9 November 2020 | A growing number of families and young professionals are moving out of Cape Town city, the Atlantic seaboard, and the southern suburbs. They’re setting their sights on estate life north – for good reasons.

Ask any entrenched Southern suburbanite two years ago if they would leave their ‘leafy suburb’, old school stomping grounds, and head up the N1 to settle near Paarl, you would in all likelihood get that look – somewhere between non-plussed and skepticism. The same can be said for Atlantic Seaboard residents and their ocean, or city-bowlers welded to their restaurants, their arty haunts… Tradition, language divisions, the school-to-Varsity huddles, and just plain habit, kept the zones divided as firmly as a foreign country border.

By the beginning in the first quarter of 2020 and escalating sharply over the last six months, on-line property searches reflected a different story.

Ryk Neethling, marketing director of Val de Vie Estate in the Paarl-Franschhoek valley, says that ‘in the past six months, we have noticed a 50 percent increase in property purchase inquiries from Cape Town suburbs – and from a mixed market sector of families, couples and professionals. I think that in the teeth of the pandemic, people began to re-evaluate what meant the most to them. Many people indicate a real need to be outside, alone, or with their families while not having to worry about their safety.’

The pandemic was an obvious disrupter. In almost every quarter, patterns shifted. What once moved like a well-oiled engine – routine school runs, club meetings, home-work commutes and dining out or just running out for a few necessities – seized.

It’s easy to point at Covid-19 as the single culprit in the significant shift, but conversations had already begun around safe access to the outdoors, hours spent jammed in at peak traffic, and children who had to be monitored every minute of the day. The subtext was a growing concern over security.

Haley and Andrew Gait-Golding moved from their Constantia property to Val de Vie Estate, after initially renting a property for holiday breakaways and breathing space. Although their home grounds were extensive, they were still confined to the walled property. ‘There was certainly no way I could go running by myself in the forest,’ says Hayley. The couple then bought a smaller, second home on the estate and began to shuttle back and forward every two weeks. They soon realized that with three young children under five to raise, life on the estate delivered a deconstructed way of life, less planning, more access to nature, more spontaneity. ‘We just don’t have to constantly entertain our children as we used to,’ she adds. Haley sold her successful UK-based healthy children’s snack business, which included a substantial SA-based raw-ingredients operation, and moved with the family to SA in 2017. In October this year, they bought a 3-acre stand where they could pursue their passion for healthy eating and create an extensive organic vegetable garden and citrus orchards.

It’s not easy to wean a family away from what seems to be an ideal position near the sea, proximity to the office, and an established family routine, ticking all the boxes.

Darren and Amanda Swanepoel had settled in Hout Bay. Darren loved to surf, and the sea was minutes away. ‘We had no plans to go anywhere,’ says Darren, who heads up high-tech security and smart-home business. ‘A lot of our work is in Llandudno and surrounds, and it was an easy commute.’ But on a visit to Val de Vie Estate to advise a client on a smart-home installation, he drove around and decided that he’d be willing to work really hard so that he could move his family here. He asked an agent to show him a few properties. The tour led to an almost immediate commitment to a four-bedroomed home and they will move to their new home in December. There were three things that clinched the deal for the couple.  ‘While I was looking at properties,’ recalls Darren, ‘I bumped into quite a few mates I’d known since school days. The estate seemed to offer the kind of freedom that I’d experienced as a child, and then there was The Green School.’

 On a trip to Bali as a young man, Darren had visited a school that had presented a unique concept in education, and he vowed that if he ever had children, they would have this experience – even if they had to move overseas. The couple now has a six and four-year-old. In 2021, The Green School, which calls for children to develop a more independent, entrepreneurial way of thinking, will open its doors just beyond the gates of the estate.

Darren plans to commute a few times a week in off-peak times and use former rush-hour times to hold virtual staff meetings. These hours will be saved and banked for family time, socializing, and sport. They are not the only saving. ‘If you had to install a comprehensive security system in a large up-market property, you’d have to budget a minimum of R200 000, and that excludes off-site CCTV monitoring, armed response, and a night security guard. It’s not something anyone has to worry about here.’

For the DA’s Deputy Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, Beverley Schafer, five floors up in a rented apartment near Bantry Bay gave her security, a sea view and the city life she’d always enjoyed. She cycled and kept fit by working out in a city health club. ‘Then the traffic just got to me and just added hours to my fitness regime. I had to give it up with more important demands on my time. I used to ride up Chapman’s Peak but attacks on cyclists had made me cautious. My life-partner Guido is a keen golfer and he’d have to drive a fair distance to play. We looked at the estate and with 42 km of safe cycling tracks and Pearl Valley Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course right there, we decided to buy. I now use our generous loft space as my office and with fast fiber, I can work really efficiently from here, without a commute to Parliament.’

Beverley also saves time by using the estate facilities – there’s a physio, doctor, dentist, and hair salon a few minutes from her home. Although she doesn’t have children, she became aware of the integration of families and generations. ‘On a walk recently, I bumped into one little boy, about five or six years old, I guess, who stopped on his bike to have an adult conversation with me about how he and his dad had named the zebras in the wildlife area of  estate. I was just struck by how independent and confident he seemed.’

The estate is a balance of age groups, demographics, professions, and English/Afrikaans residents, with a common mantra: Freedom to move and safety.

First published in 2005, Richard Louv’s book The Last Child in the Woods, drives home the importance of exposing children to unstructured play in the wild, which among many benefits, boosts decision-making skills.

One evening recently, Haley and her three children set off on scooters to explore the estate and returned after dark with their headlamps on. ‘My children were so excited, so exhilarated by this adventure. This childhood experience is priceless for us.’

And perhaps for adults, it’s never too late to relive it ourselves.

Interview requests with Ryk Neethling, Val de Vie Estate Marketing Director: marketing@valdevie.co.za