Bitter Fontein, named for the brackish water of where it lies, lies just off the N7 Highway in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s nestled in the narrow Hardeveld valley on the Hardeveld Route in the Namaqualand. If you’re driving the almost 5-hour trip from Cape Town, you’ll pass some majestic mountain ranges such as the Ceres range and the Cederberg range before the landscape changes to a what appears to be a clone of the Australian Outback.
I met Maretha at the Multi-purpose Tourism Centre at the entrance of the village. She operates the tourist centre which also has a restaurant that serves traditional and contemporary food in a surrounding of souvenir trinkets, handcrafted by locals, and brochures on what to do in the area.
“The best time to visit us is during the flower season,” she explains, “August-September. That’s when it gets really busy. Of course, that all depends on the rains.”
Other things to do in the area include treks, visiting spiritual sites, watching traditional dances, listening to the local story tellers and just kicking back, slowing down and appreciating a weekend out of the hustle ‘n’ bustle of the rat race.
In winter it becomes cold enough for snow to hang onto the peaks. And it’s warm in the day but don’t let that fool you. The Outback landscape is a deceiving witch, hot in the day and ice cold when the sun disappears over the hills.
The guest bedroom consists of three single beds and plenty of space. You’ll receive your own key for the bathroom which has a sink fixed over a pile of stones, plenty of books to choose from and a seductive bath to soak in.
Outside, the cactus garden is greener than a rainforest, really sticking out against the red dirt and brown clay of the house. There’s a fire pit and a lot of old, antique appliances decorating the yard.
“I like to horde things,” Maretha grins. She points out that on the veranda, “There’s a couple of birds that have made their nests here. At 18:00 I always go to the bar for dinner and at 19:00 watch the news there.”
There’s only one bar in town. It’s also where the only other hotel is located with its own liquor store situated in the centre of town.
The town was dry of any tourists and I was warmly welcomed to the bar by Ice, the owner. But don’t let his name fool you. He’s friendly and has a warm soul. I played some tunes on my ol’ six string in exchange for a few drinks.
Rugby is the favoured sport as the walls of the bar house framed rugby jerseys. The town also has a service station and the train from the mines ends the line in Bitter Fontein, a great place to slow down and remember that life isn’t always about being a rat in a race.