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Piketberg: A Travelers Tale

By Eric Havenga

Driving on the N7 towards a Cederberg breakaway or maybe on a longer drive to our beautiful neighbour Namibia, you will find a little town on the side of a mountain named Piketberg. Upon entering the imposing traffic circle just outside of town you wouldn’t necessarily give this jewel a second thought and might be tempted to drive right passed it.

 

Such a dreadful error in judgement will cause you to also miss the breathtaking views of the Versfeld Pass leading to another hidden gem called Piket-Bo-Berg. I made this very mistake a few years ago not knowing my life’s sail boat would drop anchor in this unique part of the world.

 

Allow the still small voice of adventure to overcome your rational thoughts and feel the draw of the town as you head on deeper into the cultural heart of Piketberg. Stop over, meet the locals, stand still for a moment, leave the mad rush of the city behind you, ask the right questions and who knows what interesting tales might be shared.

We are a friendly bunch that are always open for a chat and news from the big cities. I am talking of “we” as if I’ve lived here all my life but I am still a very recently arrived migrant with the trail dust still clinging to my travelling clothes. Having spent only 4 years as an “Inkommer” living on Piket-Bo-Berg I have definitely only scratched the surface of these gems in the Berg River crown… And what a crown she has!

 

I would definitely call this big sky country. It feels like the horizon stretches on forever across the endless plains with towering mountains in the distance. The sky feels huge as you look up standing in a golden wheat field.

 

Coasting into town on a Sunday or late Saturday afternoon one might be fooled in thinking that the last train left Piketberg many years ago. Trust me, looks can be deceiving. When this little town wakes up on Monday morning the hustle and bustle will definitely confirm that there is plenty of life left in this stately old lady taking a bow on the mountain side.

 

The town is flooded with history, stories and tales of adventure to be discovered by anyone willing to allow their feet to hit the dirt.

Welcome to the Berg, Piketberg.

Let me share a bit of the history of our valley with you. The very first people to have called these areas home were the Khosian and ChariGuriQua or GuriQua

 

As the Cape Colony expanded at around 1673, Piketberg served as an outpost or in military terms a picket line (piquet in old Afrikaans), at the outer edges of the colony. This outpost would serve as a lookout for attacks from enemies.

 

Piketberg as a town has its origins from the farm Grootfontein, that was donated to the Dutch Reformed church council, by Sir Benjamin D’urban, Cape colony governor at the time.

 

For the budding historians, visit South African History Online (https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/piketberg) for a lot of very interesting details regarding Piketberg and surrounds.

 

On your way into town make sure to stop over at the Tourism Information Bureau located at the Winkelshoek Padstal. Georgia who is in charge here, will definitely brighten your day with a smile as well as a wealth of information regarding the Berg River area. Do pick up a copy of Historic Piketberg as this will be your map and compass for our Historic Route!

 

Meandering through town you could hop into the Piketberg Museum (Historic route no. 9) in Kerk str next to the old Jewish Synagogue where Marié will be more than happy to share some of the hidden Piketberg Museum stories.

 

From here drive a little deeper into the historic heart of Piketberg where you will find Berg Coffee and Piquet Collective located at Historic route no 2 in Kerk street. Order a cup of delicious single origin, freshly roasted coffee whilst you browse through Piquet Collective’s collection of health products, fresh organic produce, decor and gifts. As you sit down to enjoy your cup of coffee your eyes will be bedazzled by the towering Dutch Reformed Church in front of you. The Church also happens to be no1 on the Piketberg Historic route. A good strong cup of coffee will be just what you need to kickstart your walk through the Historic route of Piketberg, whilst meeting the locals or to calm the nerves for the journey up the Versfeld Pass. The Versfeld Pass will lead you to Piket-Bo-Berg.

 

So the story goes that a Mr Versfeld, a farmer on the mountain, wanted to build the first proper pass down the mountain that would make the trip to Piketberg and further on to the markets and or ships at anchor in Cape Town just that much easier.

 

I am sure that made sense. At this point my first thoughts are “What type of person decides to climb a mountain and start a farm on top of it and then decides to also build a pass?”

 

Both of these tasks would be considered, by the average person, as remarkably more challenging than your average day job. He presented his case for a pass to the government of the day who in turn did not want to commit the funds, go figure. So then Mr Versfeld decided to just take the task on himself and built the first pass without any dynamite and almost entirely by hand… a good many hands I’m sure. The new modern pass has been rebuilt a few times and completed in 1958.

Now jump in your vehicle, tighten your safety belts and swing up the pass! When you have completed your upwards spiral be sure to reward yourself with a stop at the very top next to the Mountain Pass information sign. This makes for a phenomenal view across the valley below.

 

On top of the mountain you will find fruit farms galore: apples, pears, peaches, almonds and more, Fynbos, nature walks, 4×4 drives and even paragliding is on offer in season!

 

Be sure to plan your trip to coincide with the Piket-Bo-Berg Farmer’s Market which normally occurs on the last Saturday of the month. This is a market that is definitely not to be missed. Hosted by Riette Bryant of Kruistementvlei Farm, you will be blown away by the friendly warm hearted people that have been selling their home grown, home made produce at the market. Whilst up here for a walk in the clouds be sure to take a drive along the many roads that lead to all sorts of interesting places atop the mountain.

 

Piket-Bo-Berg is home to De Berge Mountain Mineral Water, a favourite on the West Coast for over 18 years. The friendly De Berge team is always available for a refreshing supply of mineral water, a chat or as tour guide on their petite citrus farm.

 

Right next door to De Berge is Sababa farm that grows the most delicious organic fruit and veggies. Do give the team a shout or a call for a visit or to get hold of their produce.

Another local produce favourite is Fruit Lips, that has been creating and distributing jams, marmalades, chutneys and fruit in syrup since 2014. Kruistementvlei farm is an experience in sustainable farming and offers tours and accomodation to visitors.Do contact Riette Bryant for further information.

 

Piket-Bo-Berg is also very proud to host the annual U MTB Stage Race as well as the Piket-Bo-Berg Cycle challenge & Trail Run. These truly spectacular events are hosted by the Piket-Bo-Berg trails. Be sure to log onto their web page for more details.

 

With plenty of options to stay over in town or on the mountain you might want to turn your Piketberg bathroom break into an overnight or weekend discovery tour. You will not leave Piketberg and Piket-Bo-Berg in a hurry and I am sure you will become part of the family on your return visits.

 

Interesting tales:

There used to be a cannon stationed on top of the mountain many moons ago. This cannon was used as an early warning system for the locals of any approaching enemies. It also served as a notice to the surrounding farms that ships were at anchor in Cape Town awaiting their produce.You will have to come visit the Piketberg Museum if you want to know exactly how this system worked. The cannon is still around today. The secret of its current location to be revealed to those willing to dare a trip this way.

 

A good many years ago farmers used to dump their stone fruit on the dirt roads on top of the mountain. These would then be worked into the road as a sort of surface. That was before we had tar roads.

 

I will conclude our story here for now. Hopefully only enough was shared to lure you into our folds and not too much that you might think there is nothing left to discover.

digital@escapemagazine.co.za

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