If you’re like me, you might have grown up in a very different childhood where things seemed easier – with the benefit of patchy hindsight. We played in the streets, explored the bushveld, built forts and treehouses, and generally got up to mischief far from home until it was dinner time.

Mobile phones weren’t a thing yet, let alone smartphones, and the internet was just a dream (to somebody). Our main source of information was the evening news and a newspaper, especially the bumper Sunday edition! So it could be fair to say we lived in a bit of a bubble. All we knew was in fairly close proximity.

Disposable living

It was also a disposable form of living. And by that I mean, plastic was a functional and necessary convenience – certainly not evil. If something was broken, it was thrown out and replaced with a new one. Has it lost its shine? Buy another one. And the local garbage collectors made everything go away.

Then you look at water and electricity usage. Back then, you didn’t really consider where it came from, did you? You opened the tap and water came out, flicked a switch and the lights came on.

These days we have access to a little more information about what is happening around us. And we are perhaps more aware of how our lifestyles impact the world around us.

What is a homestead?

In my opinion, a homestead sits somewhere between a working farm and a vegetable patch in the back of your urban garden. It isn’t five hundred acres of wheat fields that need to be harvested before the rains. Nor is it a herd or a flock of animals that need to be shepherded every evening.

What it is, is a larger tract of land that can be developed into an environmentally friendly, self-sustaining way of life. Everything you need – as a single family – will eventually be provided off the land by your own efforts. And it is environmentally friendly for sure. It needs to be, in order to keep providing. It needs to be low-impact, for continual use, and it is the ultimate expression of locally sourced.

Inspired By a School bus

Patsy, the converted school bus, could arguably be attributed to the inspiration behind all of their efforts here in the Lowveld. Patsy was a spontaneous purchase which may have set things in motion by becoming the self-build converted tiny home they never knew they needed.

Why call her Patsy? To those of you who haven’t seen Ab Fab on TV, go out and do so now. Patsy is the character on the show, played in delicious fashion by Joanna Lumley, who is the loud blond, smokes all the time, and has had a couple of facelifts.

Rather similar to the converted ex-school bus that now stands on the land, surveying what she might have started. This charming old bus was driven from Johannesburg to Mpumalanga to become the base, the living quarters, and the centre of operations while other structures were being built on the property.

But in this process, it could have become clear that building a large house was not beneficial in the long run. A softer approach could deliver far more enjoyment. And the old bus was proving rather comfortable indeed. So plans were modified, ultimate destinations changed, and goals altered to include the nature that surrounds them.

A new tack for the sails

Most people would put down a large home, and sit back and enjoy the lifestyle that rural living brings. Peace and quiet, bird calls, a setting sun, crickets chirping in the twilight of dusk. And there is nothing wrong with that. Why not enjoy the space, if you can? But Gavin and Janine saw a little further than this. Their continually evolving plans kept shifting to include a self-sustainable approach.

Lucky solar

When they arrived, there was nothing on the property at all. It was a piece of the bushveld, untouched since the dawn of time. Tall grass and thorn trees, and the ever-present red sand. So, in the beginning, when trying to lay down the basics – water, power and shelter, they opted to go off-grid completely on the electricity side. Instead of installing a power line by Eskom, they put a solar system in that caters for all their needs. And if you are going down that route, why not do it right? Get a larger battery bank than anticipated and a kick-ass inverter. The South African sun can then be relied upon to provide the rest!

Repurpose

This is not the usual go-to when you’re installing a new kitchen, or putting up a fence. Flat-packs from Ikea normally deliver the challenge and satisfaction when you’re renovating your dream. But repurpose is exactly what Gavin and Janine did. Old kitchen units and even the countertops were reused in the new dwellings (also in Patsy, the school bus). And pallets form the basic structure of the fencing around the property, interspersed with reeds from the reedbeds.

Numerous other creative solutions can be found. A shipping container that served first as the removal van, and then as storage, has been converted into two self-catering units available for rent. All the mod-cons are there for you – kitchenette, shower room, bed/lounge and a nice deck from which to observe the bushveld. A dash of flair and a handful of creativity lend a homely and modern feel.

Vegetable Garden

Their efforts to create a vegetable garden are particularly impressive. Not just a row of beans, carrots and cabbages, but a large circular area devoted to some rather exotic plants, and some experimentation. Also, things you may not think about, like seeding for the next season and replanting for winter. Or make a maze out of the plants – when they’re fully grown you can follow the zigzag pattern. All of this is covered by a large bird net, very tall, to include the trees that were already there, and around which the garden is created.

Events area

There is an outdoor kitchen area, with seating for groups and events. Pick what you need out of the vegetable garden next door and cook it right there. A very cool initiative for larger groups to have some fun outdoors. A couple of chickens, just for fun, have grown into a fully-fledged chicken coup which, from humble beginnings has grown enough to supply the local farmer’s market in all their multi-coloured, free-range eggcellence.

With the addition of a tipi, and a small cottage, Gavin and Janine are ready to accommodate up to ten or twelve people.

seeds of inspiration

What has developed slowly during the build has developed into opening the property to visitors. For tourists to enjoy the area, and the adventure, with them. Grab a slice of van life, spend a night in a tiny home, enjoy the trails leading to the river, and cook a delicious meal with the extremely local ingredients from the veggie patch. Enjoy the peace and quiet, and absorb the magic of the Lowveld.

And take home a seed of inspiration. Be a little more aware of your impact and how we can approach things a little differently, just by changing a couple of things, here and there. And stand back and be not just a little impressed. It can be done. On a budget. With just a little creativity. Go and visit Kokiville Homestead. Choose your experience – it’s all here, and the hosts are only too happy to relate their stories and experiences and share their journey.