The Braai Diaries
National Braai Tour 2017
Along with 200 other braai enthusiasts, braai novice, Kayla Cloete, joined renowned South African braai master, Jan Braai, on the National Braai tour 2017: an epic, week-long road trip along South Africa’s garden route to unite a nation around a fire.
Each year, South Africans are invited to grab their braai tongs and pakkies wors and join on a week-long road trip, which aims to showcase the diversity of the South African countryside.
The email captioned, “INVITATION: National Braai Tour 2017” glared back at me from the long list of unread emails in my inbox. I knew what its contents would read when I opened it – the caption was hardly subtle – and decided to leave it unopened until one of my colleagues who were more practiced in the art of braai had accepted the invitation.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the National Braai Tour was developed in 2014 as an annual event, which takes place in September, in celebration of heritage month in South Africa. Each year, South Africans are invited to grab their braai tongs and pakkies wors and join on a week- long road trip which aims to showcase the diversity of the South African countryside and highlight some of the historically significant spots along the way.
“The National Braai Tour is a blueprint of sorts on how to best celebrate heritage month and Heritage Day. It is about bringing diverse people together to enjoy the one thing that unites us all: cooking and celebrating around an open fire,” explains local celebrity braai master and organiser for the event, Jan Braai.
As it turned out, all of my colleagues were busy over the dates that had been scheduled for this year’s tour. I took this as a sign for me to volunteer – after all, it is just cooking over an open flame,
Windows rolled down on our Izuzu X-rider, we filled the air with the timeless lyrics of Bob Marley and ACDC (admittedly, our playlist was a rather eclectic mix) as we drove towards Boplaas Cellar.
how difficult could it be? Shortly after accepting the invitation, it was decided that our photographer and braai fanatic, Ryan Abbott, should join me on the tour. Whether this decision was made so that we could get our own photographs, or to make sure I did not burn down the campsite, we will never truly know.
My alarm clock woke me at 7am on a Tuesday morning. The plan was for us to make the three hour journey to Barrydale in order to join the National Braai Tour, which had started in Cape Town the Sunday before, at their lunch stop at a quirky restaurant called Diesel and Crème. We arrived to a parking lot filled with gees. South African flags hung from car windows and the belt loops of disturbingly low-riding jeans, #BRAAITOUR t-shirts and caps rested upon weary-looking participants (the kuier the night before had apparently lasted until the early hours of the morning), and braai smoke filled the air with the delicious scent of burger patties in the process of being grilled to perfection.
Initially overwhelmed by the scene, and not yet kitted out with our own Braai Tour gear to identify us as part of the team, Ryan and I tried to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible. In hindsight, taking selfies with the old petrol pumps in front of the restaurant was probably not the best strategy to remain unseen. It was not long before we were greeted with gourmet milkshakes – which had evidently been prepared for giants, or perhaps just with American tourists in mind – and were invited to join the rest of the crew as they headed towards Calitzdorp for a bit of port tasting (as one does in Calitzdorp).
Windows rolled down on our Izuzu X-rider, we filled the air with the timeless lyrics of Bob Marley and ACDC (admittedly, our playlist was a rather eclectic mix) as drove towards Boplaas Cellar. After tasting what I dubbed “liquid gold” (more commonly known as their Cape Vintage Chocolate Port), I grabbed a price list and vowed to return as soon as I had made it to my next pay cheque.
After the port tasting, however, my resolve against spending money I did not have weakened, and at our next stop, De Krans Wines, I walked away the proud owner of a De Krans Pinotage Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our first night was to be spent at Calitzdorp Spa – an inviting resort with warm water pools, offering self-catering chalet accommodation as well as campsites for tents and caravans. Everyone involved in the tour is free to choose their own accommodation type when they register, and arrives at the overnight spot at their own leisure. Once there, participants collect a bag of ingredients from the main campsite area, and head back to their own sites to prepare a meal according to the Jan Braai recipe book, which is handed out at the start of the tour. Magies vol, the participants then head back to the main campsite to mingle with their fellow campers and enjoy the live music and open bar setup.
As media, we were invited to dine with the rest of the Braai Tour setup crew.as a result, and to my relief, I managed to get through the rest of the tour without having to put my amateur braai skills to the test. Ryan, however, became uneasy after just one night without his own fire to manage. Thankfully, his braai-itch was soon scratched when we reached the “Prime Braai” spot – the base camp where Braai Tour participants stop for lunch – in Oudtshoorn the following day. After grilling some chicken kebabs, we headed to the Cango Caves to explore the ancient rock formations that lie hidden in the Swartberg Mountains.
We spent our last night on the tour at Sanparks Ebb & Flow Rest Camp in Wilderness – a beautiful campsite situated alongside the riverbed, offering self-catering chalets and caravan / tent campsites.
It was with a heavy heart that we said our goodbyes to the rest of the Braai Tour on Thursday as they made their way to Keurbooms in continuation of the tour, which was set to end in Willows Campsite in Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth that Sunday. For us, it had been an insightful two days filled with meat, mense, and memories – an experience which truly encapsulated the South African spirit of both the amateur braai enthusiast and braai fanatic alike.
For more information on next year’s tour, visit www.braai.com.
Jan Braai connecting with team Kan Braai (consisting of Michael Brecht, Chris van Niekerk, Leon Viljoen, and Johan Meintjesu) at their campsite at Ebb & Flow Rest Camp.