Ganora Guest Farm and Nieu Bethesda
I’m not too sure what I expected when visiting Ganora Guest Farm for the very first time. Set on the very edge of the Great Karoo, the road led me across the semi-desert plains reaching out to the great purple mountains beyond. The silence and the stillness were absorbing and the star-studded night canvas was an awesome spectacle; I swept passed scattered sheep farms and their whirring windmills. As the unsurpassed majesty of the Compassberg (the highest loose standing peak outside the Drakensberg) loomed ever closer, I caught sight of the turn-off to Ganora Guest Farm and the nearby village of Nieu Bethesda.
Ganora, nestled in a hidden valley in the foothills of the Sneeuberg Mountains, is an oasis in the dry Karoo. Forbidding as this area may be both in climate and scenery, the hospitality of its people is legendary and this was certainly borne out by the welcome I received from my hosts the Steynbergs. I had travelled across the Camdeboo to Ganora to not only experience a typical South African farm stay but to also learn about the area, its past history and its current challenges.
Home comforts, snug duvets and delicious wholesome farm cooking were just the start. The best was still to come. Did I know about dinosaurs? – a hesitant yes….but not much! Had I ever swum in a farm dam? And so the story began….
250 million years ago this very area was a huge floodplain teeming with thick shelled reptiles called colloquially ‘fearful heads or ‘therapsids’. JP, a burly merino sheep farmer with a passion for fossils gave us a pre-supper talk in his little museum (created in part of the old farmhouse). Pieces of tusk, beaks like those sported by today’s tortoises, rib bones and jaw bones all laid bare to tell their tale. The museum houses other gems too – a human tale of the Bushmen who roamed and hunted in this area in centuries past and left plentiful evidence of both their art and their artefacts for us to ponder over. This is Hester’s subject – an interest that she has pursued over many years. A day out on the farm reveals more evidence of the fascinating history of this land, with a ‘bone safari’ on offer, as well as a visit to the galleries of rock art – those mystical images that speak of a lost past. The spirits of long departed folk brood in their silence, as the perpetual motion of to-day's modern world is easily forgotten.
Whilst there are activities galore, you may be just as happy to relax in your comfortable surroundings, to read a book or to listen to the dulcet sounds of the Karoo scrub and the lush pastures beyond.
Did I call this place a jewel – may be even better, a ‘crown jewel’? This find deserves its lofty reputation and begs to be visited again. Next time maybe a day or too longer, taking turns to feed the hanslametjies (orphan lambs), or the opportunity to watch a meerkat family interacting with their foster Mum Hester. Ganora is a stargazer’s heaven, a photographer’s dream and a botanist’s delight. But above all, it is a timeless place where your soul is refreshed by its languid pace and its prehistoric rhythms.
Nearby, the village of Nieu Bethesda (a mere 7km away) will offer an experience of a different kind. Left behind in time, here Helen Martins’ Owl House takes pride of place with her cement art standing silent and frozen. A donkey cart ride will orientate you around the gravel roads of the little village and a locally brewed beer could quench your thirst. Here artists and writers have chosen to make this their home, to think and dream and walk a little. Slightly further afield is the town of Graaff Reinet - the 4th oldest town in South Africa famous for its magnificent Cape Dutch architecture.
I certainly will return to wish on a Karoo star once more; to unwind in a place where peace and tranquillity prevails; where the sky smiles broadly and the people have heart.
Current rates at this very special Karoo farm are:
Bed & Breakfast ppn. sharing double roomsR340.00
Bed & Breakfast ppn. sharing larger roomsR440.00
Bed & Breakfast single pn. in a double roomR490.00
Bed & Breakfast single pn. in a larger roomR600.00
Dinner pp. (3 course meal)R140.00
Excursions vary from R20.00 pp. to R150.00 pp. depending on what activity you would like to join. They include a visit to the Wool Shed, a talk in the Fossil and Rock Art Museum, a visit to the Bushman Rock Art and Anglo-Boer War engravings, a guided walk to learn about medicinal plants, a Fossil Walk and a Canyon hike.