Thursday, July 10, 2008

Weekend Road Trip

Weekend Road Trip

Friday I was supposed to drive behind Sija and Thumeka, along the N(ational)1 to Beaufort West, where we wanted to stay overnight with a friend of theirs, I wanted to visit the Great Karoo National Park, and they wanted to go on to Kimberly for the week. I was scrambling all afternoon as I was moving into a new room at Fynbos Lodge, and then it took really long until Thumeka got back from work. When we finally took off she then needed to do some more shopping for her family and son in Kimberly, after that something had to be picked up in town, and then we also did a detour via a township in Stellenbosch. As it was night by then, and heavy rainfall set in, driving on this to me unknown busy main road with oncoming traffic, became a very challenging thing.

But when traveling, the way I like it, plans are often made to be aborted. So it is always good to have a plan B, or come up with one if necessary. Reaching Laingsburg, about 300km from Cape Town, I happily checked myself into Laingsburg Lodge, leaving those two guys driving on through the night. Drinking a beer from the mini bar, live improved despite reading in a brochure all about the town’s unfortunate claim to fame, a catastrophic flood in 1981 that took 103 lives. I nevertheless had a good night sleep even with the rain going on nonstop outside.Next morning the rain was somehow lighter, and there were short moments of much brighter skies. After a few inquiries about road conditions I decided to trace my way back until R314, heading south towards Montagu, thus cutting through the western end of the Little Karoo. 

Now I was starting to have real fun! A small but decent road with hardly any traffic (I actually counted about 8 cars in 2 ½ hours), rolling through a stunning landscape, all succulents and small leaved low fynbos shrubs, and a handful of farms very thinly spread out. Lots of birds everywhere, from a Black Shouldered Kite to Blue Cranes, rivaling the diversity of the plant world.

I took my time rolling along, and whenever I stopped and got out of the car, the quietness was breathtaking. This truly is a large country as soon as you get out of the densely populated metropolitan areas, and this sense of space and solitude is what I was always associating with the continent.

Getting closer to the town of Montagu the farms became a little more frequent. Mostly vineyards with citrus and other not identified, because leafless, fruit tree orchards. Just outside the town I saw a sign for a place called ‘Die Stal’, a very homey little restaurant on a farm, where I was the only guest on this rainy winter Saturday. I had an incredible spinach quiche, possibly the best in my life, and enjoyed the peaceful rain-free moment. Definitely one to come back for more food!

I really liked this town after driving around a little, seeing lots of inviting restaurants, a really hip B&B, and realizing the hiking potential in the surrounding mountains. Ö…mental note!

Continuing on small roads along more vineyards and denser cultivated land, via Ashton and Bonnievale towards the N2. Lovely!

On the N1 I turned back west and headed into the sunset. No – seriously – the afternoon was getting late, and I was making a b-line towards Kleinmond on the coast. The road lead along more inspiring landscape with the white cloud shrouded blue mountains to my right, and the occasional rainbow appearing to my left. Honestly true!

Kleinmond is the town just before Betty’s Bay, where I was planning to visit the Harold Porter National Botanic Garden the next day. But what a strange place! Mostly weekend houses, and permanent residences for retirees, living in rather unattractive houses arranged in square streets, reminding me of low income American suburbs, or German 50’s ‘Wohnsiedlungen’. And then the B&Bs I checked out – so depressing I drove right past them, including one ‘House Bavaria’ that reminded me of a neighbor’s house just north of the train rails on Muenchner Strasse, in my home town in Grafing. Horror!

Finally a found ‘Villa le Roc’, just a few meters from the rocky fynbos shore, which redeemed any human atrocities, and I took a late stroll sticking my hand

 into those waters already warmer from being a mix of Atlantic and Indian ocean. I guess I can’t claim yet to have touched the Indian Ocean, as it officially starts only beyond Cape Agulhas.

The lovely hostess suggested to offer the other party that had just arrived from a long hike a ride to the restaurant in the harbor, so I ended up dining with a father, his teenage son and his school friend. He is an ex opera singer, that was living/working in Germany for some years, who has a sculptor brother living in Brooklyn, we had a friendly chat, and then went back to the B&B. I don’t quite get people here yet…

I was not ready to call it a night, so I went walking to the ‘main drag’ (= 1 video store, 1 grocery, 1 bar) on the look for a bottle wine to bring back for a relaxed evening in front of the TV. Instead I ended up having a whisky-pit-stop in the local bar, and buying more Rooibos tea for the lodge.

In the morning it was raining like crazy, and it did not want to stop. Big deal; it was Sunday, so just perfect to brew another thermos of tea and stay in bed reading, waiting for better weather. I actually had to take a little late morning nap just because…then around noon it actually started to clear up. A long walk through that coastal rocky Fynbos madness (did anybody mention the insane diversity yet?) took me back to the harbor, where all the cafes and stores were open, and had about 1 ½ visitors, and I enjoyed a fine Latte at Potter’s Garden.

Then I got the car and took off to Harold Porter NBG in Betty’s Bay. This garden is so much smaller then Kirstenbosch it is almost disappointing at first sight. Plus there is a lot of construction work going on, the new visitor center and restaurant looks almost finished, it was a little off putting. I took the path towards the waterfall, and that was not small by any means. All the rain had even the smallest of rivulets swollen to a stream, giving a real strong acoustic background to the very scenic location. This garden’s strength, at least at this time of the year, lies in the mountain slopes and valleys, and there are quiet easy trails throughout. I did not see a single of the infamous Baboons, but again lots of birds andand a few amazing rare little gems like this: Crassula capensis, Crassulaceae the Cape Snowdrop. It is tiny, just about 2-3 cm (less then one inch) overall! Love it!

Then two Sundews right next to each other: Drosera trinervia and Drosera hilaris, The small ground hugging Little Sundew will bloom white, and the rarer upright is a pink blooming Sundew, but not quite yet – September is the month. But who cares about flowers with these…




Next stop was Stony Point, a protected African Penguin breeding colony. These guys felt truly protected, and were all over the place with their offspring, making these sounds that gave them their name of Jackass Penguins…

And in between Rock Hyraxes, also called Dassies, a hungry not so small rodent, and plenty Cormorants, the White Breasted and the Cape Cormorant.

A real fun noisy and smelly place, and those penguins did not miss one photo-op!

From there a real classic, scenic coastal road leads to Gordon’s Bay, which has a marina with quite a few little food places, another place for that mental Ö note…

I bypassed Strand, which at least from the distance looked totally unappealing with it’s ugly hotel and apartment towers, and took N2 to where it branches into R310 and goes back to hugging the coast until Muizenberg. Large dunes that are covered with these solid plant cushions stretch along to your left, a lot of them protected areas, it looks almost artificial. Especially because to the right are the Cape Flats, home to the immense Townships of Macassar, Harare and Khayelitsha, shags and (much less) tiny one-room houses as far as the eye reaches.

I ended this great trip by treating myself to a fancy dinner at ‘Restaurant Paradiso’ in Cape Town. Soupe au poisson, and Ostrich Bobotie. Yeah! Life is good

No comments: