Earlier this month, I had the privilege of taking a whirlwind trip around the Overberg as part of #OverbergFam2019 – a familiarisation trip supported by Wesgro and SATSA – to explore this special region in a little more depth.
Veering off the beaten track (i.e. the N2) as far as possible, our itinerary took us from Elgin to Barrydale to Swellendam to Malgas and finally De Hoop. Along the way, we enjoyed an incredible array of experiences – from a chilly morning game drive at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve to an exquisite overnight stay at Schoone Oordt Country House and all manner of treats in between.
While I’m no stranger to the Overberg, this trip introduced me to a few quirky new experiences. Here are five I’d highly recommend to anyone who might be craving a leisurely spring road trip:
Masbiekers Valley Project, Swellendam
Something magical is happening in Swellendam.
A forgotten valley is being transformed into a safe haven for friendly forestlings, lovingly coaxed out of wood and earth by artist, Andrew Hofmeyr.
The Masbiekers Valley Project started in 2016 when Andrew and his partner, Landia discovered this area behind Swellendam’s old VF Park.
It was overgrown with black wattle trees and blue gums, but in amongst the alien invasive plant species, there was a spattering of indigenous plants – wild peaches, klip els, tree fuchsias and yellowwoods.
Andrew was inspired by the potential of the area to become an art trail where the community could walk, see art and learn more about the plants and animals of the area.
They also launched an Eco-Art competition for high school students from Swellendam this year.
Six of the students’ artwork ideas were chosen and are going to be made a reality by Andrew within the next month!
What I love most about this project is that, while Andrew has taken the initiative to reclaim this neglected piece of land, he wants the entire community to take ownership of it.
Locals and visitors are invited to get involved by planting indigenous trees, clearing invasive plants or making art of their own to add to the growing collection.
Those who don’t have time, but might have other resources can buy an owl box, sponsor a worker or adopt/gift a tree.
Next time you’re in Swellendam, be sure to take an hour or so for a walk through this enchanted nature sanctuary.
If you’d like to meet the people behind the project and hear the story from the original source, you can book Tree-Planting & Guided Art Trail Walk on Airbnb Experiences with Andrew and Landia.
In the meantime, find out more on Masbiekers Valley Project website.
Sijnn Wines, Malgas
If you love a good boutique wine-tasting experience, you will absolutely adore Sijnn Wines.
Located roughly in the middle of nowhere – i.e. on a picturesque hill close to the tiny settlement of Malgas on the south-western bank of the Breede River – Sijnn is unlike any wine farm I’ve ever visited before. There is no perfectly curated rolling lawn with a duck pond at the far end or busloads of tourists arriving and departing like clockwork.
Instead, a meticulously designed, yet rustic tasting room shelters among a wild garden of fynbos and aloes, while winter-dormant bush vines crouch in rows alongside.
“David and Rita Trafford discovered the future Sijnn land while on holiday in Malgas in 2000. The soil and landscape reminded them of Portugal and they were immediately intrigued. A purchase agreement and more than 200 soil profiles later, approximately ten hectares of vines were planted,” the website reads.
Inspired by nature, the team behind Sijnn – derived from the Khoisan word meaning riverbank – like to keep things simple. Their core range includes the Sijnn Red Blend, Sijnn White and Sijnn Saignee.
We spent the afternoon around a long wooden table on the large shady front stoep, tasting their superb wines, snacking on farm-fresh bread an charcuterie and taking a fascinating tour of the cellar.
If you’d like to experience a curated tasting of their limited edition wines, they are open every Saturday between 10:00 and 15:00 or by appointment during the week.
Visit the Sijnn Wines website to find out more.
The Pont, Malgas
Looking at the quiet settlement of Malgas today, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time it was home to a thriving river trading port that formed part of an integral transport vein between Cape Town and Swellendam.
It was established in about 1860, when the ever so entrepreneurial Joseph Barry had grown tired of the slow and inefficient overland travel between his trading post in Swellendam and the Mother City. Having discovered that the Breede River was navigable up to 50km inland, he commissioned a fleet of vessels and started transporting his merchandise using maritime means instead.
A hand-drawn pontoon was set up to allow clients from the surrounding Overberg areas to bring their wagons right up to the counters of the Barry stores – located on the banks of the river – to stock up as easily as possible.
After Barry’s business suffered a series of setbacks, the port eventually fell out of use, but the pontoon remained.
The one in use today was built in 1914 and is still operated in the same manner – two or three men pulling it across the river using chains attached to a cable.
It is the last remaining man-hauled pontoon ferry in South Africa and well worth experiencing!
Magpie Art Collective Gallery, Barrydale
Over the past few years, Barrydale has been making a name for itself as one of South Africa’s quirkiest small towns. Located on the famous R62, it’s technically considered to be part of the Klein Karoo, but due to its close proximity to Swellendam, it also lends itself well to a quick sho’t left from the Overberg.
Since I haven’t been to Barrydale in quite some time, I was super excited to do a little walkabout and take in all the new sights.
Our first stop was the absolutely enchanting Magpie Art Collective Gallery. Here artist Shane Petzer received us and introduced us to the whimsical work they do – bespoke creations (mostly magnificent chandeliers) produced from a range of materials, many of which have been repurposed, found or recycled.
One of the things the focus on is ‘memory’ and incorporating family memorabilia into one-of-a-kind chandeliers for clients. ?
Apart from making incredible art, the Magpie Collective has a heart for building community and nurturing a culture of inclusivity through an array of projects.? ?
I loved finding out more about the ‘why’ behind their work and absolutely adored Shane’s joyful manner, not to mention his eclectic outfit!?
Visit the Magpie Art Collective website to find out more about them.
Diesel & Creme, Barrydale
Chances are, the first thing you think of when you hear the name ‘Barrydale’ is… milkshakes!
If this is the case, it’s 100% thanks to Diesel & Creme, the vintage-inspired diner that has established itself as South Africa’s go-to roadside stop for creative and colourful milkshakes that are as delicious as they are beautiful.
Now, look, being somewhat indecisive, menus intimidate me at the best of times! So, when confronted with a list of shakes, including everything from the Constantinople (Turkish Delight gelato and strawberry compote) to Crunchy Honey, I practically started hyperventilating. In the end, I opted for the Chilli Chilli Bang Bang (Belgian chocolate gelato and fresh chilli) and was super impressed by both its blissful deliciousness and its bite.
As far as looks went, I have to say, the Zoo Cookie was by far the prettiest! (Pictured above)
While waiting for our diner fare, I spent some time admiring the interior and felt some serious childhood road trip nostalgia creep in.
Check out the Diesel & Creme website for business hours and links to their lovely social media.
P.s. Look how amazing the Canola looks at the moment! Basically, the perfect time of year for a road trip through the Overberg.