By: Sara Essop
Flying from Jozi to Cape Town is definitely easier and quicker than driving down. But with a family of four and last-minute Easter flight prices almost the same as our tickets to Rome (yes, Rome in Italy), driving was a cheaper option – even with the current price of petrol. It also presented the opportunity to see more of our beautiful country along the way. We had done it twice before – with two small children – so we knew what to expect and what to look forward to.
Thus we set off early one morning with the GPS, two kids, their portable DVD players, snacks and drinks for the car and a trunk crammed with luggage for 10 days. Once we’d cleared the freeways and reachedthe national roads, we began to feel that exhilarating feeling of freedom liberating us from the shackles of the claustrophobic city. For miles there was nothing much to see besides grazing cattle and fields of sunflowers. My husband drove and I spent most of my time trying to get my Cell C internet to work, mostly without success.
In the old days, we’d fill up Tupperwares with sandwiches, samoosas and fried chicken then stop on the side of the road and have meal breaks to enjoy our padkos. These days we stop at one of the many shiny garages on the way, all vying with each other for our business. Several seem to have farmyards these days, with goats and donkeys and ducks appealing to kids. And it works. The children see the garage stops as a treat and they get re-energised for the next few hours. The stops also keep the dreaded “When are we going to get there?” chants at bay.
In the Free State, a quick stop at Gariep Dam, the country’s largest reservoir, was a special treat for my trigger-happy fingers. It is stunning especially in the subdued late afternoon lighting. I made a mental note to stay over there someday. On the way out of there, one of the many traffic policemen lurking in the shadows decided to stop us on some weak pretext and attempt to solicit a bribe. He was baffled when we asked for the ticket instead – which he then decided not to give to us.
Richmond, in the Northern Cape, was an obligatory stop for the earnest bookworms in our car. It is Africa’s only book town and is known as the literary jewel of the Karoo. The small town may appear dilapidated and is not very well advertised but it boasts a treasure trove of South African historic memorabilia, and books of course. I was intrigued to find some ancient, yellowed copies of “Die Transvaler”, Brian Mitchell’s boxing shorts and a leather-bound collector’s copy of JK Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
We drove past Victoria West, with its charming 19-th century cottages and the Three Sisters, named after three prominent sugarloaf hills, heralding our arrival in the Western Cape. Our last stop for the day was Beaufort West – where Chris Barnard was born. This is where we slept over for the night.
Re-energised the next morning, we spotted Matjiesfontein – another jewel of the Karoo. Matjiesfontein is a small village with a huge history. It was a health resort for the rich and famous in the 1880’s and now features SA’s shortest tour – on an original London Beefeater Bus, some fascinating museums and the Lord Milner Hotel, which is said to be haunted.
We bid goodbye to the desolate Karoo and welcomed the red and gold vineyards of the fair Cape. Shimmering streams gurgled below towering mountains and baboons watched us from the side of the road. Signboards warned us not to purchase stolen grapes from roadside vendors as those very same vendors tried to sell their singular boxes of grapes to us. Then we were swallowed by the black abyss of the lengthy Huguenot tunnel and spit out on the other side, where we soon reached glorious Cape Town.
Our road trip had ended, to be repeated with a return leg a week later. There are several alternative routes, one of them being through Kimberley where you can see The Big Hole, and another through the picturesque Garden Route. Whichever route you choose, do yourself a favour – take a road trip and become better acquainted with your country.
I am a freelance travel writer and blogger, based in Johannesburg. As a child, I often got lost in the pages of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. I would excitedly discover and explore new and strange lands at the top of the Faraway Tree with the children in the book. Read More…