Suurbraak: Paradise in the Overberg

by | May 30, 2023 | Food and Drink, Lodging, Western Cape | 18 comments

Thorsten and I recently spent three days in Suurbraak, a tiny town in South Africa’s Overberg region. Thorsten (who is an architect) designed a holiday house there several years ago; now he’s designing a second house for the same clients. I was lucky enough to get invited along on his scouting mission.

Timber house in Suurbraak
“The Timber House” in Suurbraak, where we stayed. Does this photo make you wish you could stay there too? The good news is, you can: It’s on Airbnb. More on that later.

Suurbraak can be translated from Afrikaans to English in multiple ways: “Acid River”, “Acid Vomit”, or “Heartburn”. The name comes from the color of Suurbraak’s Buffeljag River; the water is the color of rust. (Apparently it has something to do with tannins.) Suurbraak’s indigenous name, !Xairu, means “Place of Paradise”, which has a much nicer ring to it. (If you’d like to learn more about Suurbraak, check out this nice little video by the African Travel Crew.)

Heather standing in the
Me standing in the tannin-tinted water of the Buffeljag River. Incidentally, it tastes the same as any other water and is safe to drink. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)

Suurbraak is about 30 minutes from Swellendam and 45 minutes from Barrydale — two larger, more touristy towns. Suurbraak is sleepy by comparison, with just a couple of small stores and a quaint café called Paradise Organic.

We got to Suurbraak by flying from Joburg to Cape Town and then driving about three hours east. You can also fly to George and drive about two hours west.

Three Days at “the Timber House”

A cool perk of dating an architect, at least my particular architect, is that we sometimes get invited to stay in the houses he designs. I love getting to see and experience the spaces Thorsten creates, and “the Timber House” is a special one. Please humor me while I show you a series of photos and wax lyrical about my boyfriend’s work. I realize I’m biased but I suspect you’ll agree that this is a pretty bad-ass little holiday house.

The Timber House
The Timber House folds nicely into the wooded area behind it. There’s a swimming hole beside the house for hot summer days. The front of the house faces north toward the Langeberg mountain range and the sound of tumbling waterfalls.

Wooden houses are uncommon in South Africa and the Timber House has a unique vibe, with a huge wooden deck and a glass-enclosed living space that completely opens up into the landscape around it.

Sketch of the Timber House
A cool sketch of the house by @theThinking_Hand.
A view from the side portion of the deck. Thorsten and Bridget (who owns the house with her partner Maggie) are in the background.
Bridge to river
Behind the house is a small stream crossed by a kind of treehouse-bridge, which leads to a lookout point over the Buffeljag.
Kitchen of Timber House
The kitchen area (there is a larger sink just outside for big dish-washing jobs) and the ladder up to the loft, where the main bedroom is. These steps are surprisingly easy to climb.
Timber House at night
Same scene with the fireplace going. The house is very cozy on winter nights.
Bedroom of the Timber House
The loft bedroom.
Downstairs of the Timber House
There is enough space for four people to sleep comfortably on the couches downstairs.
Bathroom at the Timber House
Bathroom. (There’s a lovely outdoor shower on the other side of the door.)
Thorsten working in the Timber House
The dining table makes a nice working space. There is also lots of space to work upstairs.
Heather in the living room at the Timber House
We had one day that was warm enough to open the glass doors around the living area. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)
View from the couch.
The back deck and pizza oven
The back deck and pizza oven.

Things to Do in Suurbraak

Suurbraak is the kind of place where one aspires to do as little as possible. We spent most of our time lazing around the house, working a bit, and going for strolls up and down the “road”, which is more of a cattle track. One afternoon we walked into town, which takes about 30 minutes, and had lunch at Paradise Organic.

Cow in Surrbraak
Morning rush-hour in Suurbraak.
Thorsten in Wellington boots
The light is magical in the afternoon. Note that rubber gumboots are essential for walks during rainy season. I didn’t bring any but luckily there was a pair at the Timber House that fit me.
Horse in the road
Afternoon rush hour. Note the size of that puddle.
House in Suurbraak
The town is full of colorful cottages.
Colorful house
Another favorite.
Thorsten house sketch
Thorsten sketched the same house.
Mini market and Citigolf
Colorful mini-market with a colorful Citigolf to match.
Paradise Organic
Paradise Organic.
Salad from Paradise Organic
Paradise serves delicious coffee, homemade bread, and possibly the best salads in South Africa.
Greg Gill, owner of Paradise Organic
Greg, the charming owner of Paradise Organic.

When it rains heavily — as it sometimes does this time of year — it’s possible to get briefly stuck at the Timber House, which is on the opposite side of the Buffeljag from town. The water usually recedes within a day.

This happened to us one day while we were there, so we couldn’t walk into town for provisions. We hardly minded though. Thorsten scrounged together what we had — flour, parmesan cheese, olive oil, chillis, peppadews from the neighbor’s garden — and made an incredible focaccia in the pizza oven. We had wine and coffee for the next morning. What more could we want?

Focaccia ready to cook
Focaccia ready for baking.

The waters receded the next day and we left Paradise, reluctantly. I was sad. I can’t wait to go back.

Timber house at night

What to know before you go: As I already mentioned, the Timber House is available for rent on Airbnb. Book well in advance as it’s very popular. The Timber House is solar powered and completely off the grid, so no loadshedding! Bring gumboots and plenty of food in case it rains. The house is usually accessible in a regular car — Bridget and Maggie drove us there in a Corolla — but a high-clearance vehicle is preferable during the rainy season.

18 Comments

  1. Albert

    Looks great. Awesome architecture.

    Reply
  2. captainlinguistix

    Great article – “Time to build your own pad there”- I have always loved this particular area of RSA – Its totally captivating and a journey back in time.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I know, it’s so beautiful and relaxed.

      Reply
  3. Derek Smith

    Nice one Heather – putting this on my roadtrip bucketlist to be sure

    Reply
    • 2summers

      This is your kind of place for sure.

      Reply
  4. dizzylexa

    Looks like the perfect place to escape to.

    Reply
  5. jackiehayward27

    I always love your stories and photos. I look forward to them.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Jackie!

      Reply
  6. Bev Hammrich

    What a wonderful visit to a very unique area. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Brian

    Sounds amazing heather- I so enjoy your blogs. Just makes me want to travel more and more!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Brian. Hope you’re doing well!

      Reply
  8. AutumnAshbough

    So pretty. And with a pizza oven! Did you put pictures of waterfalls and mountains on Instagram? I saw the flooding pictures.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      We didn’t really do any hiking in Suurbraak (between working and inconsistent weather) so no pictures of the waterfalls, unfortunately! Hopefully we’ll be back again in the dry season.

      Reply
  9. Nancy McDaniel

    I love it (and the brown and white cow in the road) (and the salad). Eager to see what Thorsten designs next for them! Tough to beat this sweet house (and the location and vie w- oh my!)

    Reply
    • 2summers

      I’m excited too. He has some great ideas.

      Reply
  10. Tania de Beer

    Loved this post, especially as Suurbraak is close to Witsand, where I live.

    Reply

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