Suurbraak is a rather unprepossessing village at first glance. You can easily pass through it on a rainy day, as we did, and dismiss it as yet another former mission station without much going for it. Wikipedia gives little other information than its GPS coordinates. But arrive here on a weekend when the sun is shining, the road dry, horses gently munching grass in various back yards, and you might want to drive a little slower.
Suurbraak is at the foot of the challenging Tradouw Pass. The town is 19 kilometres east of Swellendam where it rests in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains, en route to Barrydale, or Heidelberg, depending on which route you take.
It’s also known as Xairu, a word from the ancient San language meaning ‘paradise’ or ‘beautiful’; it isn’t difficult to imagine why. The streets are lined with quaint, long-suffering cottages, the views of the sweeping Langeberg quite exceptional. Donkey carts and horses are the main form of transport, and, whilst the town has no obvious tourist attractions, dig a little deeper and there is plenty to capture the imagination.
Photographs — Left: Organic paradise / Right: Paradise Organic
Village and mountain hikes, Cape Dutch architecture, ancient burial grounds, a local bakery, some rustic and modern accommodation options, local traditional crafts that include the production of furniture (Suurbraak Skrynwerkers hand make incredible ‘Van Gogh’ chairs, called such after the artist’s painting entitled Vincent’s Chair), PL Botha’s Xairu Rustic Garden furniture (made from alien vegetation), sundried bricks, and traditional farming methods where horse drawn ploughs till the soil – all this makes a stop here more than worthwhile.
Greg Gill runs Paradise Organic on the main road and greets us like old friends. He’s enthusiastic about his restaurant – well known to those who pass through here for its excellent and reasonably priced food – and Suurbraak, and has great hopes about helping the village convert itself into an organic vegetable garden town.
The dream is that locals produce organic produce as a major form of income. Some of them are already doing so, although there is a resistance to the idea that correlates growing produce with going backwards.
Suurbraak residents are beginning to feel the effects of the slowing economy, however. Where they used to find employment with the local Ashton Koo factory, this is drying up as the factory looks for cheaper employment options elsewhere. Greg reckons this could work in their favour.
Photographs — Centre: Suurbraak village
He points up the Buffeljags River, which lightly trips along the bottom of his property. “Everything on this side of the main road”, he explains, “has access to the stream. And the properties down on the river are big, so community agriculture is an obvious choice for locals”. His restaurant already benefits from locally grown produce, but it’s about changing perception and getting people to work together.
Heather Swart, the tourism office’s information office manager agrees. She is already working with Greg and the local churches – there are nine of them in this tiny village – to try and put Suurbraak on the map. “But it will take time”, she says. She’s a rather determined lady, so I’m prepared to wager a breakfast at Greg’s she manages.
There is already a Farmers’ market on a Saturday mornings in the village square where villagers and visitors can buy organic vegetables, fruit and crafts like jams, eggs, milk and honey – people here live close to the land and every household owns at least a cow and a horse.
We pop over to Xairu Rustic Garden furniture. Things are quiet. The furniture a bargain by anyone’s standards. I pop my head inside. P L Botha’s roof is missing in places, but he’s carefully restored other bits and has a ladder up to the missing second floor where he obviously communes with nature on hot days. His desk stands neatly in one room, his art in another. He isn’t in, nor is he outback. It’s a mystery. I like it that way; a village that isn’t yet buttonholed.
Photographs — Left: Picture perfect / Right: Xairu Rustic Garden Furniture
When in Suurbraak:
- Stop off at the pretty thatched tourism office in the town square
- Visit Paradise Organic for breakfast, tea and lunch and to buy local art
- Pick up a loaf of bread or pastries at die Ou Wawiel Bakery on Rossouw Plain, next door to the tourism office
- Hire a community guide for a village or mountain walk
- Watch the Suurbraak Skynwerkers at work on chairs made from canary pine and woven grass seats using the old bodging method – they enjoy visitors
- Visit Xairu Crafts for jams, chutneys and hand crafted items like grass brooms and painted tiles
- Stroll through the village
- Include Xairu Rustic Garden Furniture and pick up a bench for the back door
- Stay awhile
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