Farm Stays are growing in popularity and De Zeekoe in Oudtshoorn is more popular than most – and for good reason as it offers a truly unique South African farm experience to both domestic and international leisure travellers alike, writes Des Langkilde.
Having been referred to De Zeekoe for overnight accommodation by Cango Wildlife Ranch, where I had just completed a site inspection (read this review here), I arrived at the farm gate some seven kilometres outside of Oudtshoorn, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province with some trepidation. This is a working farm after all, and I’m used to the refined luxury of 5-star hotels and safari lodges.
My misgivings were soon dispelled however, when I checked-in at reception and met the guesthouse general manager, Kristy Potgieter who obliged me with a quick tour of the communal facilities.
When I visited in August 2015, the main entrance was being refurbished but judging by the decor and spotlighted cabinetry, displaying incredibly well crafted effigies of Meerkat among other tourist mementos, I was left with the impression of a boutique hotel rather than a farmstead establishment.
Moving from the reception area one enters the dining room, which is given a sense of ethereal spaciousness by virtue of open ceiling beams with simple unadorned square windows lining the space near the ceiling to provide more natural light. Sliding doors lead from the dining room to an open deck bar area, which overlooks a boma styled bonfire pit, a large swimming pool surrounded by expansive lawns, and views of the Olifants river, karoo veld and the spectacular Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains beyond.
The farm I am told, is owner managed and covers an expanse of 2000 hectares, parts of which are cultivated for growing its main crop, alfalfa, which is supplied to the surrounding cattle farmers as feed. The farm was originally named ‘Zeekoegat’ over a century ago, which is a Dutch word meaning “hippo waterhole” referring to the abundance of hippo pods that used to frequent the riverbed that runs through the farm.
Concluding the tour I was shown to my room, which turned out to be one of two honeymoon bedrooms with balconies that overlook the reed choked riverbeds below. The room is large enough to swing an ostrich without touching sides, and the mosquito net draped four-poster bed is expansive enough to share it with a dizzy ostrich too. The en-suite bathroom is also uncommonly large, and features sandstone tiles with a free standing bath, double basins and large open air shower.
A pair of warm bathrobes are provided and the bath towels are luxuriously soft and absorbent. The room is tastefully decorated with ostrich feather cushions, persian carpets, soft lighting and complimentary sherry. As August in the karoo can be chilly, I was grateful to note the fireplace, which is lit by the bed turndown service while guests are at dinner. In addition to the two honeymoon suites, five superior, nine luxury and three standard bedroom options are offered at the main farm, and all have wheelchair-friendly access.
But that’s not all – the farm also boasts four rustic self-catering cabins positioned on the banks of a picturesque lake. The lake is a short drive from the main farm lodging, but being early afternoon I decided to walk the five kilometres to take in the farms ambiance and crisp country air.
Activities on the farm are plentiful, as evidenced by a well maintained rack of mountain bikes for hire and a sign that I spotted on my walk that denotes self guided hiking trails of five and ten kilometre distances, cycling routes of fifteen to thirty kilometres, swimming, canoeing, fishing and bird spotting. Regarding the latter, the farm has recorded over 162 bird species, the most impressive of which are a mating pair of fish eagles whose distinctive call can be heard at regular intervals.
Having built up an appetite, I looked forward to sampling De Zeekoe’s cuisine, the ingredients for which are harvested from the farms organic vegetable and herb garden. They even grow and press their own olive oil, and source their free-range beef, lamb and ostrich locally. The a la carte menu is impressive with choices ranging from beef, ostrich, or venison to vegetarian dishes. I started with a creamy butternut soup followed by a traditional Cape Malay Babotie served with couscous, chutney, deep fried onion rings, and small dumplings soaked in a spicy sauce – absolutely delicious and artfully presented. For dessert I opted for a simple steamed pudding with hot custard. My meal was complimented a glass of Merlot selected from the restaurants comprehensive wine list and cellar.
After a sherry nightcap and cigar enjoyed on my rooms balcony to the chorus of crickets and the rustle of mysterious wildlife foraging in the reeds below, I retired to a fitful sleep and arose before sunrise to depart for a Meerkat Adventure excursion – but that’s another story that can be read on page 13 of the February magazine (link: http://issuu.com/tourismtattler/docs/tourism-tattler-february-2016).
Overall, De Zeekoe has set the bar for farm stay experiences that others will find hard to emulate.
For more information visit www.dezeekoe.co.za