We left the town of Middleburg without thinking too clearly. Our hearts were heavy with unshed tears and we tried to talk ourselves out of dwelling on Jango’s whereabouts, what Jango could possibly be thinking (is it even possible to think like a cat?), what might happen to him. In this state of general unease, we took the N10 out of town, instead of the N9. This might seem like a minor error, but soon the two routes diverge in virtually opposite directions. We were heading for Cradock instead of the intended Graaff Reinet. Consulting our trusty Waze app and an ancient map book, we cut across from Conway, discovering roads less travelled on the R401 and then cutting back across on the R61 via the Wapadsbergpas. Back on the N9 en route to Graaff Reinet, we also traversed the Naudesbergpas. It was beautiful to discover these dramatic and scenic passes, none of which we’d ever come across or heard of before.
We were pleased to reach Graaff Reinet as we were hungry and in desperate need of wifi. Its amazing how two days with no coverage can get you into a fix. We had new tenants waiting for a lease, and many other emails that needed to be addressed. We located one of our old haunts “Hello You” in the centre of the town and had a delicious breakfast and managed to get most of our business concluded. It was overcast and chilly for early May.
Graaff Reinet is beautifully clean and well maintained with some stunning heritage architecture. The Groot Kerk never fails to impress. Apparently building began in 1792 and was destroyed by fire before completion. in 1886, the foundation stone was laid for the existing church which was based on the Gothic design for Salisbury Cathedral in England.
The route heading out of Graaff Reinet was very pretty with the clouds shrouding the surrounding mountains. We began heading into what is known as the Klein Karoo. We passed the Beervlei Dam with its unusual, arched interlinked 31 metre high wall. It’s sad to see the (23 square km) empty expanse until you understand that it was built specifically to manage flash flooding. The last time this dam was full was in 2001. Since then there has been less and less rainfall in the catchment area, highlighting the seriousness of the drought in this area.
Our journey took us into the eclectic town of Willowmore where we stopped to fill up with petrol. Positioned on the main route to the holiday town of Knysna, Willowmore is littered with antique stores, coffee shops, pubs and quaint places to stay. It was bright and sunny but an icy wind prevailed, making us realise how cold the Karoo nights will be.
Next we took the R341 to De rust followed by the R62 to Oudtshoorn.
We were relieved to reach Ladismith as our next stop was a mere 15km further. We stopped off to get some basic supplies. Ladismith is famous for cheese, but somehow there seemed to be no sign of any dairies. The local Spar carried an entirely different brand…
“The Place” is situated in the Klein Karoo wilderness between Ladismith and Riversdale, at the end of a private road in a beautiful secluded valley. We were booked into the cosy Studio cottage which is situated above uninterrupted views of the vlaktes and koppies, Touwsriver valley, surrounding mountain ranges and breathtaking sunsets.
The Studio forms part of the original ostrich chick building that was lovingly converted, whilst staying faithful to the building’s industrial origins. Lizelle met us with a steaming loaf of olive bread, fresh from the oven and we felt completely at home. Too tired to cook or braai, we devoured the left-over chicken pie that Helen had made for us the night before.
We enjoyed a lovely early morning walk with the dogs and admired the exquisite scenery and the sparklingly fresh Karoo air. The botanical biodiversity of this region is unequalled by any other desert or semi-desert on earth. Apparently you’ll find over 5 000 different plant species, some 2 000 of which occur nowhere else in the world! About a third of the world’s 10 000 succulents occur in this region.
Lizelle suggested a day-trip to nearby Vanwyksdorp and a possible drive via the Rooibergpas to Calitzdorp, followed by a round trip back via Ladismith. We debated taking Hobie cat, but decided that as we’d already lost one cat, we needed to not let this one out of our sight!
What a fantastic discovery Vanwyksdorp is! Lizelle recommended the Spekboom restaurant for breakfast. Amanda the cheerful owner and her charming daughter welcomed us and our dogs and prepared a delicious breakfast while we sat in the sun and enjoyed the stunning surroundings and chatted to the locals.
We were told that this used to be an abundant flower-growing area, being on the banks of the river. The 1981 floods that are considered to be one of the most dramatic disasters to impact the area and destroyed the town of Laingsburg (100km NW), also washed away their dam and their thriving floral industry.
After breakfast and stocking up all manner of tasty jams and olives and olive oils, we took a drive around the pretty town. Beautiful trees, lovely roses and interesting little shops everywhere. While we were wandering around, I noticed an art gallery. The name of the artist seemed vaguely familiar and Geoff confirmed – its one of the artists we discovered on a trip to Grahamstown and we have two of her paintings. We’d tried to find her in subsequent trips to Grahamstown, to no avail. And here she was! Antoinette Ohlenschläger herself was in the gallery. It was so nice to see the familiar style and imagery that we love and hear about her new life in Vanwyksdorp.
The area we were in is roughly divided into the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo by the Swartberg Mountain Range that runs east-west and is separated from the Indian Ocean by another east-west range, the Outeniqua/Langeberg Mountains. The Great Karoo lies to the north of the Swartberg range while the Little Karoo can be found to the south of the Swartberg. The route we drove literally allows you to see the surrounding ranges.
The Rooiberg pass begins just outside Vanwyksdorp. It started off fairly gently but once we were too far gone to turn around, it became rougher and bumpier. We noticed Hobie struggling to get comfortable. He was hanging onto his cushion like the co-driver in a Roof of Africa rally, with his paws splayed, claws dug in, ears back. Poor thing. We tried holding him tightly but eventually we cleared a spot on the floor so that he could lower his centre of gravity. Maybe we should have let him stay in the peace and quiet of our accommodation
The Rooiberg pass is incredibly beautiful. We stoped numerous times just to admire or take pictures. We saw many neglected, classic old houses, just dying for some loving renovations.
Back in ostrich and port wine country, we wound down through the picturesque town of Calitzdorp and back through Ladismith to our sanctuary The Place, where we enjoyed a delicious braai in the company of Hobie and two exhausted dogs.