To Namaqualand in Hyundai’s new H1
Isuspected it would be the same when I got bogged down on the road shoulder between Dwarskersbos and Verlorenvlei in the 2.5-litre Hyundai H1 Bus on the West Coast a few days ago. The odd car semi-thundered past, flashing its lights and hooting merrily, but that was about it. I am not looking for sympathy: stupid is as stupid does, and anyone working on public relations for cars will tell you, there is an inner circle of Hell reserved for photographers who seek exotic locations to illustrate a Roadtrip story.
Good rains have fallen in the Western Cape following years of severe drought and locals predict that the annual flower season will be early and spectacular. Let us take the Hyundai bus, it was suggested, and photograph it among the wild blossoms. This is a task that is easier said than done. Yes, there were vast swathes of white, orange, yellow, and cerise, but they were all on the other side of fences and suspicious farmers put hefty chains and padlocks on their gates.
Suddenly, the fences disappeared and there was a carpet of pinky-purply
It is a well-known fact of automotive exploration that one rarely suffers mishaps on roads when there is a lot of traffic. I have had multiple punctures while traversing the Tankwa Karoo on a road that sees just a few cars a day, and been stuck in really deep sand in an equally deserted Namaqualand in the height of Summer. In both instances, help was a long time coming.
daisies not 25 m from the road. The terrain was nice and flat – except for a good number of large mole-hills I should have noted. Yep, the ground was riddled like honeycomb and I was up to the bus’ axles less than ten paces from the tar. No problem, I thought, because I carry things like spades and sandbags on most of my road trips. Sadly though, the Hyundai just dug itself deeper and deeper into the powdery muck. Clearly, it was not made for off-road driving.
I eventually waved down someone in a Hilux bakkie and we hooked up the steel towrope in my rescue kit. The Hyundai was back on the road in a moment. What is the moral of the story? Get out and look at the ground before you leave the hard surface. It was, however, a relatively minor blip that added to the lustre of a delightful four-day jaunt rather than detracting from it and I recommend that people make the effort to get to the West Coast and Namaqua National Parks when the flower season kicks off in earnest in the third week of August. Those who want to jump the gun can head off now to places such
as Nieuwoudtville where, according to reports, the season is already in full swing.
I was almost sorry I was alone in the bus because company would have been nice. There were not any great distances travelled and most of the time I puttered along at a terribly dignified pace ... especially in the parks. The diesel-powered H1 was a lovely vehicle to drive and it can comfortably accommodate seven adults (though the Korean company calls it a nine-seater) and there is loads of room for luggage and camping gear. As with any Hyundai, you get plenty of extras for your money, and the R630,000 bus comes with airbags, ABS, electric front windows, cruise control and – best of all as far as I was concerned – sliding doors on either side.
The vehicle is nice and high, which affords occupants a good view of the veld. The 24,000 ha West Coast National Park (WCNP) outside Langebaan was the first stop. With the main entrance just 140 km from Cape Town on the R27, it is ideal for a day trip. There are several sections to the WCNP but the main area for viewing flowers is Postberg Nature Reserve – a park within the park – that is only open to the public during August and September. It costs R54 per adult per day (R27 per child) for South African citizens and residents out of season and R76 per adult (R38 per child) during the spring. Entrance to the WCNP includes Postberg. There is a restaurant serving good traditional fare at the Geelbek information centre. Expect to share your table with masked weavers, yellow bishops, and sparrows.
There are a number of accommodation options within the park including cottages, chalets, and houseboats at Kraalbaai, but I pushed North to Paternoster and the perennially delightful Sugar Shack fisherman-styled cottage. It sleeps six and has been tastefully decorated in what can only be described as Weskus-chic.
That night, I ventured forth for dinner at Leeto, one of the newest additions to the Paternoster foodie scene. Chef Garth Almazan (ex-catharina’s at Steenberg) is justifiably proud of his prawn and calamari risotto, which can be enjoyed as either a starter or a main. Also on the menu for my night were delicately flavoured sea bream and a rich chocolate mousse dessert.
Much of the next morning was spent lazing around Sugar Shack before setting out for Saldanha – nothing much there except the endlessly long ore trains that ply between the town and Sishen – and then to Shelley Point at St Helena Bay. A friend had recommended trying a self-catering apartment at the modern and luxurious Zeezicht on the edge of the ocean.
This was something of a “busman’s holiday” in that I had deadlines to meet
and nowhere near enough time to explore. I did, nonetheless, push fairly hard to get up the coast to the Namaqua National Park, which is regarded as the acme destination for wildflower viewing. The park is about 500 km from Cape Town and one enters (if you are going to look at flowers) through the Skilpad gate 21 km West of Kamieskroon. There are a few chalets at Skilpad and Sanparks operates a tented camp during the spring, but take note: you would not get accommodation at this late stage.
The Hyundai did not struggle with roads in this section of the park but it would have definitely been out of its depth in the southernmost part where the sand is deep and loose. There are some very rough-and-ready camping sites along the sea and hardier travellers will enjoy nights under the stars while the Atlantic pounds the rocks less than 100 m away. If you have got the time and inclination, head North along the N7 to Port Nolloth just to have a squizz at the fishing and diamonddredging fleets.