Beyond the blue mountains
Out of the loop on the Worcester wine and olive route, Nancy Richards finds the grass on the other side a little bit greener
There's been a lot of work going on around Worcester - new roads, Mountain Mill shopping centre, Golden Valley Casino - and there's a great, big, empty graded area where a housing development looks imminent.
Worcester the town remains largely unchanged - High Street full of food franchises, Church Street with pretty architecture, imposing churches and ear-piercing traffic lights for the benefit of residents from the Worcester School for the Blind.
But turning left instead of right into town at the Roux Road traffic lights, we found there's another side to Worcester. This is the land of pin-neat homes and manicured gardens, the equally manicured golf course (established 1895), and the grand-daddy garden of them all, the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden spreading across 150-odd hectares at the base of the Brandwacht Mountains.
As the name suggests, the KDNBG is big on water-wisdom and plants from arid regions - quiver trees, vygies, aloes. In spring, it's apparently a bit like all of Namaqualand in one go. But it has the makings of an entertaining visit any time. There are trails, a living succulent collection, a Xhosa herb garden and Nama cooking shelter. Plus, according to our source, there are plans to reopen the restaurant and to start a concert series, as per Kirstenbosch.
Chatting to another local, we also made the happy discovery that, on this road on the first Saturday of every month, there's a Pure Boland Farmers' Market in the Green Shed, the Brandwacht table-grape farmers' depot. You can buy whatever fruit the local farmers have in season as well as all the market-type goodies - koeksisters, pancakes, roosterkoek and rusks, cheeses, olives, sauces, preserves, pastries, potjies and a whole range of wines from the region's cellars. Organiser Tharina Jonker says a lot of people come with the kids and a picnic basket and make a day of it.
But if Pure Boland is child friendly, then Summerhill further down the road is like a kids' own happy valley. It's a guest farm essentially, packed to the rafters for the weekend when we popped in because of the pool tournament happening in town.
But what they also do is parties - kiddies' ones in particular. There's a secret garden, expectant goats, a litter of pigs, a couple of horses, pens of geese, laying chickens and petting rabbits - as well as a lame but apparently happy peahen named Penelope.
There's also a vineyard of table grapes, a grove of olives, an organic vegetable patch and a bird-nesting box in every tree. Owners Bob and Wendy Parris seem to have enough to keep themselves out of trouble in their "retirement".
So while we're in out-of-the loop mode, instead of taking the long and darkened Huguenot tunnel and toll back to Cape Town, we choose the rough route up through the little old Du Toitskloof tunnel, where you can see the light at the end from the beginning.
It's a better and cheaper option, especially for claustrophobics. Going the extra 11km on this windy route pays off and extended families of baboon line the way, adding enormously to the drive-time interest.
Getting there: From Cape Town, head out on the N1 towards Worcester. At the second set of lights, turn left into Roux Street instead of right into town. From Jo'burg, turn right into Roux Street.
Staying over: Summerhill Guest Farm has cottages from R350 a head, self-catering. See their website.
Contacts: Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens: www.sanbi.org. Pure Boland Farmers' Market: Tharina Jonker on 0823018561.
What else is there to see: In the area is Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve, for day or overnight visits. Among the Big Five, you can still see the poacher-survivor dehorned rhinos. Visit www.fairyglen.co.za. One kilometre from Worcester on the R60 is the Worcester Kleinplaasie Museum, a working museum where they do things like they did in the old days: bake bread, churn butter and make witblitz. See www.worcestermuseum.org.za.