Road trip, 2009


Johannesburg to Winburg.300km left at 9.30 on an unseasonably rainy Saturday morning in August.
Driving down the N1 towards Bloem we passed a sign for Mooiuitsight and Heuningpoort. We crossed the Heuning River on our way to the thriving metropolis of Winburg!
The town seems to still be stuck in the old South Africa, with memorabilia from our past.
Like many small towns this one seems to survive by being supported by the local farming community.
There is a peanut plantation and the nearest big supermarket is in Bloem or Welkom.
If you are a vegetarian this is not the place for you. Here is proof that chicken is actually a vegetable!
For my daughter, who is vegetarian, her dinner had to be a Greek Salad…not the ideal meal on a cold winter night. But for the carnivores there is plenty to sink your teeth into…
The service from the manager of the Guesthouse was wonderful and it is what makes me enjoy small town South Africa.
According to the local hotel manager the elephant statue in the town is the geographical centre of either the Free State or of South Africa. You can take your pick as there is no plaque to confirm or deny either claim.
The dining room also doubles as the local museum, although there is another museum in the town.
It’s just a pity that most travelers are not willing to take the 8km journey from the main road to discover this little gem
Day 2: Winburg to Graaf Reinet (via Colesberg, Noupoort and Nieu Bethesda) about 550kms
We stopped off at the scrap-yard in Colesberg, but unfortunately like most places in this area of South Africa, it was closed.
We stopped off for lunch in Nieu Bethesda, which is always worth a visit as the coffee shop offers great food at reasonable prices.
Unfortunately it seems as if the 21st century has eventually arrived and the grocery store in the centre of town was sold and turned into a bookstore and gallery. Neither of these worked and the building is currently for sale.
Our accommodation in Graaf Reinet was an eye-opener! We had an entire house to ourselves. Without sounding like an estate agent, it was everything I would want in a property to retire to.
The Victorian bath was extremely welcoming and the bed with it’s mound of pillows and warm duvet was so comfortable that I did not even get to read.
Great furnishings and fitting and two warm and welcoming bedrooms are well worth a visit.
This area is also the centre of tequila production in South Africa.
At least here we found a family restaurant that was open on a Sunday…and this town caters for vegetarians, big plus factor.
There are guesthouses in abundance here, and I am sure that travelers will find something to suit their pockets.
As it was a clear winter’s night, the added bonus was watching the stars before we turned in for the night.
With a plethora of small shops and museums to visit we spent the morning exploring the town before leaving on the next leg of our journey.

Day 3, Graaf Reinett to Oudtshoorn  (via Aberdeen, Willowmore and De Rust. N9) 307kms
This is a well maintained alternative to the N1.We decided to go into each town along the way and not just to go whizzing past as most holiday makers seem to do. Each town has a charm of its own and it is difficult to try to ascertain what keeps their economy buoyant.
There are coffee shops and antique stores in each town.
Oudtshoorn is an ideal place to spend a few days, or an entire holiday! The town and the surrounding area have more things to do and places to visit than you can imagine.
From Croc and, of course, ostrich farms to the spectacular Kango Caves. If you are feeling daring try the adventure tour there. Or for the less fit, the standard route will astound you with its fantastic formations varying in age from 1.2m years to baby formation of around 400 yrs old!
The main street of the town has more coffee shops and places to eat than several major cities I have visited.
We based ourselves at the Cul-de-sac B&B, Derrick and Amanda were superb hosts and the accommodation, and breakfasts are well worth the visit. The accommodation consists of either double accommodation or self-catering apartments that sleep 4 (In total they can accommodate 28 guests). A breeding pair of Ostriches kept me entertained, as the male seems to be the only one interested in the eggs. I t spent both day and night on the eggs, while his “partner” patrolled the fence.
Luckily for us the snow had not closed the Swartberg Pass and we were able to use this route to Prince Albert. The pass is BREATHTAKING and an absolute must if you are in the area. If you have the time a visit to “Die Hel” is also worth the 37km (2hr!) drive.
Prince Albert would be proud of the town named in his honour.
It seems as if this tiny hamlet consists of coffee shops, craft dealers and B & B establishments, but it must be doing something right as there are 3 estate agents in the main street. According to the lady at the Gallery the locals have an awesome social life!
We came back via Klaarwater and De Rust.
The road is tarred all the way and it crosses the Meiringspoort River 27 times. Although it is an easier drive it is as spectacular as the pass, but for different reasons.
We took road to Paarl via Mossel Bay. (This seems to taking on a Umshlanga Rocks type of mantle with large apartment blocks being erected).  Swellendam and
The road was less busy than the N2, no toll roads… and less than 10km longer than toll road! We also missed the Huguenot Tunnel.
The guesthouse we stayed in Paarl was built in 1812 and the building that currently houses guestrooms used to house an indoor swimming pool!
Paarl, like most of the other towns we visited seems to be filled with coffee shops and art galleries and “antique” shops of various descriptions.
We found some great art and some not so good food.
Then it was back on the road to Kleinmond and Arabella Western Hotel and Spa.
5 star luxury in the “middle of nowhere”
Dinner was a wonderful experience with the staff and management making it even more special.
In the morning, the spa called and after a wonderful massage and their signature “Rain Forest” treatments it was time to face the last leg of this road trip.
Cape Town beckoned and we used the coastal road via Pringle Bay and Gordon’s Bay in order to try to see some Southern Right Whales in Walker Bay. Although there were a lot of whale watching boats to be seen, the whales proved elusive.
Cape Town rolled out the red carpet for us, with a full military parade…well the parade was not actually for us, but we like to believe that it was.
Our hotel was opened in March, but unfortunately their signage is still not up and we drove around in ever decreasing circles until we found it, more by accident than design. But the staff at reception was very friendly and this did help to diffuse the situation.
We had come to the end of our road trip and all that was left for me to do was deliver my daughter to her new “home” and to make my way back to Johannesburg.
Was it worth the cost? You bet it was. This trip was one that I believe more parents should make.
But that was not the end of the trip…I still had to get back to Johannesburg!
I left Cape Town in the rain and the wind.
This stayed with me thru the DuToits Pass. Lots of mist and snow on the mountains.
I decided to ignore the toll roads, but to take alternative routes where possible.
I was last in Prince Albert Road 34 years ago, and aside from the hotel burning down, not much has changed. The hotel is currently being revamped and a truck stop that will be able to deal with up to 400 trucks per night is currently under construction.
I also, unlike most of the “lemmings” on the road drove through each town.
Leeu Gamka, De Doorns, Lainsberg and Beaufort west were on my route.
Not a single “antique” shop in sight!
I stayed at “The Vale” guest farm…my bedroom was actually my bathroom and vice versa…they also have stone cottages and a hunting lodge.
It is 28kms from B.W(on the Jhb side) and about 1km away from the N1, which makes it very quiet and peaceful.
I was joined at dinner by a visiting group of Australian sheep farmers staying at The Vale while doing a course on Dorper Sheep. Dinner once again proved that chicken is actually a vegetable in this part of South Africa. Lamb in various forms together with home made bread and jam, and a 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. Very little traffic meant that I could make good time and it also allowed me to stop of in Victoria West at an antique shop, which had been burgled over the weekend. Who says crime is a big city phenomenon? Barkley West seems to have a lot of business and residential properties for sale. I am not sure what that indicates, but like a lot of “small town” South Africa, this little town seems to be on the decline.
There are several B ‘n B, so there must be some overnight traffic. The Vaal River flows across the road from this quaint guesthouse and was a reminder that this was the penultimate leg of a journey that had started 10 days ago. Many km’s, many cities and towns and lots of interesting people!
and then the last leg back to Johannesburg
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.

My memories of our trip

Trying to find vegetarian food in Winburg.
Trying to find any food in Winburg
The way the mist looked in the early morning in Winburg
Being amazed by the bar in the Herberg Hotel in Winberg
Finding out that the dining room in the guesthouse doubles as a museum
Being told that the elephant statue next to the city hall in Winburg is the geographical centre of SA…or maybe not!
Finding out that the general dealer store in Nieu Bethesda has closed down, as has the book shop/gallery that took it over
Being surprised that my gloves were returned to me after I dropped them outside the Spur in Graaf Reinet
Finding a taxidermy showroom in the main street of Graaf Reinet!
Generally being surprised by the smaller towns we visited.
Caramel waffles in Oudtshoorn…very yummy, but came back to haunt us later!
Graves of deceased pets in the garden of the guest house in Oudtshoorn
The burning vehicle at the beginning of the Swartberg Pass
Being laughed at by Jayne for driving like a woos on the Swartberg Pass.
Walking through the office in a shop in De Rust and being told off for doing so…
Standing in the playground where my Dad went to school
Finding my Mom’s house in PAARL.
The family who kept us up during the night with their laughter, only to find out in the morning that they were in Paarl to bury their 15yr old son.
Being served rubbish Italian food, by a really scared looking waiter in Paarl.
Buying fruits and vegetables in areas that normally only sell meat
The guy in Cape Town carrying the wood who complained about what women expect from their men
Trying to find our hotel in Cape Town, a road trip on it’s own.
The walk from our hotel, through various weather conditions to Sea Point and back.
My feelings on the “lonely” drive back to the hotel after saying good-bye to Jayne when I dropped her in Observatory.

Contact details:
The Winburg Guesthouse.
Contact details: Deon Botha
Cell: 072 474 0344
Office: 051 8810 233

Graaf Reinet:
De Kothuize
Christa Hahn
Tel: 049 892 3469
Mobile: 083 233 1227
Web Page:

Cul de Sac
Derick and Amanda Engelbrecht
Telephone: 044 279 2322

Anton & Magriet van der Spek
Klein Vredenburg Guest house
Telephone: 021 872 9898
Cell: 082 210 5548

Cape Town:
Harbour Bridge Hotel & Suites.
Tel:  021 465 3530
Toll free: 0800 600 889

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

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