A guest post by Pieter Joubert
I had a fantastic time showing my favorite spots in South Africa to my UK friend Colin, and my son Simon. For Simon and I, this was the first time we travelled together as adults.
If you missed Part 1 of Sharing My South Africa, you can catch up here: Sharing my South Africa – Part 1
Our week at Zoetvlei
The farm Zoetvlei is a private Karoo Game and Guest farm which has been developed by my good friend Schalk Shepherd. I have been a regular guest/visitor over the years and it has become my absolute favorite place to be in the world. It has all kinds of accommodation options and accommodates groups of up to 26 people. It is a very rustic, basic place and it famously offers LIMITED Cell Phone reception, NO Wi-Fi, NO Televisions, NO Shops, NO Restaurants and NO Traffic! This is the perfect place to just go and be. Go check out the website www.zoetvlei.com
The next few days were spent going on game drives, helping the farm hands with some chores around the homestead, fixing an old water pump and air compressor and the occasional hunting excursion. Over the years I have transitioned from being a guest on the farm to be an unpaid employee, fixer of things, field guide, semi-professional hunter, chef and barman. Although Zoetvlei is far from civilization with very few creature comforts, I always enjoy every minute I spend there. The beauty and serenity of this place are very hard to explain and pictures really do not do it any justice.
The three of us spent 3 days on the farm by ourselves, and then my friend, Schalk, joined us for 2 more days. Every day was filled with early morning breakfasts, some game drives, wildlife spotting, some hunting, braaiing and lunch in the veld and, of course, the consumption of countless adult beverages. Our evenings were spent around the campfire enjoying some great food and drinks, while just enjoying each other’s company and the breathtaking nature around us.
To me, time really slows down in the Karoo. “The Karoo is not as much a place as a feeling. It enters through your bloodstream – taking its time to unfold until it is time to leave…then you realize it has taken hold of your soul.”
A Change of Plans
My original plan was to take a 3 or 4-day road trip down the South Coast through what is known as the Garden Route, but in true South African fashion, those plans were changed on the fly when a better option presented itself. We decided to take the roads less travelled and set off on a 3-day off the beaten-track adventure using all backroads through the Great Karoo and working our way west and south.
We set off from the farm via dirt roads. Crossing into the Northern Cape province and visiting small towns like Merweville and Fraserburg. During the day, we made multiple roadside stops for refreshments and impromptu grilling by the side of the road… it’s the South African way, I guess.
We ended the day in the town of Sutherland. Sutherland is world-renowned for having some of the clearest and darkest skies and it’s home to a few international observatories and telescopes. One of my good friends, Etienne, works at SALT (South African Large Telescope) which is the largest single optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere located in Sutherland. We spent a great evening at Etienne and his lovely wife Michelle’s house. I haven’t seen them in about 4 years, and it was a real treat to spend some quality time with them.
The next morning, Etienne gave us a thorough “behind the scenes” tour of the SALT telescope and it was truly a highlight of the trip! One of Colin’s daughters is planning to study in this field and this was a great experience for him as well.
After our tour at SALT, we packed up and left Sutherland to make our way to the Tankwa Karoo. Our route took us through the Ouberg Pass which is a 4×4 only pass, crossing the mountains that separate the Great Karoo and the Tankwa Karoo. What a fantastic experience! I used to ride these roads many years ago on my motorcycle and have many very fond memories of this area. I was so excited to share this with Colin and Simon.
We had a great lunch and some drinks at the Tankwa Padstal. It is a small roadside bar, restaurant and store in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always loved this place for its pure simplicity and remoteness. We spent way too much time in the bar getting to know the locals and almost got talked into a real estate transaction that would have, undoubtedly, been a horrible decision.
We ended the day at the Kagga Kamma Private Nature Reserve in the Cederberg mountains. Now, this is not the type of place that I would normally stay on my regular trips to South Africa. This reserve caters more to international tourists and the prices reflect that. It is, however, one of the most beautiful places you can visit in South Africa and it was another exceptional experience.
We stayed in two of their hut suites, which are built to resemble the homes of clans from a long time ago. Besides the huts with their reed roofs, you also have the option to book open-air suites or even caves. The open suites are located away from the main lodge and are built into unique rock formations.
The service, food and accommodation are, in my opinion, some of the best available in South Africa and possibly the whole African continent! If you ever get a chance to spend a night or two there, don’t hesitate for a second! A truly unique 5-star experience!
After spending the night, it was time to start heading back to “civilization”.
Back in Strand
We arrived back in the Strand and decided to take the next day or two to relax and not do anything that required driving anywhere. For the past 8 days, we travelled about 1200 miles (2000 kilometres) on mostly dirt roads in a less than comfortable Land Cruiser pickup truck. So it is safe to say, we needed a bit of a break from driving. I spent some time with my family again while Colin caught up with his family back in the UK. We were able to actually rest for a couple of days in a great place with fantastic views!
After a full month in South Africa, it was time for Simon to head back to the USA. I dropped him off at the airport so that he could catch his flight to Amsterdam and then on to Atlanta. Colin and I had a few more days planned in the Cape Winelands and also a special day trip to Cape Town.
Our last day in the Strand was spent driving the coastal road through Gordon’s Bay, Rooi-Els, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond. These coastal towns on the southern coast of South Africa are some of the most beautiful places you will ever see if you ever have the chance. We visited the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Kleinmond and were able to walk amongst one of the largest African penguin breeding colonies. What an experience! We ended the day with a fantastic early dinner at Peregrine Bakery and Farm Stall in the Elgin Valley and, surprisingly, Colin said that it was some of the best Fish and Chips he’s ever had! What a great compliment coming from an Englishman!
Visiting the Winelands and Cape Town
Our next destination was my hometown of Paarl, about 40 miles (60 kilometres) from Cape Town. I had a great little Airbnb booked for 3 nights on a farm on the outskirts of town.
We spent the first day exploring the town and I got to show Colin some of my favorite restaurants and bars. The next day was spent with some friends, and we ended up having a truly South African cookout (braai) at my brother-in-law’s house with lots of food and, of course, liquid refreshments aplenty!
Our day in Cape Town was next on our itinerary. We met up with two of my sisters and my brother-in-law at Table Mountain and took the cable car to the top. We spent a leisurely couple of hours walking around and taking in the amazing vistas of Clifton, Table Bay and Robben Island.
It was a cold and windy day and we were soon ready to head back down. The best place in my opinion for seafood lunch is at Quay Four in the V&A Waterfront and that is where we headed next. And they didn’t disappoint! After lunch, we spent the rest of the day seeing all the sights around the city. Being in Cape Town always brings back great memories of my youth and it will absolutely never get old. There is a reason that Cape Town consistently shows up on lists of best tourist destinations worldwide. It’s an incredible place!
The final full day in South Africa came way too soon. I had a few things that I still wanted to show Colin and we got moving quite early in the morning. We started with Franschhoek. It is a small town very close to our Airbnb. This town was originally settled by the French Huguenots and, to this day, the French influence is still very strong. Franschhoek has some of South Africa’s best restaurants and is the culinary capital of South Africa. Walking around town, you can easily forget that you are in Africa. The European feel makes this town really unique and I always enjoy visiting.
On our way back from Franschhoek, I took Colin to the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm. We had a great time on the crocodile tour but opted not to participate in the crocodile cage diving part of it! Honestly, I never knew it was an option to be put in a cage and lowered into crocodile-infested waters. Definitely not something I will ever do! Shark Cage diving? Sure! Crocodile Cage Diving? Not in a million years!
The afternoon was spent visiting some wine farms in the area and having some amazing wines in the vineyards enjoying the most beautiful views. I love the view from Spice Route’s outside terrace. On clear days you can see Table Mountain from here.
As a final dinner in South Africa, I invited a few of my friends to a local bar and restaurant in Paarl so that I could at least see everyone I hadn’t gotten around to seeing while in South Africa. These get-togethers are always so much fun, but also bitter-sweet. Our group ended up being about 30 people and the evening turned into a great occasion with fantastic food and, yet again, way too many drinks! We only got to bed around 4am the next morning! Waking up a couple of hours later, I was actually looking forward to the flight back to the USA. I sleep really well on planes, and I was at the point of my trip where I was seriously behind on sleep!
This trip ended up being one of my most treasured vacations to South Africa ever. Being able to show a great friend my home country and knowing that he had a fantastic time was extremely rewarding to me. Taking Simon with us on our adventure turned out to be one of the best decisions of all. This was the first time that I spent a good amount of quality time with Simon since he became an “adult”, and I had such a great time really enjoying his company. It is so fulfilling to take a step back from the “father-figure” role I occupied for the past 19 years and see what a great young man he has become. The joy of seeing him embrace his South African roots, to me, is priceless!