So.. after the excitement of my adventures in Robertson (part 2 to follow soon, as I know you are all dying to hear about Mildred the Goat) I decided to organise a similar event for Swellendam. With the support of Jessica who had organised the previous one, I embarked on territory unknown. And here is my report on the occasion, complete with mandatory disaster.
Journalists from a variety of media platforms were invited to see how Swellendam is gearing itself up for the brand new festival “The Big Bee” in August. There were representatives from: Get It Magazine, Travel Smart, Travel Ideas, Mango Juice In-Flight Magazine, News 24, Plaas Publishing, and Hello Pretty
Picked up in Cape Town, and arriving at Tredici, they were already bowled over by the sight of our town nestling under the peaks, the view so accessible from the many windows of the cleverly designed and very beautiful Tredici. Beautiful gift packages awaited them all from Tredici, Bukkenburg Pottery, and Rain, as well as comprehensive media packs personalised for each person. In these packs was their itinerary, as well as stories, photos, and articles about the Swellendam Republic , and vouchers kindly donated from many businesses in town, to incentivise return visits.
Next stop was to be a walk through the ‘Drostdy Quarter’, where they could freely wander and explore some of the historical buildings, retail outlets and restaurants. Somewhat panicked about time, their intrepid tour guide tried to rush them out of Tredici, twisted her ankle and landed (bottom first) in Tredici’s ornamental pond. The group was a bit slow to recognise the comedic possibilities of photos of the tour guide in the pond, for which said tour guide(me) will remain eternally grateful. The kind bus driver transported us to the D.Q. where we were met by Johan, the curator of the Drostdy Museum and Mimi, (both dressed in full regalia) and then took tour guide home to change, rapidly, before the bus front seat became completely waterlogged. Guide and group were reunited at Jaco’s Bee Things where we enjoyed looking at the bee products, honey, hives, gifts, smokers, and the bees who were too busy doing their thing to notice the curious invaders. Piling back into the bus we set off to visit Suurbraak and Barrydale. Half way along the Tradouw Pass, we met up with Jaco Wolfaard, bee-keeper extraordinaire and organiser of this year’s Beekeepers Conference in Swellendam. (August 8 – 10) Jaco had set a glorious table (flowers, beautiful crockery) with delicious Bran and Honey Muffins from PennantWing.
It was a delight to behold, as we stood in the warmth of the autumn sun overlooking the unbelievable views from the pass. Jaco then handed out beekeeper outfits and we plodded up the slope through the fynbos to where beekeepers were smoking the hives, so that we could see some of Jaco’s +/- 1,000,000 employees doing what they do best, making honey.
Wearing a beekeeper suit is a strange experience, you can’t get your hand to your face to push your hair out of your eyes, and taking photographs is definitely not easy (though sadly this tour guide was not in a position to try, camera now sitting at home recovering from its early morning dip.) I am pleased to report that no one, except Jaco himself, got stung .
Next stop was Joubert Tradauw on the R62, wine farm and deli, famous for its “Unplugged” range, where we treated to wine tasting with Meyer Joubert, and a beautiful lunch prepared by his wife Beate: Beate is famous for her use of organic and local produce, so we know that Bea’s Bee Platters at the Big Bee Festival will be something really, really special – the group were thrilled at the delicious lunch and the innovative Unplugged pouches with which they were presented.
Onto Barrydale, where the group were introduced to Shane Petzer from MagpieArt Collective, who showed them the fabulous work of the collective, and told them about the community projects and events that the Collective organise and host.
Thence to the Barrydale Karoo Hotel with which Charlene from Mango Juice In Flight Magazine was particularly taken, especially by its regular music events, and she was thrilled to be offered a free night’s stay if she should return. Most of the group fell in love with Barrydale, enjoying its authenticity and ‘small dorp feel’ along with a true sense of creativity and community. We spent a while at Little Samadhi Yoga Retreat , where the pervading peaceful, spiritual sense was somewhat shattered by one of the naughtier members of the group hiding all the shoes which we had been asked to discard before entering.
We had planned to take a sun-downer cruise on the double decker raft at Umshanti,Buffeljags Dam but as we negotiated the twisty Tradouw Pass to get back as quickly as possible, it was evident that the sun would be well downed by the time we got there. Nevertheless there was enough light for everyone to see what a fabulous spot this was, and for them to meet Kosie, who offered to take them up on a micro-light trip, as well as experience the fuffi slide on their next visit. Sundowners were offered anyway, and we drank them under the stars – it was a clear night and the stars were overwhelmingly beautiful.
The group dispersed to their various accommodation and when I met up with them later at De Vagebonde for dinner, a gentle fight broke out between them all as to who had been allotted the best guesthouse. ArumvaleCountry House, Braeside Guesthouse, A Hilltop Retreat and Gaikou Lodge had all (along with many other guesthouses in town) offered complimentary accommodation for this group, as part of their contribution towards marketing Swellendam. The media group could not believe the quality of service, ambience, standard — absolutely everything, they felt, was outstanding! What was gratifying to me was that I know that it will be easy to organise another media educational – with completely different accommodation – and still have the same compliments, so high is the standard throughout the area.
Many locals had turned out to enjoy the ‘gees’ at De Vagebonde, the place was buzzing, and local band Rewired entertained diners with a mellow set, followed by some rockier numbers. De Vagebonde have been making great plans for their Big Bee contribution so it was good that the group could see the foundations being laid for the Festival. Marelize Lategan’s heartfelt performance of Karen Zoid’s As Musiek Begin Speel had one of the journalists moved to tears! (in a good way!) Rewired’s bass player took delight in regaling the audience with tales of the tour guide’s synchronised swimming efforts of the morning (it’s a small town – news gets around fast).
A late night was followed by an early morning start as the group was picked up for a tour of Bontebok Park, with Peter Gratton, general manager of Swellendam Tourism, taking over guiding duties for a while. Again time got the better of us, as the group loved the park so much that even the thought of breakfast at the Old Gaol did not tempt them to be timeous. But that was before they had seen it. The stunning hand baked roosterkoeke, with cheese, biltong, and jam, followed by one of the best melktarts ever, had them in raptures. Moerkoffie was a new experience for this tour guide but it was one that seemed to create a real nostalgia in the group. There was an opportunity to show them the ox carts, the Seonae EcoOrganic shop and tell them about the monthly Under the Oaks Market. This space is going to be one of the “nodes” of the Big Bee, and you could see that the media group were really beginning to get a sense of how this new event is going to work.
Rain, who will be hosting a Health and Wellness Expo as a major event at the Big Bee, was our next stop. Once again, the group was knocked out by the fact that Swellendam, for all its apparent small town façade, is the home of Rain, which some of them had believed to be (I quote) “an International Faceless Corporation”. Well, we in Swellendam are lucky enough to have the face living in our midst – the lovely Bev Missing, an inspiration to all. The group had already received a wonderful gift package, and now were invited to have massages in the new Rain Forest Spa. After the hectic events of the last two days they were only too eager to lied down and be pampered, but evil tour guide had her eye on the clock and only two lucky members of the group were treated, and then they were all dragged kicking and screaming to the next stop.
Which was Rooiklip Nursery. Jaap Viljoen gave an extremely interesting talk about his nursery and the aloes therein – wow – what an array of strange and beautiful plants, all indigenous to South Africa, some rare and unexpected sights. Each member of the group was invited to choose a pet plant to take home with them. I, of course, had to choose the rudest looking one to amuse my husband, but sad to relate, left it in the bus at the end of the trip. I hope Shafiq, the driver, did not take offence when he discovered it!
We then popped into Moonshadow where, while the sun reflected on the sparkling décor, and we enjoyed the tranquility and peace that emanated from the garden square, we were treated to some amazing goodies – so delicious were they that it was hard to believe that they were vegan. The chocolate cake was one of the best I have ever tasted, and I have tasted many in my time! More gifts were presented, in one of the most unique ways – the local paper (LangebergBulletin) had been made into gift bags ( I am not quite sure of the technique, it was sort of varnished or laminated – but the end effect was great –) and I was especially thrilled that one of the media group received a bag where the main story featured on the bag was one I had written about the Big Bee.
WIldebraam Berry Estate had arranged a special tasting for them and as usual the taste buds were well and truly tickled by their range of preserves and liqueurs. Keeping in with the theme of the Big Bee, they were all presented with honey liqueurs, and then obediently lined up for a photo shoot with Cathy van Eeden from Swellendam TV.
There could not be a more beautiful spot for a photo- shoot than the grounds of the unique Wildebraam Berry Estate, who are busy planning their own festival for November – definitely not to be missed. You would have though that nothing could have topped all the amazing events, gifts and experiences that Swellendam and Barrydale had produced for our visitors. But the final event is the one that put the beautiful honey topping on the cake!
Koornlands restaurant opened their doors especially for the group and provided them with a special 5 course lunch, of which every course was dedicated to bees and bee products. This is the menu that Koornlands is preparing for the Big Bee Festival and the minute this appears on the Big Bee website, I urge you to book in advance – it was unbelievable! Mariana has just come back from the Middle East and there was evidence of this in the delicate spicing of the breads, and the beautifully balanced and conceived menu was incredible. And I am not just waxing lyrical because we were given a stunning honey cocktail at the beginning – it was truly a great experience.
Waving goodbye to the group I felt relief that, apart from the pond disaster, all had gone smoothly. But a more overwhelming sense than relief was the feeling that, despite all the hard work that had gone into the tour, I had been totally supported by the community of Swellendam, and that this was a job that had been worth doing. To hear comments such as “Swellendam Rocks …I’ll be back .. what an absolutely undiscovered treasure.. the people here are amazing!” . This is the beginning of a concerted campaign to market the Republic of Swellendam for what it truly is.
“A Republic of community, unity, love, art, music, good food, and beauty. A Republic in which people show that they care about one another and about the environment in which they live, that they treasure wildlife and nature. A Republic which encourages action, adventure, healthy living and fun!”
(extract from the announcement made in 2011, when Swellendam re-declared itself a Republic again after first having done so in 1795)
Majority of photos: Heleen Van As . Group photo: Cathy Van Eeden. Rewired photo; Werner Lategan. Thank you all.