Category Archives: JBay, St Francis, Gamtoos

An unforgettable weekend at The Milkhouse, Hankey

Milkhouse Farmstyle Bar

The Milkhouse was the biggest surprise and delight of my trip to the Gamtoos Valley

 

The Milkhouse - old buildings

Was this where I would find the Milkhouse Bar? Fortunately a new sign drew me to the other side of the property.

Stepping out of the car in pouring rain, on a rather delapidated-looking farm, looking for the Milkhouse Farmstyle Bar, I wondered what I was letting myself in for.  I opened the door in what appeared to be a renovated part of the rambling complex and walked into the room rather tentatively… and what I found was the last thing I expected!

A young woman greeted me and said, “You must be from CapeInfo.  My mother said we should expect you.”  I was bowled over!

Milkhouse Farmstyle Bar

Soon the restaurant was full for a long weekend Sunday lunch, the rain forgotten and the roaring fire adding to the conviviality

I’d been in Jeffreys Bay which had been without electricity since during the night.  The rain had knocked something out and a whole area south of Uitenhage was without power, and should expect it back before late in the day or tomorrow.  So I decided I should find out about this Milkhouse Bar and Guesthouse in Hankey — not too far away — because I’d been really pestered to visit.

I’d met Carol Pearson while having supper at the Ripple Hill Hotel in Patensie a few nights before and she had been really, really insistent that I visit.  So I called — no reply — and sent an email.  And that’s when all cell reception went down too, so I decided to head off and take a chance.  Half way there, I almost turned around thinking this was crazy, but I kept going.

Wow, was I pleased I did!  Carol, husband Andre and daughter Amber are phenomenal hosts.  And Carol must have been sure that her persistence would work, and that I would visit.  I was invited for lunch and to stay the night in their guesthouse — a renovated house full of style and whimsy alongside the restaurant.

Attic at Milkhouse Guesthouse

The attic suite is superlative simplicity and style! There’s the elevated sleeping area, a huge living area (with two more beds) and the bathroom.

It was a long lunch and I learned how Andre & Carol had come about the property on the banks of the Klein River, just 3.5km outside Hankey.  They are from Port Elizabeth and had been looking for a country home.  A golf course was at the top of Andre’s requirements and Hankey Golf Club is rated as one of the best 9-hole courses in the country.  So they bought a house in the town but kept looking.

The Milkhouse was very run down when they bought it and what attracted them most was the garden — which defies description.  Huge trees, unbelievable variety… it is a place to explore for days and get lost in.

Milkhouse garden

The garden is a wonderland and, since Andre is a creative electrical engineer, it’s spectacular at night too.

Amber’s bold rescue
Hankey has had recorded floods in 1832, 1847, 1861, 1900, 1905, 1916, 1932, 1944, 1961, 1971, 1983 and 1996.  And 2015 was almost added to that list.  We were still sitting around the table late in the afternoon when someone said that the neighbours cows were tethered in the flood plain alongside the river.

Amber was up in a flash, determined to rescue them, and off she went.  I went to get my gumboots out the bakkie and found them filled with water!  So what’s wrong with wet socks?

Down at the river, we found a calf in danger of drowning and the three other cows were just helpless.  Amber was set on storming into the fast-moving current so I ripped up some irrigation pipe for her to hold on to, just in case.  I held on to the other end with one hand, and Beezus in the other — he would have disappeared in the water in no time.

The video clip alongside shows part of the rescue.  Extra help (and a sharp knife) arrived and all four animals were saved.  Well done Amber!

 

The next day, Andre and Carol took me on a drive to see some of the sights around Hankey.

Hankey scenic view from alongside te Sarah Baartman grave site

View from the hilltop alongside the Sarah Baartman grave site across the orchards to the mountains which make the Valley so special

I wrote about the Sarah Baartman grave site and memorial (which is under construction) in another post — click here.  The same hill top provides an excellent view of Hankey’s sundial –the largest in South Africa with a diameter of 34.6m. The gnomon (the part that casts the shadow) is 18m high and weighs one ton. Its is Hankey’s 160-years Founders’ monument.  Andre tested its accuracy and it seemed spot on.

Hankey's sundial -- the largest in South Africa

Hankey’s sundial — the largest in South Africa

They tried to take me to InniKloof at the top of the Klein River Road, but crossing the river looked too dicey.  And thank goodness we didn’t try  — had we crossed, we would probably got stuck on the other side for the night.  It came down in flood again 30 minutes later.  But the scenery we saw en route was breathtaking.

Hankey - a very, very beautiful part of the world

Hankey – a very, very beautiful part of the world

 

This is South Africa’s Surf City!

World-renown Supertubes

World-renown Super Tubes

Etienne Venter

If you’re not a surfer, it takes someone like Etienne Venter to explain what it’s all about

I never realised what it was that set Jeffreys Bay apart from all other seaside destinations with waves for surfing.  The most over-the-top surfing photo I’ve seen comes from The Dungeons, round the corner from Hout Bay, for example.  Well… that’s not what most surfers will ever want to tackle.

So it took someone like Etienne Venter to explain to me what waves are all about… and why Jeffreys Bay is so special.  He runs the Jeffreys Bay Surf School and organises surfing holidays.

Jeffreys Bay is world renowned for its safe beaches and surfing waves, with many different surf breaks, each possessing its own magic. Surfing spots include Kitchen Window, Tubes, Super Tubes, Boneyards, Point and Albatross.  Jeffreys Bay offers a range of waves that caters for beginners to real aficionados.

Around that grew the surf culture — clothing shops synonymous with Jeffreys, surf shops where you can order customised surf boards, hand-crafted leather shoes and hand-crafted shell art.

And then there’s the weather — year round summer.  Temperatures are moderate all year round along the coast with rain scattered throughout the year.  Water sports are practised throughout the year.

And that’s what built the Jeffreys Bay brand, internationally.

Jeffreys Bay surf culture

The southern end of town is where you’ll find a thriving surf retail culture… mementos to take home.

While Cape St Francis may have captured international fame as a surfing mecca before Jeffreys Bay did — in the 1967 cult classic Endless Summer — it is Jeffreys Bay that is now synonymous with surfing.  (Click that link for two video clips that show exactly what perfect waves actually are all about.)

You can't dine any closer to the sea than this! Walskipper Restaurant is a quirtky and delightful experience.

Walskipper Restaurant — you can’t dine any closer to the sea than this.  It’s a quirky and delightful experience.

Jeffreys Bay dining

There are pockets of interest all over the town, more than enough to keep any tourist happy.

Sunrises & sunsets at Jeffreys Bay

Early morning on the banks of the Seekoei River. Sunrise and sunset promises something special most days.

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Jeffreys Bay lies largely between the Kabeljous and Seekoei Rivers, each with their own nature reserve.

The Kabeljous Nature Reserve is popular for walking, horseriding and for anglers, with a diverse range of fish. The Kabeljous estuary is one of the best preserved estuaries in the Eastern Cape. The lagoon is home to waterfowl, herons, and a variety of waders.

Kabeljous estuary

Putting one’s head down takes on a different meaning!

The Seekoei River Nature Reserve lies between Aston Bay and Paradise Beach, on the estuary formed by the Seekoei and Swart rivers. The reserve is rich in birdlife with over 120 species of birds.

The town is one of the fastest-growing in South Africa, popular as a tourist destination and for retirement homes.  It falls under the Kouga Municipality which also includes St Francis and Humansdorp to the west, and Hankey & Patensie to the north in the Gamtoos Valley.

Is the Municipality up to the task?  I don’t think so.  A previous story relates the appalling roads in St Francis.  In Jeffreys Bay I encountered three things in my short stay there:

The first was the municipal library right on the beachfront.  Apparently the very active angling club was kicked out of the premises by the municipality to make way for the library.  That doesn’t seem an inspired decision at all.

Jolly Dolphin

A small section of the huge Jolly Dolphin upstairs – does it comply with safety regulations? Is the municipality up to it’s job?

The town centre seems assured — unless there are intelligent interventions which seems beyond the capability of the Municipality and Province — of sliding more and more downmarket.  The new Fountains Mall outside the town has drawn business away from the town centre’s second mall, just as it did to the first mall.  And a new mega-mall just 7okm away outside Port Elizabeth is likely to continue that trend.

And then something really puzzled me enough to walk around it twice — the complex housing the Jolly Dolphin in a prime beachfront spot.  Most shops on the beachfront side were empty, and broken vehicles and a ramshackle caravan were parked in the mall.  And the Jolly Dolphin — a major pub, party, live entertainment venue of the first floor — which is apparently packed to the seams during holidays, doesn’t seem to have any fire escapes.  Now the Municipality will probably blame the owners and developers of the property, but it points to criminal incompetence and oversight at the Municipality.

Does the Municipality take tourism seriously?  Jeffreys Bay Tourism receives R4000 a month in Municipal funding.  The mayor’s entertainment budget is probably more than that!

Hopefully Kouga’s mayor and council will be history after next year’s municipal elections.  The town can achieve much, much more.

Jeffreys Bay

Life’s a beach

 

 

The Perfect Wave… the Endless Summer

And just in case, like me, you don’t know what perfect waves should look like, here are two video clips with examples.

“The Cape St. Francis sequence in Endless Summer is surf movie-making’s holy grail.  This 1963 movie became a cult classic.

And a more recent clip from Cape St Francis…

More than 50 years after Bruce Brown, Robert August and Mike Hynson rolled into town on their Endless Summer world odyssey, Sebastian Williams catches a rare November swell, surfing the famous Bruce’s Beauties tubes at Cape St Francis with panache seldom seen in a fourteen year old.

“The most favourable part of the Union”

Patensie in the Gamtoos Valley

The Gamtoos Valley is seriously citrus in a uniquely African landscape | Photo: Gamtoos Tourism

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It was in 1910 that the Cape Director of Irrigation, FE Kanthack, visited the valley and called it “the most favourable part of the Union.”  The Gamtoos Valley is known for its rich, fertile soils, its fresh water and its agricultural bounty.  It is a conservative farming area — agritourism hasn’t moved centrestage and the Valley hasn’t embraced tourism fully yet — that is focused on farming: citrus and vegetables.

It is the eastern gateway to the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site but hasn’t seen as much benefit from that as has Willowmore on the western side, which has made a concerted effort to clean up the town and encourage tourism offerings.  But then, Willowmore has a DA-run municipality.

Gamtoos Valley’s two main towns, Hankey and Patensie, are still basic farming towns with little attention to environmental quality.  Patensie does, however, have two tourist stops at Tolbos Country Shop & Restaurant on the eastern end and Padlangs Restaurant on the western outskirts of the town.  Both get the tourist experience spot on.  Patensie’s Ripple Hill Hotel is a typical country town hotel where the bar is where to go if you want to meet locals.  But the biggest suprise in the Valley was The Milkhouse Farmhouse Bar and Guesthouse just outside Hankey — read about our visit there.

Gamtoos valley

View from the western side of Gamtoos Valley towards the east.

The road to the Kouga Dam & Baviaanskloof

The road to the Kouga Dam & Baviaanskloof from Patensie… but take a closer look at that outcrop…

Gamtoos Valley rock outcrop known as Queen Victoria

The outcrop is known as “Queen Victoria” and if you look closely, you’ll see why.  It is an outcrop of Eton Conglomerate formed by alluvial deposits.

If you’re not into farming, the main attraction will be the scenery, which is breathtaking — both the views across the orchards and the backdrop of the mountains.

I explored the Klein River Road north from Hankey; east on the R331 to Patensie 12km away, and on to Kouga Dam and Baviaanskloof, which is particularly dramatic and full of surprises.  Like this rock outcrop which someone identified as having Queen Victoria’s profile.

Kobus Kok

Kobus Kok

Had I driven this alone, I would have just passed it by, but I had Kobus Kok of Tia Ghee Gwarri Safari as my tour guide.  He knows the area very well — its history, the farms and farmers — and provides deep insights.  He took me off the beaten track en route to the Kouga Dam and the Baviaanskloof Interpretive Centre.  (Read more on the scandal of that Centre here.)

Kouga Dam

Kouga Dam

Kouga Dam aerial view

Kouga Dam

Dam building must be one of the pinnacles of civil engineering, and Kouga Dam was an award-winning dam in 1970 for its double curvature wall.  I am fascinated by dams!

Also interesting is the fact the the wall incorporates two hydroelectric turbines which ceased operation many years ago “because they are not viable.”  Surely with Eskom’s woes today, they are more than viable and would be sufficient to power the whole Valley?

Visiting the Kouga Dam made me think of how the 1960s and 70s was the era of dam building and massive irrigation schemes around the country.  Valleys like Gamtoos and Robertson would be a pale shadow of what they are today without them.

Irrigation schemes have been part of the Valley’s history since settlements began.

Hankey, established at the confluence of the Gamtoos and Klein rivers in 1826, is Gamtoos Valley’s oldest town. It was named after the Rev. William Alers Hankey, the secretary of the London Missionary Society which founded the mission station there in 1822.

The first irrigation scheme on the Klein Rivier was completed in 1830.  Part of this irrigation scheme can still be seen today on the Hankey Golf Course.

Hankey’s second irrigation scheme on the Gamtoos River is now a provincial heritage site. A 228m tunnel was dug using pick and shovel and wheelbarrows. Construction was very slow — about 1 to 2 feet a day. It was started in April 1843 and completed 15 months later. It was in use from April 1845 to 1970 and was the very first ever tunnel scheme in SA.

The road to Baviaanskloof

The road to Baviaanskloof

Baviaanskloof

Baviaanskloof

And then on into the mountains… to Baviaanskloof, which will be another whole story on its own.

Gamtoos Valley is a fascinating area with some of the most dramatic scenery in South Africa.

It’s on the brink of entering tourism in a far bigger way.  There is so much potential here.  Hankey is only 73km from Port Elizabeth and 42km from Jeffreys Bay.  (Franschhoek, by comparison, is 99km from Cape Town.)

 

 

 

 

Sunset from Nikalandershoek outside Patensie where I stayed.

Sunset from Nikalandershoek outside Patensie where I stayed.

 

 

A Bay, a Cape and a Port… St Francis

Beezus @ Cape St Francis

Back at the beach again — Beezus the beach boy at Cape St Francis

Seal Point Lighthouse

Like a rocket ready to launch… but it’s maintenance underway. The Seal Point lighthouse is the tallest masonry lighthouse in South Africa at 27.75m high. It was originally equipped with a three-wick burner producing 15,000 candlepower which was lit for the first time in 1878. Today’s light produces 2.75 million candlepower.

Endless beaches, a busy little port and canal-living make Cape St Francis one of the most desirable destinations on the SA coast.

Or almost… but I’ll get to that later.

When I heard that GT Ferreira (FirstRand Group, Tokara Wine Estate, etc.) has recently bought property there, it’s obvious one can’t question it as an investment destination.

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As a destination for people who don’t know the area, it can be a little confusing because locals differentiate between Cape St Francis, Port St Francis and St Francis Bay.  It really needs a single and cohesive destination name — the tourism organisation uses just St Francis Tourism.

St Francis Bay is 105km from Port Elizabeth, 687km to Cape Town and 1144km to Johannesburg.

The entry to the town is across the Kromme River, which is accessible from the residential canals and is navigable upstream for 10km — providing an added amenity:  fishing, boating, paddling, kitesurfing, windsurfing and waterskiing, while jetskis have access to the ocean through the Kromme River Mouth.

St Francis Bay is the area’s business centre with two shopping centres, where one finds a really good SuperSpar.  There is a Pick n Pay at the big shopping centre just outside Jeffreys Bay 30km away.

You won’t be bored here.  Sports enthusiasts can enjoy over 50 different sporting codes, which includes a variety of water sports and two world-class golf courses.  And there are many tours and other activities to keep the whole family busy.

The SANCCOB Penguin Rehabilitation Centre is situated adjacent to the Seal Point Lighthouse on Cape St Francis and specializes in the rehabilitation of the African Penguin and other marine species.

St Francis Bay

St Francis Bay — architectural uniformity sets it apart from many other coastal resorts

Port St Francis

Port St Francis — a small working and residential harbour, home to the chokka boats

The Canals at St Francis Bay

The Canals at St Francis Bay

Canals at St Francis Bay

Exploring the canals at St Francis Bay with Brian Cunninham, an expert guide

I rarely take tours or go on organised trips, preferring to explore and discover things myself.  But I was pleased to have taken up Brian & Sandy’s invitation to go on a canal cruise on his big party boat.  Brian is on the committee that manages and maintains the canal system, so he has deep insight into everything that goes on.  I heard about the fire that tore through the area in November 2012, gutting 76 homes.  I heard about Carte Blanche’s Derek Watts staying at their guest house and asking to borrow a boat for an early morning ride.  He came back enthused by the friendliness of the locals — they all waved as he rode past.  Until he discovered the area is a no-wake zone and his speed would have got locals extremely animated!

Beezus & I stayed in a 4-bedroom villa at Cape St Francis Resort

Beezus & I stayed in a 4-bedroom Beach Break Villa at Cape St Francis Resort

Cape St Francis Resort

Cape St Francis Resort has villas, cottages, apartments and superior backpackers accommodation.

Cape St Francis Resort has been in CapeInfo’s directory for some while… but it exceeded all expectations when I finally got to visit!

We stayed in one of the Beach Break Villas less than 100 metres from the beach… kilometres of it.  Now this is easily where I could spend my holidays!

I had dinner the evening I was in Cape St Francis at Christy’s Catch — a huge place that must pump during the holiday season.  At the back there’s a pub and disco, and a venue where live bands perform.

But the linefish I ordered — Geelbek — was the freshest and best I’ve enjoyed for a long, long time.

At Port St Francis, I also learned about Chokka (squid) — or black gold  — which is the main commercial fishing activity.  Unfortunately, the South African version is far tougher than from elsewhere but said to be more tasty… maybe because you chew longer?

Christys Catch

The best fresh fish in a long, long time at Christys Catch

And, so what holds the St Francis area back from becoming a really great destination?

A lousy municipality.  Especially around Port St Francis, the roads are so bad that some investors have had second thoughts and invested elesewhere.  At a meeting with the tourism head at Kouga Municipality, Carleen Arends, she acknowledged the problem and said she had told her bosses that she would rather give up her budget for a year if only the roads could be fixed.  Well, hopefully the mayor and municipal manager will be history after next year’s municipal elections.

There’s a local story (which I also heard in Hazview, Mpumalanga a few years ago) that if you see a person driving in a straight line, they are either drunk or new to the area.  Because locals all know that they have to drive like a drunkard to avoid the potholes if they want their cars to last.

Click here for more on the town.  If you plan on visiting, click here to read about the whole area, which includes Jeffreys Bay as well as Hankey and Patensie in the Gamtoos Valley.