When visiting Hampton Court Palace in England, 10 years or so ago, I ended up my tour with what I thought to be a quicky in the maze; which was evidentially not.
Ever since then mazes and labyrinths held a fascination for me. Recently I discovered Soekershof Walkabout in South Africa and that is a maze so different that it hardly fits into the 'perception box' of the average tourist.
What's the story?
In April 2000 a Dutch couple, Herman van Bon and Yvonne de Wit, emigrated from The Netherlands to Klaas Voogds; a small hamlet 2 hours driving from Cape Town. They bought a small farm of 25 acres, which was neglected for 24 years. The original idea was to clean the place but fate had other ideas. From the first week onwards everything went different.
While cleaning the weed overgrown cactus garden they discovered a memorial tablet of Marthinus Malherbe. Malherbe (1885-1976) was the pioneer of the South African cactus trade and opposite his grave stands the oldest cactus of South Africa (anno 1910. The garden was in 1971 reviewed as the most beautiful succulent garden in the Southern Hemnisphere by the British Royal Horticultural Society. Five years later Malherbe dies and is for 18 years survived by his wife Molly who suffered with Alzheimer. This also explains the name Soekershof (Seekers Garden) and became also the inspiration for the creation of a maze.
Today the restored and extended garden boast more than 2400 different succulents, including cacti, from all over the world in the open sky. More than 700 of these succulents are indigenous to Southern Africa including Madagascar. In the process of restoring they discovered many treasures and learned a lot about the South African culture. Herman: "South Africans are, like the Irish, good story tellers. True or not true is not important; as long as the story is 'lekker' (nice). For us the reason, while creating the Klaas Voogds Maze, to integrate a few stories. These stories are visualised with objects towering above the hedges as orientating points. This is not a maze in the traditional perception; this is a maze of life. You walk from one story into the other but, as in life, there are also a few stories you have to look for and that's where your quest comes in and you can earn a memorable reward".
A visit to Soekershof Walkabout is not just visiting another tourist attraction; it's a very personal experience which begins with a firm handshake and an introduction. This mini-tour starts in a 'stone age cinema'. The 'stone age movie' depicts one of the stories associated with the legendary Klaas Voogds after whom the area is named. Said to be a slave-driver' he met his end when he was trampled to death by an elephant. The truth, however, is different as the visitor will discover.
The introduction ends with a fantastic James Bond story to bring the visitor in the mood for the stories in the Klaas Voogds Maze. The walk along the peachpip paths is a journey of discovery, and fun as one ponders into the meaning of the names and artefarcts one encounters. Eventually, after being lost a few times I found my way out. During this break, after the maze quest Herman performs a seance in which visitors undergo a time-travel with Albert Einstein and receive their reward (if they fulfilled their quest in the maze).
And if one thinks that the visit is here to end ......... it just started..... Yvonne or 'local' master gardener Maart Geduld guide visitors around in the succulent gardens. In this comprehensive tour one senses the real passion of Herman, Yvonne and their staff for their plants. And than? Climbing a somewhat muddy berm to the Botterboom Trail I had a good view of the gardens. From the trail into the Philosophers Garden. Here the meditative nature of its creators finds expression in aphorisms, quotes and other deep, and sometimes even funny, thoughts.
It is evident that Herman and Yvonne aren't ordinary people and this is really not an ordinary experience which can be done in a 'jiffy' as most of the mainstream destinations in South Africa.
It is also the reason for the extraordinary couple to build a guesthouse. The opening of the self-sufficient guesthouse (a.o. solar energry, reed filter and rainwater catchment) is scheduled for April 10, 2010; the celebration date of "10 years Double Dutch in Klaas Voogds".