Where the Duiwenhoks River meets the sea is a cliffside hideaway known as Puntjie. It stands to the east of the river mouth atop eroded sandstone cliffs, known only to those who stay here.
During sultry summer days it is a piece of heaven, the long stretch of deserted beach a haven for walking, the cliffs a gentle, idyllic space in which time stands still. Holidays here are exactly as they should be – far from everything, amongst friends.
It takes little to imagine the wind-driven rain that must whip these exposed cliffs during winter. At Puntjie three ocean currents meet – the Agulhas, the Mozambique and Benguela. As a result, winters produce sodden wet, grey days, and often the Duiwenhoks floods…
The Duiwenhoks (Duivenhoks) River runs south from Heidelberg, carving its way through fynbos-covered hills and the hamlet of Vermaaklikheid before dissolving in an estuary as it heads into St Sebastian Bay between Stilbaai and Witsand.
You won’t find it on a map.
Puntjie, like Vermaaklikheid, is not on travel brochures or tourist routes. Finding it isn’t straight forward either. The only gravel road to Puntjie winds through the two hundred year old Vermaaklikheid from the N2 just past Heidelberg and south to the mouth of the Duiwenhoks.
You know you’ve arrived when you see the signboard indicating Puntjie that prohibites trespassers; Puntjie is only for those who holiday here.
From the gate you can just make out the rows of kapstylhuis thatched cottages. The only way in is if you know someone who stays here. But the residents are a friendly bunch, if Nico and Dalene Leipoldt are anything to go by.
We fortuitously meet Nico at the Kontrei Winkel and Post Office in Vermaaklikheid where he comes to buy wood.
Without his invitation to visit Puntjie it is unlikely we would have seen it at all. He, his son and his wife are the only people holidaying there (they live just outside Wellington) when we visit, it being a Tuesday.
Puntjie is slightly different from most holiday resorts. To have a house here, you need to have had a history in the area. Usually you, or your family’s ancestors, farmed in and around Vermaaklikheid and Brakfontein. The house remains in the family for decades. Consequently there is a long waiting list.
Those who holiday here today have done so for years; everyone knows everyone else. Should a family gives up their home, someone on the list gets a turn.
Dalene used to be a De Necker. On the back of the bedroom door that divides the unusual one-roomed, thatch dwelling into two she has pinned numerous black and white photographs.
They are typical poses from the ’40s and ’50s of family members on a beachside holiday, except that these include the family’s boat, in which they would row all they needed down the Duiwenhoks River to stay at Puntjie. She points out her grandfather, who it turns out owned the very farm on which we are staying.
Back then he used to grow potatoes, and there were fruit trees and a cellar where you could store things below ground.
Now the same boat is contained in a wooden ‘museum’ at Puntjie. A relic from the past.
Dalene has been coming to the same little thatched cottage for 70 years. Many of the houses are rented by her cousins. Others by friends.
The cottages stand on a portion of the farm Kleinfontein. People who farmed and lived in Vermaaklikheid and Brakfontein were initially allowed to put up tents, and later to build houses here, renting them at a nominal annual cost (cheap holidays for hard-working farmers).
Each of them built a kapstylhuis and an accompanying cookhouse.
The land and houses are owned by the Molly Lazarus Trust that dictates the style of the houses be maintained even when new houses are built. Almost every dwelling is a kapstylhuis, typical of the Riversdale area, although very few are still in evidence like these at Puntjie. As a result, Puntjie is often called ‘an unintentional open-air museum’.
Kapstylhuisies (truss-style houses) have no walls (their walls are called ‘reed walls’) and the roof is built at ground level.
Indigenous wild olive or thorn tree saplings form the A-frame, thatched with reed to ground level (Vermaaklikheid is home to many skilled thatchers, so the roofs here are well maintained).
Eight or more pairs of poles meet at the top, spaced at regular intervals. They measure about 8 metres by 5 metres. The original floors (nowadays they are concrete) were an ant-heap that they smeared and then continually buffered with linseed oil or ox blood until it formed a smooth stone.
Similar, although not the same as, Hartbeeshuisies, very few Kapstylhuisies survive today.
The few around Oudtshoorn, Heidelberg and Riversdale are used as tobacco sheds or storage facilities. Only at Puntjie do they still serve as dwellings.
Nico gives us a full tour. He shows us how he heats his water in rubber buckets and large water bags, using the sun as energy for showers (there is no electricity at Puntjie; fridges and stoves are run on gas), and the little reed lapa he has built out of the wind where the family use the wood he has just bought to braai in the evenings.
We head down onto the wild, beautiful and desolate beach below, whilst Nico tells us how he walks miles every day, combing the beach or up along the cliffs on the coastline.
For him this type of holiday, away from all modern comforts, re-connects him with nature; with himself. You get a real sense that he values this above everything.
As we walk around I realise why the waiting list is as long as it is. The peace and tranquillity here is deafening. The respect for history and the lack of development has maintained a lifestyle that many holiday resorts boast, but few attain.
To get there: Take the gravel road through Vermaaklikheid and continue on, ignoring the road off to Blombos. Park at the gate. Someone may invite you in.
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