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Posted on: Friday, 22 October 2010

A farm in Nieuwoudtville – quiver trees, remoteness and skies like never before …

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Brandkop, Nieuwoudtville

Brandkop, Nieuwoudtville

Where the Hantam Karoo meets Cape fynbos is a little hamlet of a village called Nieuwoudtville. From mid-July until September the town annually hums as it plays host to the flower season – the time of year when bulbs deliver the goods and blossom forth, producing some of the most gorgeous flowers in the country.

We make it there just after the flower season. Despite this there is much to enjoy. We head out of town to stay on a farm just beyond the waterfall, en route to Loeriesfontein. It is windy, overcast and cold when we arrive, despite my expectations that the Northern Cape will be hot this time of year. Any surviving flowers have stubbornly refused to open, given the weather, and photo moments will have to wait for the sky to co-operate.

Elizna and Pieter welcome us at their farmhouse door complete with three dogs – one of which is an enormous boerboel pup – and a tortoise, where we’ve come to collect the keys. We pass a series of solar panels and a modern windmill. The farm is off grid as Eskom doesn’t provide for remote farms like theirs. Both of them remember growing up with generators as the constant drone in the background. The quiet of sun and wind energy is new, and they’re enjoying it.

The farm also has a no-waste policy. You take home what you bring, only food scraps may be left for the goats, and paper, which they will later burn in an incinerator. Your cans, plastic and glass need to leave with you. We’re used to this though, as we usually collect our waste when we go away anyway, taking it home to recycle.

Brandkop, Nieuwoudtville
Photographs – Left: Gannabos / Right: Lone quiver tree

We drive yet a further 10 km up the road. Our little house stands perched over what looks like a wheat field, but which we will learn is actually the site of an old dam. Remote is a euphemism for this accommodation. When the wind drops later, the silence is overwhelming and the skies so filled with stars and constellations they bring tears to my eyes. For a moment I drown in the space.

Our little yellow house for the next three days is called Brandkop. The furnishing is basic but comfortable – a large kitchen/lounge/diningroom in the front of the house, from which two bedrooms, each with their own shower and toilet, lead. On each bed is a goose down duvet made from the feathers of Elizna’s troop of geese. The fridge and stove are gas, and the lights, apart from one gas lamp, are either storm lanterns or candles. And now I understand why it was suggested that we bring along a torch. Bliss.

In this very house lived Koos van Taak in the 1920s, perched on the side of what was known as Driekop dam. His job was to regulate the water from here into other smaller dams, to provide this farm and others with water. The dam held water throughout the year. We stand looking over the dry sand infront of us, aghast. How could this have held water?

Brandkop, Nieuwoudtville
Photographs – Left: Lone quiver tree / Right: Quiver tree forest

In 1961 there was a flood that so filled the dam with silt, lifting its foundation by four metres, that it could no longer hold the same volume of water. Today it is only when the rain is significant that the dam holds water for only two days from the Hantam and the Koringuis rivers, after which it runs into the dam below known as the Wit Van (after Koos van Taak’s white panel-van).

This year hasn’t been a good year for rain. They’re in for a dry summer. But when it does rain significantly, Pieter and his farm hands have their work cut out for them as they regulate the water using flood gates. All of the dams on the farm are thus thoroughly irrigated.

Once the water is sucked up by the thirsty earth, they plant wheat in the same soil. No wonder I thought it was a field of wheat. There is a whole history in the file Elizna has compiled outlining how Driekop dam was originally built using donkeys and mules. It makes for interesting reading and gives one a real appreciation of where one is.

I watch my son run up and down the hill right next to the house. The one that gives the accommodation its name – Brandkop – as it looks like a little burnt kopjie. It is exhausting to watch him. I make a pot of tea on the gas stove. I could get used to this.

Brandkop photographs
Photographs – Left: Brankop / Right: Quiver trees

In the distance at the far end of the wheat field/dam a few sheep appear, and if I strain my eyes I think I see Sarel, the Anatolian shepherd dog. But I’ve got my facts a little wrong. Sarel looks after the farm’s flock of Boer goats. He’s been with them since the age of nine weeks and he’s an Anatolian Shepherd dog, a guardian breed originally from Turkey. Farmers are returning to this age old way of looking after their flocks.

A new day. An entire quiver forest to explore. Literally visible from the farm, if you know where to look. The quiver tree forest is the largest and southernmost colony of Aloe dichotoma, just 25 kim north of Nieuwoudtville. Some of these trees are over 250 years old. The name is derived from the branches of the tree, used for quivers by the San. But it isn’t visible from the road, and there is only a wee sign to indicate it at all, so keep your eyes peeled for Gannabos.

The forest is along a farm sand road. My first thought is that they’re so brown. I was expecting something more, well, electrifying, I suppose. The word ‘forest’ by its very nature seems to indicate a lot of trees, close together.

The quiver trees stand apart, their succulent bodies are pretty remarkable. The trees will grow anywhere it seems – even on the edge of the ridges overlooking the parking area for the forest. And up close, they are impressive – golden, brown against the blue of the sky – and a sharp reminder of how these gorgeous aloes are threatened by climate change – they’re not only diminishing in numbers but they’re slowly in evidence further south.

These beautiful trees have added so much to our day. The evening sees us preparing boerewors made on the farm – it’s the best I’ve ever had.

Brandkop photographs
Photographs – Left: Unusual quiver tree / Right: Space

More about Brandkop

  • every Easter the farm hosts the Hantam-Kloof bazaar, a traditional country experience that includes 12 neighbouring farming families
  • between November and May, the geese on the farm are plucked every six weeks for their down by the women of the farm (it takes up to 30 mins to pluck a goose), which is used to make duvets – every guest on the farm will experience the pleasure
  • the rather derelict buildings close to Pieter and Elizna’s farmhouse are the original town that used to include a school. It doesn’t belong to their farm, although they hope that whoever buys it will restore the old buildings

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Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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