The sea, the sea. I had longed for it for 14 months. To be in it, of it, stare at it, smell it. And I needed a road trip, to see big skies, big country, big clouds and listen to big music.
It took us until March to unlock the lockdown and get to the sea. WFH (work from home) has become WFA (work from anywhere) and we made it count. We drove through the Karoo to Gansbaai … well, actually Richmond to Romansbaai, two places we had never visited before. Who knew?
They were small, quiet, contained and perfectly pandemic appropriate ahead of the long weekend, Easter, school holiday, third-wave crushes and crashes. How did we find them? Instagram. Yes, friends, sometimes all that mindless scrolling and algorithm listening pays off. Which is how we found ourselves renting two different homes over two weeks in Romansbaai, a wild, magnificent eco-estate as close and near to Gansbaai as it need be.
The beach is so wild that we were met with three pods of dolphins right in the break on the first morning. Seals slipped through the kelp off the shore with the fish they had caught, cormorants migrated in their thousands across Walker Bay to find food, oystercatchers nested and heckled.
A massive storm dumped a forest of kelp that cut a part of the beach off for a morning and then reclaimed it the next. The same storm washed up blue bottles – the only day we did not swim in the warm Indian ocean waters: water so clear you could side step the occasional crab.
The first house we stayed in, Black Barn, was set back in a sea of fynbos with huge windows that allowed you to watch the storms and the sea, while my husband, Kevin, lit every possible fire he could: the donkey fire hot tub, the braai, the stove in the kitchen.
The second house, Sea Pad, is something quite different: an architectural dream of concrete overlooking the beach that makes you feel like you are on a ship. A glass shell.
You can watch the bay change sunsets, dawn, Rothko pastel shadows. A friend, Peter Bruce, came to visit and said you could see Cape Point in the distance.
Our day began with 6.30am sunrise walks to the beach and swims. Then a morning of work. An afternoon siesta. And sunset watching. Walking, cooking. Kevin always on the sniff for a story, a good pub and interesting shops made regular forays into Gansbaai, a town the East Rand boy felt comfortable in Boksburg by the sea.
A fishy stench rolled down the main street one day. He followed it to the harbour, and found the Gansbaai Vismark, where he was told it was the processing of anchovies for fishmeal.
They sold the tenderest crumbed calamari and battered hake, with chips on the right side of slap. He went for a beer at the BoatHouse pub, just 50m away, where he bumped into the actor Ian Roberts, Boet of the Castrol adverts. They had never met, but spent 30 minutes talking about the pandemic and mutual acquaintances and how Roberts has been touring with his Radio Kalahari Orkes band.
Roberts and Norman Swaer Anstey were going to shoot a version of the Castrol adverts to promotea beer Roberts was having brewed for him to put on the market. Both ends of our trip were bookended by a stayover in the Karoo. I have long been a supporter and fan of @DaisieJo who makes wearable art, slow Karoo fashion that you could frame but can equally wear as comfortably as a t-shirt.
Someone whispered her parents owned the now closed Richmond Café and tea rooms. Two of the cottages are for sale. I persuaded her to let us stay over.
Think cool white walls, floors, wild country gardens, quiet Karoo, the chicest of curated spaces. And they could be yours for less than a million. Go write your book in the lockdown? I know just the space for you.
We got in too late and left too early to explore on the way down, but my interest was piqued enough to beg a two-night stay on our way back. Richmond. Who knew? From the local museum, to the bar with horse saddles as seats, to the Modern Art Project Gallery with installations like the Black Room and a home for the Richmond book binding project. This town is unassumingly surprising, quiet and welcoming.
It is more than a petrol station on the N1, as Denis Beckett once wrote. And, when Richmond seems done with surprises, 20km north is the Karoo Padstal, a bespoke, luxury, curated experience. We spent all Friday afternoon there, shopping, eating, drinking wine, whiling away the afternoon under trees. It’s going to be hard to love Joburg again.