Small town vibes in Swellendam

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Buster is a mild-mannered horse that did not need much help finding his way up the Langeberg mountains in Swellendam.

The result was that one could soak up – on a tranquil ride – the beauty of the countryside town just under three hours drive from Cape Town. This makes it easy to understand why so many out-of-towners have settled in Swellendam.

Stephanie Coetsee, owner of Two Feathers Horsetrails, said she “came for a weekend to do a river tour and never left”. She led Buster and other horses on a trail up hills, across small rivers and past breathtaking views in the Marloth Nature Reserve.

Horseback riding is one of the many outdoor activities one could do in Swellendam. Other activities include canoeing, swimming in rivers, fishing, mountain bike riding, game drives and the lazy afternoon picnic.

The Langeberg Hiking Trail is meanwhile a five-day journey through the mountains that offers encounters with wildlife and nature. Coetsee said one could encounter leopards, tortoises, snakes, baboons and smaller animals.

Swellendam is about getting lost in nature. It is the sort of town where one forgets about stress and daily deadlines. It reminds you that these things could kill you but don’t have to.

Swellendam is one of those small towns that offer enough leisure activities to rejuvenate one during a weekend getaways.

Amanda Shackley, board member of the Swellendam Tourism Organisation, gushes that she decided not to return home to England after she settled in Swellendam. She runs the Impangele guesthouse and is a fountain of information.

“Tourism has been growing over the last few years,” she says.

“We want to call Swellendam the honey republic. We have more beehives here than anywhere else in the Western Cape.”

Swellendam is the capital of the municipality with the same name. The municipality comprises seven small towns and its population totals 43,000, of which 13,000 live in Swellendam.

This small town was named after governor of the Cape, Hendrick Swellengrebel, and his wife Helena Ten Damme, in 1745. It was the seventh town that Dutch settlers established after their arrival in the Cape in the late 1600s.

A rebellion, led by Hermanus Steyn, hit the town in 1795. Steyn declared the town a republic in June that year, a title it held for only three months after it was reigned in under control of the Cape governor.

On August 25, 1995, former president Nelson Mandela visited Swellendam to open a pictorial history exhibition of the town at its local museum. The small exhibition fits into one of the museum’s rooms.

Peter Gratton, general manager of Swellendam Tourism, said they want to incorporate the history of the Khoi and San people into local tours of the town.

“We have sites where Khoi and San people roamed around. We have visitors who come to South African every year and we want to tell them about this,” said Gratton.

“We want to take people on a journey through the Cape to tell a San story, then a Khoi Khoi story, a Xhosa and Portuguese story and then follow with the Dutch, Hugenots, British and other Europeans who came here. We want to represent all the different cultures in history.”

He added: “We’re in the hub of everything. The Garden Route starts here. We’re on the whale-watching route.”

Gratton used to work at the Bontebok National Park, established in 1931, in Swelledam. He said the park has “no scary animals”.

A drive around the park reveals the Breede River where one can swim or fish. The park is also ideal for bird watching, hiking, mountain biking or having a braai on the Breede River’s banks. The park also offers eco-friendly chalets for guests and camping site. It hosts a half canoe marathon every September.

With just a weekend away from the city, one could fit in a massage at the Rain spa, tellingly located at the entrance to the town’s main road. Bushman music plays to a soothing massage. In summer, these massages will be done in tree houses.

And after a bit of outdoor action and relaxing in a spa, one could find your way to Wildebraam farm for jam tasting. This farm grows Youngberries and Blackberries and produces a variety of products. This farm annually hosts a berry festival in November and December.

As one leaves Swellendam, you leave behind a different pace. There are not that many fast moving cars or even traffic lights. It’s just a smooth ride that reminds one how to appreciate life.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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