Mountain View – Swellendam is run by Berend and Jeanette Visser. This is our story. We were both born overseas and came out to Africa with our parents. We grew up on farms, married and had two children in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). In 1978, we moved to South Africa and remained until the children had both completed their education. We then went and lived in England for a few years.
Berend always wanted to run a guest accommodation set up. This brought us back to South Africa, where together with our son, we purchased a property – 37 Drostdy Street – in Swellendam at the end of 1998. It took a great deal of searching and many kilometres to find this magnificent piece of paradise. It was completely undeveloped with only a scattering of invasive wattle and some gum trees, all of which had to be removed. The size of this property allowed us to plan a garden filled with indigenous trees, shrubs and plants to attract bird life. At the time irrigation water was available from the Municipality at a reasonable cost.
In July 1999, the skeleton of the first The Cottage was erected. It was constructed in prefabricated sections in Cape Town, transported to and assembled here in Swellendam. Berend was on the property to supervise the whole operation. Once the cottage was thatched, he took over the remainder of the work such as plumbing, electrics, painting, tiling, cupboards and the kitchen cabinets.
Centre for Wellbeing
From January 2000, we lived in the Cottage ourselves and Jeanette also ran her massage Treatments from there. It was quite a performance as, each day, we had to change the bedroom into a therapy room. This entailed having to turn the double bed and mattress on its side against a wall and cover it with a bedspread. Jeanette would then erect her massage table and set out all the necessary equipment in order to do either a reflexology or an aromatherapy massages. In the evening, the whole process would be reversed.
Next to be built was our three story, split level house. Berend intended to build it all himself over a period of time. He got in an excavator to dig the foundations and create the floor levels. That year there was abundant rain which flooded the foundation trenches repeatedly. These did not drain as the property sits on clay. This brought all attempts to begin building to a stand still. We realised we would need a team of labour to empty the trenches, the sides of which were collapsing, and lay the concrete foundations in all haste between rainfalls. To this end, in April 2000, we brought in a team of 12 builders.
The builders wanted more work so rather reluctantly Berend agreed that they could build the basic shell up to the first floor level. Disaster struck on the day before Good Friday when the concrete reinforced deck between floors collapsed due to movement in the wooden support structure below. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. Berend called on a local contractor, who generously brought several of his teams with angle grinders, shovels, buckets and picks to help clear up the debris before the concrete set. They all worked like Trojans right into the night, under makeshift lights that Berend had rigged up. After the holidays, Berend had to start the whole process of rebuilding and ordering a whole new concrete deck. This time, we made sure the under-props were metal and did not move.
Open for Business
As soon as we could, we moved from the The Cottage to live in the basement of the Residence. This freed up the Cottage for guests. In September 2000 we had our first call to hire out the The Cottage. Over the next 6 years Berend single-handedly build the Residence bit by bit, apart from the thatching. As each level was completed, we moved up to the next floor, until we finally had our own personal bedroom on the top floor. After moving out of the basement of the Residence, we turned that area into guest accommodation as well.
We soon came to realize that hiring out only two sets of accommodation was not a viable business. With this in mind, we planned another building which would house four units. This became known as The Lodge. Berend set to work once again and self-built this, with outside help only for the concrete deck between floors and the actual thatching. He was very clever at devising methods with which to haul up logs for the roof structure, bricks for the walls and so on. Jeanette’s part in creating the accommodation was making the soft furnishing like curtains, cushions, duvet covers, as well as designing the gardens. The Lodge project began in January 2007 and was completed in November 2011.
In the very early stages, Jeanette began to plan an indigenous Garden. First to go in were the trees so that by the time the buildings were complete, the trees would be established. Then, like the buildings, the garden was developed section by section. The property now has a beautiful indigenous garden which attracts many of the Western Cape’s birds, such as sunbirds, weavers and sparrows. We love flowing water, so with this in mind, the first pond was created by the Cottage and later a second one by the Residence. Most recently, a water storage dam was built near the Residence and a cascading water feature installed at the Lodge.
Irrigation water storage
Before starting a garden we had to plan for sufficient water for irrigation. An irrigation channel ran past our property and was available for an hour once a week. To this end Berend installed two underground 5 thousand litre tanks which linked to the incoming irrigation channel on the outside of the property. As the garden was developed so the water storage capacity had to increase. Another two 5 thousand litre tanks were added, this time above ground. As the years progressed we found that this was still not enough to get through a week of summer heat. We realized that a large reservoir would be the answer. We got in a gang of labour who dug a 2.5 metre deep hole into a slope of our property and reinforced foundations were set in place. When the middle deck of the Lodge was being constructed we took advantage of the surplus ready mix concrete to pour the floor of the reservoir at the same time. Over a period of time Berend built the reservoir and using the rocks which came out of the original excavation he constructed the terraces to landscape the garden into the reservoir walls.
In South Africa, barbecue (or braai) facilities are a must. So Berend built a lapa (small thatched roof) and barbecue facilities beside the Cottage pond. Later, an additional large, roofed area was constructed with barbecue facilites for the Lodge guests.
All the buildings on Mountain View – Swellendam have been placed so that they complement each other and have magnificent views over Swellendam and the Langeberg Mountains.