A Time To Feast

While studying at Rhodes in Makhanda (formerly known as Grahamstown), I had the privilege of experiencing the National Arts Festival. Every year, the town undergoes a remarkable transformation, becoming a vibrant and celebratory hub. Art, performance, and culture take center stage on the streets, designated areas, spontaneous spots, and even on the main stage.


Makhanda is situated approximately 900 km away from Cape Town, so we embarked on our journey before daybreak. The drive itself is incredibly scenic, especially with the added touch of rain, creating a moody atmosphere.

For breakfast, we made a stop in Riversdale at a place recommended by Bear. To reach it, you need to exit the N2 and venture a little further into town. There, you’ll discover Ou Tronk, a restaurant housed within an old prison. Most of the exterior has been preserved, with a few minor modifications to soften its initially daunting appearance. 

Despite its troubled history, I found it quite charming.

We arrived in Makhanda under the cover of darkness, and it became immediately apparent that the town is facing numerous challenges. Potholes, deep and wide, dot the roads in every direction. Navigating by car proves to be quite difficult. The pavement proved to be tricky as well, as we soon discovered the following morning when we ventured out on foot. Donkeys seem to be everywhere!

The student town remains largely unchanged from my memory, brimming with vitality, vibrant colors and rich history. Artists captivate passersby with mini performances on street corners, while festival attendees gather in bars, cafés and courtyards to share their thoughts on the art and performances they have witnessed and immersed themselves in.

During our stay, we found accommodation in a dog-friendly Airbnb near Graeme College, on the outskirts of town. Bailey, our beloved furry wanderer, thoroughly enjoyed his daily strolls – especially when he got to meet and greet Makanda’s town council (more donkeys). We were treated to glorious sunny mornings, refreshing crisp air, and breathtaking sunsets, making our experience truly unforgettable.

Before my time at Rhodes my father would tell me how it was the most beautiful campus in the country. I believe him and I now find myself on a personal mission to persuade others to share in this belief.

As part of my mission I led Bear and Bailey on a campus tour with the clock tower, the bicycles (IYKYK) and the Drama department topping the highlights.

And don’t forget the Botanical Gardens:

But we didn’t just come to stroll.

Despite being constrained by limited time and a tight budget, we were determined to make the most of it. We eagerly immersed ourselves in the shows, soaking up the creativity and talent on display. Among the numerous performances, I am particularly excited to highlight four shows that stood out as exceptional and memorable.

Rhodes University’s music department played host to a number of productions. Artists from the Wela Kapela Production House took to the stage in The Beethoven Room and held the audience captive with singing, storytelling, and music paying homage to icons including Julie Andrews and Elton John.

With an overwhelming number of comedy shows to choose from, we ultimately decided not to choose at all. Instead, we opted for front-row seats at The Big Comedy Show, a grand showcase featuring nearly all the comedians participating in the festival. On this stage, they shared their time, wit, and humor, providing the audience with a delightful sampling of various styles, quips, and jokes. We had an absolute blast, laughing our hearts out! The show was skillfully hosted by Rob van Vuuren, who had the audience in stitches.

I wouldn’t dare attend an arts festival without at least one dance show. To commemorate their 50th anniversary, Jazzart, Cape Town’s oldest dance company, delivered a truly spectacular performance. The show was so captivating that even if it had lasted twice as long, I wouldn’t have gotten enough of it. It showcased a blend of complexity, grace, and fierceness, embodying the very essence of this remarkable company I once dreamt about dancing with. I will have to be content with watching them move on the same stage where I had the privilege of dancing as part of Theatre in Motion during my student years. The ongoing 50th-anniversary celebration promises to be an experience not to be missed. If you happen to be in Cape Town in October, I highly recommend checking it out; I assure you, it won’t disappoint.

Finally, the last show we watched, Hold Still. Wow, words hardly do justice to this performance, and I fear saying too much may not do it justice either. I believe the title was chosen because it commands you to remain motionless and breathless throughout the entire viewing. The characters and their stories sweep you away, leaving you in awe and forcing you to silence your thoughts and simply absorb the spectacle before you. Andrew Buckland, one of my first-year lecturers, delivered a performance that surpassed any previous ones I had seen from him. The entire cast and the direction were absolutely sublime. Perhaps I was a bit starved for such artistic experiences, and you know how they say your taste buds intensify when you’re truly hungry. For me, it was an extraordinary and profoundly special way to conclude our festival journey.

Over time, things evolve, and the old makes way for the new. While we thoroughly enjoyed exploring newer establishments for meals, treats, coffee, and more, there was something particularly special about introducing Bear to a festival tradition. The Long Table is a cherished institution that exists solely during this time. Diners gather around candlelit, communal tables, sharing the warmth as homemade, homestyle meals are lovingly prepared and served.

Regrettably, the feasting had to come to an end.

The journey back to Cape Town is an arduous one, especially after the 12-hour trip to our destination. Sensibly, we decided to take a break and rest halfway.

Fortunately, we had the opportunity to rendezvous with another Rhodes alumnus who happened to be wandering the Garden Route at the same time. It was an ideal chance to fully enjoy our pit stop. First, Nice Neighbour in Plettenberg Bay before spending the night in Knysna.


If you find yourself in Knysna for a limited time, here are a few activities that will give you just enough of the beauty and goodness of this seaside town.


Take a drive out to Brenton-on-Sea, a charming coastal suburb located less than 15 km west of Knysna. With its breathtaking vistas and seemingly endless beach, Brenton-on-Sea is a favourite for locals and visitors alike. In the warmer months you’ll enjoy sunbathing or swimming while the colder days make for great hiking, or simply gazing out at the vast expanse of the ocean, a visit to Brenton is an absolute must. The captivating views of the bay, the long stretch of pristine white sand, and the resounding crash of waves against Castle Rock create an unforgettable experience.

During our week-long stay here last year, we had the pleasure of introducing Bailey to the ocean. However, to our surprise, he wasn’t too fond of it and preferred hiding out in the fynbos-filled hills. However, this time around, he absolutely loved it!

Art Walk

Our stopover in Knysna coincided with the annual Oyster Festival. Among the activities available, we chose to partake in an Art Walk. Museums, galleries, coffee shops, and even art supply stores and private homes opened their doors to art enthusiasts. This allowed us to marvel at the diverse works of local artists, ranging from emerging talents to renowned figures. One particular highlight of our walk was the aptly named Art Café. Seeking shelter from the rain, we indulged in delectable baked treats while appreciating the art displayed not only on the walls but also on the very seats we sat on.

Knysna Heads – obviously

This one doesn’t need much introduction. If you ask anyone, they will tell you to visit the Knysna Heads during your time in Knysna. These two magnificent sandstone headlands encompass the Knysna River Estuary. Some even say the Heads stand as one of South Africa’s most iconic geological formations, integral to the enigmatic and captivating allure of Knysna, alongside the renowned Knysna Forests and the picturesque Knysna Lagoon. (I might have read that somewhere – just go!)

Knysna Gin and Maillard Baking Co

And finally, we happily stumbled upon a not-so-hidden gem, the Knysna Gin Distillery, AND their neighbours who make the best sourdough pizza and bagels, Maillard Baking Co.

The region’s natural beauty and botanical resources make it an ideal location for producing artisanal gins. It’s possible that the Knysna Gin Distillery is one of the local establishments contributing to this craft spirits movement. A great venue to meet with friends, enjoy a birthday or just end a day of trying to do and see as much of Knysna as possible!

This trip was a joyful celebration of both the old and the new, immersing ourselves in art, culture, history, and captivating performances. It was a reminder of the profound impact that art has on our lives.

Unfortunately, in 2020, the world of performance art took a huge knock due to the pandemic. However, witnessing the industry’s recovery during our trip was truly heartening. It served as a reminder of the resilience and creativity of artists, especially in this country. I’m also reminded of the importance of supporting the arts, wherever and whenever possible, to ensure the continued growth and vitality of this cherished realm of human expression.

Until next time,

2 thoughts on “A Time To Feast”

  1. Esther Blignaudt

    Phew. What a story Could not stop reading. The pictures are beautifully and professionally taken. Hope you are sending this to some publishers so travelers can know what they can experience and what’s to be found and seen in the small "dorpies." Let us have more please.

  2. Oh my goodness!! What a journey, an exciting adventure this was. An incredible story and so well written. Thank you for sharing. Excited and can’t wait for the next adventure piece… 🐻

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