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Published: August 4th 2013
'Southern Africa, Land of Beauty and Splendour'
by Thomas Victor Bulpin, a Readers Digested edition. Many years ago I bought this book with it's dramatic pictures of storms approaching and breathtaking scenic photography. It ignited the fire in me to see more of South Africa, one of the catalysts that drew me towards the Drakensberg in the late 1970's for a holiday. South Africa was a land of contrasts then and is even more so today.
Paul's mom visited us from Cape Town for a few weeks in June this year and we decided to take her on a short trip to one of our favourite places for a weekend, because we knew she would enjoy it there. At the age of 79, we love to give her the opportunity to go away with us while she is still relatively mobile and she was quite keen to go, so we didn't need another excuse to get away.
With a slight detour while driving to Seletwane, we got there in good time. Because we had been warned that the road works on the road next to the Sterkfontein dam (R74) had halted altogether and that it was
better to take the gravel road, we heeded the warning. Two years ago when we last travelled that road they were busy repairing it, but at that stage work had already been delayed although one still had to stop and wait for oncoming traffic. This time it was a free for all, taking your chances with the oncoming traffic.
We had a splendid time although it was rather chilly. We needed no excuse to light the fire and warm up the cabin and pour a soetes (fortified wine) as a sundowner, to ward off the chill. There is no electricity and although there was supposed to be solar and wind generated power for use at night, the battery didn't seem to keep its charge, but there were oil lamps so we weren't in total darkness and it provided a very cosy setting.
We took mom for some scenic drives and sightseeing as she hadn't been to this area before and we wanted to do some exploring ourselves. First we took a drive to where Piet Retief stopped in 1837 while leading the Voortrekkers down the escarpment to Natal. This was while negotiating with King
Dingaan to acquire some land for the Voortrekkers. Tough job going down that steep escarpment in an ox wagon! Apparently they removed the rear wheels from the ox wagons and used trees as levers and brakes. Where was anti-lock breaking systems in those days? We then drove to the Kaalvoet vroue monument (Barefoot Women's monument) where it is alleged that a young woman hated the English so much that she returned barefoot over the mountains from Natal back to the Transvaal. Don’t care if she walked in winter or summer, either way it would have been tough going and her hatred must have been very strong!
We drove towards the Royal Natal national park with the Drakensberg towering above us in all it's splendour, the closer we got. Unfortunately there is an unpleasant section to drive through with potholes and litter and having to be alert while negotiating between taxis, buses and other vehicles. Part of Africa - always a challenge and adventure!
On our way back home we decided to drive via Golden gate. We took the chance to drive on the road next to the Sterkfontein dam. At times it looked like
organised chaos, fairly well behaved drivers manoeuvring all over the road but we managed to get through unscathed.
Having stayed at Golden gate many years ago while our sons were still teenagers or even younger, in our caravan in the middle of winter, Paul and I once again had many lovely memories to reminisce about while we drove through, telling mom about them all. They predicted snow at the time and ALL the boys wanted was for it to snow, something they had only seen once before. They had visions of building snowmen and throwing snow balls at each other, but Paul and I were not keen for it to snow at all as we weren't really geared up for it. Fortunately it didn't snow but it was bitterly cold that weekend - the coldest we had ever been in our caravan. Every blanket we brought with us was used and we dropped the pop top of the caravan, that was made of canvas, to keep in as much warmth as we possibly could.
Golden gate is at the foothills of the Maluti mountains and of course the name comes from the last rays
of golden sunshine at the end of the day shining on the rock. The sedimentary sandstone rock at Golden Gate weathers at the base, forming overhangs and caves and looks spectacular with the sun shining on it even at midday. There are some lovely walks in the area worth doing. We had a quick lunch at Clarens, an artists haven, then drove past Reitz towards home.
Last year driving to Reitz for a wolf outreach programme, I was saddened by the state of the road in a small town called Heilbron as well as other areas in South Africa. It really looked run down with large pot holes in the centre of the town and the town itself needed a bit of a facelift too. This year there were more positive signs of the roads being repaired and has given me some hope that certain areas are being maintained and it is good to see improvements being made. I still wonder though why work is started in other areas but then discontinued, thereby needing to start from scratch again when work continues. A bit of a waist of our hard earned taxes! This adds to
my statement that South Africa is a land of contrasts. In my mind it always has been and always will be so. Still, it is great to be able to travel around and see so many parts of it and for that I am greatful.
Pity our weekend had to come to an end, but then again, that allows for another opportunity to go somewhere else, doesn't it?
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