Sarah Huddy planned a dream 4×4 holiday, travelling to national parks and out of the way places in the Cape, and her idea won a competition. This is the first article in a two-part series about the modern-day exploration by Sarah and her husband, Graeme, in their 2004 Jeep Cherokee
Text: Sarah Huddy
Photography: Sarah and Graeme Huddy
This trip came about when my husband Graeme pointed out a competition in which Jeep and Heart FM were offering to pay for a dream 4×4 adventure. We purchased a 3,7-litre V6 Cherokee last year that really introduced us to the joys of off-road travelling, so I decided to enter. The deadline was the next day, and I got straight to work brainstorming ideas.
My strategy, to set me apart from the rest, was to plan an all-South African trip, visiting relatively unknown areas and incorporating national parks. I also took into consideration that we would be travelling in a single vehicle, from Cape Town, and I didn’t want to travel the same road twice.
So, after a long day, and with input from my co-driver, I had a detailed five-page itinerary and budget to present to the judges the following morning.
Arriving at Jeep Century City, I was not perturbed to discover all that was required was an outline of my dream holiday in 100 words or less. After all, I was confident I would win, and then the planning for the holiday was complete.
My strategy paid off and I managed to win over some very good routes, especially the lighthouse tour, which I would be interested to find out more about.
Cheque in hand, the next thing to decide on was dates which fitted into the school holidays (I’m a teacher), Graeme’s meagre holiday leave, and our plans to have a baby.
On June 24 we left on our 16-day holiday and I was happily eight weeks pregnant. Our trip would take us through the Western and Eastern Cape, staying in three national parks, at Barkly East and in my home town, Knysna.
These are our thoughts and experiences of the places we visited. We hope our story may be useful when you plan your next trip.
Laingsburg Country Hotel
We left Cape Town late afternoon with a planned stopover in Laingsburg, famous for one of SA’s biggest natural disasters – the floods that demolished the town in 1981, killing about 140 people. Markings of the flood levels can be found on most buildings.
We booked into the Laingsburg Country Hotel, which offers good, old-fashioned hospitality and caters for late arrivals and early departures. Stepping through the front door is like stepping back in time. The communal lounge, with its floral settees, has a tea pot collection and is complete with a Great Dane warming himself by the fire. The restaurant offers home cooked meals for dinner, and breakfast is included in the rate. Secure parking – a must for protecting a fully-laden car – is available for an extra fee.
Karoo National Park
This was our first stay at the park and we were eager to see the recently-introduced lions, and drive the long 4×4 routes. The park, situated a few kilometres on the Cape Town side of Beaufort West, has upgraded its facilities to attract visitors, so that it is no longer regarded simply as an overnight stop on the N1 from Johannesburg.
Not everyone is happy to see lions in the park, and some people have complained that they can no longer walk or cycle freely as they once could. The park has gone some way to addressing these concerns by introducing free guided hikes along the two trail routes.
The facilities are well maintained and we were most impressed by the Bulkraal picnic spot, which has private braai areas, spotless toilets with showers and an enclosed swimming pool.
The park offers camping and chalet accommodation in family and double units, as well as the Bisweni Cottage, which is accessible off the 4×4-only road. We spent our first night here.
We weren’t sure what to expect and after a long day of driving, were pleasantly surprised. It is secluded, with magnificent views over the mountains and landscape.
The cottage has two bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom and kitchen. The main bedroom has a double bed and the second room has four single bunk beds. There is an outdoor braai and indoor fireplace, with seating for six and dining table. The kitchen has a gas stove and oven and with two fridges, bigger groups and longer stays are catered for.
On the second night we stayed in a studio apartment, which was more than adequate for our needs. The tariff includes breakfast, or a packed breakfast can be arranged for those wanting to leave early.
The shop offers a good selection of food, and the restaurant is open for dinner.
Typically, the best game viewing was on the tar roads near the gates. We weren’t lucky enough to spot the lions but were placated by sightings of black rhino, zebra, eland, gemsbok, red hartebeest and plenty of ostrich.
Don’t forget to walk the short but interesting Fossil Trail near the main camp, and watch the skies for the magnificent black eagle.
Nuweveld and Afsaal 4×4 routes
Set aside the day if you want to complete the Nuweveld and Afsaal loops. There is no rushing this drive, and why would you want to? The views are breathtaking and you have this magical part of the world all to yourself.
The grade 1 Nuweveld loop is 90km return to the rest camp. There is, however, the option of staying the night halfway at the Bisweni Cottage.
The Afsaal loop is 17km (not including the drive from the rest camp). It offers riverbed crossings and a couple of steep inclines and declines.
Game viewing is always unpredictable but we were fortunate enough to see kori bustard, jackal and other animals.
The Pienaarspas 4×4 route is a 6,2km road which can be driven for a fee. All bookings must be made at reception. This route was closed at the time of our visit.
|Karoo National Park|
|Tel (023) 415 2828|
|GPS coordinates -32,21482; 22,32284|
I first visited this small town 12 years ago with my family to research my matric art thesis on Helen Martins, owner and creator of The Owl House. I wanted to show Graeme this outpost in the Karoo, which required a short detour from our route.
Travelling on the R63 from Murraysburg, we decided to ignore elSatNav and take a left turn on the Owl Route, avoiding the Oudebergpas and Graaff-Reinet. This gravel road was pleasant enough to begin with but was not as scenic as we had hoped. The recent rains had taken their toll on the gravel road and we were soon faced with water crossings and potholes.
There are two easier routes to Nieu Bethesda. The first is a newly tarred road 27km north of Graaff-Reinet, and the second is a good gravel road farther north on the N9 exiting opposite the R61, which we drove on our way to Cradock.
The Owl House
Helen Martins was a misunderstood lady who spent a third of her life creating a mythical Mecca in her home. The garden is home to all manner of cement figures and creatures as they journey east through her world. The rooms and ceilings of the house have been covered with glass and each is decorated in a theme.
Suffering from arthritis and failing eyesight, no doubt caused by years of crushing and working with glass, Helen took her own life by drinking a mixture of caustic soda and crushed glass in olive oil on August 8, 1976. She was 78.
Despite her reclusive existence, Helen would open up her home once a year at Christmas so that all could enjoy her world and admire the light created by her glasswork.
Today, her work has been preserved and is open to the public for an entrance fee of R35. This is considered steep by the locals but visitors, having made the long trip, pay up.
The Owl House is unique and worth a visit if you are anywhere near the area.
We got to know a little more about Nieu Bethesda over a leisurely lunch with the owners of the Village Inn. The town was once the home of playwright Athol Fugard and each September it hosts the annual Absa Fugard Festival.
The Sneeuberg Brewery & 2Goat Deli is popular and caters for larger tour groups.
This was only a quick visit for us, and there is more to explore in the area. Visit www.nieu-bethesda.com for more about things to do and see.
Mountain Zebra National Park
This was my third visit to the park and it certainly won’t be my last. Situated 10 minutes outside Cradock, it offers great game viewing, hiking and comfortable accommodation at reasonable rates. I cannot say a bad word about SanParks and its employees, and all the good work they are doing to protect our national heritage and wildlife.
The rest camp has a petrol pump, restaurant and pool for hot summer days. Accommodation consists of camping facilities, two-bedroom family units and a farm house for bigger groups. There is a small shop on site and Cradock is close by if you need to stock up on supplies.
We were there for two days and managed to accomplish our main goals – complete the two main 4×4 routes and see a cheetah!
Not five minutes after we entered the park we saw an aardwolf – an animal I was not expecting to see. Yet we had another seven sightings of aardwolf, and eight of another shy creature, the bat-eared fox. We were also fortunate enough to spot Cape buffalo, black-backed jackal, eland, pale chanting goshawks and, of course, the Cape mountain zebra.
The small creatures are fun to observe and the meerkats, mongoose, and ground squirrels provide much entertainment.
The Juriesdam Loop is a 9,5km drive, uphill to a remote plateau grassland. The climb and descent is rocky and steep and a grade 2 road.
The Sonnenrust Loop is a 14km grade 2 road towards the remote Saltpeterkop range.
These roads may not be the most challenging of 4×4 tracks but they do present their own opportunities to show what your car is made of.
A section of the Sonnenrust road is through marshland and includes a section over a wooden platform.
The beauty of these routes is their remoteness. You get the feeling that few people have ever driven there, or crossed this land.
There is a relatively new 4×4 grade 4 road which is not yet on the park maps called Umngeni. This road is a one-way short cut from near the rest camp to the Rooiplaat plateau. We did not have time to drive it – and another reason to visit the park again.
The park offers a variety of activities which can be booked in advance. Our guide spent all morning with us tracking a collared cheetah. It gave us a bit of a runaround because, we discovered later, he was hunting an ostrich.
We approached on foot and came within metres of the kill. This was a unique experience, and a highly recommended excursion.
|Details:||Mountain Zebra National Park|
|Tel||(048) 881 2427/3434|
|GPS coordinates: -32,14096; 25,50965|