After all the excitement of our trip to Antarctica at the end of 2015, not to mention the expense, a local trip was in order we thought. Lin had a new weaving loom made by someone who lives down at Gans Bay and we had been down recently just to fetch it and by chance discovered a fantastic restaurant in the little village of Stanford called “Graze” Tabby & Alex -website here = Click… Grazecafe. This couple have a farm nearby and raise their own ducks & rabbits amongst other things and only open their restaurant; which is in Queen Victoria Str. on a Friday evening and Saturday lunch time. That’s it. Non-negotiable. We were so blown away by their cooking that when Lin needed an adjustment made on part of her loom I suggested that it would be a good idea to go back there and to stay over at the Sanparks accommodation in Agulhas as we had not been there for years. What a good idea this proved to be and of course we got to be fed again at Graze.
From the Tip of South America in Jan 16 to the tip of Africa May 16
My goodness how Agulhas has grown
Sanparks accommodation in the Agulhas nature reserve – well fitted out and up to standard except they had no sachets of coffee – when we inquired about this on checking out the woman looked a bit embarrassed and said they had run out of budget last November and couldn’t order anything until their new budget came through ! This a national park !!
At least the view was not in short supply 🙂
A rather excellent bottle of wine to go with the Duck at Grazecafe……must find a way to go back – but apart from this – taking the route from Caledon through the rolling hills to Napier and beyond is a relaxing experience all in itself.
Having checked the Cruiser out on this little jaunt we were ready for our trans-karoo trip
The focus and main aim of this trip was to be on the little used roads as much as possible and to spend time at The Mountain Zebra Mountain Park – Near Cradock – – Sanparks:website here = Click… Mountain Zebra a most under-rated park in my opinion but seemingly becoming more well known & deservedly popular.
Road off the R356
Matjiesfontein & Museum
So we took a rather, across the country approach, and spent the first day getting off the N1 as soon as possible and going via Ceres and thence off the R356 via Toorberg and Patasrivier though the Moordenaars Karoo to a farm with a secluded cottage at Snyderskloof above Matjiesfontein and below Sutherland – website here = Click… snyderskloof
The owners live in Durbanville during the week and have staff running the farm for them. Whilst a little eclectic in taste; (seem to love red which is rather at odds with the surrounding veld) The cottage is totally secluded, fully equipped with everything you could think of, very comfortable, peaceful and with stunning views. They appear to be very popular and the result of this was that due to other bookings we could only stay here for one night which was sad. Well worth a return extended stay.
Having just been re-reading accounts of the Boer War yet again we went down to the memorial on the N1
The cottage at Snyderskloof
On clear nights snyderskloof would be a great place for star-gazing.
Next day we left wishing that we could have stayed longer and had a brief trip up a largely empty N1, being a Sunday, via Lainsburg to the Prince Albert turn off (R407)
We stopped off for the obligatory coffee break in Prince Albert and then took the road out towards Klaasrstroom (R407) and were annoyed to see that the access to the Swartberg Pass was closed for maintenance during daytime hours. We had intended on going this way down to Calitzdorp on the return run. Our destination tonight via Willowmore, then onto the strip road R329 to Steytlerville, was a farm just over halfway down this road and up into a secluded kloof, called Marlu Farm Stays – website here = Click… Marlu Farm
View from accommodation at Marlu Farm
The accommodation is an old house right next door to the owners and whilst adequate, is merely that. It is in a nice position but the farm is a basic farm with lots of abandoned machinery and vehicles – a scrap-iron merchants dream – There is also a very basic camp site area up away from the main part of the farm on the Groot River which in good weather I think would be a better option.
Main Farming activity as far as I could see
Junk and old vehicles
Up at the Camping area
We stayed here for two nights so that we could drive around this area to a degree. Having travelled the Baviaanskloof route so many times now we really felt that should see the other side in more detail. There are several “Reserves” in the area and Bhejane is but one of them; with as you can see, Sable.
The scenery in this area is stunning
This area is littered with Poorts & Passes – swanepoelspoort/ Sandkraalspoort/ Medenpoort/ Kampferspoort – we travelled them all – and little settlements like Klippaat
The land looked good and the views really exceptional. After two days here we set off across country via Jansenville R337, Pearston to Cradock and then into Mountain Zebra Park.
To the junction – Somerset East and Cradock
Cradock & Park Area
Having visited this park delightful park last year we knew what to expect and where we wanted to stay – far away from anyone else –
They have the usual cluster of cottages down at reception which in itself is some 11 Kms from the entrance gate plus a very well laid out campsite. There is also an upmarket lodge for large parties too. But for us the prize was the two hikers cottages “Umthombo” & “Behama” far away and high up in the park. As this was what we wanted I had looked on line to book these first and then organised everything else around the four nights we were to stay here. I managed by a process of elimination to work out on the Sanparks very unhelpful website that no one else had booked either of these cottages so I booked them and made contact the next day to confirm that I wanted two nights at the one cottage and the other two nights at the other cottage – a feat I could not achieve on the actual website. The head office could not assist and gave me the contact details for the park manager and after an exchange of several emails managed to get agreement that we would be able to achieve this. I printed out her confirmation !
There is a guided walk here – due to the presence of Lions of which we saw & heard nothing and the walkers spend one night in the one cottage and the next night in the other so it was necessary to be very explicit as to our requests.
Arriving at the Park reception inevitably there was the usual confusion, just as I had anticipated & expected, but on producing my letter from the Park Manager everything finally fell into place – the chap had great difficulty in understanding why anyone would want to do two nights and two nights – well that’s for us to know hey !
The park and the usual suspects all looked in good form
So when it came time to change cottages we decided that we would spend a day out of the park and travel the gravel & rough road route over the Tarka pass to Somerset East and back up the N10. Some quick shopping in Cradock first and then onto the R390 to Mortimer
At Mortimer one turns off onto a fairly good gravel road all the way to the top of the Tarka Pass – we wondered why this should be. The answer came when we arrived at a very upmarket wedding venue – once past this we were back into Eastern Cape Farmlands on a very un-maintained road. At one farm there was evidence of hunting taking place.
This shocking track takes you via Witmos but the views and the condition of the farmlands have to be seen – quite fantastic.
Looking down towards Somerset East
We were cheated out of the last bit of gravel road by locked gates at a farm so goodbye T4A and we came out on the tar road from Cookhouse to Somerset East. Had I known what a down at heel place Somerset East has become I don’t think I would have bothered to drive the short distance to the town. Rather a shock & really sad. Must have been a really nice place once upon a time. The poor side of the Eastern Cape was showing its face here.
So back to the park via Cookhouse – another nowhere place and up the N10 through roadworks back to Cradock and thence the park and the other cottage.
A loo with a view
It was a real pleasure to be able to spend this amount of time here and apart from a little rain the weather was kind to us. Leaving the park we headed back to Graaff Reinet and Aberdeen and then across to Beaufort West
We had planned this route as we had wanted to take The Swartberg Pass over to Calitzdorp where we were headed. As stated previously the Pass was closed for maintenance but as we had booked at Beaufort in a new place to us “Olive Grove” South of Beaufort on the N12 website here = Click… Olivegrove we were rather locked in.
On their website one reviewer says “Really superb stay in a tranquil and picturesque setting”
Well it takes all sorts I suppose, we only came here as the website makes it look quite attractive but it is in fact a working farm with noisy staff, average food and really just a night stop over. It is 15 Kms from Beaufort which is a bonus and it is opposite a farm stall of note where you can buy just about anything including naturally, Karoo lamb all cut and prepared for the freezer – we did take advantage of this. But Olive Grove I’ll give a miss another time. Dinner that night – what passed for hors d’oeuvre – a bit of old fish on a plate with some garnish – what’s this I say – Oh we had a wedding last night and this fish was left over and we didn’t want to waste it 🙁
In retrospect we should have stayed at the Karoo National Park and self catered. Would have been a way better idea.
We were happy to leave Olive Grove the next morning having had our own breakfast and took a slow drive down the N12 which was not busy and through Meiringspoort to De Rust, again through spectacular scenery. We then took the gravel road across from De Rust which brings you out north of Oudtshoorn and continues onto Matjiesrivier and then to our much beloved “The Retreat at Groenfontein” North of Calitzdorp and the dam.
The Retreat at Groenfontein – website here = Click… groenfontein Marie & Grant Burton. We have been coming here for years and never need an excuse to return yet again.
The facilities at Groenfontein are superb and as usual we were welcomed back like old friends. We decided the next day to go up the Swartberg Pass from this side and see how far we could get. In the event we got to the top and well over and met several people coming the opposite way who allegedly had given a “tip” to the bloke with the flag at the Prince Albert end and he promptly let them pass ! We could see construction vehicles in the distance past the park cottages near the De Hel turnoff and decided that this was as far as we would go.
Coming back down we decided that just before the Huis se Hoogte Pass we would take the dirt road that comes down through farmland and comes out at the R62 between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. Evidence of a very expensive spread being set up here.
More traditional farmhouse
Back at the Retreat last breakfast – wonderful two days here
11 days away 2700Km’s no issues – really nice trip and the last leg along the R62, Robertson, Rawsonville to avoid Worcester – the tunnel and home just after lunch and avoiding the late afternoon traffic.
More Photos at: photo album