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Northern Cape Roadtrip: Part 2 – The Groen Kalahari

D’Arcy woke us nice and early in our Sutherland cottage by throwing up some disgusting old bones that she’d scrounged the night before. 🤮
Day 8:
We made egg mayonnaise sarms for breakfast on the go and a flask of condensed milk coffee. It was very chilly and the car registered zero degrees! We headed towards Calvinia, bypassing the town towards Brandvlei on our way to Groblershoop, which is on the banks of the Orange River.
 
Shortly after Calvinia we came upon the little settlement of Middelpos. Farmers were feeding the sheep, many of whom had tiny lambs and we stopped to photograph them despite the icy wind. 

From Kenhardt we headed into different terrain, rocky and desert-like. Starkly beautiful Kokerboom trees stood out against the horizon, as did the precarious thatch-like nests of the sociable weavers on abandoned telephone poles.

“The kokerboom, or quiver tree, is a magnificent botanical symbol in this part of the country. Quiver trees have the ability to store water in their stems and leaves. In days gone by, the San used the branches of these trees as quivers for their hunting arrows, hence the name quiver trees.” www.experiencenortherncape.com
We were making good time speeding through the desert from Kenhardt when we saw the first sign to Putsonderwater. Gosh, I’d kind of thought it was a made up name to denote extreme remoteness – not a real town. Suddenly we got a flat tyre and had to stop to change the wheel. We were well and truly in the middle of nowhere. Just endless desert and wind!🌵 Not a single car passed us. This time both D’Arcy and Paddy were unimpressed. Where the hell were their parents taking them!? This did not look like Fun for Dogs.
Within 100km we reached the legendary Putsonderwater. A bona fide ghost town. We wandered around taking pictures and marveling at the transient nature of life, feeling a little sad for the failed hopes and dreams of the residents of the time. More about our impressions of Putsonderwater here.
Back on tar road, we headed towards the region known as the ‘Groen Kalahari’. The terrain began shifting dramatically over the next few hours. From inhospitable rocks, we started to see green trees appearing. Soon we started to pass large vineyards. Vineyards in the desert? Whatever next!
 
The green belt of trees fringing the Orange river began to appear in the distance as we approached our evening destination of ‘Slypsteen Guest Farm’. The daytime temperatures were a lot warmer than Sutherland.

The setting of our cottage was just exquisite, perched high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the vineyards, the irrigation sluice and the green flood plains of the river. D’Arcy and Paddy saw the dassies scrambling around the rocks and immediately indicated their approval. We saw the braai area overlooking the valley and poured a long cool drink, indicating our approval. Geoff cooked perfect lamb chops from our Sutherland stash. He also grilled pork sausages for our breakfast the following day. We put them on the kitchen counter to cool. Half an hour later, under our very noses, two cheeky mice 🐭 🐭 made off with a sausage each. It was astounding and a little shocking. We really were in the wilderness. Perhaps next time we’ll bring the cats? 🐱 🐱

Day 9
Fortunately, it seemed that the presence of the dogs kept the mice at bay. We breakfasted on (left over) porkies and watched the sun rising over the Orange river valley while drinking our morning coffee.
 
We took a drive into the sprawling dump that is Groblershoop and got our tyre fixed. The dogs were itching for a swim. The proximity of the river and not being able to reach it was frustrating them so we headed to a lovely dam nearby (no burrs this time!)
 
Then we took a drive out to the Orange River Wine Cellars. We started seeing signs to Upington and the Namibian border, that’s how far North we were! A friendly lady took us through their range of offerings. The wine grapes of Orange River Cellars originate from 900 producers situated along the Orange River. These pockets of vineyard land stretch over a distance of more than 300 kilometres between Groblershoop and Blouputs. We worked our way through the whites and reds and then tried their famous Hanepoort and Jerepigo fortified wines.
Of course we were obliged to take a few boxes home. 😜🍷

We were disappointed in our effort to find a charming place for lunch. We imagined a deck overlooking the river. Our hostess recommended a local place for pizza or Russians and chips and another for homemade pies (frozen 🤨). Neither were what we had in mind for ambience or cuisine. Then we remembered a place that had the perfect setting – our own accommodation! So we had lunch at home and spent the afternoon reading and relaxing and avoiding the bitterly cold wind that sprung up in the afternoon. We took a walk around the guest farm in the late afternoon ahead of our braai for dinner.

Day 10
We decided to head home via one last stop near Kimberley. As it wasn’t too far away, we took the scenic route via Griquastad and Campbell. Not quite as scenic as we were hoping. I know that urbanisation is a global trend, but it is particularly sad to see the decayed and dirty towns, broken up tar roads, neglected houses and buildings that were once beautiful and perhaps historical. Old resorts and restaurants, museums and family homes were all crumbling and filthy. Geoff was keen to photograph the first historic bridge that was built across the Vaal River at Barkly West. Well as one blogger put it, “its whereabouts is a complete secret”. We drove around for ages and were on the verge of giving up when we stumbled upon it. What a beautiful area it must’ve been in its day and what a great tourist attraction it could still be. Instead the area around the bridge was overgrown, filthy with discarded litter and completely neglected 😩 The dogs didn’t seem to care and enjoyed a swim in the Vaal river beneath the towering stone bridge.
We began the fruitless task of finding a spot for lunch and then decided to grab a pizza in Kimberley as it was almost 2pm. I was starting to worry that I was turning into a snob like Paddy because quite frankly I was not impressed by Kimberley either. The signs of neglect, the miles of discarded rubbish and filth surrounding the city seems completely unnecessary. It was disappointing.
 
Luckily we’d booked into a charming and well run equestrian estate called Mein Heim on the outskirts of Kimberley on the Douglas road. Dogs and cats and horses were everywhere and it was delightfully peaceful. We were starting to get tired of traveling and beginning to look forward to getting home. We spent a cosy evening reading and relaxing.
Day 11
A mere 5-hour drive from Kimberley to Johannesburg, but it took us an hour to get out of the disappointing dump that is Kimberley. The roads are not signed and if there are remnants of signage from decades gone by, they are faded or obscured by trees. Detours are indicated where roads are impassable but no further route indicators are provided thereafter. The N12 led us past one awful mining town after another – Bloemhof, Wolmaranstad, Klerksdorp. Potchefstroom seemed to be the most clean and well tended not that we spent any time there. What a joy to finally get home after a diverse and exhilarating adventure. How very special to be able to share it with our furry children too.
 

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