Table of Contents
- Matjiesfontein and Beaufort West
- A lion at Karoo National Park
- Graaff-Reinet: Gem of the Karoo
- Addo Elephant National Park
- Route 67 in Port Elizabeth
- The Big Trees at Tsitsikamma
- Good Friday at Knysna
- The Ostriches of Oudtshoorn
March 19, 2016
For weeks, I have been planning a trip to see the interior of southern South Africa. With today’s post, I am kicking off a series that details my road trip. I hope you’ll find the trip as enjoyable as I did!
I hit the road a bit before 7:30 AM, and in no time at all, I was seeing sights I hadn’t encountered before. I had admired the stark mountains east of Paarl, but now I was headed directly for them. I had already climbed quite a bit when I hit the toll plaza for the Hugenot Tunnel. My debit card wasn’t useful, but I had a R50 note on hand to pay the R33.50 fee. I felt sad as I entered the tunnel; brief glimpses had shown me that an amazing view of the Paarl Valley lay behind me.
The Hugenot Tunnel seemed to stretch onward forever. I trailed a group of motorcycles, each rider wearing a full hiking backpack (this is a very popular week for travel). When we exited the tunnel (80 kph, one lane each direction), all the vehicles accelerated down the slope. I was a bit slack-jawed as I looked around me. The mountainous valley seemed like a vast Tupperware, with a low cover of clouds forming the list. I couldn’t decide whether I was more reminded of California or Colorado, but in the States we would surely have labeled this ordinary beauty a national park.
I had not left the wine farms behind. For the next hour I traversed the Boland. When I reached De Doorns, I noticed a curious sight. Many people lined the highway carrying boxes of grapes. Since I was in the slow lane, they would present their wares to me with a little flourish and angle the box toward me. At one point, three salesmen were present in the space of 100 meters. Pirouette and Tip! Pirouette and Tip! Pirouette and Tip! I stopped at a fruit stand soon thereafter and bought a tub of seedless red “Crimson” grapes for R15. They were welcome company over the next two days.
Just after the fruit shop, my car climbed the Hex River Pass. On the other side, my view changed entirely. I had moved into the Karoo, with hills and small mountains poking upwards from scrub land covered in chaparral. A few minutes into this terrain, I encountered a small test farm of grape vines. I wonder how much water they were consuming in this drought year. The Sunspot solar farm to the South of the N1 seemed much more appropriate in the blazing sun.
I had decided that my first real break would come at Matjiesfontein (in Afrikaans, the “tj” is pronounced like a ‘k’). The town owes its existence to James Logan and David Rawdon. James Logan founded the town in 1884 near a river that grew “matjiesgoed,” rushes that can be woven into mats. The new community provided food and water to trains at its new station, and by 1899, Mr. Logan was able to construct the Lord Milner Hotel. The hotel became a military hospital during Anglo-Boer War. As the town’s reputation grew, celebrities such as Cecil Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling, and Olive Schreiner came to enjoy the dry air during bouts of lung disease.
David Rawdon picked up the work that James Logan began. In 1968, he became the “Laird of Matjiesfontein,” and by 1975, the Lord Milner Hotel had become a National Heritage Site. David Rawdon was a devoted Anglophile, and he imported British streetlamps to line the main road as well as a classic double-decker bus. His automobile collection became quite large, and a museum to house it was created in the town. He was able to acquire two vehicles used by the British royal family during their visit to South Africa.
At one point, he was informed that the car museum must close its doors because it did not have enough fire extinguishers. He asked if acquiring a fire engine for the museum would be satisfactory, and soon it was in place (for years the staff used it to water the landscaping).
After I ate some delicious lamb curry at the pub, I came outside to see the Shoshaloza Meyl train come through the station. I couldn’t help but sing the song to myself. Yes, this train station is still in action today. The town that tourists get to visit, however, is more opulent than the homes that the staff live in, on the other side of the tracks. If I were required to wear a female servant’s costume from the early 1900s, I might not like it much, either.
The drive to Beaufort West (the town just outside Karoo National Park) was very quiet, with hill after hill of scrub making an appearance. I checked into the Three Chimneys; I had a private room and bath with a door that was perhaps six steps from the swimming pool. I took a quick walk down the strip that afternoon. The town is very well supplied with churches. The street is lined with pear trees. I had a small dinner of a springbok, rocket, and cheese sandwich from the Karushi. It was delicious, though I had to defend my dinner from two men who begged for food. After some computer and reading time, I was asleep!