Starry Starry Night

After a good few days in and about Durbanville, we set off again on our next adventure. We had had some good weather down here and the landscape was starting to turn green again after a long dry summer. Some of the culinary highlights included brunch at Phesantekraal Farm just outside Durbanville. This farm was the scene of many great adventures as a child and belongs to a distant cousin. He recently started making wine and the restaurant has been in operation for about 2 years now. Well worth a visit. We also had coffee at Asara which is near Stellenbosch. I have had a few good meals here and so wanted to show the beautiful farm to the family. From Asara we went to Morgenster in Somerset West. This farm specialises in olive oil and this makes quite an interesting tasting. They also make some interesting Italian cultivar wines.

Getting back on the road again was nice and the scenery for this next leg of the trip was pretty spectacular. We headed along the N1 through the winelands and past Paarl towards Worcester. The tunnel through the du Toits Kloof mountains is still impressive. Just past Worcester one drives through a beautiful little poort and into the Hex River Valley. The colours were still pretty good as the farmers haven’t started to prune yet. The only pity along here is that there are few places to pull over to admire the view. The hawkers selling stolen grapes have created a safety problem and the police don’t seem to have the will to sort it out. We saw a good lay-bye to stop and take a few shots; a police car was parked there and believe it or not the hawkers still tried to harass us! After about an hour on the road we felt the need for coffee, so we stopped at De Doorns where we also bought some wine. I haven’t tried wine from this area before so we picked up a couple of bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and a Muscadel for the winter.

As we didn’t have far to go for the day we stopped again at Matjiesfontein where we had a nice lunch and spent some time in the museum which is inside (and under) the old station platform. Unfortunately some of the little shops were closed for lunch – sometimes it’s hard to understand that travelling in the off-season has some frustration.

From Matjiesfontein the drive up to Sutherland is fantastic. I really love the Karoo! We arrived at Sutherland mid-afternoon and did a quick walk up and down the main street; and the Mall! The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Pub at the Hotel where we were staying. The main reason for visiting Sutherland was, of course to visit the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) which is home to SALT or South African Large Telescope. We opted for the evening tour and spent about an hour viewing some really interesting starts and other heavenly bodies in perfectly clear skies. It’s not winter yet but temperatures were in the low single figures. One of the highlights here was looking at Jupiter and five of its moons. Saturn and the rings were also pretty special. On the way back to the hotel we had a close shave with a buck walking across the road. I think I did clip it though.

After breakfast next morning we left Sutherland and headed for our next stop at Douglas. The road from Sutherland to Fraserburg and Loxton was pretty good gravel and the landscape was awesome. Did I say, I love the Karoo??

We had lunch at Loxton which is such a pretty little place. It looks like everyone here has a job so nobody lying around the streets! Hospitality at Die Rooi Granaat was great and the thick vegetable soup with home-baked bread even better. After lunch we headed off for Carnarvon which was a bit of a disappointment. Its quite a large town but offers little for the eye. We drove on and soon came to Vosburg where we ventured onto dirt road again heading towards Prieska. I must admit it had been great traversing this wonderful region on dirt roads; they were pretty well maintained.

Needless to say, as soon as one gets too comfortable (and brave) fate deals you a challenge. About 60km from Prieska we had a blow-out and spent the next 30 minutes rolling about the dust and dirt changing tyres. Fortunately we had not damaged the wheel rim in the process. This put a bit of a damper on the rest of the day. Anyway, we were fortunate that we could replace the tyre in Prieska. Whilst waiting for the wheel change we booked our accommodation at Douglas. The drive through was fine as we were back on tar again and we were looking forward to a shower.

Douglas is a big agricultural centre but not very attractive. It sits at the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. Our accommodation here was basic to say the least but at least we had a good shower. We opted for dinner at the Hotel at the recommendation of the B&B owner; I guess when there isn’t much on offer these places are OK.

Durbanville - SutherlandIMG_0003IMG_0007IMG_0001IMG_0017IMG_0019    IMG_0030IMG_0022IMG_0036IMG_0051IMG_0055  IMG_0060     Sutherland - Douglas

Go West!

It takes a while to get used to the longer nights down here in the South. We managed to get on the road just after 07h00 and even managed to experience some “peak hour” traffic in Knysna. One of the disadvantages of travelling between Plettenberg Bay and George is that after many, many repeats over the years, we have become rather blasé about the road and the truly amazing scenery.

It was nice though to be back on the road after 4 days in Plett, which was mostly taken up by family affairs. We did manage a few hours alone though which included a stroll around Old Nick’s (nothing to do with me), and surveying the new Lookout Beach. This beach disappeared a few years back when the Bitou River mouth moved about 300 meters down the coast. It has now reversed and moved almost back to its previous position again. This is quite an interesting phenomenon on the South African coastline and in this case caused quite a stir and some significant damage to properties.

Back to the road. We soon passed through Wilderness and then George on the way to Mossel Bay. After Mossel Bay one passed by Albertinia which has become well known for their Aloe-based products. There are two factories here which produce a host of skincare and health products from the abundant aloe ferox found and cultivated in the area.

Just outside Riversdale we stopped at the Bali Trading complex and enjoyed a really nice breakfast. It was quite chilly and so we enjoyed the crackling fire, good coffee and interesting “blikbrood” which is bread baked inside a round tin and results in round slices of toast. The little store has all the usual bric-a-brac found in these roadside stores. In the complex there are a number of shops selling all sorts of home furnishings.

From Riversdale we headed towards Heidelberg shortly after which we left the N2 and headed for the Langeberg Mountains. We opted for this more scenic route to as it takes one through the Tradouw Pass towards Barrydale where we joined the iconic R62. This is another of the Thomas Bain’s masterpieces which was completed in 1873 and is considered to be technically the better of all his construction projects. The purpose of this pass was to provide a link from the interior to a small harbour at Port Beaufort at the mouth of the Breede River. There are several scenic spots along the pass and so it was nice to stop a few times and enjoy the view although it was pretty windy in the poort.

Joining the R62 just outside Barrydale we once again headed west through a Karoo landscape and then many farms, mainly fruit producing. The area is pretty dry at the moment and hopefully the winter will bring some much needed relief. We stopped at Montagu which is really pone of the gems of the region. Here we visited the Dried Fruit producers and stocked up on some goodies.

Ashton and Robertson both follow in close succession and it is clear that this is a centre of fruit and brandy production. We stopped for lunch at Rooiberg Wine Cellars where they have really nice facilities, and wine of course. I have always found it difficult to stop at a wine shop and not buy some! Anyway, the missus needed some stock for the few days in Durbanville so it was an easy decision.

After a good break here we hit the road again for the last leg of the trip. Soon after Rooiberg we were in the traffic of Worcester and then through the spectacular du Toit’s Kloof pass and tunnel. Again we decided to detour from the main road. We left the N1 and headed for Klipheuwel which provides a nice short trip to Durbanville from a northerly direction through the village of Phisantekraal.

It was good to arrive at the folks place again and we looked forward to a few days visiting the family.

Plettenberg Bay - Bitou River
Plettenberg Bay – Bitou River
Tradouw Pass
Tradouw Pass

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Tradou River which translated from Khoi means "place of the women"
Tradou River which translated from Khoi means “place of the women”

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Top of the Pass - Cool Car!
Top of the Pass – Cool Car!

Heading to Eden

Feeling refreshed after a good night in luxurious accommodation we left Kenton-on-Sea with Plettenberg Bay our next destination. The rolling hills and stunningly green pastures in this area made the trip most enjoyable and soon we passed through Alexandria and the after only a short leg, a coffee stop at Nanaga Fram Stall at the junction of the R72 and the N2. I had passed through here in February and the change from the dry summer vegetation was stunning. From here it is short hop to Port Elizabeth which we bypassed and then down over the Gamtoos River and on to Humansdorp. Here we left the N2 and headed to Cape St Francis where we had lunch in the harbour.

The port was full of chokka boats and there was quite a bit activity around maintenance on some of these so a lively setting for lunch. We ate at Chokka Block and had calamari and hake respectively. Healthy portions but pretty plain which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

After lunch, we retraced our route back to the N2 and headed on passed Storms River and into Plett. Our digs here are pretty nice; we have a studio which is compact but comfy. The view is pretty good too. The plan is to spend some time with family for the rest of the week before we head of again. As I am typing this on my little patio, I am looking out of the Piesang River valley listening to Orioles in the riverine forest below me. Chill time!

Consol Jar Lights at Nanaga
Consol Jar Lights at Nanaga
Port St Francis
Port St Francis

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Castleton Estate
Castleton Estate

Frontier Country

Winter is coming! The air was pretty crisp when we started off from Bethulie on Sunday morning. We passed over the road-rail bridge which I mentioned in my previous post and then left the tar for a while following the directions provided by our host and the sometimes dodgy Garmin. Instead of following the main route via Venterstad to Burgersdorp we took the direct route and enjoyed about 80km of fairly good dirt and only one other vehicle. The plan was to have breakfast in Burgersdorp. The entrance into this little town is quite pretty, passing by a blockhouse – a remnant of the Boer War and under the railway bridge. Unfortunately that was all we could enjoy of Burgersdorp; apart from at the local church there was no sign of life and certainly nothing open for business. So, starting to feel peckish we headed on to Molteno, but with a suspicion that we weren’t going to find any food on this day.

The scenery in this region is wonderful, and of course we found some interesting routes to follow, staying off tar for most of the time. Accordingly to our Bethulie host we were tracing the path that the Commando took for the battle at Stormberg. Here again we passed another blockhouse and the remains of an old trading store – this was Stormberg. Back on tar again we entered Molteno and again found very little that indicated the availability of food. At a B&B/Coffee Shop we were offered the use of the bathroom and a coffee, but they were closed for business as this was the only day they could rest, so we headed off to Sterkstroom. Here too, there was nothing going on so in desperation we bought some water and a pack of crisps from the local Indian trader. That was our brekkies!

Our route from here was to Tarkastad which is off the beaten track and so we spent the next hour or so on dirt. I found it interesting that these routes are allocated names such as R394 and so on; these were actually little more than farm tracks, but this was part of the adventure. Spending time travelling the back country does give one some perspective. It was also pleasing to note (apologies to the Greenies) the number of wind farms out here in the middle of nowhere. We even passed a solar farm out there.

At Tarkastad we were hoping that the Rhino Den would be open for a meal, but no such luck. At this time we had to make a decision; continue along the planned route to Adelaide – on dirt, or concede and head for civilisation. The latter, or should I say our need for food, won, and so off to Cradock we went. I know there are number of pretty good eateries in Cradock, but we had been battered and bruised by the lack of facilities along the way so we headed straight for Wimpy! Never has a burger tasted so good, nor a toilet been so alluring.

Well nourished we packed the next leg with great vigour and headed for Bedford and Grahamstown. I had heard a lot about Bedford but other than the setting of the village there isn’t much to crow about. Just another dilapidated small town. The backdrop of wooded mountains is pretty spectacular though.

The road from here to Grahamstown was easily the worst we had encountered in two days on the road, and this was tar. I think my wheel alignment needs some work again after the potholes we hit. We were now starting to tire and so the rest of the way through Grahamstown and Salem to Kenton was a bit gallop to the stable.

Checking into the Oyster Box Beach House at Kenton-on-Sea was amazing! This was 5-star luxury and nobody to share it with made it even better. We chose the upstairs suite complete with own TV lounge and private patio. The view of the Bushman’s River from here was spectacular. The house is part of a portfolio of places and no staff stays on site, so we were totally alone until the next morning when their team came in to cook breakfast. We were advised that the Sandbar Floating Restaurant was the only place open on a Sunday evening so we headed there quite early. Pretty poor by any standard but at least we could fill our tummies.

Next morning, we had an awesome breakfast and then hit the road for leg 3 of our trip. See you soon!

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Bethulie to Burgersdorp
Stormberg blockhouse
Stormberg blockhouse

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Bushman's River Mouth
Bushman’s River Mouth
Kenton sunset
Kenton sunset

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Bethulie and the Place of Books

We had a good start out of Johannesburg and left as planned. Apart from the few goodies left at home we were set for the day. Originally I thought that we would stop at Ventersburg for breakfast as this would then give us a decent stretch through to the Kuilfontein Farm Stall at Springfontein.  Leaving Jhb behind though, and hunger driving the agenda, we decided to stop at the Kroonvaal Engen which would then give us an even better break until Springfontein. In hindsight this was a great decision. As we passed through Kroonstad and came to the fork where the N1 heads off to Ventersburg, and the R36 to Odendaalsrus, we discovered that the N1 was closed forcing us to detour via Odendaalsrus. I have not travelled this road as far as I can recall, so although at the time it was slightly inconvenient, it also presented us with a new adventure.  The road is pretty good and although busy, we made good time and enjoyed some new scenery…..of mine dumps.

After Welkom we passed Theunissen and Brandfort before joining the N1 just before the first Bloemfontein exit. Even here there were major road works on the go, which is great for the end-of-year holiday traffic. At the Sunny Hill petrol station, the attendant told me that there were a number of contracts underway between Bloem and Ventersburg, prompting them to close off the whole southbound section. This does make a lot of sense and is far better than these damned STOP/GO’s all over the place.

From Bloemfontein we headed on to Springfontein where we were a bit disappointed at arriving at the Kuilfontein Farm Stall on closing time. By this time we were quite peckish again. I thought we may manage some tea and cake when we got to Bethulie which is only 35km down the road. The approach to Bethulie is quite scenic and close to the road is the grave of Louw Wepener a massive Free State hero. We were to visit the site later in the day with our host Tony Hocking.

The town itself is typical small town SA although it does appear tidier than most of those we visited last year. We checked in to a warm welcome and we were immediately entertained by Tony over a cup of coffee. He has an amazing knowledge of the area and its history. When he offered us a “quick” tour we jumped at the opportunity and spent the next 2+ hours out and about in the area.

We started off at the Pellisier House which was originally a mission station. Next door to this is of course the house of another son of Bethulie, Patrick Mynhardt . From here we drove past the power station, which looks pretty interesting. Of course this is no longer in use but the miniature cooling tower is so cute! At the top of the hill overlooking the town we met Hitler and Mussolini, the two water reservoirs that were built to feed the power station. Opened in around 1938, it’s plain to see where the town politics lay in those days; or they just had a good sense of humour.

The view looking north is of the local dam and also a railway bridge which is interesting in that it is both curved and on an incline. Heading down again we left town and visited the original Prison Camp which is to east of the town. Having read quite a bit about the Boer War, I found this very interesting, especially the running commentary by Tony. When the Gariep Dam (Verwoerd Dam in those days) was built the clever people thought that the water would rise al the way up to Bethulie and so the Dept. Of Water decided to move the graves of all the women and children (mostly children) that died in the camp. A small non-descript memorial was left behind and one can still see some of the concrete gravestones which had been placed on the graves in the 1950’s. There is another structure here which was the beginnings of a monument commissioned by British women in 1919. When someone high up realised what they were building the project was halted.

We then headed to where the new burial ground is and saw some really interesting hand carved headstones. They are mostly made from sandstone and have not aged well, and so a few years ago were secured from visitors and vandals; quite a touching experience. The light was starting to fade and so we headed off to the Louw Wepener site. This is an interesting tale of a very brave man who died in battle along with a lesser know chap from Oudtshoorn, one Raubenheimer. They were killed leading the siege at Thabo Bosigo; some of you older folk may remember this from primary school history lessons where we learnt about Moshesh of the Basuto.

It was just about dark by the time we made it back to the hotel, and by this time Karen and I were ravenous. We headed for the bar and enjoyed a drink, and more stories, before a lovely home cooked meal. Tony played a few records for us while we were chatting. I must mention that we were the only guests in the hotel staying at the end of a very long corridor; fortunately he decided not to tell us some of his ghost stories.

Bethulie is a lovely little place and the hotel is definitely a place to revisit from time to time, even if only to curl up on a sofa and enjoy a book or two. Each of the reception rooms as well as all the corridors are lined with books, some 10 000 I believe. The dining room and “ballroom” are lined with old records and these are available to guests to select for player. After a fairly good night, creaks and groans notwithstanding, we had an early start on what was going to be quite a long day. Just outside of Bethulie, is a bridge which can boast that it is the longest road-rail bridge in South Africa.

Route from Jhb to Bethulie
Route from Jhb to Bethulie
Road-Rail Bridge over the Orange River
Road-Rail Bridge over the Orange River

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Cooling Tower
Cooling Tower

 

 

Bethulie Power Station
Bethulie Power Station
Free State sunset
Free State sunset
Louw Wepener memorial
Louw Wepener memorial

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Unfinished Women's memorial
Unfinished Women’s memorial
Bethulie
Bethulie
Hitler and Mussolini behind Karen and Tony
Hitler and Mussolini behind Karen and Tony

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What’s Next?

The past few months have been spent in and around Johannesburg and work life has been pretty hectic. Other than a weekend trip down to Clarens, most of my travel has been for business and that too has been mainly local with the exception of a trip to Cape Town and one to Durban.

One of the big benefits of my job is that we receive 25 leave days per year and the guys are pretty serious about us using these each year. Having been on a sabbatical last year resulted in my accumulating a bit too much leave and so I must now try and use this up as soon as possible.

We have a wedding to attend in February, which is exciting for a number of reasons, firstly, it’s my brother’s wedding, and secondly, we will visit a new place; Mazeppa Bay on SA’s Wild Coast. We have been down in the region before but not to Mazeppa so are really looking forward to this.

Mazeppa

The major part of this trip will be by air but the drive from East London promises to be an exciting one and I look forward to sharing this at the time.

After this the big one comes up. We are taking a few weeks in May and this is the plan at the moment:

May

I can’t wait to hit the road again, properly! And, of course to share some more about this beautiful country.

But wait, there’s more! We have a few short trips planned for later in the year as well, so this promises to be a good one.

See you soon.

Turning Point

Musina

Our evening at Sheldrakes Game Lodge was amazing; we were the only people in the camp and after a walk/climb up some really rickety stairs/ladder, we enjoyed a fantastic view from one of the many outcrops in the region. These “piles of boulders” are actually the remnants of ancient rock formations that have fractured and eroded. They provide for great views over the plains which are dotted with countless baobabs.

Our arrival here also coincided with the first big cold front that hit SA and signaled the real start of winter. It was quite windy up on the koppie so we soon retired down to our camp to start the daily bonfire. Temperatures really plummeted after sunset, so we tucked into some red wine and had a great braai. All of a sudden we were jolted by a loud screech which was silenced almost immediately and followed by some rustling in the undergrowth. We grabbed the torch and a branch from the fire and stood ready for the impending attack. The first thing that came to mind of course was Leopard! To put it mildly, we nearly wet ourselves. After calming down and rationalising about this we realised that whilst it may have been a leopard taking out a monkey, it was most probably a Caracal that had done the damage. Needless to say, the monkey did not know what hit it!

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After quite a cold night; the sides of the bungalow are only covered with wire mesh, we had an early start for the next leg of our adventure.

Capture

The road from Sheldrakes to Mapungubwe National Park was pretty uneventful and we even risked a shortcut on a very sandy farm road which saved us quite a lot of time. Johan had lots of fun with the Amarok in some sections of thick sand. Reaching the Park we found the restaurant and had a nice breakfast. One definitely gets a sense of isolation in this place; there were no other tourists around. Because we had quite a long day ahead we didn’t hang about and so skipped the visitor centre where they have replicas of some of the relics uncovered in this ancient kingdom. We headed through some interesting terrain to the viewpoint where one can see the point at which SA, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. This is at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers. There is a nice rest stop there for picnics and a few walks to a number of viewpoints.

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The architecture of buildings in the Park is really well done and they all blend in well with the surrounds. Although this is a relatively new national park, the lack of maintenance here is also evident. After a short walkabout at the rest area we left the park and headed for Modimolle via Alldays, Dendron and Polokwane. I have always had this notion that Alldays must a great little dorp; we have heard so much about it over the years. One of our big diamond mines is also near here – Venetia. What a disappointment though; there is nothing much happening in this little place. The coffee shop reminded me a bit of the movie Deliverance!

We didnt stick around and soon were driving past the Blouberge towards Polokwane. I was enjoying this scenery when suddenly there was an almighty crash and as I turned towards Johan his breaking madly. We left the road and managed to stop just before a drainage ditch. Next thing he turned the Amarok around and chased after another vehicle. Our windscreen was badly damaged by whatever had hit us and it took a few seconds to get the story from Johan. A vehicle travelling in the opposite direction (the one we were now pursuing) had lost a sheet of asbestos roofing, mainly as a result of a truck which had overtaken us, headed past the little bakkie and it’s windforce causing the sheet to lift us, break off and come flying at us. We fortunately caught up with this bakkie quickly as he had realised what had happened and also stopped. Fortunately for us, mainly Johan, the sheet hit the pillar and not the window full on. I shudder to think what could have happened had it come through the windscreen.

Amarok

Shaken but OK we headed to Polokwane where we stocked up for our last night at Klein Kunkura outside Modimolle. This is also a hunting lodge that has switched to game breeding and we saw some lovely herds of Eland and other antelope there, The cold had really set in and so the bonfire was extra big that night. Recounting our adventures of the day we drained the last of our single malts that had started the journey with us, Quite an evening!

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The accommodation in luxury tents was great and even with freezing temperatures we were really comfortable through the night. Definitely worth another visit!

Early Sunday morning we were back on the road and home by late morning. After eight days of trekking it was nice to have a hot shower and stuff all the smokey clothes into the washer. This was a memorable trip with great company, fantastic sights and amazing wine and whisky. My heartfelt thanks to my partner in crime Johan who provided the transport for these past eight days. We’ll forgive him for the Amarok; at least my Fortuner was enjoying a well-earned rest of the Namibia and the Kgalagadi.

And so this chapter comes to a close, but wait, there’s more!!

We (wifey and I) will be heading off on some more adventures shortly. We are currently planning a trip to the southern and central regions of SA, hopefully in May 2015.

See you then!