Chasing the Rainbow

Go glamping in an ox wagon

Bergrivier’s Vintage Ox Wagons offer a few mod-cons for a family adventure

Port Elizabeth travel blogger Sarah Dirsuwei takes the family to Bergrivier for a "glamping" break with a nod to history

The Dirsuwei family go "glamping" in an ox wagon
The Dirsuwei family go "glamping" in an ox wagon
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

Glamping, a combination of “glamorous” and “camping”, is a classic oxymoron. What on earth is glamorous about camping?

Although it can be argued that there is a primal allure to stumbling around in the dark with a torch strapped to your head, cooking your food on open coals, zipping yourself into a canvas tent and smelling like a campfire, it is quite simply as far from glamorous as you get.

But when you start from such a low base, each creature comfort you add into the mix starts to transform this primitive way of holidaying into something entirely more desirable.

Glamping at Bergrivier
Glamping at Bergrivier
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

A stylish starting point is not having to erect your own tent. Add to this some electricity, a bush kitchen, real beds, a hot shower, en-suite toilet and some posh privacy, and voila – glorious glam!

A stylish starting point is not having to erect your own tent
Bergrivier vintage ox wagons offer a unique overnight experience
Bergrivier vintage ox wagons offer a unique overnight experience
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

We were thoroughly delighted to discover that Bergrivier Eco Estate, a 30-minute drive from Port Elizabeth, ticked all these boxes in a completely unique, albeit rustic way.

Although Bergrivier offers a few different styles of accommodation, it was its vintage ox wagons that caught our eye.

Bergrivier is tucked beneath the start of the Groot Winterhoek mountains, just past Thornhill on the way to Hankey. A winding gravel road leads you from civilisation back in time through farmlands to a valley dotted with a few chalets and a couple of vintage ox wagons.

The wagons are each parked under a roof attached to a rustic wooden chalet, complete with a simple en-suite toilet and a bedroom with a bunk bed. Each ox wagon unit sleeps four, so the whole camp accommodates eight people in total.

The Dirsuwei family at Bergriver vintage ox wagons
The Dirsuwei family at Bergriver vintage ox wagons
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

In between the ox wagon chalets there is a large lapa structure – a multi-use area with a basic kitchen, fire pit, braai, dining area, donkey geyser and another beautiful ox wagon – this one just for show.

The camp is basic, but came complete with everything we needed to have a relaxing weekend in the bush.

We arrived as the sun was setting on a Friday afternoon, and were greeted warmly by Japie and Dorie Williams, the fourth generation to have lived on the family farm.

Japie had very kindly made us a fire-starting box – stuffed with pinecones, newspaper and twigs with logs of wood at the top. All we had to do was hold a flame to one of the little windows cut out of the box and the entire carton whooshed into fiery life.

We dutifully braaied our meat and sat around the campfire doing what happy campers are expected to do.

On Saturday morning it was blissful to wake up slowly to an opera of birdsong. The opening act was the owls before dawn, hooting to each other from across the farm.

Next up was a very loud solo performance by a persistent nightjar, followed by a chorus of chattering, whistling, singing little birds as light streamed over the horizon.

The grand finale was the coo-ing trill of turtle doves as the warm sun signalled that daytime had arrived.

Lying on the comfy double bed in the ox wagon, listening to this glorious cacophony unfold, was the most perfect way to start the day.

There are several trails at Bergrivier
There are several trails at Bergrivier
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

After a camp-worthy breakfast of egg and bacon rolls, we donned our backpacks and headed out on the blue hiking trail to the waterfall.

There are four marked hiking trails on the farm – a couple of relatively easy walks and a longer full day hike. The waterfall route promised to be an easy two-hour trail.

The original farmhouse at Bergrivier is now a picturesque ruin
The original farmhouse at Bergrivier is now a picturesque ruin
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

It led us past the original farmhouse built in 1855 (now a picturesque ruin), over a river and past the family graveyard, where all the previous residents of the ruined farmhouse rest together. The path then criss-crosses the river up a deep gorge filled with indigenous forest.

We spotted a huge, harmless Natal green snake
We spotted a huge, harmless Natal green snake
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

We spotted loads of colourful locusts popping from the grass like popcorn and a huge, harmless Natal green snake.

The hike was peaceful and serene – we were the only people around and it was blissful to have this incredible spot all to ourselves.

The trail led to a deep pool with a waterfall at Bergrivier Vintage Ox Wagons
The trail led to a deep pool with a waterfall at Bergrivier Vintage Ox Wagons
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

The trail led to a deep pool with a waterfall which was the perfect place to enjoy a picnic snack.

We headed back to camp, getting a bit lost on the way but managing to relocate our wagons in time for the ultimate weekend treat – an afternoon nap.

The donkey boiler at Bergrivier Vintage Ox Wagons
The donkey boiler at Bergrivier Vintage Ox Wagons
Image: Sarah Dirsuwei

We whiled away the rest of the weekend playing an impromptu game of Blind Man’s Pictionary on the blackboard in the lapa, polishing our Afrikaans by trying to read the history of the ox wagon in the file that Dorie very kindly lent us, stoking the enormous fire under the donkey boiler so that we could coax a trickle of hot water from the outdoor shower and cooking a lot of food on the fire.

Living glamorously rough for a couple of days literally evaporated our city stress, and we felt refreshed and ready to face all the modern conveniences of our brick and mortar home once again – a sure sign that we had spent a perfect weekend glamping!

BERGRIVIER: NEED TO KNOWAccommodation in Bergrivier’s Pioneer Wagon camp costs R170 per person per night. The camp is booked out as an entire unit (maximum eight people, no minimum). Bergrivier also offers chalets and a regular campsite.

For more information, and bookings, visit
www.bergrivier.com

  • Sarah Dirsuwei lives in Port Elizabeth and writes a family travel blog called Chasing the Rainbow. For more on the gang’s adventures visit www.chasingtherainbow.net
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