Surrounded by water

Text and photographs: Johann van Loggerenberg

With a second marriage resulting in an extended family, to which the siblings’ wives, boyfriends and friends add, “sleeps 10” in a magazine article about the Island Water Villa immediately caught the eye.

So we phoned Roenette Theron, of the farm Goeie Hoop outside Memel where the self-catering villa is to be found.

There are four rooms, we learnt, which would be perfect, two bathrooms, less ideal but doable, a large kitchen and a spacious kuier area with a large fireplace.

We pushed our luck. It being on a farm, could the boys bring their scramblers? No problem, said Roenette. Her own sons also have scramblers. But these are those very noisy racing bikes, we caution. No problem. Theirs are too. And a jet ski? – holding our breath. “Of course.”

So the long weekend in May started with the family descending on Louis and Roenette Theron’s Goeie Hoop farm with trailers and vehicles filled with food and beverages for a three-day stay.

The latter had to be carted across the swaying wooden bridge to the chalet, in the dark… We managed without anything (or anyone) falling into the water, thanks to steel cables on either side that serve as hand railings.

The spacious double-story chalet is built from stone and has a thatch roof, for a rustic appearance and feel. The kitchen is so well equipped it made all the utensils we brought (like braai tongs and knives) superfluous. There’s even a cast-iron potjie (so ours remained in the car – clean). There’s also a large fridge/freezer, and a smaller one by the bar counter as well. Two beautiful yellowwood staircases lead to the four rooms, two each on opposite sides of the chalet, reasonably spacious and with nice views over the dam. Two more beds are found in the lounge, underneath the staircases, for a total of 10.

There is a large stoep with extended wooden deck (excellent for fly fishing for Florida bass) with a sunny braai area.

How did this all start? “Well, after the dam was built and filled up, this little island was still sticking out of the water,” recounts Roenette. So they started using it as a place to have a braai and entertain friends.

“To block the wind howling across the water on bad days, we decided to build a stone wall for shelter.”

Then another idea took hold. Why not a guest cottage that can be rented out? The project could also keep everyone busy during quieter periods on the farm.

“I was lucky to hear about a man who demolished old houses, salvaging the doors, windows and wooden beams and selling those at reasonable prices.”

So, while husband Louis and the farm labourers set to work to build the chalet, Roenette sourced French doors with stained glass, large windows and yellowwood beams that would be made into the stairs and other furnishings.

A large fireplace with chimney also serves as indoor braai, and adds to the warmth and homeliness of the Island Water Villa. So when the rains and the cold came, it was quite a pleasure to stay indoors with a good book and a deck of playing cards. There’s no TV, which made for good conversation and quality time with the kids.

On the edge of the lake on the mainland the horse stables have adjoining bedrooms so children (or horsy-type adults) can sleep next to their new equestrian friends. Louis trained horses in his army days, and it was his idea.

With horses not having brake pedals, we declined the offer to ride, thank you.

Instead we spent the day riding bikes, jet skiing and pedalling the pedal boat on the dam, while the fishermen (and -women) caught and released a number of carp, it being too cold for bass. Quads are also welcome.

Memel (a word used in old German for both rivers and towns) also offers a number of activities. It’s famous among birdwatchers, especially for its water birds in the unique wetlands here in the Drakensberg area of the northeastern corner of the Free State.

Seekoeivlei is one of the last remaining natural wetlands in South Africa and comprises 220 oxbow lakes formed by the Klip River. It is also one of the few marshes left in the Vaal River catchment. The 12 000ha floodplain provides unique habitat for wattled, blue and crowned cranes.

Over 350 bird species have been listed here and the hippos that were once shot out over a hundred years ago have been reintroduced to the so-named vlei.

There are also a number of 4×4 trails and scenic drives in the area, and at the top of Normandien Pass the Drakensberg escarpment offers terrific views over KwaZulu-Natal.

The Kranskop route is an easy drive, but depending on how much rain has fallen. This route has some stunning picnic spots, such as Oupa se Gat, with a waterfall and swimming hole.

The nearby Botha’s Pass also lends itself to four-wheel driving. Remains of the British forts built along the escarpment during the Anglo-Boer War can be viewed.

We thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of Island Water Villa, the friendliness (when the jet ski sprung a leak Louis arrived with his fibreglass kit to repair it) the nice atmosphere and spacious accommodation, and the affordability. The only disappointment was having to return home on Sunday…


To get to Memel, turn off the N3 just before the Villiers tollgate to the R103 and then take the R34 to Vrede and Memel. The entrance to Island Water Villa is about 10km before the town and is well marked.

The self-catering rate is R185 an adult (R90 a child) a night. The use of a pedal boat and canoe, as well as firewood and fishing are all included.

Roenette Theron: 058 924-0147; 082-595 9497;