Why Fly - Gifberg Holiday Farm
I jolted, something wet was slowly snaking its way across my belly, gathering momentum as it slipped around to my back. We'd just returned, unpacked, and put the washing machine on heavy load, after a longish weekend, at the very remote GIFBERG HOLIDAY FARM near Van Rhyn'sdorp.
I’d fallen into an antihistamine induced slumber on the couch. Next to me, a Lister engine was purring in a monotonous tone. Clutched in my fingers, my coffee mug was drip-dripping the last dregs of cold coffee into my crochet work-in-progress, my latest, Namaqualand blanket. Sarine’s blanket was already inked, and a large, brown stain was bleeding rapidly into my flannel pyjamas. The caffeine sweet, sticky liquid soaking even the Afghan throw covering the couch.
When we find ourselves in trying times, it's suggested that stepping away and observing from a distance will give one clarity and a new perspective. In nature, it’s quite the opposite. The closer we focus, the more we see, experience and learn. Slipping into a magnified mode, even the most insignificant dot can be illuminating.
Imagine our surprise, when two middle-aged ladies alighted, a vintage VW Golf, all smiles and Kumbaya at the reception office at Gifberg Holiday Farm. Had we just negotiated the same Gifberg pass? I wondered. We, securely in 4X4, hubs locked sticks in donkey gear, clinging to the terrain like mountain goats. We'd crawled up winding roads with hairpin bends in low range, sometimes on gravel and when the road became too gruelling, tar. For at least an hour I gripped the door handle and prayed Butch had the right eye on the road.
The beaming duo, Harriet and Henry, dusted themselves off, shook their wrap-around, Indian cotton batik skirts, letting off clouds of billowing dust. With hands-on-hips they gyrated, corkscrewing themselves upright loosening their limbs, creaking backs snapping into shape. Henry pushed tendrils of hair off her forehead and informed me that they’d come from Waterfall negotiating mountain passes like Afghani soldiers in the Hindu Kush. A taxing 8-hour adventure.
Only their seats were visible as the small vehicle was packed to the rafters. The dusty car sat low on its axels, and the front tyres seemed a bar too high—the weight pushing the front-end up. My admiration for them was evident as I quietly closed our truck door. Not a peep from me they’d hear.
I reminded myself of Helen Keller’s words “life can be either an adventure or, nothing.” We’d all made it to Gifberg Holiday Farm, a hidden gem, tucked away, high up, on a plateau, in the Matsikamma mountain range.
There was no need for my solicitous advice to pitch their tent as I sauntered by after we’d set up our campsite. Seated at individual tables, “so that I don’t bump Mum while she’s doing her paint-by-numbers.” Their camping skills were honed by many road trips. The nylon khaki dome tent popped up in a jiffy. When the car’s hatch squeaked open mattresses, blankets, pillows and various camping accoutrements came foaming out spilling onto the lawn.
The Knight’s arrived shortly after us. To be reunited after Covid19 meant things were getting into familiar rhythms again. Butch would braai, a Picanha steak after wowing us with bacon and blue cheese chilli poppers. We all craved an early night and agreed Saturday would be spent exploring the farm as much as possible. There is a selection of walks and hikes, mountain bike routes, rock pools and picnic spots to enjoy.
Harriet and Henry waved enthusiastically from their sleeping bags. They were relaxing and lying in, suffering the icy dewdrops syphoning through their tent. The night had been bitterly cold and our neighbour, a single traveller, complained of a sleepless night trying to stay warm. Alas, two sleeping bags couldn’t keep the chill-out. Hiking Harry went off with his backpack secure, hat on, striding confidently across the campground. He mentioned his route, a 20km circular hike.
Butch and Percy went off on our Darrvin eBikes while Sue and I walked, talked and relished being out of doors hiking. We rehashed past hikes, caught up with news of children and enjoyed the beauty around us. Percy discovered "Sport mode" on our bikes, "what a game-changer," Butch exclaimed the next day when he zoomed over rocks, thick sand and a never-ending uphill.
Through blue-grey fields of ripening wheat, circular corduroys of bright green rooibos tea, fields of marmalade yellow and orange spring Namaqualand blooms we strode, accompanied by the resident Labby Jan.
Eventually, we heard faint beeps from the backpack, signals that we could send and receive messages. We’d do our unique rendition of Happy Birthday and sent it off.
First rays of summer coloured our pasty complexions and arms bright red. Feeling energised, we committed to repeating the exercise on Sunday, attempting to do as many hikes on offer as possible. The magnificent landscape simply is too good to pass up on.
With warnings to follow the marked footpaths diligently, Sue and I set off after our morning coffee. Hiking Harry, our neighbour, had not followed orders, deciding to run the route, he got lost, stumbling back into camp during the late afternoon. He told me later he was confident we’d send out the guards should he not be around by sunset. Earlier, I had noticed his car door open and almost jumped to frightening conclusions. An emergency rescue would leave one with R2K out of pocket.
Endlessly rotating the map to find our location we set off, but, realised, after MUCH speculation, that we were on the wrong path. We doubled back and started all over again. Fortunately, the weather was in our favour. High clouds and a gentle breeze on our backs kept us filled with energy. The well-marked, but sometimes faded, painted footprints led the way ever onwards. We were particularly impressed with the strategically placed cairns as we could follow them on our return journey too.
Along the way, we were dazzled by the opening flowers, a mix-and-match palette of colours, varieties, shapes and sizes. Around every bend, a surprise as the landscape changed. Colourful profusions of blooms as the day warmed to above 18C allowing petals to open.
Rockpools, waterfalls, streams and potholes are just some of the river’s characteristics. At the Gifrivier waterfall, we stood in awe, surveying the snaking canyon before us. Sheer walls of rock have been carved out over the millennia as water eroded ever downwards. The main waterfall drops down into underground potholes and channels only to surface downstream again—an ah-ha moment.
Rock art, painted as recently as 400 years ago adorn caves along the route, the bright ochres visible and preserved. The realisation that nomadic tribes of Khoisan people still hunted and gathered here, living peacefully, not too long ago, brought the truth of the destruction and genocide caused by colonialism home to me. Resilient tribes who had survived thousands of years living entirely off the land, trusting the stars, co-habiting with nature. Gone.
Animals are far more aware of our presence than we are of theirs was evident here as we didn’t spot any wildlife, only a few dassies sunning themselves on distant rock shelves. They skedaddled the moment they heard our first rustle as we clambered over rocks and shaved through crevasses. Animal droppings and a few spoors did suggest that there must be baboons, klipspringer and leopard. On our first hike, we did enjoy a tortoise under a daisy bush and later a dung beetle made an appearance. The pitch-black ghekko was something of a surprise, I'd never seen one so dark.
The most extraordinary sighting was sun streaking through a hole in a rock which illuminated a small cave filled with water. The other was the drumbeat water made in an underground cavern in the gullies and rock pools further upstream. To hear the sound, we had to quieten down completely.
I have the luxury of being able to shower en-suite in our Honey Badger. Butch, went off to the ablutions and returned a little disgruntled with a sarong towelled around his waist. His shower was tricky. First the water scalding, then freezing. It took fine-tuning, using fine motor skills, to get the temperature just right. As he was getting into the swing of things, the temperature dropped, and that was his shower done. Because there was no seating in the cubicle he had to pad, bare-footed, wet and cold, clutching his garments to dress “at home”. Sue, in the first shower stall, gave her experience the thumbs up.
The three-night stay ended on Monday morning. Harriet and Henry said their goodbyes the previous evening. When we awoke, they had vanished, leaving no trace, to resume their road trip. These intrepid travellers amazed us with their daring-do attitude turning a “quick 3-day trip to see flowers into a ten-day holiday.”
I had a marvellous time and, I reiterate our theory that travelling need not be a trip overseas, a gruelling holiday to the far reaches of the compass nor does it need to break the bank. To enjoy nature, to breathe fresh air, to luxuriate in beauty and to recharge may be just around the corner or a stone’s throw into the pond to experience a ripple effect. It only takes a positive attitude. Remember to KISS.
The triple dose of antihistamine I downed has stopped my itchy bites. What caused them will always be a mystery. There were plenty midges after sunset which defeated even the swarm of swallows feasting on them. My bites are more lethal, and, I still sport hives on my arms. Both men did find and, remove ticks.
With all the necessary brakes, gears and cogs in place, Butch negotiated the Honey Badger down the treacherously steep, winding pass. I gripped the door handle as I was on the receiving end of a mishap. Those big boy air brakes rumbled and kicked in as we made our way safely downhill, endearing the Honey Badger’s prowess even more to me.
GIFBERG HOLIDAY FARM
Tel/Fax 027 219 1555
P.O. BOX 126,
VAN RHYNSDORP 8170