Eco Footprint

aiming for an eco-friendly lifestyle

Our journey begins...


(Pewter footprint & image is the property of Eco-Footprint and may not be reproduced without permission)

My husband, RMan, decided that he had had enough of insurance companies draining his bank balance every month, making their company profits soar whilst promising great retirement benefits, which in reality, are worth very little. In 1985, aged 32, he took out a couple of, then, small policies, which projected a very attractive potential retirement which would be applicable in 2018. But in 2005 - 2006 those amounts were already completely inadequate. Apart from the wild escalation in his contribution over the years and the increase in the cost of living, the projected growth of his investments was sadly underperforming!

So he decided that he would take early retirement and with the 1/3 that would become available (the other 2/3, legally stipulated in this country, has to be re-invested) invest that 1/3 in property. The return on property in this country has proved to be far greater than investing money in insurance companies! I reckon that that is exactly why the insurance companies have erected their own amazing buildings with their profits!

What a decision that was! We discussed this idea with my brother and his wife, who were also looking for a property. And we decided to pool resources and travel together looking for our mutual properties. Our search radius had to fall within a 2 1/2 hour drive from Cape Town - we are all still working and travelling had to be feasible over the weekends. My brother intended to build on his plot, but initially we were only interested in the land as an investment.

In a period of six weeks during February / March 2008 we covered over 5 000kms - even travelling 1/2 way to Calvinia. We went there to see a property which was 400ha in size - we named it Mons 2 - it was twice the size of Monaco and was being sold for nothing because there was absolutely nothing one could do with it.


It would appear even a windmill can't survive there!

Mons 2

It was completely flat, no grass, no trees, no water - stuck in the middle of a barren dustbowl of a valley. Actually, the only use we could find for it was that it would be a perfect landing strip for the space shuttle if ever it needed to make an emergency landing in South Africa.

We then travelled on up to Tulbagh, Laingsburg, Montague, Van Wyksdorp, Barrydale and finally we landed in Rietkuil, near Suurbraak. Actually we found Rietkuil because, I, in complete frustration at the distance we were travelling, and the footprint that that was creating, frantically searched the internet for literally days and days non-stop, looking for a property in our price range - not an easy search - all the properties were completely beyond our means.

The Plot

We finally found it

The agents' web page (Traders Properties) had the most amazing comment:

"Buy and be gentle, slow and humble with your neighbours. You might learn something and teach in the process. Plough with a horse, have Oom (Uncle) A.... Or J.... harvest your veggies when you are not there. Come help preserve a very, very gentle way of life."

An estate agent with a difference!

When we arrived it was a cold, raining, misty morning, and the road to Suurbraak, where we were to meet the agent, looked like a road in Europe. Very promising, as the four of us have our roots in Europe, albeit from childhood time. When we got to the plot the clouds cleared and the sun shone down - on the plot and on the Tradoux Pass! Surely this was nature giving us a clear sign that this was the place.

Google image

The plot was absolutely perfect - 4.5km from the N2 along a sand road, it is level and 2.2 ha (just over 5 acres) in extent and covered in Renosterveld (A vegetation type of the fynbos biome characterised by small, tough, grey leaves, and predominance of the Daisy family (Asteraceae). Renosterveld can be described as a type of fynbos (rich in grasses and bulbs) on fertile clay soils (shale, granite, or silcrete derived) with a moderate rainfall (between 200 and 600mm/year). It was within our budget, just over 2 1/2 hours from Cape Town, so that we could get there over weekends, and it had the most amazing view of the Tradoux Pass.

Plot view

The view from the plot

The Tradoux Pass is part of the Langeberg Mountains which receive snow on the higher reaches most winters - soul food for my European roots. The small historic village of Suurbraak is a few kilometres to the north of the plot (Suurbraak is where the Rhodesian Ridgeback originated - it was bred to track game, especially lion. The uniqueness of this breed is the ridge on the back, formed by hair growing in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat)and just below the Tradoux Pass, whilst Swellendam and Heidelberg are roughly 27kms west or east of us respectively. Swellendam has all the necessary shops, petrol stations, a police station and a hospital.

However, having found our plot we got the building bug! That was a bit scary - and a complete mental adjustment. And it has turned out to be a life changing decision in fact.

First nights on the plot

Our first time in a caravan!

We have decided to build a small dwelling which will be just big enough for the two of us to get away to over the weekends, or where our children, and our grandson, could get away to for a holiday, and we want to achieve something as ecologically friendly as possible. Having purchased a really inexpensive, but sound, 2nd hand caravan (I found it on Cape Town Gumtree) we schlepped it up to the plot - paying R250.00 per person per night at local self-catering places, excluding the petrol to travel to and from the plot / self catering places, was proving far too expensive, and, in far too many places, a complete rip-off. We reasoned that if we purchased a caravan whilst we were building we could always re-sell it and recoup some of the cost when we didn't require it anymore. We are extremely conscious of our electricity consumption in the caravan and the need to conserve our current limited power (which at this moment in time is a single 105Ah Deep Cycle battery connected to the lights and a 9kg gas tank, which is connected to the gas stove) but that restriction has made no major noticeable difference to our lifestyle.


Staying in the caravan on the plot has been absolutely incredible. A first for both of us! Our grandson, MLittle thinks that the caravan is the coolest thing - there again, he also enjoyed wallowing in the muddy water filled foundations when our mains pipe sprang a leak (class 6 pipe - that has since been replaced with class 12!) and 45 Kl washed down the plot to the stream below.

Both RMan and I have found that the simplicity of the lifestyle is incredibly relaxing and invigorating. We find that we go to bed earlier and wake earlier - invariably to the sound of cows in the field next door or sheep as they start on their walkabout - or the neighbouring farmers' cockerel at 3.30a.m.! We have discovered that sheep have a family instinct - they don't just follow each other blindly. We were sitting at the end of the day, under the temporary wattle branch and shade cloth pergola we had built, enjoying a glass of wine and a beer. We noticed our neighbours free-roaming sheep quietly heading homewards, catching a last munch on their way passed a tasty looking grass tuft. The sun sank lower and lower, and suddenly two sheep re-appeared "baaa-ing" frantically and walking at a much quicker pace than that they had earlier walked towards home. They headed back exactly to where they had just left 3/4 of an hour earlier - continuously "baa-ing" and looking this way and that. They disappeared into some bushes, but we could track them via their insistent baa-ing. And we heard a third more timorous "baaa" a distance away. Then they all went quiet. We continued to enjoy the sunset and the mountain views and suddenly the sheep appeared again - and this time there were three of them - what appeared to be mama, papa and a smaller one. Mum and Dad had gone to look for their little baby who hadn't gone home with the rest of the herd. How incredibly moving that was to witness!

Our wakeup call

Reducing our ecological footprint

And it has made us all the more determined to restrict our consumption in the house we are building. RMan and I find that we talk to each other more and are not reliant on radio/TV/newspapers at all. And we are a lot more positive because of that. And we are friendlier to each other. We have also found that we tend to read more - and Ronnie says he was never mad about reading! (I love it because it gives my imagination free reign!) There is a peace that enters us as soon as we drive onto the sand road leading to the plot, and that peace remains the entire time we are there. It inspires us - it is encouraging - it is hopeful - and it is powerful. It is an absolute freedom. And it is almost as though the very act of getting back to a more basic lifestyle has given us renewed energy, anticipation and enthusiasm. A cliché I know - but there are so very many stars in the night sky which are lost to city dwellers and they are very humbling to observe. (They put man's fleeting time here on earth in complete perspective, and make it hard to understand the wanton damage that man is doing, and has done, to our beautiful planet - and all in the name of progress?) We spend more time in the fresh air and less time locked away indoors. Guess the confined space of the caravan has something to do with that too. It is so quiet there that one can hear a car approaching 2kms down the road. We have the time to notice that we have fallow deer roaming the neighbour's fields, that rabbits habitate nearby and that there is a vast amount of bird life - very important, as birds re-act vociferously when they spot a snake. And there is apparently plenty of Cobras about. Not that we have seen one - yet - only the skin shed by one and carelessly left in the foundations of our building - and that was big enough! Perhaps it was also a warning - we can all live together providing we don't trespass our mutual boundaries.


Snake skin in the foundations - estimated to be +/- 3mtrs long

However, to be on the safe side, we have purchased a set of Motorola T2 two-way radios (they are available from iWarehouse)which take 3 X AA re-chargeable batteries - that way if Ronnie and I are on opposite sides of the plot and we come across a snake, or need any kind of assistance, we can contact each other immediately.

Walkie talkies

Motorola T2 walkie talkies

The walkie talkies are fantastic - they clip onto your belt and have a range of 5kms - as a test we gave one to a neighbour who lives +/- 4kms away and the reception was perfect - so we know they work! And they are MLittle, our grandson's, favourite gadget - he has developed his own short wave language, although he still needs the occasional reminder to depress the 'speak' button in order to talk - or to not depress it when he needs to receive our transmission. It's too cute, he walks around constantly with the button pressed in - talking or singing to himself - not a care in the world! And he doesn't want to sign off with "Over and Out" - I guess he thinks if he does that the fun is going to end.