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Anton Ferreira

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Hondeklipbaai: Only Your Dog Wants To Go There

Call me weird, but when a seaside destination is described as being nothing like Paternoster, I immediately want to go there.
That’s at least part of the reason I spent my latest holiday in Hondeklipbaai.
Never heard of it, have you? Well, not many people have. The nearest town, 90 km away on a rutted, potholed dirt road that will wreck your suspension, is Garies. Never heard of that either, right?
Well yes, it is remote – about as far from Joburg as you can get without leaving South Africa. Which is a good thing. Then there’s that name. Who, apart from an unreconstructed Vaalie, could pronounce it?
It would certainly sound better in English. “Dog Stone Bay” has a certain cachet, it could be a celebrity hang-out up the coast from Malibu with its own boutique winery and extra-virgin-first-cold- pressing olive oil label.
But that would be dishonest – Hondeklipbaai has absolutely no cachet whatsoever.
That’s what makes it a world apart from Paternoster, and irresistible as a holiday resort for people like me.
There are no quaint fishermen’s cottages just waiting for Cape Town’s idle rich to arrive in their Range Rovers stacked to the roof with 20-litre cans of Earthcote paint and ambitious renovation plans. There’s no Vida e Caffe, no oyster bar serving ice-cold Chardonnay, not even a KwikSpar or a Spur steak house. You cannot buy petrol in Hondeklipbaai. The water out the tap is laced with bitter residues. The lone bottle store caters to those who are nostalgic for the days of the banned pap sak and who think terroir is a good name for a naughty Jack Russell.
It’s a windswept collection of buildings and houses ranging from the ramshackle to the derelict that squats on a barren sand flat sandwiched between diamond mine concessions on the West Coast south of Kleinzee.
“It’s got nothing,” admits Elize Hough, who has probably done more than anyone to try to promote Hondeklipbaai as a tourist destination. “It’s drab, it’s bleak and the wind blows all the time. When marketing it, we have to be careful not to raise expectations.”
Some visitors do turn tail and run when they realize what they have let themselves in for. “People like that don’t deserve Hondeklip,” sniffs Elize.
Along with her husband Attie and their daughter Ninette, Elize runs the town’s leading hostelry, Die Honnehok (The Dog Kennel).
And that’s the main reason I chose Hondeklipbaai for my holiday – they take dogs. I have two, both of whom have issues. Shumba is 98 in dog years, diabetic and cranky. She’s so old, she remembers the time when dogs of dubious ancestry like herself were dismissed with a racial epithet of the kind recently dragged into the public eye by Irvin Khoza.
I can’t leave her in a kennel because she needs a special diet, meticulously weighed out to the nearest gram and lovingly served at specific times of the day. She also likes to be let out of the house at 3:07 a.m. to ease her bladder.

My other dog is struggling with a mid-life crisis. Sangio, a registered stud dog with a full quota of testosterone, is sensitive almost to the point of being highly strung. I couldn’t possibly board him in a kennel full of strangers.
It was spring and I wanted to see the flowers in Namaqualand. I found one place in Springbok that took dogs, but of course it was full. That’s the problem with finding accommodation in Namaqualand – you have to be a gambler. Book a year in advance, before anyone knows whether the flowers are going to be spectacular or not, and they will invariably be a bust. But if you wait until the flowers actually make a significant appearance, it’s much too late.
I drilled deeper into Google and came across Die Honnehok – not only did it take dogs, but it had this intriguing warning on its web site: “Don’t Come Here. Hondeklipbaai Has Nothing, No Entertainment, No Firewood, Nothing. Stay Away.”
Not in so many words, perhaps, but that’s the general drift.
Sounds perfect, I told my wife. Pack lots of books.
In fact, we hardly had to time to read. It turns out Hondeklipbaai has 14 km of wild, undeveloped coastline, ideal for walking dysfunctional dogs. Which is my main purpose in life. And did I mention the peace and quiet? There are only 600 people in this town. And none of them has money to waste on boom boxes. There’s no excessive driving around, because you have to brave the 180 km round trip to Garies just to fill up the tank. The only way you can get stressed in Hondeklipbaai is to worry about why there is no crime.
There are also some sightseeing opportunities, most of them monuments to entropy – an abandoned crayfish factory, a couple of rusting shipwrecks, and the boulder from which the town got its name.
Perched outside the police station, the rock looks nothing like a dog whatsoever. Locals have a range of excuses for this – it used to look just like a Boerbul until someone stole one of the ears; it had a nose exactly like a Rottweiler except it was knocked off by lightning; etc, etc.
The town has the kernel of what Elize Hough hopes will one day be a thriving artists’ colony. Elize herself does pottery, and over the road is an artist who paints under the name “Villain”. He prefers not to use his real name because he spent some time as a guest of Ngconde Balfour after a brush with the law.
Villain says he was in the special forces during the bush war and had a hard time making the transition to civilian life after apartheid ended.
“In the war they told me I was hero, but then the magistrate said I was a danger to society,” he says. Go figure.
During his stint in jail Villain had a lot of time to think about the meaning of life and a lot of time to paint.
“When I came out, another ex-recce who’s a diamond diver told me about Hondeklipbaai. He said it’s the perfect place to come if you want to start a new life.”
A tourist stops her car outside Villain’s open-air gallery – his oil paintings of landscapes and other local scenes are propped on wooden stands in the yard in front of the three-room house that he and his wife rent. Now and then the wind sends a painting flying into the dirt and Villain has to spend hours repairing the scratches.
The tourist wants a painting of a donkey cart, but it costs R1,200 and she doesn’t have that much cash. Villain doesn’t take credit cards, and there is no ATM in Hondeklipbaai. So she settles for a cheaper landscape and drives off.
“It’s not much, but it’s better than sticking a gun in someone’s face for a living,” says Villain.


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