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“Fun is Back” : Our MG Roadtrip from Joburg to Cape Town

What? A road-trip without the furries… whatever next!

 

Wednesday
Darcy watched disapprovingly as we packed our luggage into the narrow (but deeper than you think) boot, and into every other crevice we could find without compromising our comfort. Our padkos and flask had pride of place in the footwell. Our cameras ready for action on the sill behind our heads. It was tight but we were all set.

Darcy’s narrowed eyes clearly said: “This is not a suitable car for a road trip.”

THE MGF 🚗 

The MGF was the first all-new MG sportscar since 1962 and there was huge excitement ahead of the car’s release. It was innovative, too, with a mid-engine and gas suspension. It quickly became a best-seller across much of the world. Rover Group by this time, was under the ownership of BMW and not wanting the MG to compete with its Z sports cars, the MGF never made it to the USA.

According to “Classics World” ,”The MG TF was one of MG Rover’s swansong models, and probably one of its best.”
Launched in 2002, the MG TF was a mild facelift of the earlier F. But history bestowed a greater role upon it – the last (to date) MG sports car.

We bought our first TF (a racy red) in 2002. Unfortunately it met with an untimely accident and we replaced it with this white one in 2004.
 ‘Fun is Back’ – is one of the MG Motor marketing campaign slogans and definitely one we can relate to.

We had done a “test run” to Pretoria the previous week and expressed our concern that it was going to be a hard, noisy and therefore tiring drive. 

Packed to hilt, but feeling smugly organised, we left at 8 with a full tank and pumped tires. Our hearts were a little bit sad to leave Darcy and the cats behind.

Ominous clouds on the horizon began to build and it began raining before we reached the N1. 

Before very long it was bucketing down. Thank goodness for the brand new windscreen wipers, purchased at the last minute. A rainstorm in the MG is fairly nerve-wracking. Waves of water would woosh down on us from the bigger wheels of other vehicles. At times you feel like you may begin to aqua-plane, especially alongside a truck, but we remained steady, sturdy and safe!

So much for being organised. We’d made the rookie error of forgetting to pack our rain jackets and we needed them…Inside the vehicle! A persistent drip began at my window. Water was oozing along a seam on the roof and entering the window via a small roof strap – onto my left shoulder.  (Luckily we were able to sort it out later on.)

It was also becoming fairly chilly for January when we should’ve been in the full swing of summer.

Geoff was concerned that the temperature gauge was not moving. At first we were relieved that it was stationary, as overheating had previously been our biggest challenge. Then we became suspicious. If there is anything worse than an overheating car on a road-trip, it’s a potentially overheating car sans a reliable temperature indicator. 

We stopped at the Grasmere plaza to check the engine and source raincoats. 

It seemed that the car was in fact not overheating. 

Raincoats were not to be found and we had to settle for the daily newspaper which absorbed water nicely and kept the drip off my shoulder.

Munching our go-to sandwiches of ham, Gorgonzola and tomato, we sipped our coffee and played old rock CDs at full volume. There is something to be said for speeding along with Meatloaf screaming in your head.

The rain eventually stopped around Kroonstad much to our relief.

We stopped to purchase sweeties and chocolates.

Just outside Bloemfontein, we noticed a sign for The National Women’s Memorial.  After only the smallest discussion we agreed to pause and ‘smell the roses’. It’s not often we pass this way without the responsibility of the pets in the car. 

This well-tended and poignant monument complex commemorates the 27,000 women and children who perished in concentration camps set up by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War. There is an interesting museum and a large obelisk, at the base of which are buried the remains of Emily Hobhouse.

“In the South African War, Great Britain fought the two Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, for control of what is now South Africa.  During the war, the British army captured more than 100,000 Boer civilians.

Most of the people held captive by the British were women and children. They were taken from their farms to about 50 prison camps, which were the first places in history to be called concentration camps. Conditions in the camps were terrible and more than 27,000 women and children died, along with around 1,500 men. The British held black African prisoners in separate camps, where about 15,000 people died.” (historyhit.com)

Powerfully emotive, a dominant sculpture depicts an Afrikaner woman holding her child while seeing her husband off to war.

At Hobhouse’s funeral in Bloemfontein on 27 October 1926, Jan Smuts, leader of the South African party and a close friend and intellectual confidante of the remarkable activist, highlighted her significant historical role.

“Here was a great war in which hundreds of thousands of men were engaged, in which the greatest Empire on earth was exerting all its strength and force. And an unknown woman appears from nowhere and presses the right button; and the course of our history in South Africa is permanently altered. For the future of South Africa the whole meaning and significance of the Anglo-Boer War was permanently affected by this Englishwoman.” (Marianne Thamm, Daily Maverick, Aug 2016)

Our next stop was “Snobs” in Trompsburg, well known for their excellent “velskoen” coffee with condensed milk. We chatted to the owner and he advised us to visit Gariep dam which was unusually 110% full and overflowing!

The stretch of road from Trompsburg to Philippolis in the late afternoon is special. It’s a pleasant change to get off the N1 and the scenery is beautiful. In the MG it was nothing short of spectacular. It took us far too long to reach our guest house The Dusty Vine, due to the many photography opportunities, but we were eventually welcomed by Stephanie and advised that she had booked dinner for us at the new restaurant “Ouma Anna”.

“Ouma Anna” Restaurant is located at the Laurens van der Post memorial garden.

Sir Laurens van der Post was a spellbinding storyteller, a figure of mesmerizing charm. The South African-born writer, who died in 1996 at age 90, sold millions of copies of his novels and nonfiction books. He was a close friend of Prince Charles and Godfather of Prince William.

Johannes welcomed us and showed us to a well-appointed table under a tree in the garden. The setting is exquisite. Tasteful lighting, garden flowers and good quality crockery. I love the combination of a substantial cotton napkin, heavy silverware and delicate crystal. The chalkboard menu is extremely limited, but as far as we were concerned, what else could you possibly want other than the regional specialty of Karoo lamb? A bottle of red wine hit the spot. The garden salad was as pretty as it was tasty. Johannes recommended the lamb steaks and the chicken liver starter and his partner Diwan prepared our food with the outmost care and skill. 

It was romantic strolling home hand in hand through the quiet streets, past the impressive Dutch Reformed Church and the newly renovated homes. It is reminiscent of a bygone time. Our little car was parked safely outside our quaint cottage and we all slept comfortably and peacefully.

Thursday

Stephanie recommended the Donkerpoort road to Gariep dam. We were a little nervous. A gravel road? In this car? She assured us that it would be just fine! As it turned out, the gravel road was in good condition for a Kia but we struggled to relax completely in the MG with our minimal clearance, unforgiving tyres and low vantage point. Having said that, we lapped up the experience. Endless open space, sparkling cloudless skies, straight roads; it called for a top-down experience!

We eased into the settlement of Donkerpoort drawing calls of “Yuss sus!” from the farm workers, who were stunned to see our little sports car whizzing by. We paused to explore the little used Railway station.

 

The town of Gariep Dam, (the youngest town in South Africa) is situated alongside the N1 and is perhaps better known to most for the manmade Gariep Dam (which is the largest dam in South Africa with a radius of 360 square kilometres) which forms part of the Orange River Development Scheme. The Gariep Dam (previously known as the Hendik Verwoerd Dam) was completed in 1971 and is the largest dam in South Africa. ‘Gariep’ is an ancient San word for ‘great water’.

The sheer magnificence of this more than 100km long and 24km wide dam, is indeed sufficient to testify to the exceptional engineering and success of Africa’s largest water supply scheme.

Water from the Gariep Dam is released into the Vanderkloof Dam through four turbines that are each capable of producing 90 MW at a flow rate of 200 cubic meters per second. The hydro-power plant at the Gariep Dam can thus supply up to 360 MW at a flow rate of 800 m3/s.

The Gariep Dam wall is 88m high (90.5m above foundation level), with a total crest length of 914m and contains 1.73 million cubic meters of concrete and cement. The Gariep Dam is situated in a gorge at the entrance to Ruigte Valley, 5km east of Norvalspont. Gariep Dam is a combined gravity and arch dam built entirely of concrete. Since the gorge at the dam site is too wide to allow a complete arch, only the central portion is arched. The two concrete flanks were necessary to form artificial gravity abutments for the main arch. The Gariep Dam is a double curvature structure i.e. it is shaped like an egg shell making it one of the most impressive dams in South Africa.

Gariep Dam does not have sluice gates like most dams. Flood control is done naturally over the spill way. Only if the spill way can’t handle the floods are the radial gates and river outlets used to augment the release of water. Six enormous radial gates, three on each side of the dam, form a striking feature of the Gariep Dam. These gates are used to discharge floodwaters into six concrete chutes which direct the rushing water away from the base of the Gariep Dam wall into the downstream flow of the river

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from the exciting roar of the endless flow of water; from the beautiful rainbow forming in the river below; from the misty spray billowing upwards into our faces; and from the mesmerising undertow of the water gushing out at a terrifying pace.
We took the N1 via Colesburg  and the N9 to Graaff Reinet. Our plan was to reach our friends Tracy and Sean McCoy’s place in Knysna by late afternoon.

We paused to explore and admire the pretty but disused Dwarsvlei train station between Graaf Reinet and Middelburg. Dwarsvlei farm, founded by Henry Norse in the late 1800’s, was once the largest horse farm in the world with 600 broodmares. Now there are only the abandoned railway tracks, a corrugated iron shack, and not a soul around for miles.

We were starting to run late and it was also starting to get very hot. We paused to grab a take-away lunch from KFC to make up time. And then we reached the

Beervlei dam. It was filled with water for the first time in 20 years! So of course we had to stop and have a quick look around, although the stifling heat had us dashing back to the car for air-con as soon as possible!

Beervlei Dam (above) when we passed it in 2019

The dam is instantly recognizable for it’s unusual wall construction, consisting of multiple side by side,  interlinked arched walls. The dam is also better known for being bone dry for many months of the year.

The dam was built in the 1950’s as a flood control dam and it’s meant to be EMPTY. When the Grootrivier floods, this is the dam that contains the inflow (it can hold 86 million cu.m.) and prevents flood damage further downstream.

Baking hot 🥵 and anxious for whether the MG could sustain its pace given its penchant for over-heating, we zipped down the famous road between Willowmore and Uniondale. This vast and relatively quiet stretch of road is known forgone of South Africa’s most famous ghost stories.

Uniondale is known for its ghost, a young woman who stands alone alongside the lonely stretch of road between Uniondale and Willowmore. When people stop to offer her a lift, she gets into the car and then – unsettlingly – vanishes.

Photo credit: SAtourismonline.com

Uniondale is known for its ghost, a young woman who stands alone alongside the lonely stretch of road between Uniondale and Willowmore. When people stop to offer her a lift, she gets into the car and then – unsettlingly – vanishes.
The ghost is said to be a young woman, Maria Charlotte Roux, who tragically died in the early hours of 12 April 1968 when her fiance lost control of the car in which they were travelling.

One encounter with the ghost was reported by a young man who saw her on Good Friday 1973 and offered her a lift. She got into the car and gave her destination as “Porterstraat twee, de Lange”.
After traveling a short distance she disappeared. The distressed young man reported the incident to the local police, who offered to follow him to the site of the incident in another vehicle.
Just outside Uniondale, the passenger door of the young man’s vehicle opened and closed, as if someone had just got out. He stopped immediately and consulted with the white-faced policeman, who had seen the door open and close without any movement from the young man.

Similar stories have been reported.
Like the one from badly frightened Andre Coetzee, 20, who was breezing along the highway on Good Friday. 
“I was riding near the Baramdas turnoff (the site of the fatal accident a decade ago) when I felt my hair stand on end inside my crash helmet and someone or something put its arms around my waist from behind. There was something sitting on my bike,” the shaken Coetzee said.
The terrified motorcyclist said he accelerated to 80 mph to get away, but the ghost hit him three times in the helmet to get him to slow down. ‘The blows were vicious,’ he said. When he reached 100 mph, Coetzee said, ‘the apparition disappeared.’

Coetzee drove to a local cafe for help. He could hardly speak when they asked him what had happened. But gradually it dawned on them that the woman ghost had appeared once more,

A movie was recently made, based on the story and filmed in Willowmore (www.uniondale.co.za) 👻 

I was very glad we were traveling during the day! 

After a brief stop in George to pick up toothbrush, we joined the rush hour traffic easing into Knysna for the weekend. Its a beautiful part of the world and easy to see why it forms part of the Garden Route. When you aren’t flanked by tree-covered hills, there is either ocean or lagoon on either side of the road. A holiday-maker’s paradise!

Tracy and Sean have recently bought at Pezula, an exquisitely designed golf estate with gorgeous views over the forested hills and the ocean. It was also great to climb up into a slightly cooler climate zone.

There home is beautiful. simple and stylish and reflecting Tracy’s excellent taste as an Interior Designer. We picked her brain relentlessly with a view to our Simonstown house project and she shared loads of advice.

We enjoyed a relaxing braai, talking non-stop and catching up all the events of the past few years.

Friday

We slept like babies in our comfortable room. Sean and Tracy drove us into Knysna and showed off all the gorgeous decor and furniture store. I cannot wait until the construction part is over and we can get into the soft-furnishings and paint colour phase. The McCoys took us to a lovely art gallery that was full of inspiring pieces. A few pictures below merely scratch the surface.

We had a delicious lunch at a seafood restaurant at the waterfront. Its so great to be eating prawns overlooking the sea once again! Later we visited Thesen island and admired the quaint stores and unusual shops.

For dinner we headed to the local gin distillery and tried some of the local craft gins. We had outstanding artisan pizzas from the bakery next door to the brewery and enjoyed relaxing, chatting and listening to the music and Friday evening vibe.

Saturday

Far too soon and we had to be on our way again. We hit the road soon after breakfast and headed towards Cape Town.

We’d heard to expect a heatwave, but nothing prepared us for the consistently climbing temperature as we approached the city. In addition, nothing prepared us for the throngs of cars and people all heading for the beaches. 

We’d chosen to take the Strandfontein road to avoid the main highway, but oh what a mistake! the coastal road was bumper-to-bumper and what should have taken us 30 minutes, ended up taking more than two hours. 

A real test for the poor MG and for Geoff having to manage the clutch and rarely moving out of first gear.

Later we discovered that Cape Town was the hottest place on Earth! 😳🥵

Max Hererra, climatologist, has described the Western Cape’s unbelievable weekend weather as “unprecedented territory.” According to preliminary data, South Africa recorded the hottest temperatures ever, beating the precious record by almost 3C. According to these statistics, it’s the first time in history that Cape Town has been the hottest location in this part of South Africa.

“The maximum temperature at Table Bay was an incredible 45.2C. Previous all time record (42.4C) of Cape Town destroyed by almost 3C. We will be waiting for the confirmation of ZA Met Office about the station because the exceptionality of this event. Cape Town was the hottest place in Africa yesterday – never happened before,” said Hererra.

Saturday was reported as the “hottest day on Earth” and Sunday hasn’t let up with Beaufort West, Oudtshoorn, Laingsburg, Paarl, Worcester and Ladismith all clocking temperatures above 40C. (www.capetownetc.com)

Much later than anticipated we finally arrived safely in Simonstown. 

Our MG has a brand new coastal hometown and it suits her well.

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