By Di Brown, freelance travel writer
Wise words indeed from the American naturalist, John Muir, and especially true in South Africa where it is said that the most outstanding beauty is found on the other side of the farm gate.
About halfway on the ribbon of tar that links Johannesburg and Cape Town, is the town of Hanover. Just beyond this town, a left turn off the N1 and eight kilometers of dirt road leads to the farm gate and entrance to New Holme Country House.
Once a sheep farm, owners PC and Marisca Ferreira, converted it into a guest house in 1995, and in 2015 they declared the farm a conservation area and founded the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, one of two reserves within the new Khoisan Karoo Conservancy.
The Seekoei River runs through the farm and was once home to hundreds of hippopotami, hence the name. Sadly, by the 1700’s the hippo had been hunted until there were none left. PC made it his mission to reintroduce hippo to this section of the river, and in 2005 he succeeded.
An invitation for sundowners at the hippo pool should not be turned down. Reeds sway, birds call and the light dances on the water. A grunt, a splash and there she is. Magnificent. A fleeting glimpse of eyes, teeth, and a yawning pink mouth before she sinks back under the water. As the sun makes way for the moon, settle back, get another drink, and let PC enthrall you with the hippo story. It’s an inspiring one.
Driving into New Holme you can’t miss the piglets, lambs, sheep and chickens; this is a working farm after all. A day drive through this flat, but beautiful landscape, broken only by an abandoned cottage and a few Blue Gum trees, you will encounter the herd of Cape Buffalo and various antelope, but who are the Shy Five?
The Shy Five are the Aardwolf, Aardvark, Black Footed Cat, Porcupine and Bat-eared Fox and are usually only spotted at night. Also look out for the African wildcat, striped polecat, African striped weasel, and both the small and large spotted genet. The night drive, guided by PC is a unique safari experience, and with PC’s intimate knowledge of the land, there is a fairly good chance of spotting many of these elusive creatures.
New Holme is a bird watchers delight, with 205 species recorded. PC is a self-confessed bird nut, and a guided early morning birding drive with him will probably get even experienced twitchers a few firsts.
An offsite activity offered by New Holme is a two-day kayak trip on the Gariep River; the start an 80km trip from New Holme. Twenty three kilometers of paddling though the kloofs, an incredible night sleeping in a tent, or under the night sky just metres from the river. Lamb chops on the braai, cold beers or crisp white wine, a swim at sundown, marshmallows toasted on the fire, and finally, the exquisite silence of night in the middle of nowhere.
Gazing at the stars, the words of Vincent van Gough slip into my head as my eyes close – “The sight of the stars makes me dream.”
This is the stuff that memories are made of.
Other activities include a walk to see the Khoisan etchings, multi-day horseback safaris, and sheep farming experiences.
The accommodation at New Holme is varied and caters to a variety of price points. The spacious en suite rooms at the Manor House and The Stables wing are farmhouse style with a modern twist. Warm woods, crisp whites, natural fabrics with splashes of colour in light earth tones.
The self-catering two bedroomed log cabin in the gardens of New Holme offers privacy, space, and a raised deck for gazing at the views, the gardens, and the night sky. It is also a short walk to the dining area if you don’t feel like cooking.
For those wanting to really get back to nature, there are two furnished tents in the garden, each able to accommodate two people.
The heart of New Holme is the dining area and pub. This is where Marisca performs her magic in the kitchen and PC regales you with stories and anecdotes about the history, conservation, animals, and people of the area.
From Cape Town or Johannesburg, the drive will take between seven and ten hours depending on how many stops you make. The N1 is often described as long and boring, but we found it quite charming. The landscape changes continuously, we pulled over to photograph flat topped mountains near Three Sisters, railway lines in the middle of nowhere and signposts outside Loxton.
We detoured in to Matjiesfontein for lunch at the Lord Milner Hotel, wandered the streets of Beaufort West and Laingsburg admiring the churches, varied architecture, and quirky shops, and took way longer than planned at Die Veldskoen Farm Stall in De Doorns, exploring the antiques, buying grapes, jams and preserves and a late lunch, early dinner before continuing the final leg of the trip back to Cape Town.
New Holme is part of the Cape Country Routes, a collection of over 20 unique owner-run establishments where character, charm and romance are the hallmark of each property.