The Garden Route takes the lion’s share of the glory when it comes to the Western Cape’s claim to being among the world’s most beautiful. But those in the know in South Africa also quietly celebrate the lesser known treasures of the west coast’s N7 and the R62 into the Karoo.
The arid scrub of the Karoo extends for hundreds of kilometres – its mountain ranges and winding passes, accompanying streams and parabolic rock strata are the preferred escape for many. It’s an acquired taste.
Leaving Cape Town on the N1 may often be a bit slow for the first hour but as you stretch your legs and find your rhythm upon passing through the Robertson tunnel, it soon becomes an easy glide through some of SA’s awarded dorps – Montagu, Robertson and Barrydale – linked by magnificent stretches of breathtaking scenery in which mountains hold the road tight and loom overhead. After Barrydale and towards Ladysmith, the vast expanse of land opens out, evoking an Arizona Route 66 movie memory, punctuated by quirky farm stalls, local craft stores and roadside restaurants.
Turning into Wolverfontein the Stoney Cottage adventure begins with a pair of zebra nonchalantly meeting you at the turn off. The kids get out to say hello and snap a few shots for posterity, and Instagram of course. A few kilometres up the dirt track with the dust billowing in our rear view, we find the gate to Touwsberg Private Nature and Game Reserve and slowly snake our way towards Stoney Cottage.
On arrival it’s all ribbon stone cladding, solar panels and arched roofs, and as we come round the corner of the house onto the front deck, there’s nothing but a panoramic of undulating hills and a towering mountain looking over their shoulder, bathed in sunlight.
The shady veranda plays home to the family for the next three days and the kids bounce in and out of the chilly but shallow dam just a stone’s throw down a path. Crab catching, mud pie making, tree swings and even a sheltered bouma play host like a fantastic student au pair. We can’t believe our luck.
Stoney Cottage is the work of esteemed South African design and decor duo, Lynn and Sibley McAdam, a pair known for their bravery in choosing great properties and marching to the beat of their own drum. It’s run on solar, and drinking water is collected from the stream just 50 metres from the deck, with the same youthful vigour as collecting eggs on a farm.
Clad in magnificent Karoo slate, literally chipped stone by stone to size, the cottage has three double bedrooms, three ensuites, and a kids bunk room, taking ten maximum. The interior is full of individuality, respectful of the Karoo’s earthly palette but luxurious, with generous fireplaces, ridiculously comfy sofas, and tables and loungers in both sunny and cool spots. It’s a well-struck balancing act.
The main bedroom isn’t a main bedroom. It’s a separate ensuite cottage along a decked walkway with its own patio nestled in the trees, and an outdoor bath within earshot of the trickling stream, and offering a sensational view of sundrenched mountains with deep shadows cast in its undulating contours as the day wanes.
The five peaks which stand in front of Stoney Cottage provide an amazing walk for almost any age. Our hikers ranged from aged 4 to 68 as we wound our way up one pass, across the five rises and down the saddle on the opposite side. “Snowy Mountain”, just to the east side of the property, with white stones (and “crystals”, according to my eldest daughter) has been known to bring a few hikers, including the owner, slipping down its sides. Approach with caution.
There are two mountain bikes for rides and walks within the Nature Reserve and outside it, a favored route of many mountain bikers, notching up around 60km in a round trip past Sanbona. And in terms of the grander hiking outings, bring plenty of water in summer if you’re going to tackle one of the larger gorges which holds those magnificent shadows and basking sunlight. Best to start early.
Possibly the finest gift that Stoney Cottage gives in bountiful supply is peace and space. As the sun creeps over the mountain on a winter’s morning and spills warmth onto the house – or searing heat in summer – the birds start. The doors open, the day breaks, nature talks, the stream whispers and time very slowly passes in between communal meal making, long lunches and dinners, laughter, wine and coffee. In the evening, the fire pit comes to life as three generations sit around and trade stories or insights and discuss all manner of topics, until the first star pops up over the five peaks, with the moon gradually showing its pale blue face soon after. It’s like clockwork, and never fails to bring the children out onto the deck to see it.