At Workaway, we’re privileged to have over 40,000 hosts from all over the world involved in our volunteer exchange network. Each host is unique and special to us. Once a month we make the difficult choice to highlight one and share it with you! Since there is such a variety of projects, communities, and cultures to choose from, we know you’ll be inspired to dive in deeper and learn about the every-day life of our hosts. Read more to find out how Workawayers like you have made a positive impact on our ‘Workaway Host of the Month!’
This time, we caught up with Hester who lives on a sheep farm in South Africa with his family. His vivid description of the beautiful landscape and the history of the region are out of this world. After just a glimpse of seeing the farm through his eyes, we know you’ll be dreaming of visiting soon!
You describe your sheep farm in South Africa as “the land that meets the sky.” Can you tell us more about the spirit of the Karoo and what makes it so remarkable for your family?
The Karoo is such a special place. It is a place away form all the hustle and bustle of city life. Here you can relax and enjoy the tranquility which the Karoo and our farm have to offer. You will experience stargazing like never before, as there are no big town or city lights nearby. You become in touch with yourself again.
Here you will still meet people who are very hospitable and friendly towards everybody. They care about each other and will go out of their way if there is a need – even for strangers. It was a wonderful experience for our children to be raised in the Karoo area. One finds that the Karoo people often return, or long to return to it, after a while in a city or else where in the world.
That sounds exactly like our kind of paradise! Can you tell us about what it’s like to work with sheep and some of the tasks involved?
The Karoo is known for sheep that produce good wool and even better meat. It is a very busy business all year round; if it is not shearing time it is lambing time. The sheep need to be brought in every two weeks at least to be counted and checked. The farm is 4000ha big and has 38 camps on our farm and they get rotated after being checked. In the 4000ha it has 100ha of irrigation where we plant lucern, maize and winter crops.
During shearing time we class the wool according to length and fineness of wool. We send it to an agent where it is sold on an auction in Port Elizabeth. From there it goes to various countries like Europe, India, China & Japan. We are also a stud farm where we breed rams which we offer on a production sale on the farm once a year to other farmers to breed with.
Your farm is host to other animals too. Can you share more about Helen the owl or other animals that became part of the family?
We are a rehab in the real sense. We often get small animals from various places sent to us at various ages. Sometimes they have been found next to the road side, hurt by a car and other times they have been treated as pets by people who have bought and kept them illegally. The conservation department then sends them to us to try and rehabilitate them. If they are still very young we bottle feed them until they have learnt to eat from the garden and surroundings. My Workawayers help here to walk them every day to teach them to look for food. We try to get them on a normal diet as soon as possible.
As soon as they can fend for themselves we get them to meet other groups of their own. First prize is that they get accepted, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Then we need to make up a group out of the ones that arrive here before returning them to the wild. We do not keep them in cages, afterwards like many places do that claim to be a rehab. We always set our animals free.
We are mostly known for meerkats, ground squirrels and owls but often have other species in too. Helen the Owl had the privilege to meet Trine from Denmark, a Workawayer, who taught her to be independent again. She stayed for a very long time in our garden after being released and eventually she wandered off by herself!
What’s been the most surprising aspect Workawayers experience while staying on the farm?
I think it is the vastness of the Karoo, the quietness it has to offer. They can go on many walking routes on the farm to experience it. We have made discoveries of the fossils and bushman rock art, which we are eager to share with others.
As many of them come from built up areas I think they find us living so far from a next neighbor or town quite surprising! Also the animals they might encounter is surprising for them. Another thing most of them comment on is the home cooked farm food they enjoy while staying here.
It sounds like there’s a lot of history and culture in the area. What kind of items do you collect in your farm museum? Can you share more about what some of the surrounding villages are like?
Our private registered museum has our fossil collection of Karoo fossils. It was the Therapsids- mammal-like reptiles that roamed the Karoo 250 million years ago. JP and our sons found most of the fossils on display. We also have a room with Bushman artifacts that was used in their time living in the area. From spearheads in the stone age to many other tools we found in the caves on the farm or in what we call the workshops where they use to sit in a circle and make the stone tools.
Nieu-Bethesda is a very small village near us. We often go in and the Workawayers can go to enjoy a beer at the brewery or walk around as it is a very arty village with lots of artist living here. There is also another fossil exploration centre from Johannesburg university which we are involved in too. The Owl House of Helen Martins one of the big attractions in the area with many cement sculptures. Her house and garden with all her artwork forms is now a museum.
There is also the Bethesda Art Center where they can visit to see the handiwork of the local people – aplica work , lino cuttings etc. They can watch while they work too. On old years eve the Workawayers can partake in the yearly lantern parade through the town. If there is tennis club on a Saturday evening and we are free they go with us to socialize with the locals and have dinner in the form of a braai.
Wow! We’re completely sold and 100% convinced your farm makes a perfect escape to experience beautiful landscapes and rich culture of South Africa! Thank you so much Hester for opening your family farm and home to Workawayers.