To make life’s journey matter, to give it heart and purpose and love, and to thrive in its abundance.
The Namibia Tourism Board, Cape Town Routes Unlimited and Northern Cape Tourism launched the Cape to Namibia Route in 2005 as a build-up to the Soccer World Cup 2010. Ron Swilling took to the road for Travel News Namibia in 2010 to discover the hidden treasures along the N7 and B1 national roads.
When you start to think laterally and—rather than travelling from A to B in the quickest possible time—stop along the way or veer off the main route, it’s amazing what treasures you’ll find. You realise very suddenly that, as with life’s passage from youth to old age, it’s really the journey that counts. Ultimately we’ll reach the destination, but we’ll be much richer in experience and have much more fun if we enjoy the journey.
Leaving Cape Town during the first of the winter cold fronts with no plan other than to reach Windhoek a month later was an opportunity to experience the journey. Having travelled the main N7 route through South Africa and the B1 route to Windhoek on numerous occasions, I realised that I had hardly ever stopped, except for a quick shut eye halfway through the trip. This time my first stop was less than two hours from Cape Town, so I slowed down, took a deep breath and enjoyed the fresh farmland and autumn colours of the land.
With time on my hands, I could now pause and explore. I began by braving the rain to visit the quaint De Tol farm stall on Piekeniers Pass. The old farmhouse was once an overnight stop for ox wagons laden with produce. The wagons continued on the toll road to Eendekuil, where their goods were transferred onto trains bound for Cape Town. The old house now had bright-pink cosmos growing in the garden and bags of citrus hanging from beams on the porch. It was an exciting treasure trove of history and homemade fare. Leaving with a loaf of farm bread and a packet of rusks, I made my way down into the valley, and for the first time turned off into Citrusdal.
A farm road through citrus orchards and old oak trees adorned with sunset colours led me to Boschkloof farm bordering the mountains. When I drove across the small river and turned into the driveway of the Oude Boord cottage, a surreal scene of small orange trees with their trunks painted white, growing in an orderly fashion on a green mowed lawn and backed by the attractive self-catering cottage, bush and mountains, had me spellbound. The ubiquitous grapevine grew over the wooden beams of the porch and de-corated the damp grass with patches of red.
A hot bath, supper in front of the fire and deep sleep to the sound of the trickling river eased all the tensions still lurking in my mind. By morning, feeling like a goddess, I joined owner Mariet for a cup of tea, and she gave me some background information on Oude Boord cottage. The surprisingly affordable accommodation on the citrus farm is an old barn converted into a– cottage, alongside the farmhouse and– Oude Boord, the eighty-year-old orchard that was discovered when a few citrus branches were noticed protruding from the fynbos.
As the farm fruit was yet to ripen, I was presented with a gift of citrus honey and tales of the rare snow protea found on Sneeuberg, the highest point of the Cederberg mountain range. My adventurous spirit now having space to rear its investigative head, I visited the charming Sandveldhuisie farm stall with its display of antiques, colourful knitted items and tables adorned with vases of proteas. I proceeded to the Citrusdal Museum next door, the community hall to see the porcelain dolls made there, the small screen-printed glass factory on a farm on the Piekenierskloof Pass, and then, driving over a peach-pit road, stopped in at Hebron’s farm stall, restaurant and accommodation facilities.
My next overnight stop was a short drive into a kloof (gorge) near Citrusdal, where I camped at The Baths, the hot spring discovered by chance when travellers with a team of oxen were making their way through the valley in 1739. When the feet of an ox became stuck, the men went to release the animal and found that it had stepped into a fissure of warm water. Citrusdal and surrounds were proving extremely interesting, all but a hop and a skip away from Cape Town.
The farm stalls are ‘must-do’ stops where, during winter, citrus fruit can be bought at virtual giveaway prices. Signs on the sides of the roads – Ja, kom proe (Yes, come taste) – invite you in. By the time I passed Citrusdal, I was well stocked with naartjies, tomatoes, dried fruit, bottles of jam and a variety of rooibos tea grown in the area.
My next stop was northwards into the Cederberg Mountains, a treat for nature lovers. The area is well known for its hikes, rock paintings (viewed in Stadsaal), Cederburg wine (from Dwarsrivier) and interesting rocky landscape. I negotiated the 50 kilometres of rocky road to reach Kromrivier, where I spent the night in front of a roaring fire in peaceful and simple accommodation. Before I left, I walked through the old farmhouse. Built in 1870, it has thick walls, old cedar windowpanes and doors, and a long family history.
The Niewoudts arrived in the Cederberg in the 1800s. Pip Niewoudt, owner of the Kromrivier farm, described how his ancestor, Georg Sibastiaan, met the carpenter who was later to craft the wood in his house and marry his daughter on Robben Island where they were both interred for being troublesome in the colony. The rain had arrived from Cape Town and I drove to Stadsaal through an arc of rainbow and light showers, laughing between the gusts of wind in the rust-coloured restio plants as I viewed sacred paintings of elephants on a rocky overhang.
The rocky road was now a muddy rocky road and the vehicle soon turned brown as I splashed along. I met up with the N7 and headed north to Clan William and then west to Lamberts Bay, arriving in time for the tail end of a Mother’s Day lunch. Mariette Breytenbach, owner of the Lamberts Bay Hotel, filled me in on the goings-on of the small town. She has a love for the old hotel and for the town, and has been involved in most things local, from the protection of the gannets on Bird Island (one of six gannet colonies in the world) to the annual kreeffees (crayfish festival), which raises funds for various causes.
I had a drink at the hotel bar with the bird conservator- who took me over to Bird Island to view the gannets, explain their mannerisms, their disappearance from the island in 2005 and the decoys and methods used to attract them back and deter the seals that were preying on them. I later met a diamond diver who makes furniture from weathered whalebones and art from snake skeletons. Lamberts Bay is also known for its open-air fish restaurant, which unfortunately was closed at the time of my visit, but I visited the museum to hear about the interesting history of the town from museum- attendant Ricky. She told me about the love affair that had ensued after the wreck of HMS Sybille during the Anglo-Boer War, the lovers crossing the cultural divide.
Before leaving, which was proving difficult, I popped in at the Red Rock Restaurant to sample Lamberts Bay’s own wine Sir Lambert made by a local doctor. The restaurant is conveniently situated in the same building as the doctor’s rooms and before I knew it, I was seated uncomfortably in the doctor’s examination room surrounded by medicines, models of body parts and instruments as he described the unique West Coast character of the Sauvignon Blanc wine, made from grapes he grows as a hobby in his spare time.
With a gift of Sir Lambert tucked under my arm, I made my way to Kamieskroon as the day darkened. I camped at one of two campsites, which undoubtedly has the cleanest ablution facilities I have ever seen on campgrounds. In the morning I stopped for coffee and toast at the Kuiervreugde coffee shop next to the garage, and chatted to Elsa, who has tearoom tables and a gift shop in her house. She offers pancakes and oodles of local character. While she showered me with friendliness and told me about the wild flowers that cover the area in July and August, a display of exquisite blooms flashed on the TV screen from a DVD compiled by her husband.
Springbok Lodge and Restaurant is a definite stop along the route to enjoy a meal, chat with owner Jopie Kotze, and view his mineral collection, shop and vast selection of books on South Africa and Namibia. Many people pass through on the Cape to Namibia route, and Jopie always has a wealth of information at his fingertips. He gave me a cup of tea and his healing energy – a piece of rose quartz – and sent me on my way, feeling re-energised. Next to the lodge, a row of quaint old houses painted in yellow, black and white offer self-catering accommodation. Before I left, I asked Jopie about the strange colour scheme, to which he replied: “White is because you must always walk straight, black is missed opportunity and yellow is the future.” Every moment is precious I thought as I drove out of Springbok, and every opportunity needs to be grasped.
My next destination was Port Nolloth and MacDougall Bay, where I visited the out-of-the-ordinary diving museum assembled by George Moyses and consisting of a display of photographs and paraphernalia collected over more than thirty years of diamond di-ving. The house, set just above the beach, has a jumble of driftwood and interesting signs adorning its exterior. ‘Wie is jy – Who are you?’ one sign enquires, and George, who lives a life unusual to most, is the person to ask.
In the morning, he knocked on the window of my vehicle and, pulling aside the curtains, I saw that he was waiting to accompany me to the Port Nolloth Museum to personally show me his display of diving photographs. He continued to intrigue me as we sat at the coffee house next door, with tales of people hiding diamonds in hair curlers, attaching them to pigeons that, over-laden with their illicit cargo, landed on window-sills, revealing their freight, and stories of fish that swallowed diamonds spewed out by diamond-mining pipes, providing a rich feast to the fortunate chef who cut them open. We walked over to the harbour to see his beloved and somewhat ageing boat bobbing on the water, and George gave me a quick lesson in diving lingo before we parted ways.
I still had a long drive ahead of me via Alexander Bay to the Ai-Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and Sendelingsdrift, where I would cross by pontoon into Namibia. The beauty of the park was a welcome change after the corrugated road and dust from passing mining vehicles that coated my skin and clogged every pore. The entrance sign ‘Treat your senses and soul in the majestic’, welcomes you at the park gate, and the warm Namibian climate heightened my spirits.
In the morning, I crossed on the pontoon over the Orange River and gave my remaining citrus to delighted border officials. After turning off onto a side road after Rosh Pinah, I didn’t see another vehicle for more than a hundred kilometres. Ah, the joy of being in Namibia! Baboons trotted across the road and looked at me, ostriches ran off and quiver trees began to mark the landscape.
Eventually I reached Fish River Lodge, to be utterly astounded by how the land opened up into echo upon echo of breathtaking canyon without a hint of it visible from the road. Waking up in the morning with canyon beauty before you is a real visual and earthly treat. I participated a steep five-hour descent into the canyon depths, down ‘rock-and-roll pass’ and ‘jelly-leg ravine’, ending with a swim in the muddy river and champagne sipped at water’s edge. For the next two days I could barely walk, my thigh muscles in agony from the unusual exertion.
Just before reaching the B4 road, which links Lüderitz and Aus with Keetmanshoop, I stopped on the D462 to visit Alte Kalköfen, a new lodge that makes a welcome stop along the way. An old limestone oven is visible from the road. Owners Hilde and Frikkie Mouton have revamped the old farmhouse into an attractive restaurant open to passers-by, offering accommodation in chalets, newly built in farmhouse style. I was intrigued by the lithoparium-, a nursery housing lithops, also called ‘stone plants’, from the area, the majority of which Hilde grows from seed. Hilde treated me to her hot vegetable soup and fresh bread, while telling me about the history of their beloved farm and the strenuous labour involved in the limestone ovens, of breaking rock and carrying it in ox wagons, collecting wood in the riverbeds and packing the ovens with wood and stone, a process that took two to three weeks.
Leaving them late in the day, I arrived at Helmeringhausen in time to drive into the Hel–me-ringhausen Hotel and Guest–farm, an oasis of a place, before the last light faded. I sipped Kaktusfeigensaft (prickly pear juice) on the veranda table adorned with bright fabric flowers and learnt that rather than a village, the settlement is still a single farm (now including the hotel) with the additional businesses of the garage and shop. The eleven permanent residents are joined by the workers (and their families) for a church service held on the first Sunday in the month at the Farmers Union Building, bringing the numbers to approximately 31.
At one time an ox wagon travelled to Bethanie once a month for fresh supplies, fabric and clothes. The 80-km journey, now taking an hour, took three to four days to complete. Hubert Hester, who acquired ownership of the farm in 1922, used to travel by horse cart every ten to fourteen days. The neighbouring farmers would arrive at the farm and sit drinking coffee, waiting for their mail and news from the big town. If you blink you may miss Helmeringhausen, so I kept my eyes wide open and continued on the C27 to Aubures Farm, for a taste of a Namibian working farm and a night of camping under a sky of stars.
Arriving early in the afternoon I was in two minds whether to continue on the road or stay put. My rushed spirit was soon calmed by the lovely landscape and the realisation that from the camp I couldn’t see a sign of another human being. When last had I been utterly alone on the good nourishing land? When were you? I felt embraced with positive energy.
I travelled the scenic D707 bordering the Namib-Naukluft Park, recommended to me as one of the most beautiful routes in the area, a description confirmed as swirls of apricot Namib desert sand become visible amidst the vegetation. I stopped north-east of Keetmanshoop to learn about the Mesosaurus fossils of filter-feeding amphibious reptiles that lived in the shallow seas of Southern Africa and South America 250–270 million years ago, and resemble baby crocodiles with long snouts. Giel Steenkamp and his son Hendrik found their first fossil when they were repairing their farm road. Giel offers tours to see the fossils and his quiver-tree forest, giving information laced with humour, and plays an excellent South African national anthem on the dolerite rocks. I spent sunrise in a quiver tree forest reaffirming my love affair with Earth as the first golden rays bathed the tops of the trees, the sociable weavers left their nest in bursts of chatter and a black eagle soared in the sky. Thank you. I was seeped in gratitude for the blessings of the day.
Between Keetmanshoop and Grünau I visited the small farm stalls that sell biltong and honey, and couldn’t resist veering off to buy a few tumbled pieces of rose quartz at the White House. I visited Gibeon to find the women from the craft centre making delightful beaded hearts and small pouches that say ‘Jou lekker ding’ (you gorgeous thing). Naomi Dierstaan spread her colourful wares on a towel outside her house and I had the pick of the hearts. On my return to the main road, I gave two Gibeon residents a ride. They decided to accompany me to locate Goamus, a Nama historical site where their forefathers hid out and fought the Germans at the beginning of the twentieth century. I listened to the dreams of the young man and could see them materialising as we spoke. We played Nama gospel music as we drove into the flat-topped mountain area.
I backtracked to Noordoewer and the Orange River for a night at Felix Unite Lodge and River Adventures, a friendly halfway stop between Cape Town and Windhoek, to sleep with river song and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. Recently constructed are more cabanas and a restaurant, attractively clad with stone and river reeds. Further south, I soaked up the beautiful land, luxury and friendliness of Willie and Rodica Agenbach at Sandfontein. Rhino tracking, paddling in the sunset colours of the river, receiving sandpapery kisses from their tame cheetahs, sitting outside next to a fire and eating scrumptious food made the stay a complete treat.
A quick stretch to Maltahöhe, so easy on the tar road, brought me to the hospitality of Anne Gyselinck at the Ôa Hera Backpackers Campsite and Art Shop. I had visited there once before and listened to the exuberant voices of the Ama Buruxa choir, a group of Nama students. This time I mentioned to Anne that my wonder-full journey lacked touches of culture and she quickly remedied the situation. Before long I was sitting with Ôa Hera maintenance worker, Adolf Simon, and his box of traditional Nama remedies, as he explained how the different plants from the field held healing properties. I accompanied him into the village to visit his mother. Dressed in her traditional patchwork dress for the occasion, she told me of the ochre she used to put on her face to make herself look beautiful and the plant-powder perfume she used to grind and put into tortoise shells to dab on herself with puffs of wool before she went out. “Who will keep these traditions alive when the old people are gone?” I asked Adolf. “God is so good, he will never take all the experience away,” he replied.
The approach of the last few days as I headed towards Windhoek and civilisation brought on a sadness that the spirit of the journey would soon end. ‘Not so,’ the optimistic side of my nature reminded and reprimanded me. The spirit of the journey must be extended into our everyday lives. Every moment needs to be celebrated. Every path, every route holds immense treasures if we slow down and take the time to see. There are diamonds before our eyes waiting to be discovered.
My last stops were in the Kalahari sands and Stampriet, east of Mariental. The red sands of Bagatelle accentuated against green grass and other vegetation created dazzling visual effects in an area new to me. Camping in the Kalahari has never been as easy as at the friendly Kalahari Anib Lodge, where three private bush camps can be found just 30 km off a tar road from Mariental, making it a convenient stop on the Cape-to-Namibia Route. It’s a time to enjoy Camelthorn beer, Kalahari truffles, a cocktail called ‘the cheetah’s last dance’ and join a game drive to experience the Kalahari landscape as the sand turns a tarnished red. Lastly, and sweetly, like a cherry on top of an ice cream, I spent my remaining two nights at Kalahari Farmhouse, once again taking pleasure in the generosity and hospitality of the Gondwana lodges and the freshly grown fare from their self-sufficiency centre. The colourful patchwork quilts, the farmhouse-style dining area and the secret garden sanctuary around which the chalets are positioned, create a peaceful and fresh atmosphere, which seeped into my travel-weary body, wiping- off the dust accumulated from the road and refreshing my soul.
Back on the road, the kilometres and hours sped by as I visited Hoachanas in time to listen to the church choir call the angels from heaven in the 1857 Lutheran Church. I was awe-struck by the red hills of sand and the Kalahari landscape along the C21, and chatted to the sellers of springbok pelts near the Duineveld turn-off. Lake Oanob provided a welcome camping stop when I couldn’t make it back to the capital in time and gave me the opportunity to go on a guided tour of the Rehoboth Museum the next morning and glean some interesting facts and figures on Baster history. All too soon I found myself on the outskirts of Windhoek, the hills already turning brown as the seasons turned. The fullness of the days swirled around me, teaching me, filling me up with places rich in history, people’s stories and dreams, their kindness and wisdom, and always the unfathomably deep love emanating from Earth.
This article appeared in the Aug/Sep ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.