Taking a trip without a plan could change your life. I once did this and it was a liberating experience. I had a function in the tiny little town of De Doorns in the Hex River Valley but I decided to leave earlier and meander for a few days.
Sometimes one tends to over plan and then you get frustrated in terms of your timing and route. You want to tick the boxes but it’s not always feasible.
So I set out without a GPS, only took the trusty Total map, my Engel fridge and a positive mindset.
I ended up on roads that I never knew existed and saw some amazing sights. My first stop was at Gariep Dam where I went for a walk and explored the Dam Wall. Afterwards, without realising the size of the dam I drove around it stopping in Bethulie for coffee and a sandwich. Bethulie is a quaint little town known to many as the original home to Herman Charles Bosman captured in his book “ The Boy From Bethulie” equally famous is the conceptual artist Hylton Nel who subsequently moved to Calitzdorp. The distance around the dam is roughly 160 Km so I needed to make time to get back for dinner. I did stop to look at the train bridge just outside of Bethulie.
Known as the Hennie Steyn Bridge it is the longest bridge in South Africa and spans the Orange River. It is 1152 metres and 51.5 metres high.
The next day saw me detouring to Phillipolis in what locals refer to as “big sky” country. And this is when things got interesting. The town is the birthplace and home to many celebrities. Adam Kok the Grigua chief lived there as did the actress Brümilda van Rensburg. I was lucky enough to stay in Sir Laurens van de Posts’ house complete with Nguni hides in the lounge donated by Mangosuthu Buthelezi the Zulu leader.
The following day saw me visiting Koffiefontein the site of the POW camp where Italian prisoners were housed. It was an interesting town but not much is left. I was able to get a picture of the murals painted by the prisoners ( one being of Mussolini ). There was a beautifully preserved Anglo War blockhouse but unfortunately, it had been fenced off to prevent vandalism. En route back I stopped off in Jagersfontein to look at the mine which was abandoned years ago. The pit is larger than the big hole in Kimberley and was famous as two of the ten biggest diamonds in the world were mined there ( the Reitz and Excelsior). I returned to Philipollis for a lovely meal of roast lamb and veggies at “Oom Japie se Plek” on the main road.
Time was getting tight so the next day I set off to explore Nieu Bethesda and visit the Owl House. It’s something one has to do but it’s very sad. Moving on to Graaf Reinet and its museums as well as the Valley of Desolation to photograph the “Fingers of God” immortalised by Pierneef For many years this was one of many of his paintings known as the Johannesburg Station Panels. The collection is owned by the Transnet Foundation and was housed in Graaf Reinet before being moved to the Rupert Museum in the Western Cape.
The next day saw me leaving early to get to a pre-launch meeting in De Doorns. My client had booked me into a house known as No 1 as it was the first property in the Karoo as you leave De Doorns. Once again it was interesting and steeped in history. My host John Rudd came from an old mining family that had worked alongside Cecil John Rhodes. He had retired as the head of the De Beers Diamond division but still consulted with them.
There is a beautiful walk behind the house that takes you along the route that Jan Smuts and Denys Reitz rode with their men up to the Northern Cape to escape British cavalry. It gets scary when you see the valleys and the rocks, indeed a testimony to the horsemanship displayed by the Boers.
I would love to do a similar trip again. Just setting out without a plan. Yes I drove and it was far but I discovered treasures that I would never have seen.