you de­stroy fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, and it’s il­le­gal,” and urges peo­ple rather to buy seed or plants from nurs­eries with per­mits.

Sheilam’s plants in­clude in­trigu­ing spec­i­mens like the old man of Peru, horses’ teeth, Bush­man’s grape and klip­plante (stone plants or lithops). The un­usual love­li­ness of the suc­cu­lent gar­den be­lies the pa­tience needed for these slow-growing but wa­ter­wise plants. They can take decades to es­tab­lish them­selves, as seen in the painfully slow growth of the ele­phant’s foot that only grows one cen­time­tre a year, or in the Agave vic­to­riae-regi­nae,

À

Like Minette, it is with a new­found re­spect for the won­ders of na­ture and the guardians of the Earth, that I drive two kilo­me­tres fur­ther along the Klaasvoogds road for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence – laven­der. Rows and rows of it. The Mar­garet Roberts va­ri­ety,

I was happy to dis­cover.

My visit to the quaint Owls Rest Olive and Laven­der Farm be­gan with a cold laven­der cor­dial on the ve­randa and ended with a tast­ing of tape­nade in their shop. In be­tween, hus­band and wife team, Pa­tri­cia and Hed­ley Man­i­com,

¿ laven­der and olive trees to their small dis­tillery.

The farm was a dream come true for them. “I al­ways wanted to live on a farm with a plaas­dam and a wind­pomp,” Pa­tri­cia tells me. When their chil­dren grew up and moved away from home, Pa­tri­cia and Hed­ley left their long­time jobs in the city and went ex­plor­ing the

coun­try­side. They even­tu­ally found a spot a year ago that ‘ticked all the boxes’.

Now, be­sides dis­till­ing laven­der and rose gera­nium es­sen­tial oils, they use the hy­drosol for beauty prod­ucts, and make olive oil, olive tape­nades, and tamar­illo (tree tomato) and bell-pep­per chut­neys.

As con­ve­nient as the tarred cir­cu­lar

$ ¿ tracks that run north­wards into the heart of the Lange­berg. This is where you can treat your­self to overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion in the nat­u­ral Klaasvoogds am­phithe­atre, and swim, hike, moun­tain bike and ab­sorb the scenic beauty of the area. The Pat Busch Moun­tain Re­serve of­fers all this, with rolling grassy lawns thrown in.

$ ‰Š\] ¿ ac­com­mo­da­tion on the farm. His daugh­ter-in­law, Lindi, who with her hus­band Stephen took over the prop­erty in 2004, ex­plains, “It was al­ways a place for hik­ers, bird­ers and na­ture lovers to come and rest. A keen na­ture en­thu­si­ast, Pat wanted to sit on the porch and watch buck com­ing and go­ing. His vi­sion was to make it a na­ture re­serve and he was ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing the land.

When you can tear your­self away, the rest of the me­an­der calls. It takes its name from Ger­man-born Claus or Klaas Voigts or Voogds, who came to the Cape of Good Hope in 1691 as a sol­dier for the Dutch East In­dia Com­pany. He is be­lieved to have had du­bi­ous deal­ings over the years and to have been at the fore­front of a group of hunters, traders and cat­tle rustlers. Ac­cord­ing to folk­lore, the rene­gade was tram­pled to death by an ele­phant at the Klaasvoogds River, but time has clouded the de­tails of the story.

Back on track, just 5.5 kilo­me­tres along the tarred loop, I sip on Kran­skop’s award­win­ning Tan­nat wine, mulling over the prime op­por­tu­nity of savour­ing qual­ity olive oil

À and honey. The small fam­ily-owned and

-run win­ery still favours tra­di­tional meth­ods, pick­ing their grapes by hand, us­ing a bas­ket press to re­duce the tan­nins, and ma­tur­ing wine in French oak.

Wine­maker Ne­wald Marais has years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the wine in­dus­try, hav­ing worked for Neder­berg for 27 years, where he

honed his wine­mak­ing skills be­fore buy­ing Kran­skop in 2008.

A kilo­me­tre on­wards and I make my last stop, this time for olives. “We’re a bit more on the chilled side.” Clive Hey­mans from Mar­brin Olive Grow­ers of­fers this apt de­scrip­tion of the me­an­der as we sit on the stoep, with friendly dogs curled at our feet, sur­rounded by a healthy for­est of olive trees and a clear sky.

“Life’s too short not to have good oil,” says Clive. A short farm road has led me down the hill to Mar­brin’s re­cep­tion and tast­ing area, past olive groves and a small dam with cows and geese in the sur­round­ing ¿ Œ

Clive tells me.

He also in­tro­duces me to the mak­ing of qual­ity olive oil, and gives me a tast­ing of Mar­brin’s olives and tape­nades, as well as

À award-win­ning In­tense Olive Oil. No mean feat for the new kids on the block, who had

¿ olive oil into the world arena.

Clive and his wife Bri­ony took over Mar­brin from Bri­ony’s fa­ther in 2012, in­tro­duced the tast­ings and be­gan to ex­per­i­ment with their eight cul­ti­vars to cre­ate a bou­tique olive oil. The fam­ily busi­ness now pro­duces a range of prod­ucts and is about to launch an­other three oils – saf­fron, dill and fen­nel – as well as a monthly sup­per club, where Clive will share his culi­nary tal­ents. “South African olive oils are among the best in the world, and con­tain no un­listed ad­di­tives,” he says. “Lo­cal olive oil lovers should never buy any­thing but what is home­grown.”

I take the last leg of the me­an­der at a snail’s pace, en­joy­ing the re­gal Lange­berg as I pass vine­yards, or­chards of olive and fruit trees, houses with colour­ful wash­ing

À 3 eat­ing grapes by the road­side. But when I reach the main road, I’m cer­tain I can hear Time start to tick again, like an old clock with a mind of its own, and I re­luc­tantly turn for home.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: The Klaasvoogds Me­an­der is a short, tarred and chilled route off the R60 be­tween Robert­son and Ash­ton. BE­LOW LEFT: The coun­try splen­dour of grape vines and rolling hills, backed by re­gal mountains. BE­LOW RIGHT: Minette Sch­weg­mann amid the ar­ray of suc­cu­lents at Sheilam Cac­tus & Suc­cu­lent Gar­den. ABOVE: Pa­tri­cia and Hed­ley Man­i­com in the small Owls Rest dis­tillery. RIGHT: One of the high­lights of the me­an­der is a visit to this olive and laven­der farm.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Chil­dren hap­pily en­joy juicy grapes along the road­side. Peace and a good serv­ing of nat­u­ral beauty at Pat Busch Moun­tain Re­serve in the foothills of the Lange­berg.Lindi Busch and the rolling lawns of the re­serve. Gravel tracks run into the heart of the Lange­berg, where you can swim, hike and pad­dle.

ABOVE: At Kran­skop, a fam­ily-run, award-win­ning wine es­tate, Ezett Viljoen ex­plains the tra­di­tional meth­ods of wine­mak­ing, like hand-pick­ing grapes and us­ing a bas­ket press. ABOVE RIGHT: “Life’s too short not to have good olive oil,” says Clive Hey­mans of Mar­brin Olive Grow­ers.

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