Words: Joanne Olivier
Photos: Joanne Olivier / Caroline Hillary
Admit it. Sometimes the grind of city life gets to you. That doos who just cut you off in traffic and flung a little middle finger at you has just raised your blood pressure and taken off 3 hours of your life. Wasted time on angry highways and chasing money for moneys sake. A nice little house in the country seems like a sweeter option. And that’s exactly what Beth Hillary and Matt Hoffman decided to do.
Verkykerskop is a one-stop town just before Harrismith. Beth and Matt used to be music industry, entertainment moguls in JHB, but years of late nights, disco dirty floors and endless partying made them take the long trek home, back to the farm, away from the bright dirty lights of the JHB treadmill. The story goes that they went looking for farm land and found a run down shebeen come café where the locals bought cigarettes and beer. Beth had a vision, to transform the café into a fully functioning shop, come restaurant, come entertainment and wedding venue. 10 long years later and the place has been transformed.
Verkykerskop is by no means a bustling town. In fact, there are only about 3 houses in the area, a local police station and Beth and Matt’s restaurant and venue. Mostly home to Afrikaans farmers, local workers and the odd passer by from Harrismith who comes for his meat and potatoes. The Smiley Café, as they call it, is American Diner style deluxe and serves pizzas, burgers, cokes, beers and hotdogs.
On Sunday Beth and her team of cooks, including the brilliant Auntie Flo put on a Sunday buffet unlike anything you will see in JHB. It’s home cooking ala amazing with dishes like Pampoen Fritters, Tongue salad, Roast Beef dowsed in gravy, chicken pie and whatever is fresh and ready to be plucked from the ground. Most of the food on the menu is sourced from the Garden patch, the local butcher, who makes boerewors, Cabanosi and steaks from the local Nguni Cows who roam the mountain fields in the area. It’s idyllic and peaceful and beautiful.
As far as accommodation goes, there is a quaint little boutique hotel on the grounds (only 4 rooms) and several other guesthouse style houses with a breathtaking view of the Maluti mountain range. It sounds wondrous and without worry, but the truth of it is, no matter where you go, stress follows you like a rabid hound, biting at your ankles.
Although let’s be honest, the stress of running out of butter and having to drive 40 minutes to Harrismith, or having an influx of bikers appear out of nowhere for Saturday burgers, and running you off your feet, is nothing to compare to the sooty stress of Joburg.
It can also sometimes get lonely, out in the mountains, away from family and friends. And sometimes you have to deal with the horrible leftovers of a small town racism that lingers in the dining room like coagulated gravy on a leftover piece of beef.
But these things pass, and are swept away easily when picking mielies from your garden, feeding the baby sheep, or making sure Napoleon the pig doesn’t stink.
Verkykerskop is pure South Africa, and although most guests visit the town purely by word of mouth, it’s a sanctuary away from Joburg that one should definitely mission to find.
It’s a special place, run by special people, bringing the local farmers and residents together to drink wine, listen to old school vinyl in the pub, and bless the open spaces of the country.