There’s nothing better for an authentic country escape than getting out of the city and onto a farm.
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1. Eastern Cape, Wheatlands Country House, Graaff-Reinet
During the feather boomtime of the early 1900s, Karoo farmer Arthur Tucker Parkes built his beloved wife Lily a gracious new home. It was an ostrich palace in every sense of the word, well-appointed with spacious rooms, stained-glass windows, pressed ceilings and wood-panelled walls, a piano and a drawing room.
This has now become the guest accommodation at Wheatlands farm, about 50 kilometres south of Graaff-Reinet. Some rooms are en suite, others share a bathroom. The furnishings make you feel as if you are staying in your posh aunt’s comfortable home. The food is home-made and delicious. Wheatlands is still farmed by the same family, now in its eighth generation.
These days, though, it is more about sheep and Angora goats than ostriches. But this remains one of the Karoo’s most notable farms, not least for the locally famous Harefield cricket club on its land and its colourful history as a brandy farm.
Words Julienne du Toit
2. Bo-Karoo, New Holme Farm, Hanover
What’s unusual about New Holme Farm near Hanover in the Bo-Karoo is that its stretch of the Seekoei River today harbours a small pod of hippos, reintroduced in 2006 after two and a half centuries of local extinction.
Farm owner PC Ferreira has conservation on his mind and, indeed, breeding initiatives are all over the farm. Here is a trio of barrel-horned sable; over there are Livingstone’s eland; soon black-faced impala will bound across this part of the Karoo. We stayed in Stoffelsrus, a charming two-bedroom, self-catering log cabin, but you could choose neighbouring Mieliefontein Guest Lodge (also in the family), or Wolmade, a five-bedroom, self-catering farmhouse.
We loved sitting quietly on our deck surrounded by ropy-trunked poplars and twittering birdsong (birdwatching is a treat, with 205 species recorded). A highlight was an informative walk to Bushman engravings. Mountain biking, horse trails and evening hippo drives are all on offer, and the farm is a sought-after wedding venue.
Words Mariëlle Renssen
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3. Karoo, Melton Wold, Victoria West
As I trundled across the lawn towards the old Melton Wold reception, with bicycles lying on the lawn and a couple having tea on the veranda, I was overwhelmed by nostalgia.
Thoughts of 70s family holidays at Wild Coast hotels came to mind. Of dropping your cozzie where you left it (usually on the lawn or in the games room) and heading out to play. The cozzie would still be there, nothing would be stolen and the games were endless. I was reminded of meals in a communal dining-room, with jugs of juice, salads and milk tarts covered by a doily, and children at every table. Holiday bliss.
A large games room complements lawns and gardens that surround the tennis court, bowling green and trampoline, and there are walking and mountain-bike trails. Some 40 minutes west of Victoria West on the road to Loxton, this farm is the proverbial oasis. It’s half-way between Cape Town and Joburg or, as I see it, a destination in itself.
Words Angus Begg
4. Eastern Cape, Glen Avon, Somerset East
Just outside the Karoo town of Somerset East, a green and fertile sheep and Angora goat farm lies against the Boschberg mountain range.
Glen Avon was granted to soldier and farmer Robert Hart in 1825, in recognition for his help to the 1820 British Settlers. Since then, his descendants (the Harts and later the Brown family) have been farming this comparatively well-watered land with its mountain views, tree-lined lanes, paddocks, pecan nut trees, old oaks and spectacular waterfall.
Glen Avon has 260 recorded bird species thanks to its variety of habitats, along with flyfishing dams, a venerable mill, heritage rambles, mountain-biking trails and well-marked hikes. The Brown family offer bed and breakfast or self-catering accommodation, all of it perfect for families, groups or couples. One of the cottages (named after Robert Hart) is an original, thatched, wattle-and-daub building dating back to 1817. – Julienne du Toit
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5. Western Cape, Oakhurst Farm Cottages, Hoekwil
The Garden Route is renowned for its picture-perfect pastoral landscapes. Oakhurst Farm Cottages plays to this strength, with its rural spot at the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, offering enviable views across rolling pastures to the mountains beyond.
Set on the 640-hectare Oakhurst Farm, a working dairy farm run by the Crowther family (sixth-generation descendants of the original purchaser, Henry Dumbleton) – the cottages offer a quintessential farmstay. We stayed in a beautifully renovated old school building that features four double-room cottages where you can relax on comfy daybeds on the stoep and watch the cows come in for milking.
Think French farm style, complete with crisp white linen, lots of painted woodwork, and touches of grey and lavender. Further accommodation is provided in the 150-year-old The Forge stone cottage, and five original farm cottages with three rooms each. Oakhurst is family friendly, with tons for the kids to do, including the opportunity to watch the cows being milked at the dairy, forest walks, a giant tree swing, a play area, swimming in the farm reservoir, and 16km of marked, single-track MTB routes.
Fresh produce from the farm, like the complimentary bottles of creamy Jersey milk and homemade biscuits that welcome you to your cottage, as well as the option to have free-range eggs delivered for breakfast, complete this authentic experience.
Words Bronwyn Mulrooney
6. Western Cape, Black Oyster Catcher, Bredasdorp
In the Strandveld, between Elim and Bredasdorp on the R43, you’ll find the Black Oyster Catcher self-catering cottages.
It’s a great place to unwind and you’ll be spoilt for beverage choices, with both the wine on the farm and a brewery within walking distance. There’s also a great restaurant serving lunches daily (except Mondays) and if cooking isn’t your thing, you can order a platter which you can enjoy on your veranda.
There’s even a herb and veggie garden right in front of the cottages, should you want to add fresh flair to a salad. Each of the four semi-detached cottages have their own braai with wood supplied. If it’s chilly in winter, there’s a large indoor fireplace in each unit as well.
Each unit sleeps two. You can choose from king-size or two single beds in these units. All linen and towels, as well as free Wi-Fi is provided. If chilling on the veranda doesn’t inspire you, you can always go birding or explore the Agulhas Plain on your bike. I opted for a chilled glass of their wine while watching the cows in the field over the road.
Words Ann Gadd