Cape mountain escape

I must admit that the farm Simonskloof’s main attraction for me was the promise of no electricity and no cellphone reception. As an increasingly hectic week drew to a close, I found myself wanting to escape into the peace you only find from being in the middle of nowhere.

And let’s face it, Simonskloof is pretty much as close as you can get to the middle of nowhere while still being within easy reach of a weekend getaway. To get there you have to drive right into the heart of the Langeberg mountains, in the Koo valley (where the canned fruit comes from), which is itself off fairly off the beaten track. About 40kms along, you turn off onto a dirt track which winds its way over the hill and down into a previously hidden valley — and that’s our destination.

We got out of the car and immediately felt we’d stepped into another world. Simonskloof has the kind of effortless, harsh beauty that’s so iconic of the Karoo landscape, with stony mountains circling the farm and clear skies above.

Jurgen, our host, inherited the property from his grandfather, and he’s set about nursing a very special ecotourism experience into being. Once a working farm supporting several people, Simonskloof now lies fallow. Almost the only traces of this history are the farmhouse, old apricot orchards, and a magnificent grove of oak trees. Oh, and the dam, of course, now mostly used for trout-fishing and kayaking.

An architect by training, Jurgen is the farm’s only permanent inhabitant and somehow manages to run the place, organise bookings, maintain the property, and do all the chores and cooking. He is, in fact, a superb cook. We’d chosen the “dinner and breakfast” option and that night he presented us with brown bread baked on the fire, succulent trout and a dazzling array of side dishes, ending off with Irish coffees for dessert.

In between cooking up a storm, Jurgen explained the farmhouse’s unusual design to us. It’s a tin-roofed, one-story building in shades of ochre and dark green, with a long, inviting stoep. But until he pointed it out, I’d completely failed to notice its precise positioning. It had been planned so that the stoep received early morning sun, when its warmth is most needed, but at midmorning we were pleasantly shaded. In the afternoon, the sun streams into the bedrooms, warming them for the night ahead. It is, as Jurgen points out, a living structure.

I must admit that we didn’t do very much on our idyllic weekend away. When we did manage to muster up some energy — somehow it’s awfully nice to just be lazy — border collies Matata and Spotty took us for a couple of walks.

More active souls are well catered for, though. The area is great for mountain-biking, and Jurgen runs an abseiling/kloofing trip into the Nuy River Gorge.

As a hiker myself, I’m especially keen to come back for the Gecko Trail. It’s a 21km wilderness trail from Simonskloof to the Nuy Valley Guest House, and apparently takes between six and nine hours.

There are plans to add a further 20km to the trail, in order to link up with Robertson’s Arangieskop trail. Eventually, it is hoped, one will be able to walk the entire length of the Langeberg mountains to Montagu.

But we weren’t being at all ambitious. We were content, for now, to open another bottle of red wine and sit comfortably in the candlelight.

More about Simonskloof

There are a range of accommodation options at Simonskloof. We chose to stay in the farmhouse and have dinner and breakfast provided, charged at R275 per person with concessions for children.

The entire farmhouse, sleeping six people, can be hired on a self-catering basis, at R680 per night. A small cottage is also available for hire and sleeps up to four people, and you can also camp under the oak trees. Kloofing and abseiling trips are also on offer.

And you needn't worry too much about roughing it. There may not be electricity, but there is hot water and flush loos.

For more information, check out the Simonskloof website: www.simonskloof.com. Phone (023) 614 1895 or email: info@simonskloof.com.

Article by: Jocelyn Newmarch