By Richard van Ryneveld
The writer, poet and philosopher G.K. Chesterton once said: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
I certainly learnt this lesson recently when I trundled out in my old Land Rover to camp in four different campsites surrounding my hometown of Greyton in the Cape.
GREYTON ECO CAMP
My first port of call was the Eco Camp down on the Riviersonderend River, just 3km from town.
Entering the boom gate my first reaction was a loud “wow, his looks great”! The reason for my delight is the fact that I have had an off/on relationship with this site for the last 30-odd years. My children learnt to swim here, and I learnt to fish for bass from this spot down near the bridge over the river.
Like any the campsite, Eco Camp has had its ups and downs over the years. But some three years ago a lady called Nicky Vernon took on the challenge of getting camp up to speed.
Managing the camp, and living there too, are Ian and Wendy Boshoff, who are campers to the core. Their cottage is on the right as you enter the campsite. On the left is Shareen Freeman’s neat little wooden cottage. Shareen is in charge of all the marketing and social media for Eco Camp. She also makes a range of eco-friendly soaps and cleaning materials that she has for sale at the camp.
The word “eco” sums up the whole philosophy of the camp and its management. There is no electricity, but the camp is solar powered both with lights and solar heating for the ablution block showers.
The grey water from the bathrooms, where they only use biodegradable products, is used to help irrigate the garden.
Having known this camp for so long I just couldn’t get over its transformation into a really neat and tidy campsite.
The individual sites are large and spacious, giving you that feeling of having the river and the magnificent Overberg all to yourself.
The campsite is a wonderful place for kids to swim, fish and just mess around in the water. With all these memories floating around in head I meandered a short distance down the river to my next campsite.
OEWERZICHT CAMP & COTTAGES
I didn’t have far to go. The Oewerzicht Camp and Cottages are only seven kilometres away. Oewerzicht reminded me of the movie A River Runs Through It, in this case the Sonderend River.
The neat and well-grassed campsites are all on the banks of the river, and visitors will be blown away by the ablutions. Perhaps my mate’s girlfriend Chantal can sum it up best (Brendan and Chantal were staying with us for a few days before they flew of to spend six months on their yacht in the Med): “Just come and look at the bathroom… I cannot believe this is a campsite bathroom and not a five-star hotel!”
The ablution facilities are amazing, while the character of Oewerzicht is still pure country at its best.
It’s a large working farm, and the feeling is of openness and space along the palmiet reed-fringed river with the Riviersonderend Mountains towering in the background as a backdrop.
The river that runs through it is off course where everything happens. Whether its fishing for bass, canoeing, tubing or simply contemplating your navel as you watch the water flowing past on the way to the sea, Oewerzicht is the place to be.
For the fit and healthy there’s miles and miles for the joggers and runners, whilst theirs a great 25 km Mountain Bike Trail as well as hiking trails, including the nearby Greyton McGregor Hike.
The little winkel, Sheila’s Tuckshop, is a profit sharing venture between Sheila Hombile and the Oewerzicht owner Kootjie and Iza Viljoen. The whop stocks camping basics, the type of things you often leave at home: firelighters, matches, wood, ice, sweets , cooldrinks and braaiwood.
My next two campsites were further up the river, so I had to go back through the small historic village of Greyton to get there.
It’s no wonder Greyton is so popular with tourists. There are a large variety of shops of every sort in the village, as well as different restaurants. If you’re more into fine art than artisinal food, I particularly like the wonderfully humorous work well-known artist David Kuijers and the work of sculptor and painter Alistair Barnes.
Added to the eclectic mix are charity shops for the Red Cross, Animal Welfare and the Donkey Sanctuary, upmarket clothing, a first class wine and liquor outlet, craft beer and accommodation to suit every pocket, including camping of course.
Of course, one of the biggest draw cards in the village is the Saturday Morning Market. The market is on the main road diagonally opposite the NG church. Officially start time is 10am.
Take a stroll along a bit earlier though as the stallholders start setting up. Hopefully my pictures give you some idea of the variety of goods to be enjoyed at the market. And practically everything is either homemade, organic or products from the local farmers.
CHAMPAGNE BY THE RIVER
Next the old Landie and I trundled down the road to Champagne By the River and my mate’s Reenen Kritzinger’s campsites.
Champagne By the River, as the name suggests, is a riverside campsite and a cottage on a large working fruit farm 15km from Greyton.
The main campsite consists of 6 large stands right on the banks of an open stretch of the Riviersonderend River. This part of the river is deep and slow moving, so it’s excellent for swimming.
The main camp has quite a bit of shade but in summer it would be wise to bring a gazebo. I also suggested bringing an extension lead (20 metres would be good) as the power points were a reasonable distance away.
There is a neat ablution block with two toilets and two showers, and a scullery.
When I arrived, the whole main camp had been booked out by a group of friends for the weekend. There were kids everywhere, some swimming, some racing around on their bicycles, other having a blast on a large float. I haven’t seen city kids having so much fun in years.
As the main campsite was booked out I camped at the adjoining riverside bush camp. There are currently only three sites in the bush camp at the moment, all with an electrical outlet. There’s a very neat-shared ablution facility with two solar-heated showers, a toilet and washbasin.
I parked under the shade of a large willow. My bass reel had packed up so I waded out into the water and had a few rank amateur casts with my fly line. A pair of red knobbed coots scooted around in the palmiet on the opposite bank. High overhead the evocative call of the Blue Crane hung in the evening air.
VATIKAKI BUSH CAMP
My next campsite was literally a brisk walk up the road from Champagne to Bakenskloof Farm. Bakenskoof and the wonderfully named Vatikaki Bush Camp is owned by a friend Reenen Kritzinger and his wife Tracey and three kids.
Reenen, a young farmer, is one of a kind. A maverick, mechanical genius – he could weld at three years old – and just a one of those wonderfully different people you don’t often find in this world today. Generous and kind to a fault, like his wife Tracey, Reenen dances to his own tune.
Created by Reenen and five friends, the group cleared a great camping site on the banks of the river. He later joined a very informal bunch of 4×4 enthusiast called the Vatikaki 4×4 Adventure Club. The Vatikaki bunch so enjoyed camping at Bakenskloof farm, one of their members welded up a huge rocket-like donkey boiler for the camp. Reenen in turn built a toilet and a really large double shower, and the Bakenskloof Vatikaki Bos Kamp was born.
That first night I camped at Bakenskloof, Reenen and the kids came down to the campsite bringing me a bakkie-load of firewood they had collected on lands that they’re busy clearing. He immediately said: “No man, you can’t sit and braai here alone. We’ve got a chicken just about to go into the black pot…come and join us.”
Sitting around the fire with flat-bottomed cast iron pot sizzling , I asked Reenen what it costs to camp here? He looked at me with a slightly quizzical look and said: “I don’t know – pay what you think it’s worth. If you like it, pay something; if you don’t, pack up and camp somewhere else.”
Then he added the Bakenskloof Vatikaki Bush Kamp ethos: “don’t make your problem my problem!” (He did not say “problem”, you can probably figure out what it was from the name of the camp).
And that is the bottom line with this wonderful, slightly eccentric dude. That’s why I like him so much, and also why I like his campsite that can accommodate up to 25 people in the same group or three cars if the campers are strangers.
The bush camp has large fire-pits, but remember to bring your own braai grids and stands. There are also dustbins and plenty of taps (the water is unfiltered river water).
Dogs aren’t allowed as the Kritizinger’s two old Labradors don’t like other dogs on their home turf, but you will certainly get a visit from Timmy the Irish Setter, who will probably starting digging for mole the moment after she’s given you a friendly greeting.