After some weeks of preparation we believed ourselves to be ready for our latest adventure. We're taking the bike (The Todd) on a 12 day road-trip up the South Africa West Coast to see the wild flowers which blooms during early spring around Namaqualand.
Day 1: Stellenbosch to Clanwilliam
We set off on a beautiful Saturday morning from Stellenbosch and headed via Wellington, over the gorgeous Bainskloof Pass towards Ceres. It’s really an amazing road and it’s hard to believe it was built over 150 years ago – without the aid of cement! It was constructed by convicts and at various places along the pass, large iron rings are set into the rock as resting places for the chain gangs. Lisa told me that her grandfather (an Italian) was taken as POW during the 2nd World War and worked on the neighboring Du Toit’s kloof Pass.
We glided over the magnificent Mitchells Pass towards Ceres and got there just in time to compete with the locals for a jostle in the shops – we decided to grab something for lunch to enjoy somewhere in the Cederberg alongside the road.
Passing through Prince Alfred Hamlet we went over the Gydo Pass and took the turn towards the Cederberg. What started off as a pleasant dirt road soon became somewhat less pleasant! It had rained the week before and the road was riddled with terrible potholes, corrugation and even worst: Marble like rocks and stones. Considering that had never really before been on dirt roads on a motorcycle the route might have been somewhat optimistic.
It was getting really hot and we took a little rest in one of the valley’s – stumbling across a detailed map of the area was rather convenient. Ready to leave 10 minutes later – the Todd doesn’t want to start! On closer inspection it seemed that the bad road made the battery move a bit in its restrains and a connecting plug worked itself loose. Disaster averted.
From there the road got even worse and at one point we stopped at a little river to catch our breath. Lisa was getting a bit stressed and it didn’t help that we had no real idea what the road ahead was like. From nowhere a car(!) approached and we had a chat with the dazed occupants. It seemed that they had no idea where they’re going or where they came from! They explained the road behind them as “Passes on passes” with “the road just getting worse”. I felt sorry for them because we knew how bad it was behind us. They still had the worst ahead of them!
When we set off again the road steadily improved and we decided to not push our luck and rather cut towards the National Road. Another 40km or so later we hit tarmac and headed for Clanwilliam – our first overnight stop. The Clanwilliam Dam was full to the brim and we stopped at the dam wall to watch the water spew from the open sluices.
Staying overnight in small, rural towns can be an interesting experience. If you're used to the convenience and (generally speaking) good service you find in larger areas you should lower your expectations. Small towns sometimes promote themselves as wonderful destinations. Maybe they host some funky annual festival to get peoples to visit. Sometimes they manage to convince us it will be amazing. The truth though, can be ugly and once you’re there, you learn quickly. Mediocre accommodation options, limited and mostly terrible restaurants. But the service is the worst aspect - it pretty much ranges from “shocking” to “non-existent”.
I'm not suggesting Clanwilliam is a horrible destination, but at the time of writing our accommodation in Clanwilliam was “adequate” and our choice of eatery poor. However, we still had a relaxing end to an eventful day and we made the most of it.
Day 2: Clanwilliam to Springbok
It’s Sunday morning and there’s a surprising coolness in the air. We we stopped in Vanrhynsdorp (120km on) for a HUGE breakfast. The weather was looking decidedly ominous and for a while we contemplated changing to rain gear. Remaining positive, we pushed on to find glorious sunshine just after we had just passed the small town of Nuwerus.
Rejuvenated by the heat, little flowers started appearing everywhere. The countryside was transformed into carpets of colourful flowers. It became steadily warmer as we rode further and we made a fuel stop on reaching Garies around noon. Wow! Garies was spectacular! We had never seen the wild flowers so abundant in this area.
Garies is the hometown of Adriaan Nieuwoudt who thought up the infamous Kubus scheme during the early eighties. Lisa has never heard of this and it was fun to recount the days when the whole country (especially the West Coast area) became obsessed with farming stinky milk cultures! You started by purchasing a portion of “active ingredient” from Nieuwoudt – which you then divide amongst a couple of glasses of fresh full cream milk. The milk had to for a couple of days (or weeks) until a “culture” grew on the top of it. This “growth” is then removed and placed in an envelope and left to dry completely. Finally the dried envelopes are mailed to Nieuwoudt who paid a rebate of R10 for it. And so the circle continues. A remarkable example of a true pyramid scheme! Predictably people made lots of money early on but eventually the tower collapsed and Nieuwoudt was indicted for fraud (amongst other charges).
Springbok turned out to be the warmest place of the day and we couldn’t get rid of our gear fast enough and find an ice cream. After relaxing for a bit we took a drive to the nearby town of Nababeep.
Nababeep is (was!) the largest of the Namaqualand copper mining towns, and is rarely visited by passers-by. There’s a small museum at Nababeep, which details the copper boom and bust of the town’s history. It really is a tiny little place and the road literally runs into a dead end there - once past the old mine. It did however proved to be our best flower spot of the trip. Thick mats of blazing orange flowers lined the road. White goats grazing lazily among. Well, not that lazily actually. There’s one little downside to all the beautiful flowers. Bugs. Everywhere…
We first thought that everyone we passed were just excessively friendly and waved to greet. Eventually we coined it ‘the Springbok Walk’. Step, step, wave. The bugs were everywhere! Swarming in masses. Constantly in your face. It was terrible.
We escaped the attack of the bugs and relaxed on the deck of an interesting looking restaurant in town called Carne Casa. (Literally translating to “Meat House”). In their defence, they had pretty good rump steak! Carne Casa indeed.