Rustic and unpolished, Warmwaterberg Spa is my favourite hot water springs in the Western Cape Province.
I had been to most hot springs in the Western Cape - Montagu Springs, Caledon Springs & The Baths at Citrusdal - but not Warmwaterberg Spa - so hopped into my Toyota in October 2011 to drive there for a weekend with family & friends.
Montagu and Caledon are far more commercialised than Warmwaterberg Spa, which reminded me more of The Baths at Citrusdal - and I'll be back. Given my taste for an unvarnished experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to going there again. But if you like the palm tree resort vibe with cocktails served at the pool, then know that Warmwaterberg Spa is fairly basic.
There are 3 pools, a steamy hot one (warmer than Montagu Spa's water), a chilly cold pool (chlorinated), and a goldilocks pool (not too hot and not too cold). Strictly speaking the pools are open from 6am until 10pm, but I saw people swimming both before and after that - it seems the gates are closed around 11pm. If caught breaking any of the rules the owner gives you a red card. Although the "No nude swimming allowed" rule had the word "No" deleted by jokers. The tea colour of the warm pools stained the white of my costume.
Regulars we chatted to told us that usually there are only about 4 people in the pool, but since it's school holidays we shared the pools with about 20 other people. I enjoyed going into the hottest pool first, and once I'd overheated I'd get into the goldilocks pool - and then finally the cold pool (why is it that cold water always feels cleaner?). It's particularly pleasant getting in as the sun rises and it's really quiet, basking in the pool and watching the weavers in their nest next to the pool.
I read on an old advert there: "Hierdie gesondheidsoord van die Klein Karoo met sy verkwikkende radio-aktiewe warmwater en heerlike berglug is in maklike bereik per pad en spoor." I'd be interested to know exactly what type of radioactivity is present in the water!
Warmwaterberg Spa is situated on the R62 from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn, between Ladismith & Barrydale. We drove on the N2, turning off after Swellendam, passing the beautiful Suurbrak village (next time I will stop there and take photos), the stunning Tradouw Pass (built by Thomas Bain and said to follow ancient Khiosan trails), Barrydale (on the R62) and turning off it just after Ronnies' Sex Shop.
On the way back we stopped at Ronnies' Sex Shop (which is actually a pub and restaurant, the original name was "Ronnies Shop", and his friends played a prank on him by changing it to "Ronnies Sex Shop"). I got to meet Ronnie, who was interested in what I do and where I was heading. The bar is slightly unusual, only in that there are loads of bras hanging from the ceiling with writing on them. And should you have one too many, accommodation is available. Do buy a t-shirt when you're there, for that odd occasion when it's appropriate to wear it!
On the roof there's a couple of tables you can sit at and take in the vastness of the Karoo. I enjoyed a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich there.
Warmwaterberg Spa offers the choice of staying in the "Bath House", which was built in 1886 and has 2 units sleeping 4 people each, units in a Victorian building with sunken Roman baths, Timber Chalets and a caravan park for those who want to rough it.
We stayed in the Victorian building and our children loved the huge sunken Roman baths. There are 5 units, and we booked up 3 of them - we tried to book the fourth and fifth, but they had been pre-booked way in advance by some folk from Worcester who have been coming to Warmwaterberg Spa for the last 11 years - was great to see how friendly they were even though they were awoken by our children's noise at 5am. The Victorian Building has a TV room where we watched several Rugby World Cup games (Ireland v Wales, France v England, New Zealand v Argentina and South Africa v Australia).
There is free internet by the restaurant...but I couldn't figure out how to connect. By the shop there was a big screen where you could watch sports events. You could buy afrikaans newspapers at the shop, colddrinks, crisps & snacks.
There's a magnificent view from the restaurant. In the background you can see the remains of the vlei into which the hot spring water used to run before the pools were set up just over a hundred years ago.