There is a world of seat time on the Gauteng to Cape run before you reach any sort of 4×4 destination. Best to plan a few stopovers to break the journey…
All good adventures begin long before the journey. Their origins are frequently found in a pub over a few drinks. Then comes the planning: poring over maps, gathering magazine articles and travel books, spending hours on Google searches, measuring distances and planning fuel stops. Each trip has its own flavour, and a unique set of challenges.
Our 4×4 “destinations” are often a couple of thousand kilometres away, but my view is that the fun starts as soon as you get into the car, and ends only as you pull into your driveway on your return. Many consider the time getting to the serious stuff as time ‘wasted’, but that’s a mistake; real enchantment exists in the spaces in-between.
I live in the City of Gold. I am planning to put a Fiat Fullback Double Cab Auto (with its new 2.4-litre engine) through its paces in the Namib Desert. I also need to go via Cape Town, and return from there. This time, I want to avoid the fastest route via the N1, and take the road less travelled.
Our departure day dawns sunny and hot – setting a precedent for the entire trip. We leave at 05:30 to get a head start on the seasonal traffic, and head south on the N1 to pack in some dstance. Our first stop, to fill up with their special pies, is the Kuilfontein Farm Stall, a popular mile-marker for N1 travellers.
At Colesburg, we take a sho’t left on the N9 via Middelburg, finding the Jagtpoort Farm Stall at the base of the Lootsberg Pass. There we meet Evona, a lovely young lady with a sunshine smile, and stock up on droë wors sticks and pickled quail eggs – perfect padkos. At the top of the pass, the wind is howling hard enough to make getting out of the car a minor challenge! We stand looking over the magnificent view. The big spaces are why one travels. Soon, we are on our way again, winding down towards Nieu-Bethesda. The tar gives way to dirt, and we pass a flock of rare blue cranes in a field. We eventually reach our destination: Ganora Guest Farm. It’s been a long day, over 800km from Joburg, but the drive in the Fullback has been comfortable. We settle in, and then join owner JP for a talk on Karoo fossils before dinner. This is captivating, and the collection is extensive.
After breakfast, we’re back on the dirt road, aiming to visit that rare and special Nieu-Bethesda tourist attraction, Helen Martin’s Owl House. It is worth the detour for the light, colour and creativity. Our N9 route then takes us through Graaff-Reinet, and on to Aberdeen, before we turn onto the R61 to Beaufort West − which is like the proverbial road to nowhere. The landscape is featureless and it’s hot enough to create mirages.
One of the mirages turns into the Rooidam Padstal. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and the lady in charge informs us that she’s about to close. Seeing the disappointment on our faces, she takes pity on us and we quickly grab something cold to drink. Her hubby arrives, and, after taking a good look at the Fiat Fullback, he quips that if he had known there was going to be such a fancy bakkie visiting them today, he would have worn his long pants…
We link up once again with the N1 for a short distance near Beaufort West, and then head into the Karoo National Park. The chalets are top class and have outstanding views. We take one of the circular drives, and see many animals, including the rare mountain zebras. After breathing in as much clear Karoo air as we can, we jump onto the N1 early the next morning for the last stretch to Cape Town.
Three weeks later, it’s time for my return trip, and I head to the airport to collect a friend who is joining me on the journey home. Our first stop is for freshly-picked strawberries at the “Strawberry King”, then on to Fairview Wine Estate for cheeses and hot French loaves. More wine farms make it onto the agenda, but Muratie is special. Dating back to 1685, it is one of the country’s oldest estates. I purchase an elegant bottle of fortified Muscat called “Amber Forever”, and hear one of the many accompanying stories. The one-time owner of Muratie, George Paul Canitz, was an artist, and a lover of wine, women and song. Amber is the colour of the wine, and was also the name of his model and muse, who, it is rumoured, kept him very happy.
We eventually head over Bainskloof Pass, which was built circa 1849 by Andrew Geddes Bain. It has stood the test of time, and is now a national monument. Though tarred, the road demands your full attention: it is very narrow, with sheer drops into the valley below. By late afternoon, we roll through Tulbagh and head for Rijks Country House. Here we take in the surrounding views of mountains and vineyards, stroll through the art gallery, and dine at Coals, their new open-air restaurant. A morning detour to their cellar sparks the purchase of more wine, before we hit the R44 bound for Porterville.
For the full adventure story, grab a copy of the May issue of SA4x4 magazine.