The time for waiting was over: They were going to tour the routes they’d always wanted to travel. And because their son was being home-schooled, there was nothing to stop Vorster and Madie Senekal of Musina from doing exactly that.
The plan is to first travel through South Africa, says Vorster, because how can you cross the border when you haven’t even discovered your own country?
Where to even start? Which route should we travel? It’s something that’s impossible to plan because there are too many beautiful places to see. That’s why we decide to go wherever the wind blows us, with no planning apart from booking only our first destination.
We choose to head for the sea. And because we don’t like crowds, our destination must be somewhere quiet. We book at the Mabibi Beach Camp on
the Wild Coast, which is where our adventure begins. There is no house for us to return to. All our possessions are in storage. Nothing lies behind us, there’s just the open road ahead, with so many turnoffs that are calling.
We travel in a 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser that we christen “The Bus”, which contains absolutely everything we need for our trip. Not a roof rack in sight on this vehicle. And because The Bus is so old, we have no aircon or any other luxuries either.
Mabibi Beach is wonderful. It’s lovely to experience the warm blue ocean, the bluebottles and the crustaceans. The campsite is incredibly beautiful and we make new friends, realising once again that our country is a good place because our people have hearts of gold.
We leave after a week with no idea of where we are going, just a feeling that the mountains are beckoning. The
Drakensberg has always captivated us and we take the highway to Durban, booking ourselves into a campsite at Hermits Wood near Underberg. We gaze at the mountains and stop at our site with elation. The lawns are beautiful and the mountains rise around us. We feel right at home in the cool air. It’s early on a Friday afternoon and there is just one other group of people camping nearby.
All is quiet and peaceful, but by five o’clock the stands are all full and the place is a hive of activity. Cars drive back and forth, people laugh and shout, and things are perhaps a bit too busy for our liking. It takes a lot of patience to wait our turn at the ablution block.
By Sunday afternoon everyone has packed up and a deep peacefulness settles over the camp. We are alone again. Things are looking up.
From Hermits Wood, we move on to the Dargle Forest Lodge guest farm for the
night. It’s in the mountains
between Underberg and Howick, surrounded by incredible natural beauty. The farm belongs to a couple who saw the potential of the place and developed it with a lot of hard work. They built just about everything themselves – with their talent and passion, nothing is lacking.
The hunt for a new tent
Our next stop is Maclear in the Eastern Cape. The Tortoni campsite is on a beautiful farm just outside the town, en route to Ugie. We meet the friendly owners and enjoy a restful time beside a dam. Here, you feel like a part of farm life, and you couldn’t feel more removed from the rush of human existence.
On the last night of our visit, we are woken by a storm raging around us. It rains cats and dogs and the wind tears at our tent – so badly that it’s completely >
done for by the time the storm abates. It’s at times like this that you wish you’d heeded the warnings on the internet against buying a cheap supermarket tent.
It’s a Saturday and we drive through to Aliwal-North in the hopes that we will find a new tent there. But we have no luck, so spend the night in a guesthouse.
The next day we decide to follow Google’s advice and go to Bloemfontein, where we eventually find a new tent that we pitch for the night at Tom’s Place.
We leave Bloemfontein for Kimberley so that we can show our son, Orrin (10), the Big Hole, but the roads are closed for a protest or political gathering, so we can’t get there. We visit the McGregor Museum instead and drive back to the Big Hole later when the roads are open.
We find that the Big Hole has undergone a massive change since our last visit and it’s disappointing to see how the place has become a soulless shell. You used to be able to immerse yourself in the way life used to be, but now it just feels like an open gravesite.
The next morning we leave for Douglas to camp at the Broadwater River Estate. It’s a pleasant spot with neat, large ablution facilities and green lawns. There’s also a restaurant where you can treat yourself to a hearty meal.
All the river activities mean the place gets really busy over weekends and we are actually relieved when we pack up on Saturday to leave for our next destination. Our plan is to camp at the Boegoeberg Dam. We drive through Douglas to Prieska, where we first pop in to visit family who farm along the Orange River. From Prieska we move on to Marydale, where we turn onto a gravel road towards the dam. Here we discover that they didn’t receive our booking and weren’t aware we were coming, but luckily there is still space and we are shown where to set up camp.
We make friends with Piet Bezuidenhout and Jandre Smith from Upington. It’s as if we were destined to meet because, thanks to Piet’s knowledge of the Kalahari – which he eagerly shares with us – we anticipate visiting this marvelous part of the country.
From here we aim for Upington, simply because these interesting people recommend it to us. That’s probably why it’s such a great experience to travel without an itinerary: by opening yourself up to the influences of culture and history, you don’t only see the places you want to tick off on your list, you also see someone else’s world as they see it. You hear their stories, you live their experience. And that elevates the journey to something more than just being able to say “Been there”.
Augrabies here we come!
We spend one night in Upington and the next day head to the Augrabies Falls to see this wonder of nature. The river isn’t flowing very strongly, so the falls
We realise once again that our country is a good place because our people have hearts of gold.
aren’t as impressive as they sometimes appear in photos. But we still find it beautiful.
We spend the next two nights camping at the Kalahari Monate Lodge, where we meet Vincent Parker, who is researching birdlife in the Kalahari. The campsite is well equipped with good ablution and laundry facilties. There is also a lovely swimming pool that offers welcome relief in the afternoon heat.
We’re fortunate to have a large tortoise as a neighbour. The veld is so dry that the tortoises leave it to come graze on the lawns here. But our neighbour has caught a whiff of our apples and he refuses to leave until his craving has been satisfied. One whole apple later, I have to carry him back home.
We will definitely return here to camp. With more apples!
After our visit, we continue on, always curious to see what awaits around the corner. Oom Piet recommended the Kalahari Molopo Lodge, so that’s where we go. It’s a beautiful place near Witdraai, the other side of Askham. On the first night we are spoiled with complimentary homemade bread and I get the chance to surprise my wife with a Greek salad from their kitchen. There’s a swimming pool, too.
Three wonderful days later, >
we pack up to go and camp between Van Zylsrus and Black Rock. Our booking behind us, we leave on the Monday morning and decide to take the gravel road. We first visit the grave of Dawid Kruiper, king of the Khoisan, and then the vulture nests at Bokspits. It’s so special to see the vulture chicks in the nests at the tops of the large camelthorn trees.
The gravel roads in this part of the country vary from passable to an obstacle course, and you can’t afford to take your eyes off the road. It probably helps that I grew up on dirt roads.
We reach Van Zylsrus without incident, but come to a standstill in front of a locked gate. And there we stand. There’s only MTN signal in this area, but we are all on Vodacom so no calls are possible. We turn around and start looking for alternative accommodation. When we reach a T-junction, we decide to turn towards McCarthy’s Rest.
In our (uninformed) mind’s eye we picture a small town like Van Zylsrus at McCarthy’s Rest. There’s a vehicle in front of us and it’s driving fast. Probably to reach the border post before it closes.
And then we spot it: the sign that tells us the OppiKnoppi guestfarm is nearby. We take a chance and turn in. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and all we can do is hope for the best.
A welcome Plan B
We see a Land Cruiser at the cattle kraal. The man at the car walks towards us. It’s the owner Pieter Grove. And the news is not good: His entire bush camp is fully booked for the night. He probably notices the defeated expression on our faces and proposes a Plan B: we can sleep in his father’s house for the night, at a ridiculously cheap rate.
We accept his offer without thinking twice, grateful for his help and hospitable welcome. Pieter later brings us some wood and offers to take us on a free game drive. Again we have the chance to make new friends in a country that has amazed us every single day from the start of our journey and continues to do so right to the end. If one could measure a country’s wealth based on the love and hospitality of its people, this would be the most well-off country in the world.
We hit the road again, aiming for McCarthy’s Rest. Only once we get there do we understand how much Pieter had helped us: what we had imagined as a small town turns out to be nothing more than a border post.
We decide to continue next to the Molopo River to Vorstershoop, where we fill up with diesel, buy a cooldrink and continue along the Molopo to Bray. Here we enjoy a burger at Tapama Lodge before continuing our journey... destination still unknown. Between Bray and Senlac, we drive the worst dirt roads I have ever experienced. Luckily it’s still daylight and when we reach the tarred road at Senlac, the relief is massive. In two days we have driven just under 700 km of dirt roads.
But what really stands out for us is that most of the dirt roads we travelled have not been that bad.
Would we do it again? Yes. Probably not on exactly the same roads though.
We spend the night on a farm at Ascot, just outside Tosca. We braai that night to say goodbye to the Kalahari... and the area bid us farewell with the most beautiful golden sunset.
Later I do a few calculations. I mark our route on a map and use Google to calculate our distance from town to town.
In 43 days we drove 4 495 km, of which more than 700 km were dirt roads. I spent roughly 53 hours behind the wheel at an average speed of 80 km/h. We used just under 600 ℓ of diesel, which means my Land Cruiser returned 13,3 ℓ/100 km.
The smile on our faces? It’s a recent photo and we’re packing again. Where to? Wherever the wind blows us…
NOT A SOUL The Senekals aren’t crazy about crowds and they found peace at Mabibi Beach Camp. Pictured in the inset is the family: Madie, Voster and Orrin (10).
CHASING HORIZONS. The Senekals covered 4 495 km in 43 days, using a little less than 600 litres of fuel .
FOUR-LEGGED AND FEATHERED FRIENDS. A tortoise ate an apple up close to the Senekals, and they also spotted vulture chicks.