Birds, bees and blissful days in the tranquil Vredefort Dome

The Shallow Pig, a family cottage nestling in the Vredefort Dome, offers the perfect place to unwind, says Riaan Hattingh. And if you want a diversion, the nearby town of Parys offers good food and fun activities.

Birds, bees and blissful days in the tranquil Vredefort Dome
The cottage was converted from an old storehouse. It can sleep four people and has a well-equipped kitchen.
Photo: Riaan Hattingh
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Shallow Pig Cottage is on a 27ha farm near Parys in the Free State, approximately 120km south-west of Johannesburg.

The owners, Jean and Pippa Gauché, bought the property, a portion of Koedoesfontein farm, in 2010 while working as engineers in Sasolburg. Both are also qualified field guides, and wanted to live close to nature.

The farm was overgrazed when they arrived, so they set about rehabilitating the veld and removing invasive species. They also introduced a few cows to crop the grass and so reduce the risk of fire.

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Over time, in a bid to become more self-sustaining, they improved the water system and installed solar geysers.

They also attended a beekeeping course, and steadily added hives to the farm. These are placed on stands to protect them against honey badgers.

The couple are ably assisted by Clifton Chimwaye, their general farmworker and the person mainly responsible for the maintenance of the hives and chicken coop. Under the tutelage of the Gauchés, he has gained a number of useful skills over the years, and today is able to weld, solder, carry out plumbing repairs, plaster, paint, and run electric cables. He is also an adept salesman, and barters produce from the farm, such as honey and eggs, for other food from the neighbouring farmers.

Fauna and flora
The farm is tucked away in the Vredefort Dome, and due to the shelter provided by the crater (the largest of its type in the world), this part of the Free State plains consists of bushveld. Warthogs, porcupines, monkeys, polecats, caracal, baboons and snakes are found here, and the camera traps installed on the farm have caught images of brown hyenas, kudu, oribi and honey badgers. There is also an abundance of birdlife, with migrants such as Amur falcons visiting in summer.

The quiet of the night is gently disturbed by the distant cries of jackal and the calls of the fiery-necked and rufous-cheeked nightjars.

Shallow Pig Cottage cottage was originally a storehouse. The Gauchés added a bathroom, and in February 2016 they welcomed their first guest.

The name ‘Shallow Pig’ is a jocular translation of the Afrikaans word vlakvark (warthog), which occur in abundance on the farm.

The cottage is self-catering and fully equipped for four people, with refrigerator, microwave oven, and gas stove, with kettle. A wood stove is available in the sitting room to warm the cottage in colder months, and to brew your tea on!

Board games and a good selection of books will help to keep you entertained on rainy days.
The main bedroom has a queen-sized bed and there are two single beds in the second bedroom. There is only one bathroom, but it has both a bathtub and a shower. Towels are provided.

Outside is a pleasant braai area with table and benches under shade cloth.

Apart from offering the ideal environment for resting, reading and catching up with loved ones or friends, the farm offers a short (3km) but worthwhile hike, so be sure to bring along comfortable shoes or boot.

The trail makes a loop around the koppies at the rear of the farm and then doubles back on itself. It passes four old mineshafts from the historic gold mining in the area and offers superb views of the dome.

Also on view are ruins of miners’ houses, and walking past them is a reminder of how tough life was back then. You will also spot some of the beehives on the route. You may also, like Farmer’s Weekly, be treated to some fresh farm eggs from the chicken coop.

A troop of monkeys surprised us during our breakfast one morning as they moved past. As at so many other rural holiday spots in South Africa, visitors have to remember to keep windows and doors closed when leaving the accommodation.

Explore the area
The surrounding area buzzes with activity, and there are many options should you wish to go exploring. Parys offers river rafting on the Vaal, game drives, shopping for antiques, golf, wine- tasting, abseiling, paintball, and, of course, fishing.

Farmer’s Weekly visited some of the eateries in Parys and can highly recommend O’s Restaurant on the riverbank and the Eiffel Waffle House for a sit-down meal, and Welkom Kafee (‘Home of the Big Daddy Hamburger’) for takeaways.