In which we learn another lesson, re-evaluate our property wishlist, and contemplate being FULLY off the grid
We’d been looking for a while by the time we finally got around to booking a visit to Suurbraak. I’d been looking into this area on and off for a few years. Friends of ours stayed there, and we’d been invited to visit more than once. It was the idea of a 3 hour drive there & 3 hours back on a weekend that had meant we’d always delayed the trip. We decided it was time to get ourselves out there and take a gander.
I found a gorgeous off grid cottage to rent for the weekend – travelling with the doggos means we are sometimes quite limited in places to stay. Marinda’s Se Veranda, which was coincidentally on the market, was perfect – a spacious fenced in garden, and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Learning a bit more about the town
I couldn’t believe how beautiful Suurbraak is. Located at the foot of the Langeberg mountains at the southern end of Traudow’s Pass in Overberg, the town was originally called “Xairu” by the Attequa KhoiKhoi / Quena tribe who lived there peacefully before the good ol’ European settlers rolled in. “Xairu”/”Xairi” means “paradise” or “beautiful” – and it certainly lives up to its early name.
In 1812, the London Missionary Society arrived and built a mission station which you can still see today in the main town. By 1922, the English had moved on and the Dutch Reformed Church moved in. The name Suurbraak was a corruption of “Sour Brake”, from the early nineteenth century referring to the masses of “sour ferns” (bracken) that grows abundantly throughout the area. (Suurbraak’s history is super interesting! You can read more about it HERE)
Looking at plots
We’d arranged to meet with an estate agent in the area, Neels, owner of Trader’s Properties, the afternoon of our arrival. Neels sat and chatted with us on Marinda’s veranda, with us outlining what we were looking for and Neels filling us in on what kind of plots were available to view. In short, there were lots of plots to see – but all were much, much smaller than we’d been hoping for. We’d known this coming in, and had decided it was still worth seeing for ourselves before ruling the area out. And we were glad we had. Despite the small plot sizes (most are less than half an acre!), this place wooed us completely. Neels took us around on a delightful “bundu-bash” through overgrown plots of land with no discernible borders other than “It probably ends somewhere around here” (accompanied with wide arm gesturing at thick forested bracken).
“Oor Die Rivier”
Neels also educated us on the difference between “Suurbraak” the town, and “Oor Die Rivier”. Geographically, very easy to understand – here is the town, that’s the river, and that’s “over the river”. The more important defining factor however is that the Swellendam municipality, under which the district falls, treats these two areas of Suurbraak very differently. In the town itself, one can expect normal municipal services. Not so once you cross the Buffelsjag river. There, according to Neels, the municipality has no interest in servicing in the foreseeable future. No electricity, no road names or street lamps, no garbage removal or sewerage lines… While this sounded perfect for our off grid dreams, Neels filled us in on a rather major snag:
Lesson (at this point we’ve lost track of the number of lessons we’ve learned):
In areas with no municipal service, banks are VERY unlikely to grant you a home loan to purchase land.
This meant that even now that we’d factored in our friends not being able to come in with us immediately on the purchase (Part 1), and then factored in the need for a 30% – 50% deposit for any agricultural-zoned land (Part 2), we’d have to revise our poor budget once again. If we seriously wanted to consider a plot “Oor Die Rivier”, our best bet was going to either be ALL CASH (!) – or applying for an extension to our existing Access Bond on a retirement property we had been diligently chipping away at back in Cape Town.
After saying goodbye to Neels, we took a stroll down the dirt road to see if we could find “Plot 94” before the sun set. It was a plot I’d spotted on both Property24 and Gumtree in the lead up to our visit, and had responded to both ads (being my usual eager beaver self). The owner of the property, based in Paarl, replied first, attaching a map of Suurbraak outlining where the plot could be found and inviting us to go take a look. Following closely up on that, the owner’s estate agent Abrie from Chas Everitt, responded that he’d be able to take us to this plot, and the few others I’d emailed about, on the Sunday of our planned visit.
We weren’t sure at all if we had found exactly the right spot, but figured it to be “round about here-ish” (taking our cue from Neels). It was gorgeous. River frontage on one end, mountain views on the other, and empty plots on either side. Thick with wild brush, we followed a cattle trail down to the river bank next to three huge, ancient looking oak trees. Wow.
All I can think about
We rose bright and early the next day, having slept well after the previous day’s long drive and exciting bush adventures. We munched on fire-toasted croissants smeared with strawberry jam (suuuuuch a delicious treat!) while drinking too much coffee, drawing out the gorgeous early morning vibes with roosters singing the song of their people and the mist rising off the river. For day two, we would be seeing a few more plots with Abrie and Jacqui. Including of course Plot 94, which had been the only thing on my mind from the moment I’d woken up.
Swanky croissants ek se #glamping
The very first plot we stopped to see (and again after seeing the others) (and again after we’d said goodbye to Abrie and Jacqui) was Plot 94. Abrie gave us a (slightly) better idea of where the boundries may lie, and we discussed the price and whether the owner was at all negotiable. He’d apparently already received two offers for less than the asking price (they couldn’t tell us the exact amount), and hadn’t rejected or accepted them, waiting to see if he got any better offers. It hasn’t been on the market very long. We know, from the +-10 Suurbraak plots we’ve seen at this stage, that this is a truly prime piece of land on offer. The price is right in the middle of everything we’d seen, and when you throw in the river frontage and spectacular mountain views, it was an absolute winner.
Weighing it up
So how sold were we on Suurbraak? We’d have to get a plot so much smaller than we’d originally been planning. We’d either need to cash in almost all of our available life savings, leaving very little left to build with, or extend our debt on our current property that is meant to be our “retirement plan”, which would create a whole different kind of financial strain. Make no mistake – I know full well just how blessed we are to even have these options, but it was still a weighty decision. And beyond the financial consideration, were we ready to be absolutely and completely off the grid with no backup should our grand plans fall short? We had a lot to think about. But we both knew in our hearts that Plot 94 was something special.