Muizenberg to Paternoster
In the beginning it seemed like a good idea to cycle South Africa coast to coast. Perhaps starting with the flowers in the Richtersveld, meandering more or less up the Orange into Lesotho and then descending to the East Coast more or less down the Tugela. This trip would satisfy three items on my bucket list: see the Orange, experience the Karoo and endure a major bicycle expedition.
Fate intervened. I fell off my bike and suffered a subdural haematoma. The fact that this necessitated emergency surgery in Caen, France didn’t help my business case for a trans-Africa adventure any time soon. However, I did have plenty of spare time while recuperating. Some of it was spent hankering after what might have been. Inevitably, Google came into the equation and I did some virtual exploration.
It didn’t take long for me to come across the wonderful karoospace.co.za, the domain of Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais. It also didn’t hurt that Chris had undertaken some fairly dissolute roamings in my target area. These were further described in his book The Journey Man about his days as a journalist. Having been a journo in the 70s, and having friends in common, the osmosis was immediate.
Then there were two more publications from Julienne and Chris: the book 101 Karoo Towns and the website feature 21 Pubs of the Karoo. Chris also emailed me with some additional suggestions. It wasn’t long before I was trying to join the dots. A car would have to suffice. A travelling companion or two would be the icing on the cake.
Richard from Bognor Regis and Federico (Fed) from Rocca Canavese (read cannabis) didn’t take much persuading. They’d never met each other but a penchant for arguing guaranteed that, at worst, WW3 would ensue or, at best, some vigorous debate would while away some of the many kilometres we were planning.
We convened in Cape Town on a late September morning. Not the most auspicious time to see the flowers but influenced by a desire to take part in a Pietermaritzburg-Durban cycle race at the end of the trip. The route needed to take in the Augrabies Falls, the Tankwa Padstal, the pubs of the Eastern Cape Karoo and eventually Durban in time for the race in the middle of October. Fed had been researching in his Alpine lair and had come up with some challenging walks along the way. Richard had acquired a new toy. A pro-level drone that he was itching to try.
We needed to break the first leg of the journey to Augrabies. Doringbaai was on the suggestion list, was about the right distance and there was evidently a great meal to be had at the Fryers Cove winery. Seemed the obvious choice. Nope. Fryers Cove only does lunch and the distance was a tall order for half a day.
Besides, Fed and I had wanted to invite Viv to lunch after she had hosted us in Muizenberg.
Having experienced Kobus van der Merwe’s world-leading, imaginative cuisine on a previous trip to South Africa (SA), it was an easy decision to stop for lunch at Paternoster. Things had changed, though. Kobus’ acclaimed Oep ve Koep strandveldfood had moved to a sparkling new venue, Wolfgat, this time with a sea view.
For those who enjoy innovative grub, Kobus is up there with the best in the world. We had an additional guest with us and the 4 of us were eagerly awaiting our treat. We were not disappointed. I could spend pages waxing lyrical but this is not a restaurant column. Suffice to say that some might find the 8-course tasting menu expensive for SA but, believe me, many in Europe would happily pay 3-5 times as much for the experience. Don’t expect standard meat and veg, though. The rest of the Karoo is brilliant for that, anyway.
Paternoster to Augrabies
After a brief stop in Lambert’s Bay to visit the extraordinary gannet colony at the Bird Island reserve (with a bonus of tens of thousands of cormorants on the canning factory roof), we did stop, eventually, at Doringbaai at Die Anker, which has accommodation, a restaurant and a pub all on one site with a view of the sea and the port. Not a bad place and excellent value.
Our first proper road trip experience was at one of those seemingly unique South African establishments where you can fill up with fuel and a good honest breakfast all in one go. This one was in the middle of Garies and cheap as chips. Who does buy all that tat from these travel stops, though? Gifts that can only broadcast to the recipient where they came from; you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. Ornate clocks. Cheesy wall hangings. Clichéd tee-shirts. Tired fudge.
It’s a blerrie long way from Doringbaai to Augrabies. Stupid me, though. I was expecting flat featureless
countryside and had my breath taken away by extraordinary rock formations in the mountainous terrain.
Even so, we had to break our journey. Fortunately Fed’s research had provided the perfect answer in the Goegap Nature Reserve at Springbok. A couple of hours walking one of their trails, up a steep kloof and including a dry waterfall, left us feeling peckish and looking forward to some sustenance in Pofadder.
"Koeksusters anyone?" Richard and Fed can't wait to hit town!
I suppose one has to go there just for the name but don’t expect much more. I haven’t had a coke and half a koeksuster for a while and probably shan’t be repeating the experience any time soon.
We stayed overnight at the formerly art deco establishment of the Augrabies Falls Lodge. While there were still some attractive features inside the hotel, best efforts had been made to ruin the façade with faux “bush” architecture. Fortunately, there was a monster photo of the original in the foyer so, with beer in hand, it was possible to see that the old bits are still there, albeit cleverly hidden behind dodgy balconies. The place was fascinating in its evidence of the optimistic times that formed the backdrop for such style in the middle of the gamadooloos. The pub also introduced us to what we came to recognise as a true Karoo phenomenon. A billion (presumably spent) Jägermeister bottles tastefully arranged above the otherwise pleasant bar.
No one needs me to wax on about the majesty of the falls, themselves. We had a brilliant walk along the Dassie trail after taking in the river. Just take industrial strength insect repellent if you are going there at the beginning of October. Oh, and Richard had his second opportunity to fly his drone, this time down the front of the falls to film from that angle. The first was at Wolfgat. Must remember to get him to send the footage to Kobus.
Before YOU go, have you ever seen one of these before? Answers on a postcard (Comments will do if you can't find a stamp).