The picturesque Boland town of Wellington offers unexpected delights.
Some may view it as a pretty, but relatively low-key, country town when compared with its more glamorous winelands neighbours like Paarl and Stellenbosch. But Wellington’s residents don’t mind in the least, because they know better than anyone that their historic town offers a lifestyle second to none and has plenty of reasons to stand proud.
It is not only the home town of news makers such as literally giants Breyten Breytenbach and Adam Small, and sports icon Schalk Burger, but the beautiful Boland town has squarely earned its place in South African history.
For instance, the James Sedgwick distillery in Wellington, which turns 125 this year, is the only dedicated whisky distillery in Africa and one that comfortably equals the most modern in the world.
Then there’s the littleknown fact that Wellington’s vine-cutting nurseries produce a whopping 85% of the country’s vine root stock, in essence providing a foundation for our entire wine industry. The list of achievements, historic and otherwise, goes on.
My husband, Salvelio, and I decided to visit for a weekend on the back of a few days in the Karoo town of Prince Albert. The drive to Wellington took about 3½ hours; had we come from Port Elizabeth it would’ve been closer to eight.
Either way we found Wellington well worth covering the distance for, with enough to see and do to justify planning a special trip just to explore this unassuming gem, situated about 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town.
When visiting the Cape winelands, many do tend to head straight for the biggest and most dazzling routes. But on this particular journey we discovered just how rewarding it can be to check out the smaller, more relaxed destinations like Wellington.
The first thing we noticed was the genuine warmth and welcoming nature of its unpretentious residents, who seemed only too happy to share the attractions of their special part of the world with out-of-towners like ourselves.
We arrived in the late afternoon and, after freshening up in our comfy suite at Cummings Guesthouse, headed straight for the Breytenbach centre and its Bordienghuis dinner theatre venue.
The centre’s main building, dating back some 150 years, was once the home of Breytenbach and his siblings. Their parents used it as a boarding house in the 1950s, but sold up in 1974. A group of art lovers bought the near derelict building in the ‘90s and, with support from the Breytenbach family, slowly set about transforming it into the thriving arts and cultural hub it is today.
We ended up having an informative, fun time with tourism head Annelize Stroebel and her husband, Leonard, as well as Annelize’s colleague Carike Heydenrych who, it turns out, grew up and studied in Port Elizabeth!
While piling into pizza and sampling some excellent local wine, we soon began to understand what makes Wellington such a special place.
Firstly, an appreciation of the arts is evident wherever you go. Koos van der Merwe, now quite famous for translating the songs of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan into rich, soulful Afrikaans, was on the Bordienghuis stage that night, and the intimate little theatre was completely packed.
This passion for the arts was also driven home the next day when the Breytenbach Gallery’s wonderfully quirky curator, Anne-Ghrett Erasmus, shared with us her love of Wellington, and the important work the centre and its dedicated staff are doing to promote the arts in all its forms, while also fully engaging the community.
Our Wellington weekend also included two museum visits, neither of them stuffy, and (of course!) heaps of feasting on the area’s fantastic food and wine.
Another huge highlight was our idyllic afternoon drive along the jaw-droppingly beautiful (and richly historic) Bain’s Kloof Pass, once the sole gateway to the north, long before Du Toitskloof Pass was built.
We saw families picnic all along the route with its unparalleled views, stunning indigenous plant life and crystal-clear streams and rivers.
Whether you’re after scenic natural beauty, a gourmet adventure or arts experience, or just sorely in need of some chill-time, the many treasures of Wellington will come as a delightful surprise.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
The Breytenbach Cultural Centre at 14 Burger Street has a gallery and art shop, quirky cafe, poetry garden and intimate Bordienghuis theatre.
The exhibitions, curated by Anne-Ghrett Erasmus, are of exceptional quality and the poetry garden is an inspiring, meditative space.
Regular workshops and events are held at the centre, which also has a strong community focus, and some of SA’s top musicians have performed in the theatre. Call (021) 873-2786 or visit www.breytenbachsentrum.co.za.
The Wellington Museum at the corner of College and Church Streets is a fun place to assimilate the history of the area, from the earliest inhabitants to the contributions of historic pioneers like Andrew Geddes Bain, genius behind the Bain’s Kloof Pass, and Andrew Murray, who revolutionised education for girls through Wellington’s Huguenot Seminary. Call (021) 873-4710.
Ouma Granny’s House Museum in Fontein Street is a Victorian cottage housing an eclectic collection of items from yesteryear, collected over many years by the late Joyce Hoogenhout- Morse.
Her daughters, Christine Siebrits and Daphne Hoogenhout, are still very involved in the museum and have fascinating stories to tell. Call (021) 873-3093 or 072-310-2698.
WHERE TO WINE AND DINE
Wine lovers will know all about Diemersfontein. This dreamy wine and country estate in the shadow of the Hawekwa Mountains is home to Seasons, a contemporary restaurant with the prettiest of views.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s big on seasonal, proudly South African produce – our meal, including an amazingly inventive pickled fish salad with poppadom bits and hot cross bun toast – couldn’t be faulted. (021) 864- 5060.
A meal at the Stone Kitchen at Dunstone Country Estate on Bovlei Road is a must.
The venue is laid-back and child- friendly; the food delicious and un-fussy. Wines, too, were enjoyable, particularly the shiraz.
We visited at night (bookings are essential for dinner) but by day you’ll enjoy stunning mountain views.Our waitress, Privilege, was a delight, as was restaurant manager Carmen Murray. Call (021) 864-1504.
WHERE TO STAY
We spent two nights at homely Cummings Guesthouse, at 20 Cummings Street. Cummings has a three-star tourism rating and we found it very neat and tidy, and the staff friendly and efficient. Rates are R490 per person excluding breakfast (R550 with breakfast) and there are 13 rooms in total.
The guesthouse is conveniently situated and our breakfast was generous and delicious. Bookings: (021) 873-3474.
Wellington falls under the Drakenstein Local Tourism Association, which also includes Paarl, Simondium and the quaintly named villages of Hermon, Gouda and Saron. The Wellington tourism office is at 104 Main Road; open 8am to 5pm weekdays, 10am to 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Call (021) 864-1378 or visit www.wellington.co.za.