Cape Town - The baby alpacas, heads laid out flat on the soft sand, knew they were cute. They glanced sideways out of eyes framed by impossibly long, thick lashes, to check the effect they were having… and it was considerable.
“Great family fun” is the motto of Wilgewandel Holiday Farm and restaurant, tucked away in the Swartberg Mountains on the road between Oudtshoorn and the Cango Caves.
It has a zipline, foefie slide, pedal cars on the dam, miniature golf (referred to as gwarra-gwarra) and an animal farm with fluffy rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, goats, sheep, geese, peacocks, and those endearing alpacas.
Peet Vermaak, the general manager of Wilgewandel for 13 years, said owners George and Linda Muller opened a coffee shop on the site in 1998.
Along with their son, Pienaar, and his wife, Debbie, they began to introduce a new activity each year. Two camels from Namibia proved popular rides; so four more joined the fold. Next came rowboats to paddle on the dam.
A Waterpark opened last year.
The coffee shop burgeoned into a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the dam, with tables located under spreading, shady vines.
Many visitors to the caves stop off here, and it seems to be a traditional family outing for the locals. Sunday lunches are especially popular. Ostrich and traditional dishes such as bobotie and home-made chicken pie are specialities.
“As we’re on the world’s longest wine route, Route 62, we also offer free wine tasting,” said Vermaak.
“During one function at Wilgewandel, we were having such a good time we almost forgot to go home,” said a local.
For those reluctant to hit the road, there is also limited en-suite accommodation at Wilgewandel, with adjoining kitchenette and braai facilities. Some of these rooms were once part of the original homestead built in 1881; others were part of a farm shop (operated between 1895 and 1910).
The homestead also once had a well-stocked library. Apparently one of the original editions of Arabian Nights was among the collection, but nobody knows what happened to these priceless books.
During the Anglo-Boer War, General Gideon Scheepers came to the farm with his commando, en route to meet General Jan Smuts in Die Hel, across the mountains.
“They wanted to visit the Cango Caves, but first called on local farmers, asking if they would join the commando. When no one was forthcoming, they raided the farm shop,” said Vermaak.
Telling some of the history, he mentioned that the first manager of the caves, had run them as part of the Oudtshoorn Municipality.
The first guide to the mysterious caves, Johnnie Wasenaar, who also lived on the farm where Wilgewandel is now established, discovered the deeper chambers which now form part of the adventure section of the caves.
“So this farm was the cradle of the discovery of the caves. According to legend, Wasenaar told people he had gone 30 miles (48km) into the underground cave system, but nobody has ever found this,” said Vermaak.
Wilgewandel also runs leadership and management courses for schools, companies and churches.
“Much of it is based on Nelson Mandela’s leadership style,” said Vermaak. The courses range from a format of one-day to one-week programmes.