In a little town in the middle of nowhere, the sisters, Sanet Stander and Marietjie Smit, opened a small sewing shop, NetMar. In this creative space, their lives changed forever. They started serving coffee to customers, which led to tea; and now they’re charging into the modern tourism market. NetMar is no longer just a sewing shop – it is South Africa’s only Rooibos Tea House. It is also home to the country’s first online rooibos tea tourism hub. (Image: Rooibos Route)
Melissa Jane Cook
Modern tourists don’t want to lounge around and read books when they’re on holiday; they want experiences. With this in mind, a pair of sisters has come up with a tool that helps tourists to plan and create individual and unique experiences that are relaxing and educational – all based on a plant discovered by the Khoi hundreds of years ago.
Some three centuries ago, the Khoi people of southern Africa began using wild grown rooibos as a herbal tea. Today, this delicious cuppa has been elevated to a liquid luxury enjoyed around the world – and it now even has its own route. The Rooibos Route was launched by two creative sisters, a team of hardworking people, a website and the tourism industry.
In a little town in the middle of nowhere, the sisters, Sanet Stander and Marietjie Smit, opened a small sewing shop, NetMar. In this creative space, their lives changed forever. They started serving coffee to customers, which led to tea; and now they’re charging into the modern tourism market. NetMar is no longer just a sewing shop – it is South Africa’s only Rooibos Tea House. It is also home to the country’s first online rooibos tea tourism hub.
The Rooibos Route was officially launched in Clanwilliam, 200 kilometres north of Cape Town in Western Cape, on 14 August. It is a tourism website that acts as a one-stop-shop for planning a breath-taking holiday based on experiential offerings in the local rooibos industry.
“What we realised with the Rooibos Tea House was that tourists don’t want to simply buy tea. They want to see and feel the tea plants in their natural state; they want to learn about the harvesting and curing of the final product, and they want to know everything about how the green plant becomes red tea in a bag,” says Stander. “We just wanted to make it easier for tourists who have an interest in the rooibos industry to plan a trip during which they can learn about the industry while still being pampered and relaxed in beautiful surroundings.”
Rooibosroete bekend gestel / Rooibos route launched
Initially, the sisters approached their 10 main rooibos suppliers to get the website started. “All of our suppliers have something they could offer tourists – be it educational or experiential. We’ve created a website with an interactive map that shows you where the specific company or farm is, what they have to offer and how to get in touch with them,” says Smit. “Essentially we take out the legwork of planning your rooibos-based trip by giving you the available options and contact details.”
The website has seven categories – cultivation, history, activities, restaurants, tea house, accommodation, and treats – so potential visitors have full control of where they stay and what they experience. “You simply click on one of the categories and all of the available options [is] shown to you – you can just pick from there,” explains Stander. For instance, cultivation options include large-scale farms with on-site processing plants so that tourists can see how a rooibos plant is harvested and turned into bagged or loose-leaf red tea. The history category includes destinations where tourists can learn how the rooibos industry has been shaped over the last three centuries.
The Rooibos Route is centred on an interactive Google Maps system that is easy to use and is quite handy when planning a road trip. The website includes the history of rooibos, rooibos recipes, rooibos health facts and a tea of the month. “These will change monthly, so be sure to keep visiting the site,” says Stander.
There is a special rooibos experience with a Seven Clan option: visitors can either visit a rooibos farm or production plant, and for the more adventurous, there are outdoor activities such as 4×4 tracks, jogging, walking or bird watching on rooibos farms. The more relaxed tourist can visit a historical building or the local museum, where there is an upgraded exhibition on the plant. Not to be missed is the rooibos baking or tea tasting at the Rooibos Tea House, where there are more than 100 flavoured and blended rooibos teas.
The route covers a wide area in and around Clanwilliam, and the tourist can visit the different points in their own time and at their own pace. With the world renowned Cederberg Mountains, the Clanwilliam Dam and beautiful scenery, it is a wonderful experience for rooibos tea lovers and nature and outdoor enthusiasts. Clanwilliam is the heart of rooibos country and is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world.
For peace and quiet, try the Suid Bokkeveld and the Cederberg Mountains on a route that links Nieuwoudtville and Wupperthal via Moedverloor – it is also sometimes called the Moedverloor Route. Along the way is a group of authentic small-scale farmers that you can visit, guided hikes, rock art, medicinal plants, and courses on baking traditional bread and how to harvest your own rooibos tea.
Rooibos Route is an environmentally friendly tourist route between Wupperthal and Nieuwoudtville. It encourages visitors to use local accommodation and enjoy the hospitality of rooibos farmers and their families, who can share their local knowledge and environment with them.
In time gone by, the Khoi and San people cut the Aspalathus linearis bush (rooibos) high up in the mountains with axes, bundled it and carried the branches home. At home they chopped the branches and used stones to bruise the leaves. The foliage would be heaped up and left to ferment in the sun. After this oxidation process they would spread it open to let it dry, until it was ready to brew as a tasty herbal and aromatic tea.
The Khoi also used rooibos tea to relieve allergies and help heal damaged skin.