Glentana is the first choice when George and Oudtshoorn locals go beach-walking. This is why. By Jazz Kuschke.
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Schizophrenic. That’s how a local fisherman describes his town. ‘Waking and asleep,’ is perhaps a better term, and slightly more PC. A six-street-deep holiday enclave midway between Mossel Bay and George, Glentana wakes from its slumber only during the major school holidays; for the other 10 or so months it goes back to around 20 percent occupancy of mostly retirees and the odd young professional who commutes to George.
The kilometres of beach are once again deserted and the village’s lone restaurant’s profit curve dives, but the locals wouldn’t wish it differently. ‘It used to be called Onderwyser Strand,’ Oom Alec Hooper explains. A while since retired, Oom Alec was the third-generation proprietor of Oudtshoorn’s Highgate Ostrich Show Farm and has lived in the Klein Karoo and holidayed in Mossel Bay for all of his 66 years.
‘You must remember, at one stage Oudtshoorn was a very wealthy town,’ he says, recounting the glory years of the feather boom when the world was bird-brained for all things ostrich. ‘Mossel Bay was the holiday town of the rich, so it was populated by Oudtshoorn people. But teachers were poor back then. They went to Glentana.’
Part of the reason the onderwysers spent their vacations in Glentana is because the train from Oudtshoorn stopped there, reckons Oom Alec. ‘A section of the town is called Onderwyser Strand,’ corrects René de Kock, chairman of the Great Brak River Museum Association. ‘It’s still called that. The teachers used a part of the coast there for a long time. It’s not exclusive, but it’s sort of a private beach.’
As you head out from the Great Brak, the first place you get is Hersham, then there’s an open part and next is Onderwyser Strand. René is another oom who’s a thoroughbred here. He’s lived in the area for more than 20 years and before that spent every family holiday in Glentana. ‘We used to come down on the train,’ he says. ‘It was a three-day trip from Johannesburg, you know.’
René is fascinated by the history and characters of the area and is rather captivating to talk to as he explains how Glentana was established as a family holiday spot. Much as it is now.
From Scotland with love
On 1 November 1902, a floating dock – a kind of wet service area for ships – ran aground in big seas just east of where Glentana is today. No souls were lost, but the dock, which had been destined for Durban and towed by the SS Baralong, was a wreck. A salvage operation was soon initiated.
‘All this activity was well reported in the local newspapers and further afield; it had caused a great deal of interest and excitement throughout the Southern Cape. Curious onlookers flocked to the scene from George, Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn to watch from the top of the cliff,’ wrote Margaret Parkes and Vicky Williams in The Wreck of the Durban Floating Dock at Glentana, a well-researched account of the happenings.
Some time after the salvage, the equipment from the wreck was auctioned off. A lawyer from Oudtshoorn, Attie Murray, attended one of these auctions. He’d been one of the curious onlookers and had spent some time in the immediate vicinity. ‘With his friend, Ockert van der Westhuysen, he visited Mr Marthinus Christoffel Botha on his farm Hoogekraal at Mount Pleasant on the heights above the wreck,’ wrote Parkes and Williams. Apparently, the two men took a walk west down the beach and decided it would be a fine place for a holiday cottage.
Van der Westhuysen and his wife had been on an extended holiday in Scotland where they had stayed in a cottage on the estate Glen Tanar; when they returned they named their South African holiday cottage Glentana in its memory. The Murray family did the same and soon the area was known as such.
Today a favourite activity is doing the coastal walk to the wreck at low tide. Not much remains, but the rocks en route all have names and the secluded nooks and little bays are reason enough for a stroll.
Nothing much has changed
‘Of course there are some very fancy houses out there now,’ says René of Onderwyser Strand. ‘Glentana has developed to capacity – it can’t get any bigger – but it’s still just a relaxed holiday town.’
‘Very relaxed,’ explains Mossel Bay surfer Llewellyn Whittaker, who’s been ‘adventuring’ out this way in search of surf for as long as he can recall. ‘I remember surfing there once some years back. I had some American friends with me, it was late afternoon and we’d surfed ourselves finished. We were laughing and being loud in the car park. This old ballie was having a braai in his backyard and passed a couple of ice-cold Castles to us over the fence,’ he recalled. ‘It’s just that kind of place.’
Plan your trip
From the N2, take the signposted turn-off roughly midway between George and Mossel Bay (about 20 kilometres either way). For a scenic drive, take the R102 from Mossel Bay, past Klein Brak, Tergniet and Great Brak to Glentana.
Most people who holiday in Glentana rent a house or stay with friends or family. There’s no hotel, very few guest houses and the Glentana Resort caravan park is small and basic.
To rent a house, work through the estate agents, but get in early to avoid disappointment: call Pam Golding (Tel 044 691 3844), Angela’s Real Estate (Tel 044 620 2661) or De Kaap (Tel 044 620 2594).
For guest houses and B&B accommodation, contact Mossel Bay Tourism.
Glentana Strand Café and Restaurant, off the main beach car park, is the only eatery in town. It has a surprisingly diverse menu and offers unpretentious but quality fare. It’s also the social hub – everyone coming off the beach gravitates there. The calamari is tender and the beers are cold and Mossel Bay locals often drive out to this spot for lunch.
The Wreck of the Durban Floating Dock at Glentana by Margaret Parkes and Vicky Williams (2002) offers historical context and a map showing the names of all the rocks. Available at Great Brak Museum (Tel 044 620 3338) for R30.
Need to know
Glentana is purely a holiday town and there’s little infrastructure in terms of shopping. Essentials can be bought at Spar in Klein Brak, but for bigger purchases you need to go to Mossel Bay’s Langeberg Mall or Garden Route Mall outside George.
This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Getaway magazine.
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