Hippo hooray!

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iol travel oct 22 NT De Zeekoe1

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The log cabins on the banks of the dam. Picture supplied

Cape Town - Paula Potgieter, of De Zeekoe Guest Farm, fanned several business cards out on the table. “You must visit this place, and this is such an interesting outing. Oh, and don’t forget to do this before you go,” she said enthusiastically.

I had run out of time, but Paula had pushed all the right buttons… the ones that flag a place for another visit. Obviously she’s a great public relations agent for various local businesses.

De Zeekoe (the original Dutch name for hippos) is on Zeekoegat farm on the road between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay.

On the banks of the Olifants River, the 2 000ha farm has been in the Potgieter family for more than 50 years and, according to Paula, elephant tusks and hippo teeth have been found there.

Even when the water is low in dry years, a deep pool remains in one section of the river – and is where hippo where once found.

The area is part of the world’s 17 hot spots, with three overlapping flower zones, and 162 bird species.

iol travel oct 22 NT De Zeekoe3

A close-up of one of the log cabins on the banks of the dam. Picture Myrtle Ryan

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As chilling out was high on my agenda, on arrival I was quick to see where I would sleep. Some of the rooms lead on to tiny private gardens; others overlook the river.

This being the ostrich belt, ostrich plumes, dyed the colour of exotic jewels, feature prominently. Decorative pillows, sleeping nets (always a romantic feature), rich brocade curtains, enormous in- and outdoor showers and tasteful bathrooms add to the atmosphere.

I was given a garden room with a view of the distant Swartberg Mountains. In the foreground, enormous bluegums commanded attention. They must have been hundreds of years old and in my book, alien or not, a tree is something to be treasured.

Relaxed after just a short spell in such tranquillity, I went to meet Paula on the deck of the main building. “It’s not always about the Big Five,” she said. “Here the focus is on the Shy Five: meerkats, bat-eared fox, porcupine, aardvark and aardwolf.”

Ticking off some of the activities guests can participate in, she mentioned canoeing on a large farm dam or on the river. Carp and bass are found in both, but would-be fishermen must bring their own equipment. Walking and cycling are also popular.

There are several excursions to choose from, such as exploring the Swartberg mountains and visiting Gamkaskloof, or Die Hel, as many folk know it, with True South Travel; or doing a circular route via the Swartberg pass, Prince Albert, Swartberg canyon, Meiringspoort and De Rust with Swartberg Mountain Tours.

Plant identification tours and workshops are offered by Louis Jordaan’s Minwater Eco Adventures, as well as hiking, mountain biking and 4x4 trails. TBI Adventures offers abseiling, kayaking, wild caving, quad biking, rock climbing and kloofing. The Burchell’s Oxwagon Trail, pioneered in 1811-1814, sounded different.

There are tours to view meerkats on De Zeekoe’s nature reserve, while those who like a slice of local life might enjoy Ma Betty’s Xhosa Cultural Experience in Bongolethu township.

At night the stars flicker brilliantly, while the sea is just 45 minutes away at Mossel Bay.

There is yet another accommodation option, and I was driven across to the farm dam to see the wooden cabins on the lake edge. The setting, against a backdrop of the Swartberg mountains, is picture-postcard perfect. Moorhens bobbed, there were ripples in the breeze. Guests who stay here, can have dinner sent from the lodge. A table is set on the deck for romantic dining.

Back at my own room, a tinkling fountain in the garden, chattering birds, and salmon-pink reflections off the snow-clad Swartberg mountains made for an idyllic sunset.

Dinner was a fine affair. De Zeekoe uses free range meat, while most of the herbs and salad ingredients are grown on the farm. Olives, olive oil, figs and pomegranates come from the area.

Replete on tender fillet with chilli raspberry and pepper sauce, baked potato, hot cocktail tomatoes on a skewer, roast pumpkin, carrots and pesto sauce, home-made bread and garlic spread, I retired for the night.

To experience both worlds, on my second night I stayed in a cabin at the river. From the porch, there is a lovely view of the Outeniqua Mountains. In the reedbeds below, finches preen and squabble, while guinea fowl chatter noisily as they go to roost. At night you can hear the frogs.

Breakfasts include small quiches, olive and other breads, and tiny pancakes. I found the variety so tempting I gave the standard breakfast – with ostrich eggs – a miss. - Sunday Tribune

Contacts

• De Zeekoe 044 272 6721; 082 584 9957 and 082 551 3019.

• True South Travel 044 272 0700; 082 461 8253.

• Minwater Eco Adventures 044 279 1285; 082 481 3625.

• TBI Adventures 082 926 9389.

• Swartberg Mountain Tours 079 105 4004; 079 105 4000.

• Burchell’s Oxwagon Trail 044 272 5114; 072 199 1919.

• Ma Betty’s Xhosa Cultural Experience 083 597 5289.

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