Rooibos: quintessentially South African
The kids and I wake up leisurely but Leanne is already running through the hillsides surrounding Elands Bay and snatching photos of our picturesque lodge, Vensterklip, posing on the reedy shores of the Verloren vlei.
We swallow a hearty breakfast and head on towards Pikanierskloof. Our route meanders lazily right along the Verloren vlei for miles. It’s a wide, shallow, swampy, reedy stream and its soft beauty offers a stunning contrast with the ruggedness of the mountains that envelop it.
At the Pikenierskloof Mountain Resort, in the heart of the Pikenier mountain range, Leanne and I zip-line down the valley using three cables laid out diagonally across a narrow gorge.
Guy and Max are slightly disappointed the zipping was restricted to kids older than 8 so the staff offer them to shoot a BB gun instead. I cannot say I really approve but the spark of expectation is already shining bright in their young eyes and it is a little late to object.
Reluctantly, I find myself kneeling next to them, lifting their arms to allow the gun to meet their eyesight and line up to the target. I am slightly relieved to realize their shooting skills really do not match their enthusiasm.
Our day has been packed tight with activities and we rush on to Bergendal, a few kilometers away, where Carmién Tea have their main farm and where they process, package and ship their rooibos to the world. Ilze meets us at the gate and walks us through the planted rooibos bushes in the field next to the farm building. We learn that rooibos is a type of fynbos. Ilze then shows us through the processing plant and explains the different processes: drying, sorting, cutting to length, fermenting, packaging, labeling, etc. The kids listen patiently. They enjoy dipping their hand into huge sacks of fragrant rooibos and feeling the texture of different cuts but they like it best when the tour ends and we taste different rooibos brews in the lab, with carefully selected nuts to match the taste of each. Refined!
Pressed by time and the long road that still awaits us to reach Kamieskroon, we just buy a couple of sandwiches at a roadside padstal outside the farm and press on. The landscape changes quickly as we head into the dry Northern Cape. We spot the first patches of bright wildflowers, appearing here and there between endless sheep pastures, almost as soon as we cross the border of the Namakwa district municipality. Almost 4 hours after leaving Bergendal, we finally reach Jeanrico Farm. We will sleep here tonight and tomorrow.
The farm is simple and our cottage accommodation, though very comfortable, rustic. Nothing can beat location, however, and Jeanrico Farm is better than a postcard. Nestled in a little nook at the foot of gigantic ochre monolithic domes, the farm is quaint and warm, with white-washed walls, an old stone barn and a hospitable stoep overlooking a small dam and unobstructed views of the peaks of the Namakwa National Park in the distance.
The company is even better. Ernest and Stella, our hosts, serve a delicious lamb pie and we chatter at length with the other guests, two older couples. Kobus is a retired forensic auditor who is busy writing a book on cases he has worked, which have sent him to the four corners of the world. Sue and him drove from the coast of KwaZulu Natal to see the flowers! Charl spent 38 years at the SABC, a longevity record that is yet to be broken, and Leanne quickly finds affinity. His wife Jennifer is headed to a lost dorpie further into the Kamiesberg to inspect old rug-weaving looms. She hopes they can get a second lease on life and revive a speck of industrial activity in the region.
Conversation flows easily and we are soon flooded with interesting facts about the region, crusty career anecdotes and, better yet, useful recommendations on the road ahead.