For reason of fuel efficiency, not to mention style, the vehicle of choice was Carl’s 2012 Suzuki Jimny. This plucky little car had more than enough off-road ability to conquer the sands of the west coast. However we would be spending several days far away from civilization and due to the Jimny’s limited luggage capacity, packing it would take some careful planning.
The N9 lead us deeper and deeper into the South African heartland, through towns like Middelburg, Graaff-Reinet, and eventually Uniondale, where we only stopped long enough to refuel.
It was in Uniondale that we left the N9 and turned onto the R339. As we headed into the Langkloof mountains the arid Karoo landscape gradually made way for patches of green. Soon we were descending the Prince Alfred pass towards the coast.
This pass is an old favourite of ours. Towards its upper end it offers scenic mountain views, and pretty little farms. Down in the canyon it is cut narrow, frequently crossing the stream. Here there are shady spots where one could spend entire days lounging in the water if it wasn't for the constant risk of another car coming around the bend.
About halfway down the pass, lies Angie’s G-spot.
A year earlier we passed by in a hurry when taking the Jimny on its maiden voyage through the Baviaanskloof. We were heading down the pass to meet an appointment in Plettenberg bay. We dearly wanted to stop there for the night, but arrangements had already been made. This is one of the main reasons why we always try to avoid pre-arranged accommodation. It is when you don’t know where you are going that the magic happens.
After several of those we started to feel the heat again and went for a swim in the river, before returning to the bar. It was late afternoon and the earth was finally cooling down to tolerable levels when we finally got around to making camp. For a nominal fee we were furnished with a wheelbarrow load of fire wood.
First we had to wage a battle of both wits and nerves against a massive baboon spider. The vicious critter had made its way into the tent sometime during the morning or possibly the previous night (the horror!). The fight involved lots of jumping around, stifled screams, and frantically searching for the spider which made a game of it all since it seemed to have the knack to always end up on the ‘other’ side of the mattress.
Eventually we convinced it to disappear back into the grass and terrorise its own village. We did both put on our shoes after that.
About 20 km from Angie’s another road split off to the left, the R340 lead south east to meet the N2 near Plettenberg bay. We stayed on the R339 going towards Knysna to meet some friends there for lunch.
Our eventual destination for the day was Jeffreysbay in the opposite, easterly, direction so after lunch we started heading back up the coast. First we stopped in Nature’s Valley for a quick dip in the ocean. Heading into Nature Valley from the west one leaves the N2 highway and drive down the scenic R102 to this small seaside village.
Traditionally, another portion of the R102 would head out back towards the east and follow a path somewhat parallel to, though infinitely more interesting than, the N2. On this day this ‘alternative’ route was closed and had been for some time. Still, if they don’t want us to use a road, then they really should do a better job when putting up barriers. The Jimny easily made mincemeat of the puny little heap of sand across the entrance.
It was the day after Christmas when we set out again, this time driving west on the R62 through the ‘alternative garden route’ of the Langkloof.
Mid-morning when we arrived in Oudtshoorn and went for a traditional brunch at the Wimpy. We were in no way pressed for time, but there didn’t seem to be much going on so after some thought we decided not to hang around.
On the Huisrivier pass between Calitzdorp and Ladismith we stopped for a smoke break, but cut it short due to the unbearable heat. It was in the same area that we passed a man and woman on an apparently long distance bicycle trip. Both looked like they had seen way too much sun. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
We spent the rest of the day on the R62. Passed through multiple small towns, weighed their apparent merit as an overnight spot and then continued until we eventually settled on Montague.
At the De Bos guest farm on the edge of town we finally found a spot to pitch the tent, and cooled off in the pool. The place was clean and neat, although we soon realised that the other guest were mostly rock climbing types.
Don’t misunderstand. Some of our best friends are climbers, but when you are trying to relax with a beer you can only hear words like ‘multi-pitch’ and (insert generic climbing jargon here) so many times before you have to reach for another one.
Stellenbosch was closed.
It had seemed like a good idea to meet our old friend Kristoff in this town for a new year’s party, but as it turns out there was no party to be had. Not a single bar or restaurant in town was open. We settled for a braai.
On the 2nd of January, we finally joined our old travel companions, the Spies, Johan and Aileen at Club Myconos in Langebaan.
The Spies had been there for a few days, having driven down from Gauteng in their Land Rover Defender Td5.
Johan is the single most laid back person in the universe, which is a blessing when driving a Defender. It doesn't do anything in a hurry.
Still, it is probably the coolest thing in existence; like a jungle gym for adults who never asked to grow up. Also it is fitted with a double battery system and a fridge freezer that would prove invaluable in the days to come.
Outside the hotel we bought what we hoped was fresh kreef (lobster/crayfish) from a local fisherman. This went straight into the Land Rover’s fridge.
From Paternoster we made a slight detour to Tietiesbaai. For the non-Afrikaans speakers, the name means exactly what you think it does. See the photo below and try to guess why.
In Elandsbaai we stopped for a look at the ancient cave paintings overlooking the sea at Baboon point.
On the edge of town, directed by Google maps, we found a campsite. It looked a bit like a prison, but we’ve never been too difficult about this sort of thing. In retrospect it was lucky that Aileen kicked in her heels and refused to stay there. A short distance down the street is the Lambert’s Bay Caravan Park.
What a great place! It is clean, it is affordable, has direct access to the beach, and our stand had its own ablution facilities. It was here that we set our first camp of the expedition.
Being right on the coast there was a strong breeze so the bigger part of this job was setting up the wind breaks. With this done we had a cosy little spot to start a fire to cook the kreef, at this time still safely tucked away in the Land Rover’s fridge.
None of us had ever cooked kreef before. In the weeks leading up to the trip we had casually enquired from a variety of self-proclaimed experts on how to go about it. In the end we just grilled it over the fire, a bit like a steak. It wasn’t exactly the greatest ever culinary success, but we ate it anyway, and washed it down with good white wine.
It was a cool evening, but the sun was still shining. Behind our shelter we put more wood on the fire while someone fetched another round of beers. It was a good place to be.
Watch out for West Coast Part 2: Lamberts Bay and Beyond...