Discovering Swellendam

2012-07-04 08:18
Nestled between the Lange Berge and the N2, the picturesque Overberg town of Swellendam serves as a gateway to two of South Africa's most famous and well-loved tourist migration passages: Route 62 and the Garden Route.

Despite all the traffic that evidently flows through here on a regular basis, the town is often skimmed-over by travellers eager to reach a destination further along the way. This is understandable since Knysna, Oudtshoorn, George or Plett are an easy day drive from Cape Town. But if you slow your pace down to a real meander, indulge in an overnight stop, it could just lead to a brand new romance of place as you start to explore the less explored - Swellendam.

During a recent weekend-long stay at the Bontebok National Park, located 5km outside of Swellendam, we decided to set the Saturday aside to do just that. Even though the icy wind carried news of snow-covered mountaintops not too far away, and the sky swirled with dark grey clouds, our group of about 10 was up bright and early, appropriately layered and ready for all kinds of adventure... but mostly the cozy kind.

Eat, drink and be merry

Breakfast at Rolandale farm stall

Located just a few kilometers outside of Swellendam on the N2 (in the direction of Heidelberg), Rolandale is exceedingly easy to spot with its white cobbled walls and bright blue roof. A large lawn stretches out in front, jungle gyms litter the back and the interior is almost minimalistic in its approach to the classic farm stall type décor... so kids will keep entertained and be very hard-pressed to wreak any sort of havoc.

Their farmhouse breakfast is an absolute must-try, but then you must go hungry. Very hungry. With a little mountain of scrambled eggs, two or three rashers of bacon, wors, tomatoes and two slices of toast you'll be serenely satisfied when done.

Contact: 028 512 3373 or

Brandy tasting at Barrydale Cellar

So, according to CEO of Southern Cape Vineyards, Riaan Marais, South Africans drink about 40-million litres of brandy a year.

And while I am not usually one to partake, a proper brandy tasting with Lindt chocolate on the side at the Barrydale Cellar proved to be quite a treat indeed! Seated inside the large vault-like brandy cellar, just outside Barrydale, we got to sample five different Joseph Barry brandies. The first could easily have been mistaken for water by its pallor, but the pungent alcoholic fumes soon proved otherwise, and so we found out that this is, in fact, what the raw product looks like before going through all the proper refinements. Thereafter we got to sample the final products in various stages: 5-year, 10-year or speciality.

Riaan instructed us to ad a drop of water to each, in order to experience how the brandy unfolds on our pallets. We were also invited to taste each alternating between chili and sea salt Lindt chocolate, pointing out our favourite each time.

Check out the Barrydale Cellar website

Joubert-Tradauw wine tasting & Karoo tapas

We'd been hearing a lot about winemaker, Meyer Joubert, everywhere. Most had spoken of him while getting a sort of glazed look in the eye and ended off with a tiny little sigh of... jealousy? Most also happened to be male. "Ah, so you're heading to Joubert Tradouw next?" Riaan Marais asked "all I can say is you'll love it... especially the ladies. *sigh*"

So, yes, Meyer Joubert is pretty good looking in a wholesome Karoo ‘seun' sort of manner, charming in that he would often hop on his motorbike and let the long open roads take him where they will, but he also happens to be happily married to stunning R62 Deli chef, Beate Joubert (sorry ladies), with whom he has four kids!

When it comes to his wines, however, there is honestly nothing disappointing to report. Paired with a platter of gorgeous Klein Karoo tapas in the tin-roofed R62 Deli while a hearth fire burns warm and bright, it's easy to see how the farm's catchphrase "Proe die Klein Karoo (Taste the Little Karoo)" came to be. On these platters you can expect to find a mixture of fruit such as figs, pears, kakemas peaches and plums alongside cheeses, preserves, olive tapenade, bite-size bobotie and still-warm homemade bread.

Check out the Joubert-Tradauw website for more details.

Old Gaol restaurant

Located on Swellendam's main road, right across from the magnificent spiraled NG church, the Old Gaol restaurant serves up a tantalizing array of meals with a traditional flair. However, if you want to make a truly great meal choice I'd suggest opting for one of their magnificent roosterkoeke along with a glass of homemade ginger beer or lemonade and then a decadently moist chocolate mud cake to end it all off.

Check out the Old Gaol website

Want to know more about the town? Contact Swellendam Tourism, they're a super, friendly bunch!

Liqueur-tasting at Wildebraam

So, I'm sure you get the picture... Swellendam and surrounds is an absolute feast for the senses with the wide array of food and drink on offer. And if you have a penchant for sweet things, Wildebraam berry farm is an absolute must-visit. Apart from producing some of the most delicious and intriguing liqueurs - flavours include chocolate chili, mint, fennel and rooibos - they are also the makers of delectable jams, tapenades, chili sauces and all sorts of wholesome confectionaries.

You will find them in the lush Hermitage Valley just a few km from the center of town. Call them on 028 514 3132 or pop a mail to Natalie or Martyn at

Beautiful views and good photo ops

Tradouw Pass

These days the Tradouw Pass is a picturesque and amazingly designed (by legendary road engineer Thomas Bain) road cutting through the Langeberg mountains between Swellendam and Barrydale in tummy-hollowing twists and turns. However, in simpler days, this very same route was used by the nomadic Khoi people. The name, in fact, is derived from the Khoi words tra, signifying "women" and dau, denoting "way through,' i.e. this used to be the way the women and children trekked with the livestock and goods, while the hunting men cut straighter paths over the mountains.

There are various viewing spots all along the pass, so take the time to pull over and breathe in the freshness and marvel at the arresting views. Keep your eyes peeled for "Piekniekbos" on the mountain-side of the pass. It's a fairy-like foresty spot to stop and have a picnic by a waterfall. There are even a braaiing facilities.


Heading from Swellendam in the direction of the Tradouw Pass and ultimately Barrydale, you might be quite surprised to come across a quaint little village sheltering beneath large, leafy Oaks next to the Buffeljags river.

Welcome to the mission village of Suurbraak. Originally called Xairu (the Khoi word for a "place called paradise"), the valley where Suurbraak nestles was once the center of the Attaqua Khoi's domestic life. This is where the women and children sheltered while men hunted. However, as contact with settlers grew, the tribe was exposed to diseases and ailments which they had never encountered before, and many fell fatally ill. Their leader, Kaptein Hans Moos, wrote to the London Mission Society, begging for support and soon after a mission station was established here.

These days the town is largely inhabited by far-off descendents of the original tribe who work in nearby towns or run their own businesses: cafes, furniture stores and restaurants.

Taking a walk around the center of town provides great photo opportunities of the mission station's typically white-washed buildings. Visit the tourist information center, close to the church for more information on history, activities and locals.

Contact Suurbraak tourism: (028) 522 1806 or


Umshanti ziplining, sunset cruise

Unfortunately we didn't get to experience much of Umshanti Lodge's famous watersports on the Buffeljags dam, as the weather had gotten steadily worse and the boat on which our sunset cruise would have taken place had been damaged by winds the previous night. However, we still got to explore the charming, lush green property with its fantasy-land like views a little, watch rugby in the pub and one of our braver compatriots even donned his wetsuit and did, not one, but two ziplines into the dam.

We also met owner, Kosie van Zyl, an exceptional host and quite an entertaining eccentric in the fashion of tough Afrikaans omies with lots of life experience and fishing trips behind them with the tanned skin to prove it.

If you happen to be in Swellendam during summer, head out there for a sunset cruise, some ziplining, a spot of hiking and maybe even canoeing. They also offer accommodation.

Take a look at the Umshanti Lodge website for more details

Read more on:    travel south africa

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