It was a spur of the moment decision. Thursday was a holiday – Human Rights Day – and Friday was an off day for schools. Of course, it took a while for this to sink into my significant others head! ” So,” he said on Wednesday morning suddenly realising that we should have planned earlier – “What shall we do this weekend?” “Too late, now,” was my pessimistic reply although I am usually the optimistic one in this relationship. “Everything will be booked up!” – including our house in Struisbaai which friends were to occupy for the South League competition.
It was therefore a bit of a surprise when SO sent me a text at school – “Booked for Bizansgat.” Bizansgat would be in the middle of The Karoo halfway between Ceres and Sutherland. I had an appointment with a parent after school and still had to pack! As it turned out she didn’t pitch up – for the second time – so I got home at 3 and we left half an our later.
But I needn’t have worried because my Procard holding husband booked us into a Protea hotel in Stellenbosch for our first night – two for the price of one. He had been trying for years to get a good deal on his Procard but was always told, “We only hold certain rooms for Procard holders and they’re all booked!’ Ja right! Well this time they must have been tired of him complaining about it being an unfair system and that having paid all that money to have this privileged card he should be able to get any room whenever he wanted. So yes – they must have had complaints from other Procard holders because there was, “No problem, Sir – any time is a good time Sir – we have changed the rules, Sir!”
The room was comfortable and had a lovely sitting room and kitchenette – we could have self-catered but we didn’t. Perhaps we should have because the set menu was mediocre.
On Thursday we decided not to do breakfast at the hotel. We still needed to shop for Bizansgat after which we went to a great little coffee shop and had muffins and cappuccino.
The Karoo was hot! The Karoo was dusty! The Karoo was – well semi-desert and beautiful! How can one describe the flatness, the low, scrawny scrub and unique flat topped koppies. The colours – 50 shades of khaki – muted, dusky greens, pinks and mauves and peaceful! Then there are the birds. The dusty coloured, difficult to identify, confusing Karoo birds. We love them although it is a challenge to find them so well camouflaged and blending into the landscape. We didn’t find too many but enjoyed those we did see.
Bizansgat is a special little hide away. It is on a sheep farm and Petrus the shepherd was there to greet us with his dog Tes – a scrawny border collie with a very waggy tail. She deserted her boss and took up duty guarding us for the duration of our stay.
Bizansgat’s Welcome Sign
Miles of nothing surrounded us
Tes on guard in front of our humble abode
A corner of the kitchen
Another corner of the kitchen with crockery from the past
The last time we stayed in Pioneershuisie, it was winter and there had been some rain. The stream then was flowing and the duck pond was full. Now it was dry and we didn’t even see the usual geese that wake most visitors in the early hours of the morning. Birdlife was pretty thin too. We found Cape Bunting, Karoo chats – lots, Karoo long-billed lark, white-throated canaries and mouse birds. Birds of prey were lesser kestrel, rock kestrel and Pale Chanting Goshawks.
Karoo Longbilled Lark
We braaied our chops in the little skerm and afterwards washed up in the outhouse created just for this purpose. The huisie doesn’t have a bathroom either so ablutions were done in the outhouse alongside. There are other dormitories where groups can stay and they share these ablutions – but we were the only people there.
My Personal Chef
The Ablution Block was spotless
One’s every comfort was catered for
Tes was intrigued by the bird calls coming from my laptop!
In the relative cool of the evening we sat outdoors to watch the stars – oh wow – in a place like this they are so much brighter. Indoors it was really hot. We needn’t have brought our bedding as we lay atop the bed with no need even for a sheet. BUT – the mosquitoes! In spite of lashings of BUG-OFF – they buzzed like helicopters all night and by morning it looked like we had chicken pox!
In the morning we went for a drive and got a good eyeful of Karoo scenery, spotted a couple of steenbok and birds and then returned, deciding that although we love this place the heat was a bit much. Earl was fighting a cold and felt he could do with some luxury – enough of outhouse showers and loo’s for this old chap!
Fifty Shades of Khaki
The Dusty Road heading towards the gorgeous Karoo style mountains
Typical Karoo Scene – not the PCG on the windmill
Pale Chanting Goshawks are common in this neck of the semi-desert
Immature Pale Chanting Goshawk
The competition in Struisbaai was cancelled so our friends did not go up for the weekend. We thought, therefore, that we’d go and stay in our comfy holiday house for the rest of the weekend. The drive through the Motagu/Bonnivale area was very picturesque.
The Robertson Valley
What a shock when we arrived to find that our house had in the meantime been let out by the agents! WE WERE HOMELESS!
Plan B – A couple of old well-known Agulhas houses have been taken over by Sanparks and we’ve been dying to spend a weekend in one of them in the new Agulhas National Park Rest Camp. But our luck was out – fully booked!
Plan C – Arniston Hotel and Spar – another item on our bucket list – so guess where our rent money went!
Arniston is just a half hour drive from Struisbaai. The birding on the way is usually quite good but it was getting dark so little was seen. The hotel is Four Star so not the cheapest place to stay. We booked a room with a ‘pool view’ as we didn’t think seeing the sea warranted the exorbitant fee. Well, when we arrived they said, “We’ve upgraded you to a sea view room – no extra cost!” Well – thank you very much!
The Sea View
Our room was fab-u-lous! Well I am a bit of a pleb and don’t often stay in luxury hotels so fluffy white towels tend to do it for me. And after all, I was expecting to spend this weekend like a voortrekker.
En route we had stopped at Bonnievale for lunch so had coffee and buns in our room for supper. We were provided with filter coffee making facilities which was just so grand!
The next day it was a breakfast to die for. Imagine smoked salmon and croissants to start your day! That was my choice from the vast buffet on offer. I didn’t even bother with the egg order. Chocolate chip muffin with my coffee was an added delight.
Starting off with fresh fruit before the final indulgence
At 10 o’clock we booked into the Ginkgo Spa for full body massages. We were given a hot cinnamon drink and then shown to the change rooms where we were given a locker to hang up our clothes. We donned gowns and slippers – the latter we could keep. A comb was another free gift. The massage was stunning and we were then shown to a rest room where we could lie on lounges and drink herbal tea or minted water until we felt like leaving. Oh bliss!
We spent the afternoon chilling – Earl needed to get rid of his cold – so an afternoon in front of TV was called for. I fiddled around on my computer preparing stuff for next term – it could have waited but its nice to work when there’s no pressure.
Dinner was divine – Butternut soup followed by a delicious salmon with creamy wine sauce and pasta for Earl and pork with tomato based sauce and pasta for me. Our plates were too full and we couldn’t finish and dessert was forfeited too. The chocci on the pillow was quite enough thank you.
This morning the whole breakfast thing was repeated and then we packed and reluctantly left for Struisbaai where Earl went to work fixing the rebellious sprinkler system!
We then took the scenic route home and did a spot of bird watching.
- Steppe Buzzard
A Huge Flock of our National Birds
Spur-winged geese interspersed with a few Egyptians
So ended an unexpected and stunning long weekend!