Free to roam: Chapter 2 – the winding road home

In the second of two installments, Mari van der Merwe and Amanda Erlank return home after their Pachamama Forest Retreat visit.

Catching up at the Wild Oats Market

No visit to the Garden Route is complete without a look-in at the Saturday Wild Oats Market on the outskirts of Sedgefield, adjacent to the beautiful Swartvlei Lake Lagoon. The market, open every Saturday from 8am till 12pm, is now in its 15th year, intimate, rustic but internationally famous. Local is the byword – fruit, vegetables, plants, meat, baked and bottled goods, all locally sourced, much of it organic. The best part is people – and pet – watching; Wild Oats is as much a community centre as a market – watching pets and owners meeting and greeting is part of the attraction.

Wilderness coffee, Kaaimans maps

It was a grey rainy day, so we headed for a warm fireplace and good coffee at the Green Shed Coffee Roastery in Wilderness. The ambience, good service and delicious baked goods make this a favourite for both locals and tourists, and we now understand why.

Suitably caffeinated (again), it was time to really test the RAV4. The steep winding road to the Map of Africa was the ideal opportunity to test the SUV’s abilities. The Map of Africa is a spectacular viewpoint that looks down on a promontory which strongly resembles a map of Africa. Over the years, as the Kaaimans River has flown through the landscape, it has created the distinct shape of our continent. On the other side of the road where the paragliders take off, you are also able to see the magnificent long stretch view of Wilderness beach.

Homeward bound, seven passes, chilled in De Rust

Leaving Pachamama the following day, we routed over Homtini Pass, towards Knysna. The pass is the sixth in the string on the Seven Passes route. It winds through five kilometres of incredible forest driving. The RAV4 navigated the 45 bends, corners, and curves with real adeptness, turning a potentially nerve-wracking experience into a total thrill, dancing through the muddy puddles like an over-excited Golden Retriever.  The easy transition from tarred to gravel road is smooth, with no adjustment from the driver needed.

Our next destination was to be the dorp of de Rust, nestling beneath Meiringspoort on the R62. We headed towards George, en route to Prince Alfred’s Pass on the Wittedrift road, a route that is full of scenic views of the forests, wetlands, river courses and fynbos. Thomas Bain’s greatest work is the longest publicly assessable mountain pass in South Africa, and doing it in the RAV4 was much more enjoyable – for obvious reasons – than the two times we travelled the pass on mountain bikes during the popular 100km Karoo to Coast Mountain bike race from Uniondale to Knysna. What a road, what an experience.

Meiringspoort, a national treasure

After a restful night in the picturesque town of de Rust, we took the scenic drive through Meiringspoort Pass.  Sixteen kilometres of towering sandstone cliff walls and breath-taking rock formations, it crosses the Groot River no fewer than 21 times, all at valley-floor level, making it one of the easiest and most spectacular passes in the country.  Five kilometres from the northern entrance we stopped at the picnic spot and followed a food path to the 55-metre high waterfall, about a five-minute walk in from the car park. Spectacular indeed! It’s an essential stop-off and in summer will be refreshing to boot.  All along the pass, the facilities and displays are kept in tip-top shape, with friendly staff available at the Information Centre.

More coffee, another Prince Albert

Finally, our last stop before the long stretch home to the Cape was a coffee break in Prince Albert, the creative nerve centre of the Karoo. iWe had traditional Melktert and ‘railway coffee’ – coffee with condensed milk – to end our long trek on a sweet note.

It was sad to say goodbye to the RAV4, a friend and part of the family by journey’s end. Comfortable, solid, luxurious and dependable, it ticked all the boxes.  Next up… Namibia.

For more information on Toyota’s hybrid RAV4 see CAR magazine’s review here.