The sun sinks slowly over Swartvlei, one of the most interesting wetland systems in the Western Cape. Pictures: Jim Freeman
The sun sinks slowly over Swartvlei, one of the most interesting wetland systems in the Western Cape. Pictures: Jim Freeman
A greater double-collared sunbird perches on a bird feeder.
A greater double-collared sunbird perches on a bird feeder.

Cape Town - There are some places in the world that pride themselves on being fast-paced and vibey. There are others that are perfectly content to be regarded as downright slow. Sedgefield is definitely one of the latter.

Once you’ve wiped your eyes to clear the breathtakingly beautiful picture of its broad lagoon (all but invisible from the highway) from your vision, you’ll notice a ubiquity of tortoises; not necessarily the flesh and cold-blood variety but sculptures and route-marking pictograms.

They’re there to celebrate two things – the presence of the common angulate tortoise and, appropriately enough, Sedgefield’s official status as Africa’s first “Slow Town”. As far as the former is concerned, Sedgefield is the only town I know that has a tortoise rescue squad comprising volunteers who will comb a prospective building site and relocate any residing tortoises. They can also be contacted about any tortoise needing help.

Far more interesting from the viewpoint of a visitor to this southern Cape Garden Route town, though, is its membership of the “elite” Citta Slow movement – started in Italy a decade ago – that commits itself absolutely to laidback living.

Not too shabby a concept if you’re looking for an end-of-year getaway where you can kick back and replenish.

There are 55 Slow Town membership criteria, grouped into six categories: environmental policy, infrastructure, quality of urban fabric, encouragement of local produce and products, hospitality, and community and Citta Slow awareness.

On obtaining its Slow Town status in October 2010, Sedgefield made a number of pledges including ensuring a quality of life for all, living a healthy lifestyle, caring for the environment, community decision-making, working for a sustainable future and preserving the heritage of the town. My personal favourite pledges, however, are taking time for leisure and pleasure, promoting local markets and unique products as well as unique town events, and preserving traditional food.

The annual Slow Festival is held over Easter. Closely allied to Slow Town is Slow Food… nothing to do with poor Western Cape restaurant service but, rather, a dedication to the sustainable production and enjoyment of local produce.

The only word that fits after a visit to Sedgefield’s popular monthly Wild Oats Community Farmers’ fresh-produce market is “relish”. Frankly, there is nothing to beat it anywhere in South Africa. Homemade jams, breads, nuts, Dutch cheeses and German sausage, chutneys, pickles, local herbs and spices, organic vegetables and fruits, juices, forest honey, handmade chocolates and designer fudges, cream-cakes and flavour-laden pies; the market is a gourmet paradise.

You won’t be paying deli prices either as you load up with Christmas prezzies for yourself and your foodie friends. Seeds, plants and fresh flowers are also on offer.

Sedgefield simply cannot be faulted for beauty, friendliness or value for money. While there are no hotels in the town itself (the nearest is the Mantis Collection’s Lake Pleasant at Groenvlei on the road to Knysna), there are numerous top-quality bed and breakfast establishments or self-catering facilities. There’s a plethora of good restaurants in Sedgefield, so I’d recommend checking into one of the latter.

Sedgies on the Water overlooks the entire Sedgefield lagoon and Swartvlei estuary. This three-star waterfront property comprises the entire downstairs floor of Gail and Dudley Powers’s home; four en-suite double bedrooms,well-equipped kitchen and plush lounge with hi-fi and satellite television. The glory of the place – apart from the unbelievable vista – is that you get exclusive use at the same price whether you are eight people or just one.

Guests have use of a braai deck and can follow a set of steps down through the fynbos to the lagoon itself or, alternatively, pop the cork on a bottle of Bramon estate’s sauvignon blanc “cap classique” while watching sunbirds dogfighting around the sugar-feeders.

The birdlife in Sedgefield is exquisite. Sedgies on the Water is just off Kingfisher Drive and the streets around echo the ornithological theme; Neddicky, Suikerbekkie, Tiptol, Kokkewiet, Weaver, Crane, Pelican and Swallow to name just a handful.

There’s also Fisheagle and it’s this glorious bird – for me the epitomé of Africa’s rivers and freshwater lakes – that former Sedgefield tourism officer Rose Bilbrough and I stop to watch as we look down on the lagoon from the Cloud Nine paragliding launch site. It swoops low over our heads, perches for a few minutes in a nearby tree, then sets off over the ridge and down to Willowpoint and the spectacularly lovely Swartvlei.

Falling within the greater Garden Route National Park, Swartvlei is one of the Wilderness Lakes… a wetland system of such environmental importance and sensitivity that it has been accorded Ramsar status. It’s also an extraordinarily peaceful and unspoilt area reminiscent of the Okavango.

“Unspoilt” is another good word to describe Sedgefield, which falls within the appropriately named Eden Municipality.

The fact that the town’s beauty is well disguised – travellers generally opt to stop over at next-door neighbour Wilderness whose charms are more obvious, or Knysna – makes it a perfect destination for the unobtrusive, unpretentious visitor.

Don’t expect haute cuisine, but you’ll struggle to find a better steak (enjoyed with a bottle of Boekenhoutkloof’s Chocolate Block) than at Monte Cello’s or friendlier, more filling breakfast than that offered at Steam Whistle Stop, on the platform of Sedgefield’s disused station.

La Piazza is a most convivial restaurant and pizzeria, while the adjacent sports bar is a must on days when there’s a big rugby match (if you can get past yeti-like owner Gary Atkinson’s passion for the Blue Bulls).

The town is a magnet for adventure sports lovers and nowhere is more attuned to the genre than Afrovibe Lodge at Myoli Beach. It’s a four-star establishment with its own extreme sport centre that offers kiteboarding and surfing lessons, wakeboarding, water and tube skiing, beach volleyball, soccer, beach golf, fishing, canoeing, snorkelling, paragliding, board rentals and sundowner boat cruises.

There are kilometres and kilometres of pristine beaches (with weird, fossilised sand dunes) for those of energetic bent.

Those of a more restful inclination can get a toasted bacon and chilli-cheese sandwich to accompany their Black Label draughts at the PiliPili Beach Bar and Restaurant. The outdoor fire is lit most weekend evenings and the pizza oven is always busy.

I have an Afrovibe hoodie printed with the delightful quote: “We are not African because we live in Africa, we are African because Africa lives in us.”

Sedgefield’s slow vibe will also live within you, long after you’ve returned to the rat race. - Saturday Star


If You Go...

Sedgefield is about halfway between George and Knysna on the N2 from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. If you don’t want to drive all the way, fly to George and then hire a car.

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