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Could Elgin become SA’s adventure capital?

Why is Elgin so often overlooked as a destination? Revisiting Elgin after a long time with a media group really got me thinking. It’s so close to the city, especially the Helderberg suburbs; it has spectacular scenery and natural beauty; there are wine estates of renown; and there are so many vibey places to go.  But it was when Jody Aufrichtig of Old Mac Daddy asked the question why Elgin can’t become the adventure capital of South Africa that I really started thinking.

It was the Cape Country Connect Experience 2016 organised by Cape Country Meander.  Each year they host the event in one of the Overberg towns which form part of the Meander — Botriver, Caledon, Genadendal, Elgin, Greyton, Riviersonderend, Tesselaarsdal and Villiersdorp.  It is a platform where local suppliers from across the Theewaterskloof area have the opportunity to introduce and showcase their products and services to local and neighbouring product owners in the hospitality industry.

One couldn’t have wished for a better scene-setter than The Pool Room at Oak Valley Estate — one of the valley’s largest and most diversified farms with wine, fruit, cattle, pigs and flowers. Really memorable wines accompanied each course and were presented by winemaker Quentin Gobrechts.

Chef Gordon Manuel introduced each dish: Citrus Cured Seabass with Pickled Cucumber & Yuzu Pearls; Acorn Fed Pork — braised Pork Cheek, grilled Loin Chop, celeriac & cider pear puree; Beef Short Rib & Porcini Lasagna with roasted red onion and tomato compote; and Dark Chocolate Mousse, Espresso Ice Cream & Macerated Rasberries.  Yum!

It’s all about “bringing the farm to the table,” Gordon says, “working with the best ingredients from the Valley and beyond.”

It was a most memorable dining experience…

And then the farm tour… free-range everything!  Acorn-fed pigs and Simmenthaler and Waygu Beef.

Pigs on Oak Valley Farm, Elgin
These pigs are huge! The recent introduction of special cages for new moms and their piglets has reduced the number of piglets being squashed by mother pig when they try to drink milk by 75%!

And then it was off to Old Mac Daddy.  Accommodation in vintage trailers in farmlands alongside a dam.  It’s one of those places one just has to visit.  It’s quirky and fun.  It even has a beach and a beach bar!

The highlight of the trip was Jody’s speech during the Cape Country Connect function: Why can’t Elgin emulate Queenstown in New Zealand — NZ’s favourite visitor destination and rated as one of the world’s top destinations.  With a population of only 19,200, it hosts around 2 million visitors a year.  Why can’t Elgin become SA’s adventure capital?

Part of the area’s problem has been its identity… is it Elgin (the Valley) or Grabouw (the town)?  For some years they confused everybody by using Groenberg/Green Mountain for the area, which meant nothing to most people.  The town of Grabouw itself is a rather sad farming village. In some respects it’s a bit like some of the sad villages in the KZN Midlands as opposed to towns like Riebeek Kasteel, Greyton or Prince Albert.

Another problem which I hadn’t been aware of is that there was some antagonism between farmers and the tourism industry.  Very surprising!  The current mayor, Chris Punt, whose term expires in August, did a lot to address this.    Someone needs to drive a shared vision for the Valley.

And there needs to be the political will to do something about the town of Grabouw.  But is Theewaterskloof Municipality up to this?

Next morning, it was breakfast at the Hickory Shack before heading home.

Breakfast at the Hickory Shack
Breakfast at the Hickory Shack

I can’t beat the story they provided, so here it is:
When a restaurant is inspired by an old shed, you can bet you’ve entered BBQ territory. Owner, and Elgin resident, Jay Haupt, had been exploring traditional food production methods for a number of years when the perfect location for a BBQ pit presented itself.

“I saw this old shed with all its character and just knew it was perfect,” says Jay, and with a bit of wrangling The Hickory Shack was born. The cooking happens in the smokehouse but the restaurant spreads out from a cosy interior to a chilled-out balcony and rolls on to a lawn complete with kids jungle gym. Plenty of parking is available up front -– and its likely Jay’s bright red 1958 Chevy pick-up will be parked among the visitor’s cars.

Set on Thandi Farm on the N2, Elgin, The Hickory Shack serves Texas style BBQ made in a cantilever pit. The result is tender, lightly smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken. Using mostly apple wood in the smoking process for its subtle flavours, the Hickory Shack’s pit master broods over his craft -– making meat that is done low and slow.

The smoked meat dishes are served with slaw (no mayonnaise here), mash, fries or home-made baked beans. All the accompanying pickles and sauces — from apple chutney to hot bastard — are Hickory home-made.

Local Elgin ciders and Fraser’s Folly craft beer are the biggest attention seekers on the drinks menu which also includes jam jar cocktails, cordials, shakes and Elgin wines.

Whilst ribs and brisket lure in the crowds, the big breakfasts with home-made links (sausages) are excellent fare for travellers needing a refuel or wedding weekenders nursing a sore head.

Open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday, the Hickory Shack is the real-deal pit stop.

The Intrepid Traveller ticks Elgin off his bucket list, looking across one of the dams on Oak Valley Estate.
The Intrepid Traveller ticks Elgin off his bucket list, looking across one of the dams on Oak Valley Estate.

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