A Weekend in McGregor

Dam in McGregor

After several months of mechanics, my car finally gave a code on a diagnostic scanner and on Thursday morning I found myself with a car that had a cleaned throttle body – I was hesitant that this would be the fix, but I was hoping.

My girlfriend has been in McGregor for a few weeks, as it’s where she grew up. So I have been wanting to visit, but without a working car the 350km journey is a bit much. But with time seemingly taking forever, and my car supposedly fixed, I decided to use the opportunity to test the car while also going to visit Sarah in the middle of nowhere.

McGregor is a small town located just 15km south of Robertson, which itself is a town that not too many people visit.

I left on the Saturday morning, taking the N2 out of Somerset West and through Villiersdorp, towards Worcester and then eastwards to Robertson before heading south on a small road towards McGregor. The weather was perfect for the drive and the scenery on route is amazing. It’s just over 2 hours of mountainsides and open farmlands – my favourite type of drive.

While my intent was very much to spend some time with the better half, I was well aware that there are some good birds out that side and I packed my camera and birding equipment.

McGregor welcomed me with open arms, or rather – a set of pillars which state the date the city was founded, somewhere in the early to mid 19th century. And unlike most cities in South Africa, the town looks to have not really expanded much since this established date. The entire town branches off the spine of a single road, with only several houses down each side street. Population I imagine must be 80-150 at maximum.

The town reminded me a bit of Clarens up in the Free State. A small community of artists and people that seek to make their livings by turning their passions into creations.

Millstone Pottery McGregor


Sarah’s parents also make a living through their arts and run a skilled and well recognized pottery studio called Millstone Pottery.

It wasn’t long before Sarah was showing me the town, and also naming each person who lives in each house. The community is so small that everyone literally knows everyone else that lives in the town. And here I was thinking that my Somerset West upbringing meant I was kept from a large community. On our walk, we came across a Hammerkop perched on one of the neighbouring properties fences, by far the closest to this species I have gotten.

A Hammerkop that stood out in the open on a fence pole of a neighbours yard. Not a sight I’m used to seeing.


McGregor dam

Dam in McGregor
One of the local dams in McGregor.

Sarah and I
Sarah and myself enjoying some sunlight.

We took a walk along the gravel roads and to some dam, which happened to be reflecting the mountainous/hill filled surroundings quite well.

It was then to what is apparently called, ‘The Top of the World’? I think that was it. Which was essentially a water reservoir pump housing – which is apparently a town-recognized attraction. I say this in jest of course, the town itself is very alluring and although I don’t think I could live in such a small community, they’re definitely the best to visit. Our time on the reservoir pump lead to me trying to teach Sarah how to throw. So there we stood, throwing rocks into fields like children, just the way life should be.

McGregor Landscape
Another McGregor landscape.

McGregor Western Cape
This is pretty much the majority of McGregor. Sparse housing and lots of open space!

Soon it was back to the house as Sarah had to do some work, and it wasn’t long before I was learning how one makes art, something I was never really too good at. But at least I got to lift a large log to prove that even an uncultured Neanderthal can still be useful!

When the work was done, Sarah continued on her household missions by preparing dinner – and lighting us a fire. The evening was spent by the fire place watching movies in comfort – and enjoying what was really a pretty great dinner.

By 22:30 we were both zombies and retired to bed for the night.

Making Soap
Sarah in the process of making soap, while trying not to burn her skin off.

lesser double collared sunbird
A male Lesser Double Collared sunbird in the Millstone Pottery garden.

acacia pied barbet
This Acacia Pied Barbet stood still in the open just long enough to grab a shot before he flew off.

Sunday morning started with some time spent together before the day’s work began. But soon Sarah was back to work, creating soap which is sold in the Millstone Pottery. Watching the process, I had never imagined that creating a soap could involve so much science. While she worked at creating the batches of soap, I decided to grab my camera and lens and walk around the garden to see what I could find. Unbelievably it wasn’t long before I saw an Acacia Pied Barbet in the garden, a bird I have been trying to see for ages – a nice easy tick! Paul, Sarah’s father – who runs the pottery, makes some pretty rad bird feeders and it was crazy how there seemed to always be at least one bird on it through the day.

Streaky Headed Seedeater
One of the couple of Streaky Headed Seedeaters found in the property.

White Backed Mousebird

Birdfeeder Millstone
A Cape Sparrow sits on one of Millstone Pottery’s own birdfeeders

Then I moved around to the back of the garden, where I was surprised to find another easy tick! A couple of Streaky-Headed Seedeaters were feeding. Two ticks in a period of a few minutes within the property I was staying, definitely not expected!

When Sarah had finished getting ‘her soap on’, we took a drive to the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve with her brother and cousin, the reserve is located about 8 kilometers outside of McGregor, about half way towards Robertson. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the vegetation was different from where I normally bird, and given the excitement in the garden, I looked forward to seeing what we could find.

The walk started off quietly, with not much seen. We made our way to the first hide, and just outside the hide I saw some movement in the reeds. I stopped and dodged the bars of reed restricting my sight and managed to catch glimpse of what it was, the unmistakable diagnostics of a Long-Billed Crombec, another bird that has always eluded me. Up to three lifers within a matter of hours.

Long Billed Crombec
This Long Billed Crombec was skulking about in the reeds just before one of the hides.


South African Shelduck

The hides themselves didn’t provide too many species, with some South African Shelduck being the highlight. We sat and watched them, laughing as they seemed to spend more time with their asses in the air than they did anything else. “Face down, ass up – that’s the way ducks like to…eat?!”

While there weren’t too many varieties of species on our walk, we still managed to spend some good time together and create some good memories.

The time was slipping and I would soon be needing to head back for the long drive towards Somerset West.

After we got back it was simply a case of collecting my bags and then heading back onto the road. The goodbye was difficult, even though I knew she’d be returning in a few days.

A stitched panorama taken along the pass just before entering Grabouw.

pines landscape
As the sun began to set, the foreground was darkened, except for a small area where the sun burst was hitting in the forest.

Landscape Forest

I drove, and drove and drove. Eventually after about 110 minutes of driving, I ended up heading over the passes towards Grabouw. Light was now diminishing quickly and I wanted to get a few shots before it was gone, so I stopped for a few seconds along the pass and grabbed some photos looking towards Theewaterskloof area from the pass. Before stopping a final time at a location I have passed a couple of times but never shot, I passed it on the way and the lighting was perfect! But I was too focused on just getting to my destination. My short stop on the way back provided less ideal with the light almost non-existent except for a burst of rays coming through the clouds.

I made it home alive! After a total of 430km traveled over the two days! And my car never gave any problems! Could it finally be solved?

Much thanks to both Sarah and her parents for having me over, and if ever you find yourself in McGregor – go take a look at what they create and sell at Millstone Pottery. No assembly line nonsense, just the result of passion, dedication and a lot of work.

I hope to return, next time for a bit of a longer period and with both Sarah and I being free from work obligations, and use the location to relax and explore. A great, memorable time was had.

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