After a totally fulfilling hike at Windy Brow Adventure Trails just outside Cullinan, we decided to hit the town.
Town, of course, is a total overstatement. I think of Dullstroom as a town, making Cullinan more of a hamlet.
Whatever it’s legally designated as, Cullinan is one of the cutest small towns in Gauteng. That makes it one of the few “get out of Joburg” options during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Actually, it’s the kind of place you should swing past before spots like these slowly crumble away. I know that sounds a little preachy, but these gems aren’t going to make it if we don’t prioritise them.
Window shopping at Rust in White
Our first stop of the day was Rust in White, determined partly by opening hours and partly because we parked directly across the street. But mostly, it’s because my preliminary Cullinan research revealed that I needed to see this shop, so I scheduled it first.
Rust in White is the sort of shop that makes me flip – and reach for my wallet. And, if the pandemic (and resulting regulations) hadn’t completely battered my income, I would have gladly bought more than I needed. But with a disposable income of zero, I couldn’t do much. And that was difficult.
Inside the shop, you’ll find new, totally practical items in the front rooms, which give way to second-hand collections as you move through the back.
And this is when it became difficult not to touch things I couldn’t afford to purchase. It was harder still as we moved outdoors.
This is simply amazing. Just about every household item, especially those which fall into the obsolete category have a home here. And, each little piece begs to be taken home, for cleaning, caring and a new life.
And the collections don’t stop – as this graveyard of sewing machines past eagerly proves.
I suppose it’s a good thing I couldn’t afford anything; there were a few pieces I really wanted. (Did anyone see those typewriters?) And somehow, we made it out without purchasing anything we couldn’t justify (which means nothing in the current economic climate). But, I’m definitely heading here again.
Walking around Cullinan during lockdown
To be fair, we visited Cullinan during the week, in the middle of a pandemic, with super-strict government regulations, but seeing the streets and tables empty was still heartbreaking.
I imagined each table filled with people and laughter and yelling at the kids to look both ways before crossing the street to the playground.
That’s how it’s done when visiting even the smallest of towns in South Africa. Only now, everything looks a little like a ghost town. And, all we can do is hope this ends as quickly as possible – because this is heartbreaking. Cullinan is still beautiful and inviting – it’s just very ghostly at the moment.
What I can say, is that Cullinan is still doing its thing. While visitor numbers are (obviously and undoubtedly) depressing; the town is still dressing in its finest with a great big smile on its face.
Tree lined streets present tiny shops in quaint stone buildings. There’s an Instagram moment every few steps (as the sign clearly suggests). As soon as the craft brewer can open (I truly hope they make it through this) and people feel comfortable enough to pile into the restaurants, I want to return to see the Cullinan I imagine in mind. After all, this backdrop is just too stunning to fade away into the past.
Visit to McHardy House Museum
If you haven’t noticed by now, museums are always on my todo list when visiting anywhere. And, the stranger, more specific they are, the better.
So, it’s hardly surprising that I planned to hit up the McHardy House Museum while in Cullinan. Thankfully, it was open and the Heritage Fee was just R20 per person to visit.
The house chronicles the story of the – you guessed it – McHardy family, who were quite well-to-do in pioneering and mining classes. Two daughters lived in the house until 1984, which provided me with waves of Grey Gardens. But the house isn’t derelict; it’s super gorgeous, though a little short on modern conveniences. That said, I have no idea what kind of condition it was in while they lived out their later years.
Yes, that’s me, en mask, in the mirror.
The house grew and transformed over the years, so rooms lead into one another in ways that better fit a medieval lifestyle than the privacy and distance we ascribe to comfort in modern homes.
And, the rooms, are only part of the gems to be found in this museum, small collections – like these grooming tools – add to the story.
There are a few stories that you just wouldn’t expect as the guide takes you through the house. Like, for example, that the whole town lined up for a look at the plumbed-in toilet when it was installed. In fact, it was so popular, that an extra door was put in so the family could have some peace while others ogled over an object we take for granted.
The loo itself, however, is exceptionally plain. So how about a headline one might have read when sitting on it.?
The pantry definitely appeals to me – in general, and certainly in this house. Just look at how high the shelving goes.
My newly developed love of canning and pickling, not to mention my buy-in-bulk instincts, this is 100% the kind of pantry I want.
And, it’s a totally separate room with its own workspace counter. I lingered here, for as long as I could, fully allowing myself to dream about having a pantry.
Is it practical in our home or our lives? Probably not. But, I’m still going to hold this up as a nice-to-have for the future. That’s in sharp contrast to the toilet which I tend to think as mandatory.
Connect with McHardy House
- Wed-Sun: 9-16
- 101 Oak Ave, Cullinan
- 012 734 0507
The Lemon Tree Garden Restaurant
Whenever we head to small towns, I spent time beforehand checking out the restaurants. I think it’s a vegan thing – especially in South Africa, where they love their meat.
In any case, I had a short list of two local restaurants for Cullinan before we even arrived.
The Lemon Tree Garden Restaurant was one of them, and very conveniently located between the McHardy House and Rust in White.
It was, however, our first meal at a restaurant since they’ve been allowed to trade – albeit under extreme (and somewhat confusing) lockdown regulations.
Guests must sign a register and have their temperature taken. You’re also supposed to wear a mask at all times when not eating or drinking.
All these formalities out of the way, it was time to hit the menu, which, of course, I’d already memorised.
Now, you may notice from the menu above and the food below, that I wasn’t going to get a strict vegan meal.
In a pre-Covid world, I would have requested a few adjustments to the Veggie Plate. However, while restaurants are struggling (to put it kindly), I know they’re keeping things tight. And, sitting with a non-vegan means I can always throw the feta, mayo and mozzarella his way. Which is exactly what happened.
And, I must say, the green bean mash was the star of the show. It’s a reminder that I need to add this to my rotation; it’s that good.
It was easy to imagine this restaurant on a Saturday before the world ended, filled with families and children playing on the nearby playground. In such times, servers do double duty as local guides, all with smiles you can see, not masks and thermometers.
And, when such a Saturday returns, The Lemon Tree Garden Restaurant is where I want to be.
Connect with Lemon Tree
- Daily: 8-16h30
- 95 Oak Ave, Cullinan
The other side of the tracks in Cullinan
After lunch, it was time to check out the other side of town, alongside the train tracks.
The old pub was closed. Whether that’s the result of lockdown, renovations or a previous closure, I just can’t say. But, if we had a room in Cullinan – and it was open – we’d have definitely checked it out.
Indeed, it’s worth taking a look around, if only because these spots evoke stories and memories, or Instagram-worthy photos like these.
After a short walk by the tracks, we turned back towards these building which stand in front of them.
And truly, if you’re after treasures, you want to find yourself here. You’ll find a selection of just about everything – and some items are truly difficult to pass without touching.
And then, it was time to head back to Joburg with new memories and a plan to return. Though it’s a little strange going anywhere during a national lockdown, if you’re in Gauteng at the moment, this is definitely a place to visit.