On a crisp May morning we set off on a journey that would take us 1700 km, through 4 of the provinces and some of the most diverse country side that South Africa has to offer. With the cars packed to capacity with luggage, blankets and pillows, and enough food to feed an army, and with the inevitable flask with hot water for tea and coffee we were ready to hit the road. The atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation as it had been many years since we had last made this journey by car. The route that we followed was along the N1 freeway, which is a major route connecting cities that stretch across South Africa, all the way from Cape Town to Beit Bridge which is in the North Eastern part of South Africa, the border point with Zimbabwe. The start of our journey took us past Paarl, through the Huguenot Tunnel and along to Worcester. The Huguenot Tunnel is an example of amazing engineering, which when opened in 1988, cut the motorist journey by 11 km and also saved motorists from going over the Du Toitskloof mountain pass on the route to Worcester. From Worcester we made our way towards De Doorns and the Hex River valley which is a well- known area for the wine industry of South Africa. This is a “must see” area at this time of the year as the vines are taking on the rich golden colours of autumn, with the magnificent Hex River Mountains as a backdrop to this rich array of colours. From this point on-wards the scenery starts to change from majestic mountains to a more sparse landscape, which is synonymous with the Karoo terrain. The road takes us past Matjiesfontein the well-known town that was founded in 1884 by the legendary James Douglas Logan. This is probably the last outpost of a bygone era of the British Empire. If you have the time to stop over, you will not be disappointed with the warm hospitality of the Lord Milner Hotel. The stretch from Matjiesfontein to Beaufort West is a long 228 km with very flat and sparse terrain, with not much to see along the way. As this can be rather a dangerous stretch of road, it is recommended that if you feel tired to rather pull over for a while, and maybe have something to eat and drink. Our arrival in Beaufort West definitely called for a “pit stop”. There are plenty of garages to choose from, many of them having a Wimpy or Spur restaurants if you are looking for refreshments. We of course were well stocked up with goodies to eat from sandwiches, sausage rolls, eggs and biscuits along with a welcome cup of coffee. This rest break was most welcome as the road from now on would take is long and straight, passing through the Karoo. Our next stop was Colesberg which was a long 317km away. Shortly after leaving Beaufort West we left the Western Province and made our way into the Northern Cape Province, which extends all the way to Colesberg. As there are long stretches between towns it is recommended that you ensure that you have enough fuel to make it to the next service station and that you have airtime on your cell phone should you need to call for roadside assistance. On our way to Colesberg we passed “Three Sisters” which boast a railway siding and a land formation of 3 distinctly shaped hills. After a 3 hour journey we arrived in Colesberg which is regarded as the half-way point between Cape Town and Johannesburg. In a sheep-farming area covering a half-a-million hectares, greater Colesberg breeds many of the country’s top Merinos. The area is also renowned for producing high quality race horses and stud farms, one of which is owned by the famous golfer Gary Player. There are a large variety of establishments offering accommodation, but it is recommended that you be guided by those establishments that are recommended by the Auto Mobile Association, or other reputable Tour Guides. After leaving Colesberg you leave the Northern Cape Province and go into the Orange Free State. You will also get to pass over the Orange River, which is the longest river in South Africa. The Orange River flows into the Gariep Dam which has the largest storage reservoir dam in South Africa. After being on the road for the last 9,5 hours we were looking forward to arriving in Bloemfontein, where we had booked into Arista Guest House for the night. This was a welcome change from being in the car for so long. The first day of our journey had come to an end and we had the opportunity to stretch our legs, enjoy a meal at one of the local restaurant s and most importantly of all, to have a good night’s sleep, before we proceeded with the last leg of our journey to Durban. The next morning after a good breakfast we were ready to take on the second stage of our long journey to the “Valley of a Thousand Hills”.
Our next target destination was Winburg which is 107 km from Bloemfontein. Once we reached Winburg we went off the N1 and onto the N5. The towns that we passed through from this point onwards are rather small and largely made up of farming communities. From Winburg we made our way to Senekal which is 68km away. This town is significant to our family, as we have been able to establish that our Grandmothers family came from the town in the late 1800 hundreds. We want to find out more about the town, and the history of our family, but this will have to wait as we are all anxious to arrive in Durban where the rest of our family is waiting for us.
It is amazing how the scenery is constantly changing as we move from province to province, even the shape of the mountains seem different. This part of the country is also well known as the “Golden Gate”, because of the colour of the mountains that can be found in the area. This area is rich in history and should be investigated in more detail and when you have more time to spare. There is variety of fantastic places to choose from when looking for accommodation in Clarens which is in the heart of the Golden Gate area. The next town on route is Bethlehem another 74km down the road. This town is well known for its wheat growing capacity. The town is in the heart of the wheat belt of the Free State, its fertile soil creating an abundance of wheat crops and sunflowers, which makes it the largest commercial centre in the eastern Free State. It lies on the Liebenbergs River just south of the Rooiberg Mountain. The route after leaving Bethlehem takes you to Harrismith which is the link that we will take to get onto the N3.
We now enter Kwa Zulu Natal the 4th province in our journey. The excitement is growing, we are getting closer to the destination and this freeway will take us all the way to our destination – Assegai, in the “Valley of a Thousand Hills and family. The cell phone is going non-stop…. where are you? Don’t waste time! Get here as fast as you can.
There are many little towns and places that we pass that bring back memories of past journeys along this route, like Howick, Midmar Dam and Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Kwa Zulu Natal. As we make our way off the N 3 and onto the M13 in Hillcrest, and wind our way to Assegai Road we know that in a short time we will be there.
We are not disappointed, as on top of the rise we see our baby brother waiting to welcome us home. This trip is an illustration of the vast distances that one can travel in South Africa. The cultures and scenery are changing with each kilometer that is traveled. Be prepared for long distances, fatigue, Toll points and so much more. But it is all worth every minute spent on the road, as it brings us closer to our family and the “Valley of a Thousand Hills”.