Up the hairpin bends of the Versveld Pass, a rural mountain community lives in the clouds above Piketberg. Up there the air is cool but the people of Piket-Bo-Berg are warm and hospitable
Words and Pictures: Keri Harvey
“A year ago we went out for lunch in the Koringberg, drank a few bottles of wine, met a viticulturalist, and somehow managed to buy three tons of grapes,” says Colin Tedder with an infectious giggle. “The next morning we woke up and had no idea what to do with the grapes. I quickly went on a garagiste wine course and then had to buy lots of equipment and build a coolroom. We made our first batch of wine in the carport.”
Now Colin and his life partner Pam have a waiting list for their Faraway Fields Shiraz, Mourvedre and dry white blend, because they make just six barrels a year. “And if the grapes are traumatised,” Colin says with a smile, “we make vinegar.” Pam adds that they also make mead – and that there are only two other producers in the country. “It’s the oldest alcohol known to man,” says Colin. “Even the Bushmen made it from wild honey. Mead is made on every continent, it’s just that nobody shares the recipe. Really it’s just honey, yeast, water and sulphur dioxide to kill the bugs.”
Whoever you meet on the mountain makes what they do sound effortless, and the relaxed, close-to-earth atmosphere here may have something to do with it. Here nobody seems to sweat the small stuff, and the extreme beauty of the place only adds to the tranquillity.
As you drive the Bo-Berg, some sections of mountainside are swathed in proteas and pincushions, other areas in fruit and nut trees. Oak trees form natural avenues along some sections and craggy rock formations adorn the hillsides, often resembling natural sculptures. So high is the Piket Bo-Berg on a clear day you can see Table Mountain, and Langebaan on the West Coast. Down below stretch fields of wheat, crispy dry and yellow in summer and velvety green in winter.
“The mountain is full of specialists, from engineering to IT,” says Henry Leslie, who runs Intaba, a company that makes delicious jams and preserves. Henry is a production engineer, and started this factory that employs locals to create a gourmet range for the luxury market. So passionate is Henry about his jams that he’s written a love story for each one – romantic tales of fruity marriages on the mountain top. For Henry, life here is sweet, quite literally since he often tastes up to ten jams before breakfast.
Overnighting at Kruistementvlei Farm is a lesson in clean and green. The Bryant family are about to go off the grid completely. Hot water pipes run through compost to warm the water, composting toilets are waterless and odourless, solar lights are standard and recycling is a way of life. And it’s all perfectly comfortable, something I can vouch for after staying in their rustic camp, where you can take a piping hot shower under a natural rock overhang.
Son Casey, who is finishing his final year of home-schooling by mom, Riette, explains that the farm is on a watercourse, “So it’s really important that we keep the water clean for other people down the line.” Riette also runs a library and place of safety for the community, as well as a bicycle project to help get the locals mobile. They pay for bicycle repairs with firewood, which is then used for the overnight tourist facilities on the farm.
On the last Saturday of each month, the Kruistementvlei Farmers Market is in full swing under the oak trees on the farm, when farmers and other industrious souls arrive to sell their fruit, flowers, almonds, honey, salt, olive oil, freshly baked bread and crafts. Intaba goodies are for sale and Colin and Pam are also there, doing a roaring trade in mead and vinegar. “The wine isn’t quite ready yet,” smiles Colin.
Renowned on the mountain, Nomsa is there too. Christened Anreeta Rall at birth, she was renamed by the staff on one of her many projects. “I’ve done community work all my life,” she says, “and I’m an honorary resident of the Richtersveld. I have a plot and a gravesite there, but I decided to retire here.” She rides to work every day on her “stunning Arab” called Billy. “It’s seven kilometres to work through the fruit orchards,” she says, “with my dog Zulu running alongside and darting between the trees. My horse supports my spirit.” Nomsa landed on the Piket-Bo-Berg in 2005, when she stayed overnight en route to Mozambique. “But I never left, so I didn’t get to Mozambique either.”
Renowned artist Anthea Delmotte is another Bo-Berger who found herself on the mountain a decade ago, quite unplanned. “Actually, I never plan anything,” she says, “I never even planned to be an artist.” Yet Anthea has been painting full-time for well over a decade and has an art gallery in Piketberg, at the foot of the mountain. Right now she’s hard at work on a collection for a solo exhibition. “Words frustrate me,” she says whimsically, with a distant look. “I speak through pictures and I live in my pictures. Up here is where I feel most creative and inspired. For me, everything about this mountain is like, like, like.”
Negotiating the Versveld Pass up and down the mountain takes attention. Massive fruit trucks regularly veer over the middle lines on hairpin bends, unable to make the tight turns, so watching the road far ahead is essential. “Rather meet them on a straight section,” warns Colin, “and always only drink your mead when you get home.” But the locals are used to the hairpins and switchbacks and, besides, when you reach the top, the tangled mountain pass is quickly forgotten.
- Faraway Fields 022 914 5061, www.piketbergtourism.co.za
- Kruistementvlei Farm accommodation and farmers market 022 914 5652, www.kruistementvlei.webs.com
- Intaba shop 022 914 5050, www.intaba.weebly.com
- Anthea Delmotte Gallery 073 281 7273
- Piketberg Tourism 022 913 2063, www.piketbergtourism.co.za