Arniston - good for the soul

2013-06-24 11:02

Bundled up in scarves and jerseys we sat on the stoep basking in tentative, but tangible rays of winter sunlight while sipping brimming glasses of wine. A few 100 meters away the ocean rumbled and sighed, while easy-on-the eye whitewashed houses stretched out in front of me and the quaint fisherman's cottages of Kassiesbaai gathered behind my back. It was a perfect moment to let out a deep sigh of satisfaction and toast the tranquil start to a long-awaited and much-needed two-day break at the Arniston Spa Hotel.

Or, rather, to phrase it slightly more accurately - a long-awaited and much-needed two-day break exploring the southernmost reaches of Africa's coastline from the gorgeous and peaceful base of the Arniston Spa Hotel. Yes. That's more like it.

The drive

Now, as with any adventure worth its salt, just getting to Arniston proved to be half the fun.Heading along the coast from Betty's Bay (I know... quite the lucky girl hopping from one holiday destination to the next), our two hour meander along the R44 and R43 took us past the stunning towns of Kleinmond, Hermanus and Stanford, and then on into the very heart of the Overberg's lush green winter farmlands with a left turn onto the R326. All along the way, little spots of white tagging behind slightly larger spots of off-white-yellow treated us to a constant display of frolicking and bouncing joy of life... Evidently lamb season came early this year, spreading loads of cute along the rolling backroads.

Just before turning right off the R326 from Stanford onto the road that runs between Caledon and Bredasdorp (the R326), we spied the famous Van Brakel Stoor farm stall just a kilometer or two in the opposite direction and decided to do a super quick sho't left. Rewarded for our efforts with a tantalizing selection of goodies from yesteryear, we excitedly stocked up on some good old-fashioned boere treats... only to find ourselves out of cash and cards out of the question. Luckily the kind lady behind the counter had no qualms about sending us off in good faith - brown paper bags in hand - expecting a belated EFT. "I do it all the time," she said, "and never has anyone neglected to pay."

More of the same 'plattelandse' simplicity and kindness awaited us in Napier when the owners of the second-hand book store recognised a fellow bibliophile in me and suggested that I take the carefully chosen pile of books, and give them the cash on our way back from Arniston two days later.

Wisely I forced myself to decline and let go of the friends I may have found among those dusty pages - sigh - far too aware of unexpected time constraints that tend to impose themselves on travels. Instead we glanced into an antique store or two and even had a good poke around the charming 24-hour stained glass showroom and shop called Hero.

Although we could probably have spent the rest of the afternoon and much of the next day wandering about the most magical Napier, we decided to stick to our original plan and headed off toBredasdorp - the last outpost before hitting Arniston, as well as a final stop for essentials and - most importantly - cash.

From here it was all smooth sailing, with our destination - and delicious afternoon nap - beckoning a short and pretty 24km drive away.

Arniston, Waenhuiskrans or Kassiesbaai?

If, like me, you're not a frequent visitor to the area, the first thing that may strike you about Arniston is its apparent identity crisis of sorts. From the Bredasdorp intersection onwards, all signs pointed in one direction, but two places. Arniston/Waenhuiskrans, they all read. While neither name was entirely unfamiliar, the duplicity of it all had me rather confused! Which was it then?

Although the place was originally dubbed Wagenhuiz Kranz - later smoothing over to Waenhuiskrans - due to its distinguishing feature, a large cave that was big enough to house a wagon and a team of oxen, it gained its second name when a British troopship called the Arniston tragically went down close by, claiming the lives of 372 people. A memorial plate erected for four children who were among the victims became a tangible reminder of the event and a also catalyst in the double naming process, as it was a place of reference for visitors.

As if two names are not confusing enough On the opposite cliff to this memorial lies the 200-year-old fishing village of Kassiesbaai. This conglomeration of whitewashed cottages was recently declared a national monument and is a joy to explore a-foot and through the lens of a camera, as its simplicity contrasts so beautifully with the dramatic surroundings of wide open oceans, stark cliffs and endless skies. Let your feet carry you right through to the other side where Wilene's restaurant serves up the freshest seafood, homemade meals and local crafts.

The hotel

Although a burning desire to have a little white house of my own suddenly washed over me as we drove into town, the Arniston Spa Hotel proved to be an equally enticing option. Located just a few 100 meters from the sea, this large, yet simply designed white building resembles a Greek Island villa of sorts with its arched doorway and cascading balconies, of which most have an unspoilt view of the vast Indian Ocean. Those that don't, instead look out over the hotel's tranquil courtyard with its crystal blue pool. Second best in many people's minds, but don't be too hasty to judge as these suites have definite perks of their own - think lush lounges and cosy fireplaces.

A large restaurant subdivided into two flanks of the building - one for the bar area and one for the formal dining room - provides the perfect antidote to hunger pangs and cravings with a menu varying from plain and simple sandwiches to intricate seafood dishes and traditional stews. The staff - all born and bread Arnistonians - were particularly friendly and welcoming throughout our stay, and their overwhelming hospitality was perhaps most noticable in the bulging meniscus levels of our many glasses of wine.

With a reputation for being a place to kick back and relax, it's no surprise that Arniston's only hotel is also home to a superb Ginkgo Spa. Even if massages and facials aren't your thing, it's worth checking in there even if it's just to sit in the relaxation room for a bit while sipping a cup of tea and listening to the soothing music. Who knows, you may even be inspired to try out a treatment.

Things to do in Arniston:

Explore the caves

There are quite a few intriguing grottos to check out in the Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve, but of course it is the largest and most famous that gets the most attention. A 1,5 km walk along the beach will bring you to the entrance of the Waenhuiskrans cave, but just make sure you go at low tide, otherwise entrance is impossible.

Take long walks

Along the beach, atop the cliffs, through the stunning holiday homes or quaint Kassiesbaai - there are a multitude of routes to try, whether you follow a path, or just make up your own way.

Visit the Southern Tip

Located only 44 km away from Arniston, you will find the town of L'Aghullas with its famed Southern Tip where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans are said to meet. Although there's nothing more than a shoulder-height beacon bearing a oxidised green plaque explaining its significance, to mark the legendary spot, the experience is a strangely exhilirating one... and great for some posed photos. Lying within a SANParks reserve, the area is particularly well taken care of, most visible in the well-constructed long wooden boardwalk taking you from the car park, past the beacon and all along the coast.

Agulhas lighthouse

Situated just a few km away from the boardwalk and beacon, elevated on a little koppie of its own, the Agulhas lighthouse with its red and white striped tower and white limestone base watches over two majestic oceans. Quite suitably - with it's unique location and all - it is also home to South Africa's only lighthouse museum where you can brush up on your knowledge of these often unsung beacons of light. Play around with the fascinating interactive map of our coastline, take a good hard look at a real-life lighthouse light, or climb up the 27 meter tall tower with its 71 steep steps and look out into - what seems like - the undiscovered distance.

While our stay on this magical stretch of coastline was like balm for the soul, I couldn't help but feel like it was far too short to experience the area in all its wild glory. Fortunately, this is a perfect excuse to return with the next tide.

Take a look at the Arniston - good for the soul gallery.

Read more on:    weekend escapes  |  travel south africa  |  lifestyle

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