People who live in Swellendam know how much there is to do in the area. People who just think of it as a two-hour drive from Cape Town on their way to the Garden Route need a little encouragement to stop and explore. Here are 10 things to do when you visit Swellendam. We spent four days there and barely touched the surface.
Swellendam is small and quiet enough to be a pleasurable place to ride a bike. Bring yours with you and visit some of the major attractions at your leisure, from museums to art and photo galleries, restaurants, the botanical gardens and the unusually lavish 1911 Dutch Reformed church with its eclectic baroque gables and gothic windows (pictured above).
2. Visit a museum
On the opposite side of the road is the Old Gaol and Ambagswerf. Two of the cells off the courtyard have been opened to the public, and the Ambagswerf (trades yard) around a water-mill exhibits tools used in the past by craftsmen like wainwrights, blacksmiths, coppersmiths and tanners.
3. Get out into nature
Bontebok National Park is SANParks’ smallest park. It doesn’t have the lions and elephants of Kruger, but you might see bontebok, red hartebeest, grey rhebok, steenbok and Cape mountain zebra on a game drive. There are short walks alongside the Breede River, a 9km mountain bike trail to Skilpad dam, and swimming and fishing in the river at Die Stroom, where there’s also a picnic/braai site and lots of space for the kids to play.
4. Go shopping
For beautiful handmade soaps, creams and lotions visit the Rain Africa shop at 274 Voortrek Street. Wild-harvested organic African oils like Kalahari melon, baobab and marula form the backbone of the products, giving them a natural, earthy scent. Packaging is simple but effective and the shop is a feast for the eyes as well as the nose. Almost every product is moulded, woven, carved, poured, wrapped, filled and labelled by hand in an effort to provide employment that lifts people out of poverty. Fair Trade, Beauty without Cruelty and Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principles underpin everything, but you won’t care; you’ll just want to buy a piece of it to take home with you.
5. Get all arty and pottery
We stumbled by chance into the Bukkenburg Pottery Studio of David Schlapobersky and Felicity Potter at 8 Hermanus Steyn Street. We found David at the wheel working on an enormous jar for storing unwooded wine.
He was happy to chat and show us around, giving us a new appreciation for pottery as art, especially when he explained that it takes 18 hours to get the kiln to the required 1320ºC. ‘Then we have to wait another two days for the kiln to cool down so we can see whether the work’s been successful or not,’ he said. Nerves of steel.
It’s a 100% home industry David's been working at for 40 years, first in Joburg and then in Swellendam from 1996. He does everything himself, even mixing his own clay and making glazes, some of them in the old-fashioned Japanese way, from the ash of materials like canola and bamboo. Felicity does all the brush work, though they plan all their pieces and exhibitions together.
6. Taste honey and see live bees
7. Visit a berry farm
There are two berry farms just outside Swellendam where you can pick blackberries, youngberries and blueberries in season (November to January). Both The Berry Farm and Wildebraam Berry Estate have tasting rooms where you can sample homemade products like liqueurs, jams, syrups even if you visit out of season.
We’d heard many good things about Wildebraam, so we drove out on muddy roads and helped ourselves to a taste of a few of their jams. But we were really interested in the liqueurs, with the idea of taking them home as gifts unique to Swellendam. As instructed, we asked for assistance and were told in a rather offhand way that they were too busy preparing for a function to give us a liqueur tasting. A great disappointment, so maybe it’s best to phone ahead or try The Berry Farm instead.
8. Take the kids to see the fairies
9. Treat yourself to a massage
We were treated to the couples’ Elephant Walk massage, an hour of pampering much gentler than the name might suggest. From the tip of the toes to the neck and shoulders, Bianca and Sherleen used calabashes to ‘walk’ up our muscles and release tension. A warm ‘massage candle’ of cocoa and shea butter was poured over us. Apparently it was transporting antioxidants and plants actives into our skin but we didn’t really care; it just felt heavenly. By the time the hammer and chisel came out (it sounds much worse than it is!) we were too blissed out to worry, succumbing to the rhythmic clacking of the wooden instruments that vibrated deep into our muscles.
10. Do a township tour
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