Taking a Karoo trip down memory lane
My first introduction to the Karoo was when my family lived on a farm near Middelton in the Eastern Cape. I was two and three years old. I remember my mother showing me how to hold a mini tennis racquet and teaching me the basics on the gravel driveway to the side of the house.
I remember being afraid of falling through the gaps in the stairs to the loft room, and playing “school-school” in little outbuilding with my older siblings. I remember the salt bush and the sheep and the wide-open spaces, and large barbel fish flapping about in a bucket on the back of the bakkie.
The larger family farm was sold some time later, and since those days, I have not been back to the Karoo very often, except for the odd tennis tournament in Graaff-Reinet or Cradock. Clearly, my mother’s tennis lessons on the gravel did some good.
When I was invited very recently to spend a few days on the beautiful Elandskloof farm, near Graaff-Reinet, I simply was not sure what to expect.
Driving to and from Elandskloof, the home of Karoo Ranching, was just as breathtaking as the farmland itself. From what I understand, this area receives most of its rainfall in the summer months, so heading there in May was the ideal time to enjoy the long grass, almost white in the sunshine; the flowing streams; and the aloes in orange bloom.
There is nothing quite like witnessing a Karoo sunset, but catching a lift to the top of a mountain on the back of a bakkie (or a horse) and watching it from there, is even better.
I had forgotten perhaps just how magical the scenery is, and how the landscape and terrain change every few kilometres. But most of all, I had forgotten how incredibly friendly the people are in the platteland towns.
Karoo Ranching founder, Julie Truter, and her sister, Lindy, were holding a photography workshop on the farm the weekend I was there. It is one of Karoo Ranching’s many annual events aimed at raising the profile of farming in South Africa.
I was able to join the photographers on their photo expedition to shoot – in the camera sense – cattle and riders on horseback, all to the backdrop of the setting sun and the seemingly never-ending hills of the big-sky Karoo.
Elandskloof’s yard had not been touched for over 40 years when Julie decided to leave the corporate world and come back farming. She sat down with her mom, Diana, who owns her grandfather’s farm, and said she would pay for the renovations for all the buildings, including the two farmhouses. It wasn’t long before the idea for Karoo Ranching was born in 2015.
Karoo Ranching offers a broad range of brand-building services to agricultural corporations and other smaller businesses, and plans private group events. Their main annual event, the Winter Film Festival in June, sees talented riders, photographers, filmmakers and journalists converge on Elandskloof and six other farms in the area.
“People come from all over and offer what they have, and hopefully leave with something more,” Julie says.
“The long-term idea is to be punting these kinds of film sets to overseas branding agencies, on the rand and not the US dollar.”
It is such a unique and positive mission in the face of all the negativity surrounding farming and land issues in South Africa that one would find it hard to find fault with it. Showcasing real people in agriculture, while encouraging tourism and business to happen in some of the places that need it most.
Add the unique hospitality of the Karoo to the package; the home-made food, the log fires, beds made with sheets and big blankets, and the freshly-plunged coffee, and Karoo Ranching really has a good thing going.
For little old me who has been living in cities and high-rise buildings for many years, my Karoo experience was a real treat.
As Julie says, “These wide open spaces are hard to find these days, and more people are looking for them.”
Indeed they are, indeed they are. But for many of us South Africans, they are just upon our doorstep.