Inspired by the car named after a drink that was invented hundreds of years ago, we drove a few hundred kilometres in search of SA’s ultimate cup of Joe
Some time during the 15th century, a guy in Yemen decided to peel a few Arabica berries and roast them over a fire for a few minutes to see what would happen. Afterwards, he poured boiling water through the roasted berries and sat back to enjoy the resulting drink. In doing so, he became the first person to savour a good ol’ cup of comforting coffee while watching the sun peep over the horizon.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, but that’s how we imagine it. The place and date are correct, but unfortunately we don’t have a name or face to put to the inventor of the world’s favourite drink. If we had, he’d probably be looked upon with the same admiration we reserve for people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Joel Stransky.
Leisure Wheels runs on coffee. Our work day only gets started once we’ve all arrived and droned around the coffee station for five minutes, and no doubt it’s the same story for office workers everywhere. Coffee, in our opinion, has done more for the world than sliced bread.
To give coffee the recognition it deserves, we decided to take the aptly named Opel Mokka on a soft-roader adventure to find the ultimate cup of coffee in SA. Not the mass-produced stuff you find in fast food outlets, but rather a cup made from hand picked, home roasted beans. We wanted something made with love, and not just a scoop of instant powder mixed with two sugars and some long-life milk.
When Opel introduced the Mokka to the local market, we were a bit sceptical. It was priced above its main rivals, but a quick drive revealed why. In terms of interior quality and standard specification, it’s a cut above the rest.
We knew it was a decent performer on tar, having previously spent two days driving it on the magnificent roads surrounding Port Elizabeth. Its 1,4-litre turbocharged petrol engine was willing to please, while the suspension and steering revealed an underlying sportiness that we simply weren’t expecting.
Our time behind the wheel was limited, but we made a mental note to book one for a road test as soon as possible, to explore the long haul credentials of this impressive compact crossover.
The perfect cup of coffee
As usual, we started our road trip before the sun had made its appearance. We were obviously in dire need of some coffee, but our GPS revealed that we still had 420km to go before we reached the boutique coffee plantation in the Mpumalanga lowveld..
Waiting that long for our fix wasn’t an option, so we pulled over at a petrol station on the N4 just outside Pretoria for a cup of mass-produced coffee. It served as a benchmark, giving us a much-needed boost, but two hours later we had to pull over again for another fix.
The second cup was better, giving us the caffeine boost we’d need to keep us alert on the terrible roads that lay ahead.
Our destination was the Forever Resort next to the Blyde River Canyon, but to get that perfect cup of coffee, we had to make a bit of a detour through Hazyview.
The first few corners on the quiet road approaching the town had us wishing we were behind the wheel of an Astra OPC, but a few potholes later we were glad to be in something with higher than average ground clearance, fitted with rubber with a decent profile.
Mpumalanga is one big pothole these days, with a bit of tar surrounding it. Some of those holes were big enough to consume the 18-inch alloys on the Mokka, which made for an interesting game of pothole dodging.
This ridiculous problem also highlighted why cars like the Mokka are becoming increasingly popular. We tried our best to dodge the holes, but because of the oncoming traffic, this wasn’t always possible. When it came to deciding between a head-on collision and a pothole, we naturally chose the latter. The average sedan or hatch would have required a new tyre, or front bumper for that matter, but the Mokka took it all in its stride.
With caffeine levels getting dangerously low and our nerves frazzled, we finally arrived at Sabie Valley Coffee for the ultimate in Arabica-based beverages.
Sabie Valley Coffee
We arrived just in time for a pre-lunch java. The owner, Tim Buckland, greeted us in a typically warm Mpumalanga fashion. He offered us a cappuccino while we waited for the roasting machine to warm up. We weren’t there just for a taste — we wanted to experience as much of the coffee making process as possible.
This little boutique farm started out 20 years ago to meet local demand for coffee, but its owners soon realised that this business model wasn’t economically viable. In 1984, Tim built all the tools necessary for roasting and he hasn’t looked back since, using a unique roasting method to get the best out of the Arabica berries.
That single cappuccino was worth the drive alone. It greets you with a friendly, smiley face, after which you take the first sip and experience the taste of freshly roasted coffee beans.
We can’t help but be a bit pretentious in giving you a proper description of the taste. It starts off as you’d expect with those signature Arabica flavours dancing around on your tongue. It then works its way down, warming up every part of your body, leaving the slight sweet after-taste of a freshly picked Arabica berry.
We liked Sabie Valley Coffee so much that we decided to stay for lunch. One 100% beef burger later, we tore ourselves away, but only because we had made prior arrangements to take part in some archery endeavours across the road at Induna Adventures.
Once again, we were warmly greeted. The people in this valley are the friendliest folk around, even when you approach them with seemingly impossible requests.
“Would it be okay if we parked an Opel Mokka on your archery field?”
“Sure, it shouldn’t be a problem,” is the answer we got.
Induna Adventures has 14 activities to choose from, including white water tubing, quad biking, paintball, zipline and horse riding, but since we were familiar with archery, thanks to a previous soft-roader adventure, we drove the Mokka up a slippery slope and onto the archery field. Outdoor activities are so much easier when you don’t have to walk to get to them. With the Mokka parked right on the range, all we had to do was set up the bow and take aim.
The Mokka’s boot was big enough to swallow our overnight bags as well as a cooler box full of non-alcoholic beverages, which made the activity even more enjoyable.
With the sun swiftly making its way westward, we decided to pay a visit to the local scenic hotspots. We’ve been to the Pinnacle and God’s Window many times, but these famous attractions are so beautiful that it’s always worth checking them out when you find yourself in the vicinity.
The run to the canyon
With the roads getting better by the kilometre, we had the opportunity to explore the dynamic abilities of the Mokka over the last 50km to the Forever Resort at Blyde River Canyon.
A short detour on gravel revealed that the Mokka is just as comfortable and compliant on dirt as it is on tar. The suspension soaks up the worst of it, while the front-wheel drive set-up is more than adequate.
With that settled, we could finally unleash the 1,4-litre turbocharged engine. Ten years ago we would have laughed at the thought of a crossover vehicle with a 1,4-litre engine, but these days the Mokka is considered the powerhouse among its peers, some of which have an engine capacity of less than one litre…
With the sound system playing some motivational tunes, we made the most of the twisty roads leading to our destination.
The drive ended up being one of the most satisfying of the year so far. The Mokka’s six-speed manual gearbox snicks from one gear to the next, while the brakes do a stellar job of slowing the car down for those tight hairpins. The steering is perfectly weighed for this kind of car. It’s heavy enough to give you confidence on long sweeping corners, but still light enough to make the Mokka easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
The Mokka, then, is physical evidence that you can still have some driving fun, even when the roads are a complete disaster. It can liven up your day, no matter what the occasion — just like the beverage it is named after.
Did you know?
Coffee was banned in Ottoman Turkey during the 17th century, because the drink was thought to instigate rebellious political activities in Europe and the Turkish Empire didn’t want an uprising inspired by caffeine.
Archeological evidence suggests that the first bows were used near Hamburg in Germany. These weapons were first used in the late Paleolithic period, which is around 10 000 to 9 000 BC.
Mariepskop, at 1 994 metres above sea level, is the highest point of the Blyde River Canyon. The lowest point, which is around 550m above sea level, can be found where the river leaves the canyon.
Archery, though used in combat in the dark ages, has become a popular recreational activity these days. One refers to someone who participates in the sport as a bowman, but once you reach an expert level you are referred to as a toxophilite.
Coffee plants are all part of the Rubiacceae family. They grow all year round and can reach a height of around five metres if left unkempt. The flowers they produce are white and moderately fragrant.