Karoo Detour

I haven’t blogged for over a month. Not much inspiration because I’m mostly still housebound and I’m depressed as all hell at recent developments in my life, which I won’t go into now but suffice to say that the virus has done terrible things to some people.

However, I did take a short break last month. From being housebound almost all the time to the other extreme – I flew to Pretoria and drove back to Cape Town with my sister in the car that she has kindly lent me. I’ve had to sell the touring minibus that I also used as personal transport so found myself with no wheels which is an untenable situation in this town, this suburb. It’s too dangerous to walk around here after sunset, I was spending too much on Ubers to get anywhere, and I can’t walk far anyway with my lungs as they are.

The flight was not as traumatic as I expected because precautions are taken by, and for, everyone. The wonderful commuter train system between Johannesburg and Pretorias was once again a delight to use – it’s a massive novelty in South Africa to have a rail system that not only works well but is safe and clean. After a few days in Pretoria my sister and I headed back to Cape Town. This is normally a 1600km journey – around 1000 miles – if done straight down the main national highway but my sister’s husband sponsored us to a few days roadtripping so we ended up doing around 2500 kms (1500 miles) and visiting parts of the country we had not seen before.

A first for me was Clarens and the Golden Gate National Park. After the flat maize and sunflower fields of the Free State, the exquisite rock formations and mountains of that area were a delight for the eyes and Clarens is a very pretty arty town, well deserving of all the attention it gets from wealthy weekenders from Johannesburg. We were not lucky with the weather – it was near freezing in the morning! – but still enjoyed it. Roadworks and excessive potholes prevented us from going along the back roads which would’ve taken us along the Lesotho border and those lovely Maluti Mountains so after the Park we reached the Karoo via the usual beautiful open spaces it’s known for.

We drove in and almost straight out again of some depressing Karoo towns, but the Valley of Desolation in Graaff Reinet made it all worthwhile. We also struck it lucky in that town with a delightful little guesthouse that we didn’t want to leave. We were on a tight budget so our accommodations were all simple but in this instance they offered a huge reduction so we were as happy as larks. My sister had never seen the Valley of Desolation so this blew her mind away, as it does all first time visitors.

Continuing our Karoo detour we then encountered lots of rain. This took me completely by surprise because I know the Karoo quite well and have never encountered rain there; in fact it hardly ever rains there, being a very arid semi-desert region. That didn’t last into the next day as we drove through what is known at the Little Karoo – less arid, more mountaneous and full of pretty little villages and towns. It’s part of the Garden Route tourist route so has all the benefits of regular traffic and people who expect decent coffee, good food and funky attitudes.

Of course this being pandemic times we encountered very few people. Other than truckers and farmers we pretty much had roads to ourselves; guesthouses were not full, and restaurants were sadly almost empty and closed early every evening. All of this guarantees prompt and personal service but the toll it’s taken on the tourism economy is catastrophic, as I know full well myself. Strangely, the devastating effects have not diminished the warmth and smiles of the people we did encounter along the way – from shops to guesthouses to restaurants and petrol stations. The pandemic has not dented the hospitality for which this country is famous.

Our Karoo detour lasted only five days but it was great to get away and to have a change of scenery, literally. And we did tick off 7 out of our country’s 9 provinces!

First stop before the roadtrip started properly was Maropeng Cradle of Humankind. A friend of mine created and runs this unique Unesco Heritage Site which depicts the origins of man. This is a must-do when in the area of Krugersdorp, not far from Johannesburg. This photo shows a part of an underground boat trip taking the visitor through all earth’s elements. We loved it!

Bestie road trip, last day

swartberg

After our revitalising breakfast, and with our backpacker experience a thing of the past, we  said goodbye to the camels and headed down the R328,  the back road between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp that winds its way through beautiful farmlands and private reserves at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. It’s a much more interesting road than the other less-travelled road, Route 62.

We saw very few people or other cars except for the occasional farmworker waiting for a ride and one kind man who stopped to ask if we needed help – we were messing around trying to take a selfie so we told him we were fine, thank you. Given the quality of our selfies, we did need help, but I doubt a farmer could help.

This was another case of a road that should take no more than an hour or 2 but of course it took us half the day. Many stops, one over-dramatised fall, many clicks, a picnic lunch, a good long snoop around a boutique winery while the owners are away … the road is long when you indulge yourself.

Finally we reached Calitzdorp and rejoined the main artery back to Cape Town. Time was getting on and Cape Town was still a good 3,5 hours away so we reluctantly put foot on the accelerator and started sending text messages to children to advise our ETA.

All roadtrips must end and this one was much much too short.  We’re having a reunion on Sunday at a wine estate just outside Cape Town … I’ll drive this time and I’m going to plan at least one mystery stop.

Read about the previous days here and here and here.

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We stopped to take a gawp at a beautiful farm and farmhouse and were thrilled to see that there is no Mrs Botha. I suggested we leave our phone numbers but we forgot.

carolines cliff

This is the so-called cliff down which Caroline fell.

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The wind was blowing, the angle was wrong, but this is one of our selfie attempts.

another gravel road into the mountains

Another dirt road with Swartberg not too far away.

aloes

Aloes wherever you looked.

mountains and farm

Pastoral tranquility as seen from a very small pass.

 

Caroline

We stopped for lunch at a caravan/camp park next to the Calitzdorp Dam. The park has potential with such a lovely location and the cute idea of having caravans permanently positioned next to shady wooden decks. Sadly, it’s in a deplorable condition.

round lunch

Today’s picnic lunch was round.

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Not lunch.

snooping

We discovered a small boutique winery and we told by the gatekeeper that it was closed but the owners are away so we can have a look around. We did just that. A thorough snoop resulted in a massive fit of envy for people who live in such beautiful surroundings in such a very very pretty house. There was baboon poo in the garden so it’s not heaven, but close.

 

mountain

Sunset light on the mountains

no more stopping

Back on tarred roads – direction: home!

Bestie roadtrip, day 2: the forest

Tree beard

We called this ‘tree beard’. Caroline draped some over her head for a selfie.

This is what prompted the roadtrip – exploring the forests of Nature’s Valley (not selfies). Every time I go there I look down into the forest from the road and wonder what it’s like. I drive in and out of the valley with clients so I asked Heather and Caroline to come and explore with me.

But, before the forest, we went to look at the beach. Empty and spotlessly clean but the sky was grey so the photos look very moody. Caroline fell in love with a huge piece of driftwood which even she realised would not be coming home with her. We climbed the razorsharp rocks, watched oyster-catchers and gulls hurry along the shore, and even a few surfers catching some excellent waves.

Back to our cottage for a big breakfast and then we were off to the forest. First we did a little walk on a boardwalk and then we entered the semi-darkness of a natural, thick and very old forest. We had a map, of sorts, but it didn’t indicate how long the walk was or how steep it would get. We walked, slowly, click click click all the time. Every now and then I consulted the map which had so little info I was unlikely to glean anything new but at some point I started wondering why we were not walking around towards a ‘view point’ as marked on the map. We began to suspect that some steep climbing might soon be required and this was not an option. After a snack, some swinging on monkey-ropes, and a discussion, we decided to play it safe and just go back the way we came.

Just as we arrived at the car it began to rain so our timing was perfect. We ended our adventure with a drink at the pub. Someone ran in and shouted something along the lines of “Oh my god you should see the sea, it’s gone crazy!” We downed our drinks and shot off to the beach, just a few metres away.

Indeed, the ocean had gone mad. What we had strolled along that morning, tranquil and empty, was now high tide and very violent. We stood for a while on the path as the waves came crashing right to where we stood. Caroline’s log had been washed away more than 50 metres down the beach, the rocks were invisible, and the mood was not so calm!

The bloke who had given me the forest map was also there and I told him about our walk. Apparently it becomes very steep and is quite long and we did the very best thing in turning back!

Back to the cottage where we braaied, layered on clothing, drank wine, had a few good laughs and went to bed very early – tired and pleasantly satisfied with ourselves.

Natures Valley pristine beach

The beach in the morning, that’s Heather.

Natures Valley strandlopers delight

The strandlopers were in 7th heaven here.

Walking in the forest

The forest.

hiking boots

My favourite type of selfie.

Snake branch

The snake branch. I’d love to say we thought it was a snake and ran away screaming but we’re much tougher than that.

Tree named

I like how they’ve used the tree for a handy label holder.

 

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Caroline’s log.

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The churning sea

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No wonder the end of this wooden path is rotting.

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And it rushes out again ..

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Leaving behind bits of treasure for us to pick up the next morning.

Bestie Roadtrip – Day 1

Kaaimans River Bridge

The roadtrip with my besties was fabulous, only too short. In typical style, it took us a full day to reach our first night’s destination, Nature’s Valley. For those who don’t know, it’s a 6 hour drive if you stop once for a quick meal, it took us almost double that time. We stopped for many roadside snacks and coffees, a zillion photo stops and visits to various villages. Every other day on the road was the same – stop, stop again, click click, munch munch and lots of snooping around.

Heather and Caroline shared the driving, giving me a nice break. Caroline was in charge of the ‘coffee basket’ and Heather seems to have developed worms as she eats non-stop all day long, is always hungry, but remains as slim as ever.

We almost got lost in the forest one hour before sunset, we can’t decide where to buy a house when we win the lottery, we will never again stay in a backpackers’ lodge, we will use a larger vehicle next time so we can bring back every piece of driftwood and pretty stone we like, and Heather and I desperately need to improve our selfie-skills.

Look here for more photos and info. Next chapter: Day 2, The Forest.

 

Groot Brak River

Groot Brak – cute little seaside village near Mossel Bay.

Groot Brak River 1

Groot Brak

Wilderness graffitti Caroline

No roadtrip is complete without spending some time under a national road bridge posing next to graffiti.

Wilferness hurry up girls

Heather and Caroline

Beacon Island hotel

The horror that is the Beacon Island Hotel in Plett.

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Our self-catering accommodation for 2 nights in Nature’s Valley. It was well-equipped and clean and generally nice but it was freezing cold despite the heater.

New-age roadtrip

Packing 1

 

There was a time when packing and planning for a roadtrip meant only that you made sure the car had petrol, a spare tyre and a flask of coffee. You grabbed a bag, threw in some clothes according to the weather, added a map and a ham sandwich, and you were off.

Things have changed.

I’m off tomorrow morning for a few days researching roads less travelled in the Garden Route and the Klein Karoo. In the company of 2 intrepid friends, we’ll be investigating what lies hidden in the forests of Nature’s Valley, we’ll traverse the mountains between George and the Klein Karoo via Montagu Pass which I always look down at when I’m with clients on Outeniqua Pass but have never been on, and we’ll take the back-roads between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. I didn’t even know this road existed until recently and it sounds like a nice option to the usual road so it’s worth a look-see, especially as it lies at the foot of some of that region’s most beautiful mountains.

Given that it’s the middle of winter my bag is double the size of a summertime bag and will be bulging with warm clothing, rain gear, socks, scarves, beanies and wellington boots, as opposed to the usual t-shirts and sandals.

Ok, so there’s nothing new in that but, wait … the technology.

  • Cell phone, with charger, and 2 point plug, plus car charger
  • Camera, with charger, extra memory card, and universal adapter, as well as local plug
  • Second, back-up, camera, with spare batteries, and 2 point plug
  • Tablet, as back-up to the first back-up camera and to see what sort of pics it takes, with charger and universal adapter.
  • Add one big multi-plug thingie so they can all charge together, if need be.

They’ve all been on charge since yesterday, and that’s just my stuff, the others must sort themselves out.

For once, the laptop stays at home but I can’t shake off the feeling I’m forgetting something.

 

packing 2

(Re)solutions

New year  resolutions are not my thing at all, but today does symbolise a fresh start of sorts, and it’s not a bad time to plan things and create a wish-list and maybe dust some cobwebs away.

1Jan_2014 roadtrip

This year’s site visit and exploration roadtrip will be the West Coast and the Cederberg region.
These trips are very useful to expand my knowledge and they double up as a sort of holiday. This year I’d like to have someone with me, as opposed to doing it solo, as I’ve found on previous trips that a second pair of eyes is needed. So, to that end, I’ll be looking for the right person who wants a fairly-cheap mid-year roadtrip. Applicants must have a sense of adventure, an eye for a good photo, valid driver’s licence, and at least a week to spare.

1Jan_CapeGoodHope

A mandatory stop when visiting the Cape Point Nature Reserve, as do millions of people annually, is a brief visit to the official spot known as the Cape of Good Hope. Everyone has their photo taken at the sign showing this iconic Cape that almost everyone on earth has heard of. No, not this sign, the sign that reads ‘Cape of Good Hope’.
Unfortunately, there isn’t sufficient parking for those extremely busy days – which are increasing all the time. It gets quite chaotic there, as huge buses and dozens of smaller vehicles all stop to disgorge tourists wanting that iconic shot and a walk along the rocks. Despite there being loads of space to create more parking, it’s all pristine fynbos and a very precious conservation area but some sacrifice will have to be made because the numbers are not decreasing any time soon.

1Jan_TableMt

There’s no photo to illustrate the cobwebs I need to clear so this one of Table Mountain with the wind bringing the cloth of cloud over it will have to suffice to remind me to deal with a certain personal issue that requires urgent closure. Winds of change and all that.

1Jan_Life rocks

Once I’ve achieved the above, I will own this t-shirt.

1Jan_watchmoresunsets

Watch more sunsets.
I want to start a sunset club. We’ll meet regularly to watch the sun set from a different place, everyone brings something to eat or drink, everyone takes photos and we choose a winning shot.

1Jan_RobbenIsland

This giant wall poster is what greets you on arrival at Robben Island. Three men of extremes.
My biggest tourism wish for 2014 would be to see this island’s organisation take a turn for the better with a visit that is more enriching and stream-lined. I’d see it as a big bonus if new types of trips could be available, such as walking tours and full-day tours.
Cape Town runs a world-class tourist city but Robben Island lets the side down, big time.

1Jan_explore hidden Garden route

Funky is more important than you realise. Funky is a life-saver.
My last visit to Knysna made me fall in love with it again after a bit of a fall-out. This gorgeous corner of a newly-discovered must-return guesthouse had a lot to do with that.
My next visit will be one of deeper exploration into the forests and passes. A second pair of eyes will be required for that, too. Please apply within.

1Jan_Let the children

Can we dare to dream of a world where all children everywhere are treated with care, kept safe and given lots of love?

Hermanus

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Hermanus by night

Continuing on my recent solo Overberg roadtrip, I spent the last night in Hermanus as a guest of the Quarters Hotel.  Hermanus has become extremely touristy and commercialised and the streets near the ocean are very congested at times but the modernising has been done nicely, you can’t hep but like it. It’s best to park your car and just walk – I’m glad I did that and had some time to wander around alone.

Despite being mid-winter it was as hot as a summer’s day, even at sunset when I arrived. I checked into my hotel at lightning speed and went to catch the last of the sunset, take a few mediocre photos and stroll through the town. A light meal and a glass of wine at a little tapas place, some people watching and eavesdropping on their conversations (nothing interesting on this occasion) and then I went to explore my hotel room. Not bad.  The bathroom is open-plan to the bedroom (but you can pull down a discreet blind and close it off) and I lay in the bath watching tv for a while before I got bored with that. It’s not a cheap hotel and was very comfortable but I found it a bit awkward that the only way to plug in a charger is to unplug the bedside light; and there was no mini-bar – yes, I know, they cost the earth but sometimes you want a nightcap.

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Every town on the whale route has one of these. That’s my hotel in the background, sandwiched between 2 ancient fisherman’s cottages.

Next morning up nice and early, breakfast (I have a guilty pleasure: I love hotel breakfasts!), and time to explore Hermanus. First I explored the little square where the last remaining old fishermen cottages are – it’s such a pity so few have been retained, they’re such a classic sight in this part of the world but sadly Hermanus hasn’t many left. I walked along the cliff top for a distance, further out of town as opposed to the town bits I do with clients – it’s nicer out of town. This cliffwalk is not only lovely but there are no steep bits so I love it! I saw some whales of course, and then drove up to Fernkloof Nature Reserve. That was a treat – I walked through the garden and a little way up the mountainside which was full of stunning proteas. I picked up a tick which I only discovered later – ticks freak me out but there is that thrill of feeling like you’ve done a bit of bundu-bashing to get it. I bought some plants at the nursery, including a special dark orange black-eyed Susan that I can never find in town, and there’s one I haven’t planted yet because I’ve completely forgotten what it is so don’t know where to put it. It’s been sitting on the table outside and has grown so much I suspect it might be a creeper but am not sure what type.

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof

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Fernkloof was really looking very pretty

I went to the Hemel en Aarde Village which has some really lovely little shops  and did a wine tasting at the Hermanuspietersfontein shop – that’s a mouthful of a name but guess what? That was the original name of Hermanus, named after the visionary who saw the potential of this area, but now obviously shortened for convenience. I bought some Kleinboet, a most delectable Bordeaux blend.

The boys came up from town and after lunch we went for dessert to a coffee shop owned by a friend just out of town – that was cool. We were in high spirits, the desserts were divine, the friend was so happy to see us that we were made to down-down a couple of Grappas and then it was time to head on home.

One of the boys raced back to town via the highway and the other one came with me as we returned via the scenic coastal road with a stop at Stoney Point in Betty’s Bay to see the penguins. It was closing just as we arrived but we managed to spot a few ducking in the bushes.

This was the last day of my roadtrip but I’m not blogging in the order of the trip so there’s more to come.

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I wondered how many people throw those ribbons away. I removed it carefully and put it on a shelf, they’d better have used it again.

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Clarence Drive – such a photogenic place

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The old Hermanus harbour at sunset

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Check out those socks.

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Very old wall in Hermanus

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Easily the prettiest hotel in Hermanus from the outside – will check it out inside one of these days.

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Can’t be too many towns in the world where the old harbour is a national monument.

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Middle of winter in Hermanus – the tourists were happy.

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The dassies (hyrax) at Stoney Point are not at all shy.

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Stoney Point African penguin

Disclaimer

A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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