There is nothing so precious as quality time with one's daughter ... especially if she's a good driver and you're both on a scenic road trip from Greasy Grey Gauteng to the Western Cape.
It once was that I was on stolen time when taking my family on holiday. Now the roles were reversed. Kate had a brief break from the corporate world to visit her 92-year-old gran in Hermanus. As a retired individual, I had all the time in the world to fetch her from Johannesburg International and transport her 2,040 km to the South Western tip of South Africa. A journey of some 24 hours driving in 5 days' elapsed time.
"Twenty four hours to drive from Joburg to Cape Town!" you might cry, "that's just over 1,400 km and should take no more than 15 hours?"
And I might reply: "Perhaps, if you wanted to dice with death by boredom on the way," all the time congratulating myself on the fact that I had witnessed some of the most magnificent scenery in the world by straying (by about 600 km in this case) from the straight and narrow.
Of course I also had a cunning plan to palm off driving some of the most boring stretches on to my unsuspecting daughter. At least that would allow her to give her full attention to the spectacular bits while I drove, I reasoned with myself.
Well! That plan went to hell with me driving the first section in a cyclonic downpour. It didn't help that a huge percentage of the roads in the Free State are unfit to drive in the best of weather. Shan and I had approached the journey from the Eastern side of the Vaal Dam and were lucky to emerge in one piece. The Western side seemed to be a preferable alternative. Actually we were probably lucky we couldn't actually see the potholes (or where we were going for much of the time), hidden as they were by a sheet of water. Kate couldn't see the scenery, either.
Hades to Heaven
But we survived and were delighted to finally arrive at our attractive and cosy accommodation at Honeysuckle Clarens where we were to pause for two nights. After repairing to our respective suites for a brief rest we sallied forth into the town in search of sustenance. It being Sunday night, there wasn't much choice but, as luck would have it, possibly the nicest restaurant of all those I have visited in Clarens appeared out of the gloom. The Bocca Di Lupo (doesn't that sound more splendid than the more prosaic English "good luck") was everything it needed to be, open and friendly and the owner relieved to be working his last night before closing for a seasonal break.
For much of the remainder of this blog, I'm going to switch to a picture story and let the captions conduct the narrative. There are a lot of pics. Anything that looks like a selfie is Kate's work. Dads don't do well at selfies.
Above, clockwise from top left: Me peering into the gloom somewhere between Heilbron and Bethlehem while negotiating s downpour of biblical proportions; and r-e-l-a-x ... happily ensconced at Bocca, armed with Aperol spritzes; reassuringly authentic Italian grub was accompanied by an equally reassuringly decent Soave; Kate taking a quiet moment the following morning with the van Reenen family graveyard (a little more about this in the narrative below); The gold-edged splendour of the Golden Gate National Park.
Kate was fascinated by the history brought to life by the van Reenen family graveyard at the Western end of the Golden Gate National Park. These remote cemeteries are a feature of rural South Africa and frequently contain vignettes of local tragedies around which romances have been built. This one was no exception with at least two stories which reveal themselves the more one uncovers. The first of these was a doomed romance in 1932 in which forbidden love between 22-year-old Valerie Wilcocks and 21-year-old Johan de la Harpe was cut short by lightning during a horseback tryst in the mountains nearby. The affair had split the families who were reunited in grief, allowing the couple to be buried together in this remote corner of the Free State.
The other tragic story from the van Reenen graveyard was starkly recorded in the same cemetery where young Nathan van Reenen is lying just below the tombstone of his brother Laurens. Nathan was "slain by an unknown assailant on 7 December 2013 in Durban whilst coming to the assistance of a victim of crime". He was sixteen years old. There must be a tragic story about Laurens, too, who died aged 24 in 2005 but I cannot find any details. Nathan must have been a laat lammetjie.
Nieu Bethesda here we come (one day)
The enthusiasm and resilience of the young is contagious and does spur one on to share in a whirlpool of activities. This had been evident in Clarens where we sped from one activity to the next.
Sadly, because of the state of the roads we were strongly advised not to follow the road South along the border with Lesotho. Having travelled that road a couple of years earlier and feasted my eyes on the fairytale spires of the Maluti Mountains it was with regret that we turned briefly North again before tackling the main arterial routes of the Free State.
Above: Clockwise from top: Our route South West from Joburg to Hermanus; a typical Free State highway; finally the serenity of The Bethesda (guesthouse).
After a joyful welcome from Carla Smit, the Bethesda's proprietor whom Shan and I had met 3 months earlier, we repaired to our rooms to freshen up for an evening in town. In her excitement Kate reappeared earlier than expected: "Dadly, I just had to tell you that this is THE BEST hotel I've ever stayed in, thank you so much!" With which she returned her room to luxuriate for a while longer. To be honest, I couldn't disagree. Carla just seemed to have the balance more or less perfect. I say Carla because she's the one who meets and greets but her husband, Ludolf, has a similar presence albeit a little more behind the scenes.
Above, l to r: Nothing in the detailing of the rooms was left to chance, down to the individual cushion covers; the view from the windows was equally calming and relaxing.
Above, top to bottom, l to r: en route to Boetie's Bar (as one does in NB) the road stretches out to the associated township that is becoming increasingly integrated with NB central and hardly an hour in 24 goes past without sight of someone walking, riding a horse or driving a car along this thoroughfare ... (happily, though, not too many cars); Kate finally has her G&T ... Carla and Ludolf can be spotted in the background on the extreme left ... it is after all the de facto watering hole in NB; Boetie himself presides over the bar; My ideal house in NB - verandah on the street so the occupants can converse with passers by.
Three days condensed into one
My daughter being, well, my daughter, and therefore imbued with the energy and enthusiasm of youth, was keen to be up and at it on the morning of the only full day we had in Nieu Bethesda. When Shan and I were there we had a much more laid back approach to things but probably didn't engage in many more activities(apart from eat more sumptuously).
Above, clockwise from top left: Breakfast awaits and we're the first to arrive, champing at the bit to visit the rock people out of town; Kate does a turn with a rock person (not sure if it was a walk or a tango) ... these statues are dotted all around quite a substantial area of veld bisected by a stream and a dam; inside the Bushman museum looking out at the Tower Cafe; In the grounds of the NG Kerk gazing through the trees at another view of the township.
We also whizzed around the Helen Martins museum like a duo of whirlwinds, so I'll leave any descriptions of her house and art to a couple of earlier blogs.
And that was just the morning! We were distinctly peckish by the middle of the day - time for the Brewery and Two Goats Deli (BTGD). This required a bit of a walk.
Above. clockwise from top left: this substantial suspension bridge crosses the Gats River, which is often just a dry riverbed but can become a raging torrent; the homestead that fronts the BTGD; a sunflower welcomes you to the brewery; we chose to share a platter for lunch ... thank goodness we did; the house terrier wishes we'd ordered a platter each (we still snuck him a bit as he was so appealing); I always take this picture when returning from BTGD, it has different moods and frames the ever-present Compassberg appealingly.
A brief rest was required back at the Bethesda, accompanied by tea on the patio, and then a walk around the town
Above, clockwise from top left: contre-jour goats in the centre-ville; back at Boetie's Bar and my daughter looking relaxed and a teeny bit sunburned having escaped an English winter; the following day we asked Carla to show Kate the cellar, she was happy to oblige.
Two things about Nieu Bethesda that compel me to go back time after time: the time-cycle seems to stand still for a while, which induces a feeling of relaxed wellbeing; homes and hospitality providers with verandas that allow one to interact with passers-by.
Kate and I spent our last evening having supper on the verandah at Elbé Van Heerden's Village Inn talking to people at the adjoining tables and the occasional passer-by in the street. Just fabulous.
Another 579 kms up the road via the Seweweekspoort Mountain Pass
Kate at the wheel again, doing the drudgery on the N1. We turned off at Laingsburg and swapped driving duties. Just wow. This is almost as spectacular as and prettier than the Swartberg Pass a little further East but the road quality is superb gravel. More in the captions below.
Our ultimate destination for the day was Mymering Wine and Guest Estate. I don't know what it is about the Southern lee of the Swartberg but the hospitality model is more hospitable. Shan and I first encountered this at Boesmanskop where the proprietor, Tienie, fed us a gourmet meal and then invited us for conversation in his sitting room. At Mymering, dinner was with the owner and friends and family and no-holds-barred conversation was encouraged. Our host was a retired consultant doctor from Gqeberha and had opinions on everything. What fun. What debate. Kate didn't hold back ... I was so proud of her strongly held opinions.
Above: (top) the road from Laingsburg to the top of the Seweweekspoort pass is pretty scenic in its own right - for much of the way it follows a verdant valley before turning to traverse the pass ... occasional traditional stone cottages such as this one adorn the route; (middle left) Kate couldn't resist flinging her arms around at the magnificence of the rock formations we wound through on our descent; (middle right) finally the sun sets on a magnificent day with the Towerkop defining the skyline; (bottom left couldn't resist a morning shot of the 'kop; (bottom right) Friday morning was turning out to be a scorcher with this handsome fellow taking up residence in our cool cottage.
All too soon we had to turn our attention to Kate's primary reason for her visit and we wasted no time descending through that last part of the journey to Hermanus.
Above: It was all worth it! Shan's sister, Kerry, managed to snap this moment of tri-generational hilarity. I'd love to know what 92-year-old Judy said to provoke the guffaws but will demur to the threesome's precious moments to enjoy whenever they see this picture.
A pause to celebrate the concept that small is often more beautiful than big ... buying wine in the Western Cape