From Howick to Knysna via potholes, passes, plains and ridiculously expensive pasta dishes.
Day one, the trip from Howick to Smithfield started well. Three girls and their kit, Tracey and hers and then me (complete with Bike and photography gear) set off in the Colt. An early start saw us getting up the Oliviershoek Pass and to the approach to Golden Gate early. Despite a few (banned) articulated truck crashes on the winding road to Golden Gate it was uneventful. We drove through the beautiful area that Tracey, Isabelle and I had last visited 10 years ago. We lunched in Clarens, a beautiful little town in the Eastern Free State that has grown incredibly fast and then headed off to Smithfield. This was to prove a little more difficult than expected the first 100 or so kms to the Maseru turn off were great but the rest of the drive was sump crushing potholes and road works. We got to Smithfield late and booked into our bed and breakfast, the Bomakierie owned and run by local artist Peter Retief and his wife. The sons both went to Grey Bloem High School so we had lots of rugby to chat about. It always amazes me that all of the people who have been to the likes of Queens, Grey, Hilton etc, no matter the generation, have so much in common that there never is a quiet moment. We went to a local eatery, rather inappropriately name Pigout. The food was fantastic but horrendously priced. I was told that the prices were similar to the cities but unfortunately have to add that the portions were small and similar food in Cape Town or Durban would cost 60 to 70% of what we were charged.
Next day we headed to Knysna. I was familiar with the countryside up to Smithfield and Colesberg but had not travelled the Kamdeboo and Outeniqua areas for years. On the way to Colesberg we stopped off at the Gariep Dam (old H F Vervoerd). The largest dam south of Kariba it is very impressive. I took the girls over the wall stopped at the lookout and then headed to Colesberg and eventually Graaf Reinet through Karroo rain storms. After all the rather grubby, sad little towns Graaf Reinet was a pleasure. Well groomed gardens, lovely houses and the most beautiful well kept churches around. Anyone visiting the area should over night and the photographic potential of the area and town is incredible. I was particularly excited to drive through the area as I had just read Eve Palmers “The Plains of the Camdeboo” and wanted to see the area again.
The last part of the trip via Aberdeen and Uniondale was awesome. Long stretches of flat country followed by the Outeniquas. We were warned that the Prince Albert Pass was slow but having travelled through the Swartberg a number of times I suspected it would be spectacular. We got to Uniondale, approximately 80kms from Knysna and headed into the hills. The pass, built by mater road builder Thomas Baines well over 100 years ago is a masterpiece of engineering through massive hills and valleys. At times there was no space for cars to pass and a drop of 50m next to you. The Ericas and Proteas were in flower and I saw a number of Dira clytus flying (at this point I must add that, as driver, I was advised to spend a little less time watching the fauna and flora and more time keeping the car on the road). The Poort was spectacular, massive folded sandstone buttresses, narrow roads, cliffs, setting sun……beautiful. We found a little hamlet in a secluded valley about half way through and have attached a few shots below. I have no idea what people do here but I am sure it is a very peaceful place to live (by the look of some of the locals it was extremely peaceful and assisted with some local floral produce).
The final drive to Knysna was down the dirt roads from the Buffels forestry to Diepvalle, past the big tree parking, all through indigenous bush and very beautiful. At this point though it was getting dark, the girls were getting tired and we were very happy to get to Knysna. We met our friends, Mike and Lee-Anne Hyslop and their children and guests at their house on Leasure Isle unpacked and settled down to a braai and a few cold beers. Plans for the next day started with a Harkerville bike ride. Something that I have looked forward to for a long time.