READER STORY

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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS -

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?

A be­gin­ning

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.

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