A peculiar sequence of events happens in White River come December. Business travellers through KMI airport cease, while (mostly international) tourist traffic ramps up. And on the R40, holidaymakers heading east from grimy Highveld cities and other regions whiz past a stream of White River residents journeying to the coast.
How odd that we grind away 50 weeks of the year in such lovely surroundings – too busy to enjoy them – only to desert this desirable holiday spot for other playgrounds when we have time off!
A member of We Are White River, however, swam upstream and stayed put for the holiday season and is delighted to report that we wanted for nothing in our hometown.
Luring a selection of ten friends and family from the UK, Durban and Johannesburg to join our family group, we challenged White River to entertain, enthral and occupy a variety of interests and ages for two weeks.
We’ve sold our boat, so watersking and lazy days at either Lake Longmere, or Klipkopje Dam, our usual fall-back position, were struck off the menu.
Putting the cyclist and the golfer down as ‘no- brainers’ for entertainment, with cycle tracks and golfing aplenty around White River, we were surprised to find they didn’t spend any time on their hobbies here – they were too busy! Neither did we get around to visiting our adored Lowveld gem, the Kruger National Park, as we were otherwise engaged.
How, then, did we fill the “12 days of Christmas”? We ate, sang, danced, walked, read books, played board games, shopped, swam, toured, laughed, lounged and explored White River and surrounds. In other words, your average holiday.
Our list resembles the bridal motto – something old, something blue, something borrowed and something new. We Are White River readers will doubtless know most, if not all, of these but we were excited to rediscover and appreciate through tourist eyes what’s in our own backyard. This, then, is our list of “Can-Do’s” in White River.
- Eating and drinking. Our visitors couldn’t get enough of the selection of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants we, as residents, have become inured to. No, we don’t have a fraction of the selection to which they are accustomed but what we have makes their palates sing and their juices run and they adored the surroundings wherever we went – mango trees, sunsets across expanses of green, treed land, charming and quirky décor. The students beat a path to Timbuctoo as they returned time and again for what they declared was the best Chinese cuisine they’d ever eaten. They also haunted Bahati’s, playing pool until the wee hours. Tip for residents – things change on the eating front here. Have you tried newcomer Picasso’s and did you know that from the 16th January The Courtyard will be open for dinner as well?
- Day excursions. Elephant Whispers in Hazyview was the experience of a lifetime for some, and a very long day out to Blyde River Canyon, via Sabie, Lydenburg, Graskop and Pilgrims Rest returned a car full of tired but deeply happy travellers babbling about views, museums, craft beer, pancakes and panoramic beauty. The Barberton Geotrail engrossed amateur geologists while Kaapschehoop was destination of choice for one couple. Everyone enjoyed how accessible these places are from White River. firstname.lastname@example.org / 013 737 7879.
- The Loop Foundry and Gallery and White River Gallery as well as Africa Joy and other craft and gift shops at Casterbridge kept us engrossed and inspired for hours. Plus there was some serious roadside craft shopping achieved during the day excursions. www.casterbridge.co.za
- Township Tours. Netto Maluka, owner of Mbombela Experience Tours and Transfers (they are on Facebook) picked us up for a day out in Kanyamazane. We were quite shame faced as local residents to be so totally unaware of township life but what a fabulous day out. A stone’s throw from White River we watched a Sangoma throw the bones, tasted African beer, chomped our way through pap and Chicken Dust (in the cleanest roadside restaurant we’ve seen) visited a modest home and ended up trying our hand at some African dance, much to the amusement of Savuka Africa Youth Crew, Netto’s brainwave to keep kids off the street after school while teaching them traditional African dance. Our hearts were in our mouths watching the incredible acrobatics of the performers, and we made complete idiots of ourselves afterwards as we proved that middle aged white men (and women) definitely can’t dance! (Netto 073 264 8955)
- White River’s divine little cinema at Casterbridge closed just before Christmas for a short break until 9th January, but we enjoyed it while we could. It doesn’t matter what movie you see, their relaxed approach to starting when everyone’s settled and delivering food and drink to your seat epitomises what Slowveld living is all about – relaxed and unpressured.
- Day Spa’s. The town has an exceptional selection of them and we are spoilt for choice. Someone I know scored a pamper voucher at Freya for Christmas, and is going to really enjoy using that soon. Beyond the traditional day spa, White River also has alternative healers like Sanna Atherton. There is a wide range of places in White River to spoil and restore one to good health.
- Live shows. We have an annual music festival, R40 which rocks the roof in December, but the Casterbridge Theatre also presents live stage shows throughout the year. We drove through a diabolical, tree felling storm to see the Tribute to Cat Stevens and what a grand performance that was. Being a Barnyard picnic format, patrons can take their own food or make a selection from the spread that Magnolia had laid out in the foyer. This is an awesome facility in a town this size.
- Groceries and more. Admittedly our sparse selection of national grocers raised some eyebrows and challenges, however we found everything we needed without leaving town and our visitors are very jealous of the Fountains Farm veggie box delivery. They may have Marks and Spencer and Woolies, but we have Fountains on our doorstep and Zannas! And Fountains delivered on Christmas Eve. Some of our party went crazy for the local chilli sauce and biltong at Park Biltong and Nuts in White River Square.
- Our guest’s dropped their jaws when, on the 29th December, we urgently needed some pest control done. Despite Pest Control Services being closed for the holidays and his staff away, Hennjean answered his phone and willingly came out himself to eradicate a horrid flea infestation. That, apparently, would not happen in the big cities they call home!
- Recycling – the amount of trips we took to the nearest bottle bank was shameful, but we are glad to have them conveniently placed around town. A second hand book store was a novel (ha!) experience for our visitors, who found volumes of interesting fiction and non-fiction at White River Book Dealer. It’s spoilt them for their glittery mall bookshops with an abundance of newly published books but which lack vintage works and popular fiction from yesteryear.
- Picnics – tempted by the flat rocks and water, and too lazy to drive very far, we packed up some leftovers and a fishing rod and meandered down to the river just below Oliver’s. Alternative picnic spots in White River are at Lake Longmere (Ben’s Den and at the Canoe Club) and further afield there is the Lowveld Botanical Gardens, Kaapschehoop, Hall’s fishing club on the Crocodile River at Mataffin, the “Dinosaur Eggs” on the Swartfontein Road – being outdoors doesn’t have to be energetic!
This is by no means all there is to see and do round and about White River, nor is it meant to promote some businesses over others. It’s simply a listing of what we enjoyed doing while on holiday here. As a big group, we tended to split up and go our separate ways, following different interests. The point is, there was something for everyone and we didn’t touch upon the active sports and water options nor the wonderful game reserve nearby.
We Are White River is a platform for every one of us to show off our rather special little dorp with pride. Our visitors left White River with heavy hearts and have booked future ‘home stays’ because they’ve found a treasure here, lamenting on departure “If only we’d had more time…”