Tell me you know where to find Aurora. Without resorting to Google maps. I live in the Western Cape and had never heard of the little dorp in the heart of the Sandveld, just inland from the West Coast town of Dwarskersbos, so I’m not anticipating that many of you will know where it is either. Then again, my geography has always been a little on the rusty side.
Dwarskersbos is as obscure, come to think of it. The little seaside village through which we drove has little to recommend it, other than a couple of unexciting quick-stop cafés, a new modern, white washed, cottage-style beach cottage development full of Pam Golding signs, and a complex called Slakkepas, where the units for hire are built in the shape of snails. Perhaps it was a novelty when they were built. Nonetheless, they do lie within walking distance of the beach.
From the farm on which we stay just outside Dwarskersbos, where porpoises and seals romp in the waves on our very own beach, onto which we fall every morning, coffee mugs in hand, from our back door that feeds directly onto the sand dunes, we were aware of a little mountain in the far distance known as Klein Tafelberg.
On day three of our beachside idyll, we discover its significance. “Oh, that’s on the way to Aurora,” one of the good samaritans helping us push start our car, pants. The car had decided that three days without action was tantamount to rejection and had refused to start. Dead as a doornail. In the middle of nowhere. Just then an eighty-year old tannie appeared over the dune (just like in the movies, only it wasn’t the Camel Man) in a big bakkie, with her daughter, and our lives were saved.
Tannie is the type of gung-ho lady who thinks nothing of getting down on her hands and knees, despite her age, to tie a rope onto our bumper somewhere. Neither is it beyond her to drag me behind her at a dizzying speed that almost has me sunk in a sand dune. Finally, with the car parked close enough to the gate of the farm so that the mechanic from Velddrif can spot us from the road, we realise that any exploring will have to wait yet another day, and traipse back to the beach cottage, content to spend the day collecting shells.
Aurora, when we finally get there a couple of days later, is a gorgeous little Sandveld village. Although little more than a church, a couple of shops, and a few blocks of cottages it has become popular with retirees and weekend visitors, with home prices to match. It is one of the towns of the Berg River region, situated just off the R399 between Velddrif and Piketberg.
We come at it from a slightly different angle, en route from a visit to the Rocherpan Nature Reserve on a dirt road. The first thing you notice, as with most little dorps in [link_sa]South Africa[/link_sa], is the church. It’s a particularly pretty rendition, and sitting comfortably beneath the branches of a tree on its periphery are a group of labourers chatting and watching the comings and goings of town. They wave. People are friendly in Aurora.
Aurora gets its name from the church, in a sense. It was named after the daughter of the first Dutch Reformed minister in the area, Ceylonia Aurora Ferreira. But it could just as easily have been named Aurora for its connection with the French astronomer-geodesist, Abbé Nicolas de le Caille who set up an observatory here to settle an argument between the French and the English about the real shape of the Earth, cataloging 10 000 stars in the process. His findings declared it pear shaped, a result with which no fault could be found until decades later.
By this stage, the late afternoon sun has us all parched. Handelshuis Aurora looks as good a place as any to find a cool drink. I’m taking photographs before the sun disappears of little cottages called Voorwaarts and the Laaste Stuiwer handelaar, where a blackboard tacked to the wall outside lists all those with ‘skuld’ – Hendrik Maarman, for instance, owes the shop R485.10, while Gammat is lagging behind at only R45.79.
And so I’m late getting into the shop where my friend Patty has already managed to corner the story of the town, in the shape of Pierre the rusk man. Aurora Homemade rusks may soon feature on the shelves of Checkers, but if not, they are available in almost every little town between Aurora and [link_cape_venues]Cape Town[/link_cape_venues], and Pierre is a very busy man, despite the tiny kitchen at the back of Handelshuis Aurora.
He has only been back from London, where he used to work on the tube lines when they were shut down in the early hours of the morning, for a short period. Already he is imbued by his rusk production, and points to the four or so ovens he has bought to dry his rusks. Others lie in partial bread-like state, and we sample karingmelk rusks prior to drying – hmmmm.
Pierre is determined to make a real go of his business. He is enthusiastic, knows a lot about rusks taught him by his mother, who started producing rusks on a small-scale in the kitchen before his return, and regales us with the ins and outs of rusk-making, whilst someone else mans the shop.
It is he who tells us about the only restaurant in town, run by Helmut Wokalek, the well-known restaurateur, who by all accounts came to visit Aurora, and never left. He used to run De Kelder in Stellenbosch, but from his guest house come restaurant and bar across the field from Handelshuis Aurora he serves German cuisine single-handedly to visitors. Pierre tells me people come out for the day from Bellville in Cape Town, his eisbeins are that good.
But when we do a drive-by, the only living thing to stir at the restaurant is the dog on the back stoep. But then it is the middle of the week, and late afternoon and most of the town are busy retiring for the day. It’s probably over the weekend that the place hums.
As we leave the sky is a sweeping vista of clouds and dying sun. It’s the Aurora Borealis of the Sandveld.