1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, 9_KZN, Family, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek Pass

I asked Leanne Hilkovitz Williamson about Poccolan / Robinson’s Bush and this brought a flood of memories:

She takes up the story:

I was born on the farm De Nook which belonged to my grandfather Elias Hilkovitz and was inherited by my father Leo Hilkovitz after the 2nd World War probably round about 1945, two years before I was born.

Dad built Little Switzerland Hotel on the farm and we made pathways through the forest called Robinson’s Bush for guests to hike to various spots: The Wishing Well, Protea Plateau, etc. I named most of the spots, and one that meandered in and out of the forest edge I named Hilky’s Way after my grandfather who was affectionately known as Hilky.

We sold the hotel when I was in my early twenties but the various owners over the years have kept the use of the forest and the guests continue to enjoy its wonderful beauty – it is wonderfully exhilarating to either clamber down Breakneck Pass from the Wishing Well or climb up to it from the road below. The path twists and turns in amongst indigenous trees, true and mock yellowwoods, and lianas and ferns along the side of a stream full of huge beautiful boulders in all shades of grey & lichen & dappled shade. So one experiences the mountain air, the refreshing sound of the steam  and always the melodious bird song. I particularly loved calling up the Mocking Chats and Natal Robins that mimic other birds and have a whole repartee of calls, copying them and they’d call back. A wonderful game that Dad taught me.

According to my father, Robinson’s Bush is the biggest natural forest in the Drakensberg. I wouldn’t take that as gospel. I’ve come to be a bit circumspect about those sorts of claims that locals all over the world tend to lay claim to!

Robinson’s Bush abuts on De Nook and we treated it as part of our farm. Dad looked after it although it is part of government nature conservation; at one stage in my late teenage years there were  two nature conservation officers who lived in a hut on the edge of the forest and tended it but that did not last.

I was there for my 70th birthday in 2017 with my two sons and their families and we climbed up Breakneck Pass through the forest and I showed it to my granddaughters and taught them the things my Dad had taught me.

Some of my earliest memories are of picnics in the forest on the side of the stream with our neighbours Udo and Margo Zunkle of Cathkin Hotel fame when they lived on Windmill farm. Udo would put small pieces of raw steak on the river rocks and we’d be fascinated by the crabs that came from all sides to feast on it.

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Leanne again later:

Hi Again

I put together a Power Point family history together for the family and we had an evening when I showed it to them. It started with the great grandparents on both sides and their cars and the farm in the very early days and the beginnings of the hotel and its growth as I grew up & went to HS Volkschool & then boarding school, varsity, etc. and then our children growing up and then finally the grandchildren from babies to present. I can never leave the farm & the berg for long & return there often – even if it is just up and down in a day – and I climb a mountain, drink in the soul food and return home refreshed, invigorated and together. The families also love it and visit but we have never all been there together at the same time & so  took advantage of my 70th to ask this favour. So we stayed in the timeshare from 24-28 Dec & had a wonderful Christmas & my birthday on 27th. We had a wonderful time and I was able to share some of my favourite places & stories with them just this once as you know how short attention spans are when kids are having fun. Didn’t want to bore them!

Pic of me on my birthday in my most favourite place in all the world.

Hilkovitz Leanne Little Switzerland


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Famous shenanigans: South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, Trust Bank robber Derek Whitehead, was arrested at Little Switzerland in 1971 at 3am on Friday morning the 14th of May. They had arrived at 4.30pm the previous day. A team of CID detectives from Johannesburg, the Orange Free State and Natal were involved in the swoop. After the arrest, the Whiteheads were taken to Bloemfontein for questioning

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Drunken shenanigans: Omigoodness; You don’t want to know . .

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Genealogy:

Our Bruno the doberman was a Hilkovitz! A Little Switzerland doberman puppy! Dad Pieter Swanepoel told me Leo came to town one day, called in at the Caltex garage and said ‘Come and look!’  On the back of his bakkie he had a bunch of little black pups in a box. Dobermans.

Dad chose one – he says he gave Leo a pocket of potatoes! – and we grew up with ‘Bruno’ – I only now know he was a citizen of Little Switzerland! He grew up to be a handsome lad!

1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad

2_Free State / Vrystaat, 7_Confessions, travel

Woken by the Tamboekie

Harrismith was not richly endowed with pubs. It had kroegs, but pubs, not so much. So before the Holiday Inn brought mid-West America to the Vrystaat vlaktes, we were forced to drink and drive.

In those days the Road Safety slogan was Friends Don’t Tell Friends They Can’t Drive Because They’re Drunk Because Then Friends Will SHOW Friends How They Actually Drive Very Well When They’re Drunk.

Not as snappy as Speed Kills but nevertheless a very valid slogan.

Favoured watering holes were Little Switzerland on the Oliviershoek Pass and, because after a skinful you want to actually negotiate a whole mountain pass, the Royal Natal National Park Hotel.

One legend of Harrismith District Mobile Imbibing was Rob, whose surname will remain a secret because he might have become sensitive to this well-deserved reputation earned during his lengthy youth later when he was probably telling his own kids to BEHAVE themselves. And Speed Kills, and Wipe Your Feet, and Two Drinks is Enough, and Abstain until you’re Married, you young ‘uns, and other things that would have raised a knowing grin on the faces of his old friends if they had overheard this theoretical speech.

I mean, his rollovers (how many?) culminated in his lying on his neck on the roof of Steph’s white VW Beetle and when Steph said “Rob! Are you OK?!” he murmured “Shh! My favourite tune is playing” as he adjusted the radio tuner which had gone off a touch as the vehicle bollamakissied.

de Witts VW Beetle upside-down

Speaking of pubs, booze, cars and road safety:

The Catholics have it all wrong when they appoint Saints.

I mean NOT ONE of the barmen who put up with our shit has been nominated as far as I know – and they should be. They really deserve sainthood. Like the Little Switzerland barkeep who watched as we emptied the fine display of pampas grass in the foyer, stuck the stalks up our naked rears, set fire to the fronds and ran around the hotel corridors where innocent paying guests were slumbering, yelling “Flaming A’s! Call the Fire Brigade!” A pram was commandeered in the mock fire-fighting response – enough said, a grown man in a pram going Whee! Whaa! Whee! Whaa! – A fiasco.

Also a sainthood for Mother Mary, who loaned me her grey 1970 Ford Cortina to take an Aussie Exchange student there one night.

cortina 1970
like this one

On the way back I thought I heard faint snoring and a swish-swish-swish sound from far away. I woke up to find I was going along at a fair rate with tamboekie grass hitting the windscreen, Yabsley the Oz asleep on the seat next to me. I slammed on the anchors and got out to look. I didn’t have a clue if I’d gone off on the right or the left of the road, but following our track back through the long grass we found the road above the pass, reversed and wound our way home much soberer. Had I killed Michael Yabsley I’d have changed the course of Aussie politics, as he went on to become an MP and the Aussie Liberal Party’s federal treasurer.

There should have been a law against drinking and driving.

I do tell my kids to BEHAVE themselves, but I have a hard time keeping a straight face.

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I found a 1963 video of Royal Natal National Park.

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kroeg – males-only bars

bollamakissied – somersaulted; rolled