The long road home…return road trip

A travel writer’s guide to bush survival…
My GPS! Even when my wife says that I do not need it!

I do believe that most drivers return to Johannesburg via Bloemfontein, but there is an alternative route that is just as good, and has no toll roads. (Which for me is like winning the lottery)
I left Cape Town in the rain and the wind, which is an average day for Cape Town in winter.
This inclement weather stayed with me as I drove through Du Toits Pass.(You can use the Huguenot Tunnel as an alternative, but this route allows you to enjoy the scenery) Lots of mist and snow on the mountains, which made this part of the journey somewhat eerie and beautiful at the same time
It had bee 34 years since I last been in Prince Albert Road and I decided to stop off  to see if anything had changed. The major change since my last visit was the fact that the only hotel had burned down. However, the new owner of the hotel is currently rebuilding and renovating it with the help of old photographs and he hopes to restore it to its former glory. He is also adding a truck stop that will be able to deal with up to 400 trucks per night, making it the largest facility of its kind in South Africa.
Unlike most of the “holiday lemmings” on the road did not have any time constraints and I was able to stop off in various towns along the way.
Leeu Gamka, De Doorns, Lainsberg (great biltong) Victoria West (where I got the only speeding ticket on my entire journey) and Beaufort West were on my route.
Not a single “antique” shop in sight. Actually there was one in Victoria West and that had been burgled the previous night. Who says crime is a big city phenomenon? I dislike driving from point A home, with no stops along the way, so my first port of call lay just outside Beaufort West, and far enough from the main road so that traffic noise was not a problem.
“The Vale” guest farm is a working sheep/hunting farm which specializes in Dorper sheep, a breed I was to learn much about during my sojourn there. My bedroom was actually my bathroom and vice versa as it was the only room that they could not add separate facilities on without making structural alterations to the existing farm house…very quirky, but it worked. Aside form the various rooms in the main house, including a stunning “honeymoon” suite, there are also a group of stone cottages near the main building and with a hunting lodge close by.
I was joined at dinner by a visiting group of Australian sheep farmers staying at The Vale while doing a course on Dorper Sheep. In the spirit of International relations I did not start the “sheep” jokes, they did! Dinner once again proved that chicken is actually a vegetable in this part of South Africa. I have rarely seen that much meat on a braai…and so few greens. Carbs seemed to be the order of the night with mounds of home made bread and jam, potatoes and a small salad.
Breakfast was memorable as what I thought was a meat free omelet turned out to have bacon hidden inside!
The N12 to Barkley West is currently undergoing a fair amount of construction work, but for the most part it is long, straight and boring, much like any toll road. However the frequent traffic stops allowed me to the time to appreciate the plethora of roadside flowers.
My next overnight stop was in Barkley West that seems to have a lot of business and residential properties for sale. Like a lot of “small town” South Africa, this little town seems to be on the decline.
There are several B ‘n B’s, so there must be some through traffic. Across the road from the quaint Riverview Cottage guest house that I stayed in, flows the Vaal River, reminding me that my journey was almost over and Gauteng was only a short drive away. I had two of the best meals (dinner and breakfast) at Riverview and once the owner and the city council can decide on who will clean up the river frontage, it will have a great view of the Vaal.
I can highly recommend this route and the properties I stayed at, as an alternate to the N1 and by taking my time, I was able to arrive back in Johannesburg refreshed and ready to dive headlong into the rat race that our city is famous for.
I have to say that my TomTom GPS behaved impeccably and Simon, it’s voice, got better and better at pronouncing Afrikaans names! (For some reason the voice disappeared for a day, but I think he actually went for Afrikaans lessons).

Contact details:
Beaufort West:
The Vale Karoo Farm
Tel: 082 968 7991

Barkly West:
Riverview cottage
Tel: (053) 531 1823
Mobile: 082 378 4745