As novice 4×4 enthusiasts, our three days on the West Coast gave us a baptism by fire… and we are hooked! Our bodies have now taken the shape of the seats in our rented Suzuki Jimny from Tread Lite 4×4, and our West Coast trip is becoming more and more adventurous as we begin to understand the vehicle and its 4×4 capabilities, writes Maryke Roberts.
The tar road is calling again. Stompneus Bay and its people, of whom we told last month, crept deep into our hearts. We are a little sad when packing up at Midwest Caravan Park – our vehicle is by no means as neat as it was three days ago, but at least everything fits in and does not rattle too much when we take the R399 to Velddrif.
It’s amazing how quickly you leave the beach mentality and feeling behind, and the sheep and grain farms on either side of the road remind you that you are actually standing with one foot in the Swartland. We do not drive over the bridge into town but turn onto the Hopefield road down to Kuifkopvisvanger, our next campsite.
We get the “emergency stand”, owner Jan Kotze tells us as he is showing us around. He explains that one of his friends called one December and said that the Namaqualand singer, Boeta Gammie, wanted to come camp and that they had to make a plan. The camp was full, and the new stand was hastily added. This is a prime spot – under a large tree, only a short walk to the ablution facilities and high on the embankment overlooking the river. What more could you ask for?
The campsite also features two fully-equipped permanent caravans, eight self-catering cottages and 19 sites altogether. As we pitch our tent, we have to glance over our shoulders at the river from time to time, where flocks of birds bathe, hunt, or dry their feathers in the sun. Down by the water, a couple sits on camp chairs with their binoculars, and, from time to time, you hear the excitement in their voices as they see something new. Jan gave us a list of the more than 180 bird species that occur on the farm, so we are excited to explore a little later.
Peaceful farm life
Every few hours, the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore train passes over the bridge some distance down the river. We stopped counting at 100 carriages because, by then, our eyes were starting to deceive us, seeing double. Jan tells us that the train pulls 448 carriages full of iron ore and that there are locomotives between every 114 carriages. The purpose for this is twofold: it is the maximum weight one locomotive can pull and also the number of carriages that can be unloaded at the port at a time.
With our tent pitched, we unpack and sip on the cold Chenin Blanc from Blake Family Wines that we picked up in Yzerfontein. The crackling fire is like music to our ears, and I hear my husband tell his mother over the phone that we have delicious burgers in mind for lunch. As we watch, giant herons fly in, sitting on the mirror-smooth water; then, an Egyptian geese couple arrive to bath in the muddy rain puddles created a week or so ago, while Cape Cormorants sit on the wooden jetty with outstretched wings. Sheer bliss!
By late afternoon we decide to see the local sights, and drive into town. Starlings on a telephone wire sit like musical notes strung against the cloudless sky. At the turn-off to the Port Owen Marina, a Land Rover drives past us with its famous slogan: “One Life. Live it.” I nod in agreement. It’s busy but welcoming at Charlie’s Brewhouse, where we meet Leandra Nero, the hospitality manager for the business group that includes Charlie’s Brewhouse, Russells on the Port, and Poetic License Distillery.
Leandra’s easy smile and generosity shows she was made for this world. She honed her hospitality talents in Cape Town for five years before returning to treat customers to the world-famous West Coast hospitality. You see it in the quick straightening of a pillow behind an older person’s back, the serving of food with the attractive side facing the customer, and the excitement when she tells us about their beer and gin tastings. We do the beer tasting and enjoy five of their beers: Sandveld Lager, Lighthouse Blonde, Harbour American Pale Ale, Boathouse Crystal Weiss and Cormorant Bourbon Stout.
We pop into the Weltevrede Butchery just before they close. The slogans outside have already made me smile: “Koep. Koep se bek hang oop!” and “Betaal. Betaal se gat is kaal!”. I step inside to order the “best lamb chops on the West Coast”, and a choir of blockmen greet me with the words: “Everything you have heard about us that is good is true, except the lies…”
4×4 fun and games
The Jimny attracts a lot of attention everywhere we go, especially from other Jimny owners who stand closer for a chat and to see what “the newer model” looks like. There are many chuffed stories about how well this vehicle performs as a 4×4 and how “we regularly help other wellknown 4x4s to get out of the dunes”. In order for the Jimny to truly come into its own, and based on everyone’s recommendations, we head out for a little testing on the dunes between Laaiplek and Dwarskersbos.
The sun begins to set over the bay, and nature paints yellow, orange, pink and blue stripes against the sky. There are hundreds of cormorants and African black oystercatchers with their red beaks and legs on the long white beach. There is a sand road alongside the beach, where you may legally drive. We are new to 4×4-ing, and every time the vehicle slides ever so slightly in the sand, my heart beats faster, nerves knotting my stomach. But, as we become more proficient, we realise the vehicle is perfectly suited for dunes, loose sand, and deep tracks. We spent the afternoon playing like children and begin to regret that this is only a rental vehicle and not our own.
At dusk, we are back at camp and soon the flames are singing in the braai drum. The next morning, we go in search of coffee in town. In the historic Bokkomlaan (Bokkom Avenue) beside the river, fishermen hang up strings of sardines and harder (a species of mullet) to dry, and then sell as bokkoms. This practice dates back to the days when the fishermen fished straight from the Berg River, processing their loot right there on the banks. The last 20km of the Berg River is tidal, and a fish breeding ground, so nowadays the fishermen get their fish from the sea and bring them to dry in Bokkomlaan.
We watch Heinrich Saayman as he stands in his water boots, threading bunches of mullets over the crossbars under a shade net, deep in thought. He burrs, like aunt Lokkie van Zyl describes in her book, Velddrif se Stories as “the burr speech so deep in the back of the throat”. It is sometimes difficult for visitors to understand the dialect, exceptional burr and colloquial words that remained preserved, as the town was isolated from the rest of the world for so long. The bridge over the Berg River, connecting the West Coast to the rest of the Cape, was only opened in 1950. In addition to articles and festival pages on regional and family history, aunt Lokkie also wrote Boegoebergdam se Mense, which covers the regional history of this special area. She lives on Bokkomlaan and knows the history of the West Coast as if it were her own.
Central Bokkom District
Heinrich tells us the fish should hang for one week after lying in brine for three days. He caught the harders himself on Apie Tolken’s boat. I look around and see pelicans greedily waiting for a defective or half a fish to be thrown to them. A myriad seabirds are eagerly circling the air around us. “No, the birds do not eat our fish; we throw small fish in the river for them,” he reassures my unspoken fears. I wonder out loud how you would know if the bokkoms you buy has gone bad yet. “If it’s too old, then the gums itch,” says Heinrich, and that’s the final word on bokkoms.
At Columbine Co., Albert Cornelissen (Junior) roasts his own coffee beans, and he and his brother, Divan, handle the daily service. We sip on cappuccinos and eat home-baked brownies while some tourists throw fish to be snapped up in the pelicans’ baggy beaks while they record videos. I have to laugh as we walk past a small restaurant on this short stretch gravel road, displaying the words Velddrif CBD in large letters on a sign. Only when you get closer do you see that the words stand for Central Bokkom District! We drive back to Charlie’s Brewhouse for lunch, and Leandra comes to greet us. She takes down our order and talks directly to chef Lovemore Mandabva about how we would like our chicken Kiev and baby back pork ribs. The waiter later advises us to consider “Policeman Coffee” for dessert, “because it’s cold out there”. It’s a mixture of vodka, Kahlua, vanilla ice cream and a shot of espresso. Delicious!
It’s time for an afternoon nap, and we lie comfortably in our sleeping bags. Late afternoon we carry our camping chairs and table down to the river. Our G&Ts are cold, the bird books and binoculars are ready, and the setting sun does not disappoint as it turns the sky into one big work of art while the birds come home for the night. Our doggy bags from lunch are enough for dinner, but we still make a fire and braai marshmallows to dip in our hot chocolate. The silence of the camp is complemented by a night sky full of stars, and we sit until late and chat around the braai drum, which is regularly fed with more wood.
The last day dawns in all its winter glory, and we pack up camp a little sadly while the town receives 45mm of rain within a few hours. On the way back to drop off the Jimny and pick up our own vehicle, we stop briefly at Darling Brew to buy some of their delicious beers, such as Bonecrusher and 4×4 Braai IPA (so that our 4×4 experience can last a while longer at home).
The Darling Wine Shop is one of our favourites, and has the largest collection of Darling wines, brought together by the owner Charles Withington. This renowned wine veteran tells us, “You will be amazed to know how many of our country’s award-winning wines from other wine regions are made from grapes which grew here.” He also stocks a small variety in the “Not Darling, but dear to me” section of his shop, from winemakers he has long been associated with.
Ida Opperman manages the shop and orders, giving Charles a chance to chat with us about his other favourite wines and to let us taste their new Darlington gin – The spirit of Darling. It’s Ida’s special project, a London-style dry gin infused with Kukumakranka and a bit of Darling’s seasonal wildflowers. You almost don’t want to add tonic because the flavours are so soft, dancing like velvet on your tongue.
During the lockdown period, Charles’ online wine shop was a great alternative for ordering special wines and simply getting advice on which wine is a nice buy. Thanks to Charles’ deliveries, friends in Pretoria could sip on Darling wines during our Zoom parties as we navigated the different restriction levels. It is, however, always more fun to walk around the shop and buy gifts for friends. He has all kinds of beautiful glasses, interesting bags and pickled products. We finally drive off with a case of different wines, including two of Charles’ own wines, Malbec and Withington Roan Ranger 2018. I also pack a few bottles of gin because it’s so delicious, and all my gin-drinking friends are going to be jealous.
The last stop is Hilda’s Kitchen, not only to enjoy Chef Debbie McLaughlin’s delicious food but also to re-taste the award-winning Groote Post wines and to restock our wine rack. Their Old Man’s Blend is one of our favourite red wines. The father and son team of Peter and Nicholas Pentz work the 3 000-hectare farm, of which 103 hectares is under vines. The Pentz family has been farming here for well over a century, and today their production is 65% white and 35% red wine.
There is a sense of excitement in the cellar as winemaker Lukas Wentzel tells us and a few other zealous supporters that Groote Post recently had a big accolade at the Old Mutual Wine Trophy Show, scooping the Sunday Times trophy for best Sauvignon Blanc with their crisp Groote Post Seasalter Sauvignon Blanc 2019.
The farm boasts historic 18th century buildings, one of which is the gentleman’s residence that now houses Hilda’s Kitchen, the other an old fort in which the cellar is established. The youngest generation Pentz, Peter junior, joins us at the restaurant. We start with an ice-cold glass of Groote Post Brut, a Cap Classique – the South African sparkling wine made in the traditional French champagne style. We also taste the new Groote Post Pinot Noir Rosé 2021 Limited Release.
For lunch, we choose dishes that will dispel the cold weather. The spicy Mexican bean soup with sour cream, guacamole and nachos is the perfect starter, and the lamb shank pie with hand-cut chips is the perfect partner for the Merlot 2019. As we tuck into our meal, Peter talks excitedly about the good harvest year they have had, and we appreciate the many precious family heirlooms scattered around in the restaurant. In the hours you spend at this farm, it truly feels as though time comes to a standstill. Outside, the rain is pouring down, and we cannot wait to tackle the mud puddles again with our Jimny on the way home. The gravel road back to the R27 offers enough water to make quite a challenge. The Jimny stays glued to the road (as Old Bull from Midwest Caravan Park at Stompneus Bay had promised), and we enjoy every moment as muddy bow waves of water shoot out alongside the windows. What a spectacular introduction to 4×4 adventure!
Tread lite 4×4
The company was started in 2018 with a small fleet of 1.3-litre third-generation Jimnys. The newer fourth generation Jimny was added towards the end of 2020 and is very popular among both national and international tourists. Both vehicles are excellent overlanding options. In terms of camping gear and equipment, there are several options. We wanted to try out the camping lifestyle, and the Jimny was equipped with everything we needed, from dishwashing soap to a tea towel. If you’re camping in winter, I would recommend taking an extra blanket or duvet. If you are staying in a guest house or self-catering unit, they will pack the vehicle accordingly. They call it “Packed-For-You” and make the equipment list available beforehand in order for you to select what you want to take. Touring Namibia with a Jimny is very popular, especially for tourists driving from Cape Town to the desert. Tread Lite prides themselves on understanding and catering to their clients’ specific needs. They also provide advice on itineraries and routes and can even help to put together a complete tour package together. With Tread Lite 4×4 you can collect your fully-equipped Suzuki Jimny in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban or Windhoek.
CONTACT: +27 60 302 3207 | www.treadlite4x4hire.co.za
Let the experts plan your trip
Satori Africa is a bespoke travel and tour company, personally curating unique itineraries throughout Africa. The team is passionate about Africa and its people, food and wine and the memories it helps create. Satori – loosely translated to enlightenment or awakening – is inspired by the restorative power and healing nature of the African continent. The company works closely with Tread Lite 4×4 to create magical adventures in southern Africa.
CONTACT: +27 71 676 9075 | email@example.com | www.satoriafrica.co.za
Model: Gen 4 1.5 GLX (available in manual or automatic)
Engine size: 1.5-litre
Fuel consumption: 9 litres/100 km (Suzuki’s website claims a lower rate, but this is Treadlite’s average)
4×4: 2WD/4WD and low range
Safety: Airbags, ABS and ESP Lugsakke, ABS and ESP
Comfort: Cruise control, climate control and Apple Car Play/Android Auto connectivity
*For a more affordable option, older models (Suzuki Jimny Gen 3 1.3-litre) are also available.
Highlights in the area
David and Carolyn Malan have been making excellent cheese from Golden Guernsey milk for the past few years at this small cheese factory near Bokkom Avenue (“Bokkomlaan”) and you can also enjoy a cheese tasting. All their cheeses are named after birds or plants that occur in and around Velddrif – Flamingo (Spanish Manchego style), White Steenbras (Camembert style), Smoked Kelp Gull (Gruyere style), Black stilt (young, creamy baby Stilton), Velddrif Veta (a Greek-style cow milk Feta available in plain or chilli and coriander) and Greek-style yoghurt (full cream, lactose-free, probiotics).
CONTACT: +27 82 563 4640 / +27 82 572 1822 | firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Let the fun begin
A gin tasting at Poetic License Distillery in Port Owen Marina costs R120 per person. First, you taste it clean, then with ice and then with kina tonic and ginger ale specially selected for each gin. The Fireside Spiced Gin, Northern Dry, Old Tom with rose and oak flavours and Strawberry and Cream with a strawberry flavour are all part of the tasting.
CONTACT: +27 22 125 0568 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.poeticlicensedistillery.co.za.
* Dine at their sister restaurants, Charlie’s Brewhouse and Russells on the Port, a stone’s throw further down Bronwen Avenue, where you can enjoy seafood on the water.
CONTACT: +27 22 783 0158 | email@example.com | www.russellsontheport.co.za
The SA Fisheries Museum in Laaiplek is themed and looks at the fishing industry of South Africa, with a strong focus on the West Coast. It is the only one of its kind in Africa. Currently, there are 620 artefacts, and the oldest of these is the fossil of the Beaked Whale mouth which is about five million years old. The rarest thing you can see there is the copper fish horn dating from the slave period. The story goes that fish hawkers would blow the horn to advertise their catch as they walked through the Cape streets with their fish wheelbarrows and later Scottish horse-drawn carriages. The museum has videos and DVDs about the sea and all its treasures, and interviews with fishermen about life at sea. The models of fishing boats by Jaco Louw leave many children fascinated for a long time. He takes the boats’ original building plans and adapts them. Jaco chooses his models from boats that have perished or will be scrapped if they become unusable. His total fleet is currently 23 scale models of original full-scale fishing trawlers.
CONTACT: +27 22 783 2531 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.safisheriesmuseum.co.za.