Tag Archives: Gamtoos Valley

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

 

“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.