South Africa is full of beautiful places but to my mind Churchaven is the most alluring of all.
I still recall the day I discovered it, nearly 40 years ago, driving along an unmarked gravel road (a good tip for would-be adventurers) in the West Coast National Park. It was wash day in this small hamlet on the edge of the lagoon and women in kappies (bonnets) bustled between washing lines holding bundles of clothes. Somewhere a rooster crowed, and I was enveloped in a sense of peace, the profundity of which I have never quite regained.
This group of ‘lagooners’, some of whom in those days had never travelled the 100kms to Cape town, were – and some still remain – a small community of people who live in hamlets clustered along the east side of the Langebaan lagoon on the West coast of the Cape. It is an Afrikaans community that worship at an English church, a small white-washed Anglican church with its picturesque graveyard where one of the graves is inscribed. ‘Sakkie Pieterse, a man who would give his last fish.’
It was here, twenty years ago, that a man called Johann, running along the gravel road saw a “For Sale’’ sign hanging on a fence of the plot that the house now stands on. With patience and determination, the sale of the plot was finalised seven years after the initial offer to purchase. Johann, in his infinite wisdom, had decided upon his retirement he would one day build his dream home, so he would be able to pass on the incredible memories he had experienced over the past 40 years with his wife, children and friends. But time passes and it is now, with a once in a lifetime opportunity that his son and family friend, were able to build their joint dream house and named it after Johann.
Johann’s Cottage is a simple L-shaped structure much in keeping with the first houses on the lagoon. ‘We built it within the strictures of the Stoffbergsfontein Residents Committee. We weren’t allowed to have big windows so we glassed in the top of the stable doors, things like that.” There are framed views of the lagoon from all rooms.
The house was designed along simple lines, cement floors, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, an irony in a place where the toilets were once not so long ago all uithousies (outhouses) and were not numerous. “We have made use of modern conveniences but kept the overall feel of the place. It is completely off grid with solar heating and running water,” says the owner.
The turf could not be more enticing, situated on the famous sandveld between the ‘big sea’ (on quiet nights you can hear the Atlantic roar) and the lagoon, it edges the wetlands.
Walking through the veld you will see plants you have never seen before, springing from the soil in strange shapes, some like pink ice cream cones, others a cluster of scarlet spikes. If you are lucky you will come across an ostrich nest full of large creamy coloured eggs, best to skirt widely. Ma Ostrich has her eye on you.
Living here you become part of the intense narrative of untapped nature. This house is on the edge of the wetlands (considered by Ramsar the intergovernmental treaty on wetlands protection to be one of the most valuable in the world.) The place is host to about 45,000 migrant birds from the Palearctic regions.
As twilight falls one can still see the lanterns burning on the small boats on the lagoon and catch a glimpse of a rooikat (caracal) as it tracks through the undergrowth. Within eyeshot are kudu and antelope grazing on the succulent lagoon peripheries. It is here samphire can be found, now a trendy accoutrement used by famous chefs.
A sandy path leads down to the sea, where kids can play. It is completely safe and there are great walks and cycle rides. It is a short – and stunning drive around the lagoon – to Langebaan if you run out of supplies.
The owners, the Lubbe’s and the Hansford’s, who have four children between them, and want it to be a family home that everyone can enjoy. “We like simple things, and that is how we have made the house. We want it more than anything to be a family home for people who love the outdoors. There is so much to do here and yet we feel it has still retained the atmosphere of a village with a community feel.”
Certainly the ghosts of the “ancient regime”, of Winnie and Kitnooi and Joey and Sally, all the people who made the place what it is today, still linger in this paradise which is hard to leave, even for heaven.
What we love!
- Have you ever had a beach entirely to yourself? Well you will here. Although the beach is open to all, only residents tend to use it.
- Walk along the beach to Kraalbaai to see the houseboats and the strange rock formations, ‘die preekstoel’ shaped like a pulpit.
- Kraalbaai is where Eve’s Footprint was discovered on the nearby shore – thought to be from 117 000 years ago, the oldest known footprint of modern mankind;
- Drive up the coast for 78kms to Paternoster where Wolfgat a small local eatery has just won The Best Restaurant in the World award in Paris. Make sure you book!
- Visit Geelbek Restaurant which is almost within walking distance. In this beautiful Cape Dutch building you can eat succulent South African dishes such as Cape Malay Chicken Curry, Bobotie, Pumpkin Pie, Venison Pie, Lamb Potjie, Geelbek Mussels, Crab Cakes and Ostrich.
- Cycle right round the lagoon and picnic in the small inlets and go skinny dipping!
What you need to know…
- Only one hour’s drive from Cape Town
- This is blissful off-the-grid living, so there is no WiFi, limited cellphone accessibility and solar power rules supreme. Most houses rely on rainwater catchment or borehole water driven by solar pumps, and gas hobs and gas ovens are used for cooking. In winter, fireplaces and ever-faithful wood-burning stoves keep things cosy
- Only cellphones, laptops, music players and the like can be used in the plugs. No hairdryers, hair straighteners or curling irons or any other appliances are to be plugged in as this could cause permanent damage to the electrical system
- We are unable to offer a cleaning service at Churchhaven. The ONLY cleaning service available at any of our Churchhaven properties is a mid-week linen change if you are staying for 6 nights or longer. Due to being off-grid Churchhaven houses do not have dishwashers. If this is a problem for you please consider our other West Coast options.
- Please take note of the following gate times for entering and leaving the West Coast National Park: 1 April to 31 August 07:00 to 17:30; 1 September to 31 March 07:00 to 18:30. No entrance into the park is possible after the gates close in the evenings
- There is a per person, per day entrance fee due to enter the park. Please check the SANPARKS website for latest fee tariffs – https://www.sanparks.org/parks/west_coast/tourism/tariffs.phpIt may be worth investing in a Wild Card – https://www.sanparks.org/wild_new/
Reviewed by Lin Sampson