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Pastoral Port Elizabeth

Words by Claire Fulton. Article from Country Life Magazine June 2015.

Country Life
CLAIRE FULTON treats herself to a day out of town, one that starts with a farm breakfast under Lady’s Slipper Mountain. It ends with the best venison pies and a jug of fresh honey, but there’s plenty in between.

Country lifeWith a Monarch butterfly flying jaggedly past my windscreen on the breath of a crisp day, I could not have picked a finer morning for a country drive from Port Elizabeth. It is said that the best memories come from some old dirt road so I am headed out on the N2, for breakfast at Falcon Rock Country Restaurant tucked under Lady’s Slipper Mountain – some 30km west of Port Elizabeth.

I swing off at the Van Stadens/Uitenhage turn-off, right under the freeway and then follow the signs to Falcon Rock. It’s a boma-style recreation of a typical outpost patronised by wagons in the 1800s on their journey from Cape Town, through Van Staden’s Gorge to the big- game hunting fields of old Africa.

The distinctive, upside-down, lady’s shoe rock formation here was used as a landmark to guide the wagoners to the pass, the watering spots and the suitable outspan sites. But today it guides me to my coffee.

Country lifeNothing spells ‘country’ more than a doe-eyed cow or a cocky rooster with hens and, sure enough, my companion and I are greeted at the rustic establishment by a shiny-plumed cockerel and his brood. Owners Genie and Rolf Huttenrauch join us for an English breakfast at the indoor restaurant from where we can admire the dappled light of the garden under old sweet thorn trees.

Rolf, a former gunsmith from Germany, is president of the Historical Firearm Association of South Africa and boasts a private collection that includes an 1848 Monkey Tail rifle (which uses a paper combustible cartridge) favoured by the Boers and an 1872 British Snider-Enfield breech loading rifle.

After breakfast he demonstrates a replica of a .44 cap and ball black- powder revolver at his private shooting range. It fires with a delicious Wild West bang and a puff of white smoke shot with orange sparks. He also fires a .54 cap and ball calibre rifle at targets set at 75m and 125m ranges. The Black Powder Boys meet here twice a month, he says, to indulge their Redcoat, Confederate soldier, cowboy or South African frontiersman fantasies.

After visiting his saloon, we join Falcon Rock manager, Gary Gradwell, for a tour of his developing Health and Wellness Fair facilities, with its meditation area and spiritual labyrinth. It forms part of Falcon Rock farm, at the foothills of the protea and watsonia- laced Lady’s Slipper Nature Reserve in the Witteklip Mountains. The farm is surprisingly busy with rock climbers training on rock faces, paragliders lifting colourful wings in the fields and Mountain Club of South Africa search and rescue volunteers training for a helicopter- assisted mountain rescue.

Country lifeWith the sun high we drive back to the N2 and, in two shakes of a sheep’s tail, are at the 707 off-ramp at the Crossways/Thornhill turn-off, where we swing right over the bridge to the Crossways Farm Village on the western slopes of Van Staden’s River Gorge. This futuristic village concept is a first for South Africa, combining country-style living with modem technologies on a working dairy farm with a self-sustaining village. Its tangerine-and-white, life-size cut-outs of cows are visible from the N2 and are an effective marketing tool.

We head for the stone-clad Crossways Country Kitchen where Trevor and Mika Steyn have garnered favour for their simple but varied country dishes. Trevor is a chef and Mika a permaculturist who grows almost all their ingredients. (Her business cards are embedded with basil and rocket seeds.)

Country lifeThe lunch menu offers garden salads, artisan breads, beef frikkadels, fishcakes, gourmet burgers, pork belly and vegetarian dishes. We dine on beef frikkadels baked in homemade tomato sauce, and decadent chocolate-mousse cake, with the sunny day spilling into the open-plan restaurant. I try not to go hog wild at the bakery and we drive around the village before heading back to Falcon Rock to summit the Lady’s Slipper Mountain.

A small permit fee of R20 is required to enter Lady Slipper Mountain Reserve, which can be paid at Falcon Rock or at the neighbouring Highbrae Camp & Climb. We ascend the path, shaded by tall fynbos, and break out at a quartzite outcrop before the climb takes on a steep gradient and curves west around a rocky shoulder. It takes roughly one hour to summit.

Like the lyrics from John Denver’s song Country Road, the vista is ‘almost heaven’ with a ‘blue ridge mountain’. A hazy, coastal view stretches from Port Elizabeth to Cape St Francis with the Groot Winterhoek range edging the skyline to the north.

Country lifeHere we stumble on Port Elizabeth artist Paul Munro who is armed with binoculars and field guides, researching botanical structures for art references. A prolific landscape and seascape artist, Paul is living his adage that ‘to paint a mountain, you first have to climb it’. He tells us he has been researching the rhythmic forms of local landscapes for 30 years, hiking, camping, documenting and occasionally being chased away by farmers. We shake hands and trudge back down the slope, slow like molasses, content from the food and exercise.

Cruising the N2 eastwards, my wheels hum melodies on the tar. We take the Seaview/Greenbushes off-ramp and drive south to the Elephant Walk Farm Shoppe at Cow’s Corner to purchase stone-ground rye bread and venison pies. On our way again, we turn east into Kragga Kamma Road and draw onto the grassy verge of 2nd Time Around antique shop.

The sprawl of bygone paraphernalia gives an immediate sense of childhood delights and musty Victorian and Afrikaner memories. There are always cats at this shop, curled up on a Victorian parlour chair or squashed into an open teak drawer. They are part of the charm and are owner Amanda Fourie’s much- loved ‘babies’ who just happen to keep the rats away.

Country lifeWe peruse the feather boas, vintage pearls and aged silverware and reminisce about our grandparents mincing their own meat and stuffing sausages while warming their irons on a Union coal stove. Outside there’s a double-decker bus, a fire grate and farm implements. I once saw a complete wood-panelled South African Railways ticket cubicle here.

“I’ve been selling antiques, bric-a-brac and retro decor for 19 years,” says Amanda. “I think one of my most exciting finds was an old kist in Uitenhage. It stood on legs that I planned to remove until I found out it was a genuine bakkis [baker’s trough] from the 1840s. In my yard I have Port Elizabeth’s first double-decker bus that drove one million miles. It still shows the date in 1979 when it took its last ride. I buy all things old except men,” she jokes.

Country lifeFurther down Kragga Kamma we stop at Menno Airing’s Honeycombe Farm, brandishing a container for decanted honey. Menno’s Apiaries supplies honey and bee-keeping equipment, offers pollination services and removes problem hives.

His daughter Mia leads us to a sunny field of hives that emit a steady hum, and back at the farmhouse we collect our fresh honey. A golden end to a pastoral day.

Handy Contacts
Falcon Rock Country Restaurant

041 956 0151 or 083 327 3456

Website

Historical Firearm Association

082 478 5777

Crossways Country Kitchen

042 286 0678 or 083 323 0279

Website

Lady’s Slipper Reserve Permits

Falcon Rock 083 327 3456

Highbrae Camp & Climb 041 956 0036 or 082 788 4934

Health & Wellness Fair

041 956 0151 or 083 327 3456

Elephant Walk Farm Shoppe

041 372 1270 (restaurant) or 041 372 1470

Website
2nd Time Around

082 254 8833 or 041 372 1763

Honeycombe Farm

082 550 1646 or 041 367 3100

Website  

More info on the city of Port Elizabeth More info on the Eastern Cape area

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