VW ‘Kombi Camper’ goes up the Gar­den Route

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Story & Cap­tured by Jim Free­man

Ihad just left the Beach Ho­tel in Port El­iz­a­beth en route to East Lon­don, when a man in a de­liv­ery van pulled up be­side me and in­di­cated that I should wind down the win­dow. In­stead, I pushed a but­ton and, when the glass was fully de­pressed, he said to me: “I will bet driv­ing that makes you re­call your youth!” What a per­cep­tive fel­low! My beard might be snow-white but, hey, even bal­lies can de­velop wan­der­lust and I like to think that in my fel­low road-user I had a kin­dred spirit who would do some se­ri­ous road­trip­pin’ when he reached my age.

I was driv­ing the new Volk­swa­gen Cal­i­for­nia Coast 2.0 TDI, the 2018 sixth gen­er­a­tion ver­sion of the ven­er­a­ble Volk­sie Kombi cam­per­van. Say the words “Cal­i­for­nia Coast” and the words have a dis­tinct echo … surf, surf, surf. I picked up the ve­hi­cle in Cape Town and my mis­sion (by no means im­pos­si­ble) was to travel the Gar­den Route to East Lon­don vis­it­ing some leg­endary surf­ing spots, in­clud­ing those where I had learned to fall off a board and scrape my­self silly on rocks when I was a teenager.

The top-of-the-line Cal­i­for­nia Coast (with ridicu­lously ex­pen­sive Aca­pulco Blue and Re­flex Sil­ver Her­itage paint scheme), how­ever, is about as close to the Volk­sie busses of my youth as boo­gie-board­ing is to surf­ing. Sure, we slept in them, but the foam mat­tresses on the floor (the back seats had all been taken out) were just as likely to be shared by boards and wet­suits as wannabe beach-bun­nies.

The diesel-pow­ered Volk­swa­gen cam­per­van of to­day fea­tures two dou­ble beds – one in a pop-up roof – as well as an in­te­grated glass-topped cool­ing, cook­ing, and wash­ing mod­ule, a ta­ble, and stowage space ga­lore. It has a seven-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and a top speed of 185 km/h, go­ing from 0-100 km/h in 12.9 sec­onds (I think the one I trav­elled in in 1978 would just about be reach­ing 100 km/h now!).

The fuel tank ca­pac­ity is 80 litres, which means one can get from Cape Town to Port El­iz­a­beth – with a few ex­cur­sions thrown in – rel­a­tively eas­ily. It drives beau­ti­fully, the only down­side be­ing that, on any­thing but the smoothest high­ways, the in­te­rior rat­tles in­cor­ri­gi­bly.

Be­cause I was leav­ing the ve­hi­cle in the East­ern Cape and fly­ing home, I could not use the Cal­i­for­nia as an out and out mo­bile home, since Flysafair does not en­cour­age you to bring an en­tire cot­tage/kitchen aboard its air­craft. I did, though, use the ve­hi­cle as an of­fice for the week-long jour­ney (with the odd af­ter­noon nap along­side less pop­u­lated beaches) and it served ad­mirably.

The Cal­i­for­nia comes with two stowed-away camp­ing chairs and an awning; the for­mer was used often in the late af­ter­noon, the lat­ter not, be­cause it was gen­er­ally so windy I was afraid it might get dam­aged. My first stop was the ever-de­light­ful Wilder­ness Manor of JD Janse van Rens­burg and Ger­ald Hoch, which con­sis­tently gets ranked as the top guest­house in this idyl­lic South­ern Cape vil­lage by Tripad­vi­sor, with ser­vice, lux­ury, and at­ten­tion to de­tail be­ing be­yond com­pare.


Wilder­ness is sit­u­ated be­tween two fa­mous surf­ing spots of very dif­fer­ent

char­ac­ter, Vic­to­ria or lov­ingly called “Vic” Bay and Buf­fels Bay – more com­monly known as Buf­fels. In­ci­den­tally, you know you are vis­it­ing a noted surf site when the road sign di­rec­tor from the high­way (in this case the N2) is so plas­tered with surf­ing de­cals that you can hardly read the name of the des­ti­na­tion.

Vic Bay lies be­tween Wilder­ness and Ge­orge, and Buf­fels be­tween Wilder­ness and Knysna. Just about all they have in com­mon is that there is only one road in and out. Vic Bay com­prises a sin­gle row of houses and the right-hand break is on the spot, while Buf­fels is a lockup-and-go hol­i­day vil­lage where surfers con­gre­gate a kilo­me­tre away. The beach is wild, des­o­late, and rock-strewn and can be quite dan­ger­ous for in­ex­pe­ri­enced and un­ac­com­pa­nied surfers.

Less than three hours’ drive up the N2 is St. Fran­cis Bay which, in turn is just six kilo­me­tres from Cape St. Fran­cis – home of the “per­fect wave” fea­tured in the sem­i­nal 1966 surf­ing movie End­less

Sum­mer. As luck (or fate) would have it, the surf was ab­so­lutely flat when I ar­rived in the early evening, so I headed straight for The Sands@stfran­cis, a lux­ury bou­tique ho­tel in the Port El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel Group sta­ble. It is perched on a cliff less than 100 m from the In­dian Ocean and I could not re­sist sleep­ing with my French doors and cur­tains wide open. The surf noise was deaf­en­ing yet strangely so­porific and I slept well till glo­ri­ous golden sun­rise light filled my room and filled the day with prom­ise.


Soon af­ter break­fast, I headed to Jef­frey’s Bay … in­dis­putably the Mecca of surf­ing in South Africa. It’s a far cry from the vil­lage where I learned to surf in the ’Seven­ties but, hey, you can change the town but you can­not change the sea! There are two renowned spots in “J-bay”; Kitchen Win­dow where the laaities learn to surf and Su­per­tubes where they take their craft to the next level or bail out be­cause it is too scary. Su­per­tubes is known through­out the surf­ing world.

Once again there was very lit­tle hap­pen­ing when I ar­rived, but I was cap­ti­vated by the sight of a young woman stand­ing on the rocks and star­ing in­tently at the sea. It was only when I was go­ing through the pho­tos that I took (at my “desk” in the Cal­i­for­nia) that I no­ticed she was watch­ing a pod of dol­phins surf­ing the waves.

The fi­nal spot, the Na­hoon Reef in East Lon­don, was sched­uled to be the high­light of the trip. Volk­swa­gen SA were part spon­sors of the Buf­falo City Surf Pro and I looked for­ward to vis­it­ing one of the stomp­ing grounds of my pre-teen years to pho­to­graph the sport for the first time. The com­pe­ti­tion ran over three days: Fri­day to Sun­day. When I got there in the late af­ter­noon on Day 1, it was rain­ing. While it did not rain for more than a few hours on Satur­day, the light was ap­pal­ing and I was be­gin­ning to de­spair of get­ting any de­cent shots. Sun­day, how­ever, dawned bright and only slightly breezy. Surf’s up!

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