About two weeks ago, we returned from 6 days and 5 nights spent in Cradock – a historic town in the Eastern Cape.  Over the years, we’ve zig-zagged across most of South Africa and spent lots of time in every major city (except Kimberley).  And we’ve visited many Karoo towns… but never Cradock.

And (as I quickly discovered)… Cradock should be visited!!

Here’s why:

  • It’s one of South Africa’s most historically significant towns.  Many believe that the apartheid regime gasped it’s last, desperate breaths in Cradock and when the Cradock Four were murdered by security police in 1985 – it marked a turning point in our country’s political history.
  • It’s was (and is) the home of some of South Africa’s most well-known writers.  There’s something about Cradock that inspires writers to write.
  • It’s just down the road from the Mountain Zebra National Park – which (according to Nick) is one of the best national parks he’s visited.
  • It has (many!) beautiful historic buildings – including the Victoria Hotel and the Tuishuise… (and many more).
  • Harry Potter is buried in the cemetery.  Here’s a photo for the evidence file:

Here lies Harry Potter…

We were in Cradock for a literary festival called “The Etienne van Heerden Veld Soiree”.  Etienne van Heerden is a celebrated Afrikaans author who has written many books and whose roots are firmly entrenched in Cradock soil (he lives in Cape Town these days, but returns regularly to his home town).  I’d been invited to participate in the festival by Darryl Earl David (who had also arranged for me to speak at the Midlands Literary Festival) – and it provided a lovely excuse for Nick and I to embark upon another road-trip with the kidlets.

The festival organisers had arranged for us to stay at Dirosie, a sprawling game farm (also known as Buffelshoek) on the outskirts of Cradock  owned and operated by Dirkie Visser and his wife, Rosie.  Afrikaners have quite the reputation for yummy food and for being extremely hospitable to their guests – and the Vissers were no exception.  We stayed in the family-sized Springbok room and every day, Rosie ensured that we were fed with 3 delicious meals (the pumpkin fritters were the best I’ve ever tasted).

And… they had in-room wifi!  Given the remote location of Dirosie… I have to admit, I was not expecting in-room wifi!  So, that was a pleasant surprise.  Here’s some photos:

The arid Karoo landscape. In the distance, you can see the town of Cradock.

When we arrived at Dirosie, we drove into a wind storm. Nick took this photo of Joah admiring his windy hairdo…

I also like this photo of Morgan enjoying the wind…

Nick and Morgan cooling their feet in the pool (after a long drive)…

Joah being… Joah.

Rosie (who makes all her own biltong and dry wors) left this little gift pack on our beds. She went out of her way to make things special… especially for the kids.

The Cradock landscape. There’s something about the Karoo… the vastness… the big skies… the wide open spaces… the brilliance of the stars at night… that I deeply-DEEPLY appreciate.

But… back to the reason we were in Cradock:  the book festival…

The Cradock festival was just as fascinating as the Midlands Literary Festival… but in a very different way.

The landscape and people of Cradock are so different to the landscape and people of the Natal Midlands… and yet… I found the stories just as interesting.  And (as a lover of diversity) – I was especially chuffed to find myself  amidst such a diverse mish-mash of people.  Professors and linguists mixed in with artists and storytellers… people from all backgrounds with our combined love of BOOKS being the thread that tied us all together.

I spent the first morning of the festival drinking in the stories of various authors.  While I immersed myself in all-things-book… Nick took the kids to the nearby Mountain Zebra National Park.  He returned with reports that it’s one of the best parks he’s visited because the drive is hilly… and the views are #$%^! awesome!  I must say – I was a bit jealous that I didn’t join them… but, no-matter… next time we’re in Cradock – we’ll go again.

One of the creatures my threeples spotted at Mountain Zebra National Park was this fat and happy puff adder… slithering along the roadside (don’t worry – the photos were taken from the window of the car.  I’m not gonna encourage my family to approach a venomous snake – just for a nice photo!).

They shot a video too. I love the way snakes move.

One of the highlights of our stay at Dirosie… was the epic trip to the grave of Olive Schreiner.

Olive (born in 1855, died in 1920) was a world famous author and human rights activist whose views were way before her time.   I didn’t know much about her until I visited Cradock (and stopped in at the Schreiner House Museum).   And the more I discovered about Olive… the more impressed I became… so much so, that I’m currently devouring a fascinating biography about her life.

Here’s a photo of Olive:

Anyhoo… since we were at a literary festival… and Olive was a literary-giant… it seemed a good idea that we all pay a visit to her grave.

Except… Olive is buried on top of a mountain.  It’s called buffelskop – and it falls within the boundaries of Dirkie and Rosie’s Buffelshoek farm.  A couple of brave (fit!!) souls have hiked to the buffelskop summit to pay homage to Olive.  But for those of us less inclined to trek up mountains, Dirkie Visser (being the resourceful man that he is) has carved a dirt track into the mountain side so that people with 4×4 vehicles (and nerves of steel) are able to drive to (almost) the top of buffelskop… and then hike the final section on foot.

This sounded like a fabulous plan.

I immediately signed us all up for the adventure… and was promptly handed an indemnity form which released the Visser family, Dirosie and all their staff… from any culpability should we all DIE on the trip.

Huh?  Die!?  Surely it’s just a little drive up the mountain….??

Needless to say… the veld soiree attendees managed to board 3 vehicles (all fitted with game-drive viewing seats)… and off we went.  At first – the incline wasn’t too steep and we were all oooh’ing and aaaah’ing at the sights (including three giraffe whose necks moved in unison as they watched our ascent from a distance).  Here’s a photo of the not-so-terrifyingly-steep-bit:

I took this photo while sitting on the back viewing seat of our vehicle. Etienne van Heerden is the guy on the left with the grey hair.

Then it began to get very steep.  And the road seemed to be getting narrower and narrower.  The vehicle seemed to lean ominously towards cliff-side of the road (rather than the side that hugged the mountain).   At some parts, the road was unbelievably steep… and the vehicles seemed to teeter on the brink of oblivion.  (Ah.  So that’s why we had to sign indemnity forms).

Half the passengers were whooping with glee… the rest were white-faced with terror and looked as though they’d pass out.  Nick and I loved it (although I must admit, my heart-rate did shoot up on more than just a few occasions).  Morgan loved it too.  Joah, on the other hand,  buried his head in my chest and later told me that he now understands what people mean when they say:  “frozen with fear”.

Finally – we reached a plateau near the summit of buffelskop… where the drivers parked all three vehicles.  That was our cue to disembark and climb to the summit to visit the stone dome where Olive is interred with her husband, her baby and her dog.  Here’s some photos:

Half way up, the drivers stopped the vehicles and we all got out to marvel at the views….

Morgan on the back of the bakkie that took us up…

Me… hiking to the summit of Buffelskop (in a pair of slip-slops!!)…

Nick next to Olive’s grave…

The final resting place…

Me, Olive and some of her notes (which I photographed at the Schreiner House Museum…

The four of us. Always happy when there’s a new adventure to be had…

Nick shot this photo on his way up to the summit of buffelskop.   You can see where Dirkie and his team parked the cars… and then set up some chairs and tables so that we could all eat and chat before the long descent – later that evening.

Morgan and Joah enjoying the views…

After a lovely afternoon spent on buffelskop and the other mountains surrounding Dirosie, it was time for us to ascend the mountain before it got too dark.  Dirkie (knowing the weather and the landscape) was trying… very politely… to usher everyone back onto the vehicles.  None of us really wanted to go.  The views were so spectacular, the company was so lovely… and so it was a reluctant group of literary-lovers who eventually boarded the 4×4’s.

The sun was going down as we ascended buffelskop.   Nick and I sat on the back seat (also the highest) of our vehicle with Morgan and Joah snuggled between us.  It was getting cold.  The Karoo is known for extreme weather.  Blistering hot summers and freezing winters.  Because it was early Spring, the evening weather was still chilly and the four of us huddled under a fleece blanket.  The views stretched on as far as the eye could see…. the cold breeze nipped at our faces… and I exchanged glances with Nick.  The trip to Olive’s grave would go down as one of our very special, nostalgic, once-in-a-lifetime moments.  Never to be forgotten.

On our last day at Dirosie, while I was attending the seminar and listening to stories… Dirkie Visser very graciously took Nick and the kids for a drive around his farm – bone hunting.

Yes.  My kids are strange.  They like bones.  Especially big bones that look bone’ish.  They returned with a vast collection of bones – including half an alpaca (which Morgan has since displayed on the table in our back yard).  Here’s some photos:

Morgan sorting through some of the smaller bones…

Joah with the remnants of an alpaca (the skull is inside the crate as well)…

And so… with a head full of stories, a crate full of bones, a generous supply of biltong… and some very special memories, we left Dirosie for Cradock – where we spent our final night at the tuishuise (which I’ll tell you about later – because this post is already too long!!)

Later-gators… x