October 2, 2020 by DAVE JACK
I have often said that South Africans should consider taking a holiday at home because we have so much to offer and at a cost often considerably less than having to travel abroad to achieve this and 2020, as the year that will probably go down in history as the year that didn’t really happen because of the Covid-19 global pandemic, could be the ideal time to let this happen.
I have often wondered what it is that foreign tourists can see that brings them to South Africa that we South Africans can’t see, yet they come here to enjoy what we, it seems, are not able to enjoy at home.
We are quick to point out how dangerous it is in South Africa and we search the newspapers to find stories to back up what we are saying. Seldom, if ever, do we find newspaper reports of the thousands of foreign visitors who had a wonderful holiday in this country and the reason for this is quite simple. We don’t really like “feel good” stories and “feel good” stories don’t make for good conversation around the braai.
If we were to believe everything we see in any of the “police stories” we see every day on TV that are set in the USA, the UK, in Hawaii, in Amsterdam and in virtually every other place in the world, we wouldn’t go anywhere. Those TV programmes tell us that everyone is being killed out there everywhere in the world but we want to holiday there because we think it’s safe in those places!
In view of the Covid-19 pandemic we are all going through, my wife and I were never going to be anywhere on holiday other than at home in South Africa, so allow me to tell you about it and how much we enjoyed it and how safe it was and also that when compared to an overseas trip was fairly inexpensive.
Our trip was a road trip and on day one we left Johannesburg and drove to Gariep Dam some 600kms away and 200km south of Bloemfontein and stayed at an establishment we had never visited previously, Waschbank Guest Lodge that sits on the banks of the Orange River on the Free State side. Visiting the website I thought it looked very pleasant and it had some very good comments on Trip Advisor and the like, so I booked and I paid the required deposit for the two nights I requested.
The other thing that appealed to me was that they have a restaurant on the premises so that means no concerns about trying to find an evening meal in an area not known for an abundance of restaurants. The menu at Waschbank Lodge is very simple but the food we had was very good and certainly no complaints at all about it.
After leaving Gariep Dam the next morning, the trip took us on the N1 to Beaufort West and then through the beautiful Meiringspoort which is without doubt one of my favourite roads in South Africa and a road I never get tired of travelling. It is simply spectacular and it has a couple of stopping places for those photos you might want such as the one below and Meiringspoort is one of my two favourite routes in the country but we were still a few days away from my other favourite.
At the end of Meiringspoort is the little town of de Rust and as you enter the town the first thing you come across is a small coffee shop at which we have previously stopped and we had a very pleasant cup of coffee and some tasty homemade cake.
Nicely refreshed we set off for Oudtshoorn just 35km away and which is ostrich country and which also has the Cango Caves nearby and although we didn’t visit the caves on this trip it is certainly worthwhile taking the detour to take in this spectacle.
We chose one the guesthouses where we always stay when we travel that part of the country on our Harley Davidson tours and we have become friendly with the owners.
Adley House is on the west side of the town as you head towards the Huisrivier Pass. Breakfast the following morning always includes “vetkoek” a traditional food made from bread dough and deep fried and it’s always very welcome and always very tasty.
Leaving Oudtshoorn on the R62 the following morning and into the Karoo proper, the scenery changes completely and as we leave Oudtshoorn behind we are now in typical Karoo landscape with a lot of very curious meercats at the side of the road, sitting up to see what was happening it didn’t take long before we reached the little town of Calitzdorp which sits at one end of the Huisrivier Pass.
It’s a pass I have always found fairly difficult to ride on a two wheeled machine which I have done several times but on this occasion I was on four wheels so the pressure was considerably less and I was able to take in the beauty of the pass. There are something like 19 times that one crosses a river during the pass. Very different scenery and very Karoo in looks.
Out of the Huisrivier Pass brings you virtually into the town of Ladismith and time for a coffee stop where we had a very pleasant cup of coffee and one of the biggest scones I have ever seen with generous helpings of strawberry jam and cream.
We continued after Ladismith until we reached Barrydale after passing Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Ronnie’s Sex Shop started life as Ronnie’s Shop – a fruit and veg stall some 25km from Barrydale until a couple of friends of Ronnie’s added the word “Sex” in the same colour red paint on the wall and transformed it into a world renowned and mainly biker stop where bikers may write their names on any spare section of wall they can find inside the shop with the marker pens given to them as they enter the shop. The fruit and veg shop is now a pub but I’ve never been quite sure what travellers expect to find when they stop there!
A further 25km finds one in the little town of Barrydale with its collection of coffee shops along the main road that eventually gets you to Montagu but long before we get to Montagu, we turn off the R62 onto the Tradouw Pass with its lush green scenery and tight turns which some bikers see as a challenge particularly if they are aboard a Japanese Machine and the less adventurous, usually on a big American “twin” bike such as that which I ride, treat as a scenic drive to the town of Swellendam at the bottom of the pass.
The vegetation changes completely as you make your way down the pass. From the harsh Karoo landscape you have just left in Barrydale on the R62, the Tradouw Pass is very different as it has the typical Cape type scenery of very green scenery and mountains and is really very spectacular.
Quite a few places to stop to admire the scenery on the way down the pass and to take whatever photographs you would want.
At the bottom of the pass in Swellendam you reach the N2 and not far from the town a choice of routes to our next stop at Hermanus – either through the town of Stanford or one can continue on the N2 to Botriver and turn off there to get to Hermanus. Much the same distance but fewer road works on the N2.
Being September we should be in the middle of whale season that starts in June and goes on to around November when the whales come north into the warmer waters off our coast to have their young and visitors in their thousands descend on the Hermanus area to catch sight of these incredible creatures and if you’re fortunate you may see one or more of them breaching. A magnificent sight.
We were fortunate enough to see a whale guiding her calf very close to the shore and the thinking of those of us who saw this was that she may have been teaching the calf to come to the surface to learn to breathe which is one of the mother’s duties shortly after the birth.
Our stop for 4 nights was at the very old but very charming Windsor Hotel on the sea front with fantastic views of any whale activity that might have been in the bay. The hotel is also in very close walking distance to the town centre where there are many restaurants offering a variety of different food options
A few lazy days in Hermanus watching whales and dolphins and the activities of foreign tourists who had never seen these animals previously is most entertaining with a good amount of the time simply unwinding and staring at the sea and in that I am highly qualified.
One of the most fascinating restaurants I have seen is Bientang’s Cave that sits on the rocks right on the sea.
After a couple of very enjoyable days in Hermanus it was time to leave and head to Cape Town and to our guesthouse high on the hillside overlooking Camps Bay. A very pleasant stay in the luxury offered in a 5 Star establishment but to get there we drove the second of my favourite roads in South Africa which I have always said can compare with virtually any in the world for its sheer beauty.
This is Clarence Drive between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay and it takes one along the edge of the sea for the entire distance with numerous stopping places to take in the beauty and allow cameras to capture it forever. The photograph below was taken during a Harley Davidson trip that took in Clarence Drive a few years ago but nothing has changed and it’s as spectacular as ever.
After we left Cape Town we travelled to Melkbosstrand a charming little “town” a little way up the coast beyond Blouberg to a beach apartment where we stayed for three nights. It’s across the road from the beach and a short drive from the main area of Blouberg where we could find any number of restaurants or shops with all manner of items for sale.
Leaving Melkbosstrand we started to head for home, firstly in the direction of our next stop which was Prince Albert and the Swartberg Hotel and we took the road via Ceres. It is only some 400km to get to Prince Albert.
The Swartberg Hotel is a charming and very old hotel in the village of Prince Albert and we were surprised to find how busy it was and almost full with guests and we were delighted to see that the guests were all South African. Does this mean that South Africans are finally travelling at home?
After Prince Albert there was to be just one more night before getting home and that was once again to the Waschbank Guest lodge on the banks of the Orange River at Gariep dam where we had also spent the first night of our trip.
A very enjoyable trip and yet another example that South Africans can have a very enjoyable and safe “holiday at home” at an inexpensive price without the need to travel overseas to do this. Then the following day the 600km drive back home to Jozi.
An important aspect to consider and which seems to frighten South Africans is safety but at no stage at all were we in any sort of danger at all nor did we feel any sort potential danger. I have no doubt that had we gone looking for danger spots we could have found them but then isn’t that the situation no matter where in the world you are.
We just had a great “holiday at Home”