Or so said the road sign in the tranquil seaside town. There was no mistaking the unhurried lifestyle of locals when discovering the Southern Cape’s famous Stilbaai (translation - 'still lane') this weekend. The name of this sizeable coastal town located in the Hessequa Region, befits the peace and tranquillity found here during off peak periods.
For regular commuters, the journey between boarding schools and the workplace in bigger cities vary between two and four hours. And so it also justified a three night weekend away from the Mother City to discover the hospitality of a laid back mix of creative and entrepreneurial minds.
Residents here make for an eclectic mix of property owners and tenants, whose vested interest in preserving more than just their good fortune is obvious. They share a unique geographical setting, an International Blue Flag Beach on a spectacular coastline, and 15 kilometres of navigable river frontage on either side of the Gouka River Estuary. As a result, those who stay have learnt to weather the highs and lows of all seasons, and economic cycles.
Property and business owners dependent on seasonal business guard the local economy through ongoing improvement and community projects to enhance growth in coastal property prices. Buyers here have access to a mixed bag of development zones within residential, commercial and agricultural areas. Owners of residential properties and guest houses enjoy uninterrupted sea views along kilometres of a magnificent ocean setting.
Luxury beach front properties highlight the value of the Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) Act, where implementation of the High Water Mark (HWM) Coastal Protection Zones in South Africa could not have come a day too soon. The ICM stipulates the protection of coastal zones, ‘consisting of a continuous strip of land, starting from the HWM and extending 100 metres inland in developed urban areas zoned as residential, commercial, or public open space, or 1000 metres inland in areas that remain undeveloped, or that are commonly referred to as rural areas.’
Owners here say although municipal rates and taxes for waterside properties are considerably lower than those along the Garden Route, Stilbaai's business and hospitality industry remains heavily dependent on seasonal income. Property professionals say some bargains available in Stilbaai remain the product of boom times, when emotional purchases and close proximity to the Garden Route may have overshadowed the realities of high maintenance and mortgage bonds. An oversupply of stock supplies buyers as well as long and short term tenants with rentals suited to all budgets, from retirees to young families and well heeled migrants from upcountry.
Similar to other Cape coastal regions, locals compete for prime rental incomes during high season periods, to offset slow winter months. What helps contribute to the stability of the local economy are high end consumers and wealthy families, who over generations have invested heavily into the area but have little appetite for rental incomes. Agents say discerning foreign visitors show a preference for off peak holidays, when ‘swallows’ arrive for six month periods to enjoy the outdoors while maintaining their houses before locking up until the following year.
Country life amid the farming community reflects a breed of hard working property owners, passionate about preserving a rich cultural and environmental heritage. For some, the village offers an escape from city life where they pursue small scale farming amid costly yet necessary challenges, such as the eradication of alien vegetation. Free range livestock of sheep, cattle, and chicken is seen roaming amid organically grown orchards filled with olives, fruit and the odd vineyard.
When meeting this enterprising set of locals able to manage anything, from farms to coffee shops, personal finance to real estate portfolios and art galleries, what becomes abundantly clear is that life in the ‘still lane’ inspires innovation, creativity and free thinking.