Last year the small town of De Rust in the Western Cape walked away with the award for town of the year. So, naturally, I had to pay it a visit – one in a long line of saunters into the town that began more than 40 years ago, when it was just a sleepy hamlet at the portal to the magnificent Meiringspoort.
KZN’s only finalist, Richards Bay, came in ninth, so let’s hope our province will pull out all the stops this year.
The number of votes garnered from the public is the key to success, and residents of De Rust approached everybody passing through their town. They handed over their own cellphones and asked the visitors to use these to SMS votes to the organisers of the event. Of course they were expected to nominate De Rust.
It must have cost a pretty penny, and to me seemed not quite kosher. Still, those were the rules of the contest, and a person in the tourism line said he admired their zeal and enterprise.
To come up with such an innovative way of gathering votes, the effort and commitment of the townsfolk, he felt, earned them the ultimate reward. Put like that, I guess I agree.
It will be interesting to see whether would-be winners this year adopt the same approach.
None of this is to say that De Rust was not a worthy winner. It certainly has plenty going for it. The town is pretty, it’s scenically located, it’s clean and the residents are extra-helpful.
Before it was elevated to its current status, I remember stopping off at one of the quaint olde-worlde shops, which was advertising home-made ginger beer. It only sold in two-litre bottles. Being alone, I felt it would go off before I could drink such a quantity. Hearing this, the owner decanted some into a 500ml bottle and charged me proportionately. Now that’s service. Incidentally, I could have drunk two litres there and then, it was so deliciously refreshing.
Perhaps the most fun thing to do is to take a ride on the famous donkey taxi. Originally started as a way to educate donkey handlers on the correct way to harness and handle donkeys, it has blossomed into a tourist drawcard. You need to book a day ahead at the local tourism office, and they let the relevant owners know.
One of the recommended drives in the area is the Swartberg circular route. Start early in De Rust and take the scenic Oudemuragie road. Visit the Cango caves, then drive over the spectacular Swartberg pass, after which a meal in Prince Albert goes down well before heading home via Meiringspoort.
Or, do it the other way around. - Sunday Tribune