74 Voortrekker Road was a shell when I bought it in 2004. The original yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus ) floors and ceilings had been ripped out as the short term owner had been under the illusion that he would make a fortune selling that beautiful, and now rare, timber. However, nails forged by blacksmiths 150 years ago have rusted into the wood and tend to snap when you try to remove them, leaving their ends embedded in the timber so that any tool such as a plane or saw gets wrecked as one works the wood. And the effort to remove the nails often splits the planks. The value of the building would have been doubled if only he had left sleeping wood lie…
It was beyond my capabilities and my pocket to restore the Victorian building to its original state. It served my purpose to put in a new ceiling low enough to accommodate another storey and build in some stairs. At least the detached cottage still had a ceiling in Oregon pine, but I had to cast new concrete floors there as well as in the main house. Under the rotting floorboards of the kitchen, I found several solid yellowwood beams that the previous owner had missed. These I used to fashion a bar-cum-reception counter. I removed the bath that had been placed on the walled-off section of the veranda and partitioned off two en-suite shower/toilets for the dormitories.
There were the remains of a wagon shed with an entrance off the side street. I had that bricked up and rebuilt as a tiled flatlet with a kitchenette and adjoining shower and toilet.
The Kammanassie Backpackers opened for business with 22 beds available.
Uniondale had been surrounded by several stone-built British forts that saw service during the Boer War – see my previous post on General De La Rey and Gideon Scheepers – but there was only one that survived in reasonable condition and was now a national monument. This was an attraction, as well as the Victorian buildings on Voortrekker Road and Victoria Street. However, being only another one hour drive to the city of George on the coast, it was not a tourist destination as such. I would have to encourage more attractions for the town.
I joined the local Tourism Board; mostly owners of B&Bs and a couple of local businesses. I subscribed to a Backpackers booklet that was distributed country-wide.
Initially, I realised that I would also accommodate construction crews who were in town for small jobs which did not warrant them setting up their own camps, while awaiting the hoped for rush of tourists.
Naturally, it was booked out for the annual Karoo-to-Coast 100km Mountain-bike Challenge. That is an annual event, so did not exactly impress my bank balance. Still, I got a few interesting folk in; some Germans, some Canadians, some bikeys. Folk who arrived with their own transport, as there was, and is, no public transport service to the town. Ideally, being about half way between beautiful city of Knysna on the Garden Route, and the world renowned Kango Caves near Oudtshoorn, a kombi-bus service, from the one to the other via Uniondale and the stunningly awesome mountain passes that link them, would have put my establishment on the map.
But, no Kombi owner was interested, and I could not afford to buy one and hire a driver.
Still, I was more or less breaking even, if I managed the place myself. When Sheila fell in love with a village 25km away, on a trip there to buy tables and chairs made in the local school’s woodworking centre by school-leavers, we moved there. The succession of managers was a disaster. Let me say no more than that I had no idea how many guests actually booked in, except that each month was a loss. Then all my survey equipment stored there went missing…
Then in 2012 a construction company offered me a good rental for the whole place and that was the end of it as a true Backpackers. When their contract ended a year later, I hired out the rooms to four single people. Police, teachers and such. So, it still pays for itself, with a little over for my pocket.
I’m looking for buyers, now – 2017 – and will let it go for R695,000-00, which, if you have US$ or Euros or £, and would love to retire to a quaint little South African village in the mountains of the Western Cape Province, it’s a steal.