Slighty off-track


Words and pictures by Richard van Ryneveld.

Richard van Ryneveld had been following the old forgotten highway from Tulbagh to Sutherland, but a diminutive temptress dressed in red (a certain Suzuki Jimny) compelled him to veer off the straight and narrow.

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, helps me to explain why I can never stick to a route plan. As he puts it, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I intended to be.” This sums up my recent trip to the Tankwa Karoo.

If you haven’t read the first instalment of my travels, The Forgotten Highway in last month’s issue of SA4x4, I’ll fill you in. The idea was to travel light in a Suzuki Jimny, following the route of the early travellers from Tulbagh through the Bokkeveld mountains and on through the Ceres Karoo to Sutherland. On the journey I met Claus Riding, a land surveyor from Ceres and a man with encyclopaedic knowledge of the geography and history of the Tankwa Karoo; and I persuaded him to go somewhere he hadn’t intended to! We had basically finished the ‘forgotten highway.’ We had zipped along (see map) from Bizansgat over the Jukhoogte, Thyshoogte and Gousblom Hoogte, almost within reach of Sutherland. We were at the Zeekoeigat turn-off. “That’s the way to Middlepos over the Ouberg Pass,” said Claus. “It’s probably one of the most beautiful drives in the Tankwa Karoo.” Not wise to Douglas Adams’s dictates, Claus found himself on the way to Middelpos before he knew it.

I had two good reasons for deviating from the main highway. Firstly, the small plum-red Suzuki; I loved the little beast. And secondly, Ouberg Pass, although built only in 1968, it more or less follows the track used by the early Roggeveld farmers to get their sheep down into the Tankwa Karoo for the bitterly cold winter months. Hot or cold, this is a bucket-list topper for me! To prevent this story from becoming another version of War and Peace, I am going to have to feed you snapshots of the trip. From the pass, a T-junction turns left for Middelpos. Heading down the valley, you will pass the Skurweberg 4×4 trail and guest farm – lekker accommodation, and some serious offroading if you’re up for it. I delve back into the memory banks and realise that I last drove the trails in 2006! But it was on to Middelpos, the Karoo town entirely owned by the van der Westhuizen family. A place of history, goats and goat’s milk cheese, champion boerboel dogs and… characters that only the Karoo could produce!

At Middelpos there’s a spankingnew white Corolla parked in front of the hotel. Sitting on a garden bench on the stoep, with a beer, is an older gent with a walking stick. He seems to be talking to himself. But, after settling ourselves with our beers, we notice a pair of feet sticking out near the boot of the Corolla. Much grumbling, grunting and swearing emanates from near the exhaust pipe. Turns out they have a hole in the petrol tank…

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