Hosting of the Mercedes Benz Club of South Africa annual general meeting rotates around the provinces and this year was held in the Western Cape.
Eager to preserve our three year old tradition of embarking on an annual self-drive adventure, we took this occasion to plan a week long route, the long way round, to the end destination – Somerset West.
Last year with 8 other 4×4 vehicles, we spent 19 days in Namibia with its breath-taking scenery and in 2010 a tour of Zimbabwe left everyone with promises to return. This itinerary was largely planned around good food and wine …
On a beautiful crisp clear autumn morning, three matching 1960’s Mercedes Benz Cabriolets set off from Johannesburg destination – Western Cape.
After a slow start through the traffic which the old ladies did not appreciate and saw temperature gauges rising, we had two and half hours of glorious open-top cruising to Klerksdorp. We were hosted to a delicious brunch by the Booysens also Merc Club members.
Fortified by a Bucks fizz, as heavy clouds began gathering ominously, we headed for the historic town of Kimberley. About an hour out we were forced to raise the roofs but were happy that the N12 near Bloemhof had none of the roadwork stop/starts as anticipated but instead we enjoyed a clear road in good condition.
At the Kimberley Club we were joined by fellow travellers, the Coetzer family from Empangeni, in their 1980’s Mercedes Station Wagon “support” vehicle.
The Kimberley Club has seen the comings and goings of some of the foremost personalities in the world and now us … The Club was inaugurated in 1881 and is now a National Monument that has been refurbished and has been open up to give guests a taste of the luxurious lifestyle of the diamond dynasty era.
Another true SA welcome was extended by Merc enthusiast, Koot du Toit and family, as we quenched our thirst in the bar while Cecil J Rhodes looked down on us – a painting that is apparently the only one that he commissioned personally.
The following morning, Sunday, we were awakened early by the peal of church bells resonating over our balcony. So, after an impressive choice of breakfast treats, we were once again on our way to Carnarvon and the Karoo. Unfortunately, being a Sunday, the “must-do” Mannetjies Roux Museum was closed but a good helping of Cape hospitality served with delicious venison pies and banana chutney at the Turksvy Padstal in Victoria West quickly dowsed the short lived disappointment.
We arrived in Carnarvon just in time for a leisurely stroll at dusk to see the many quaint, historic Karoo homes such as those that belonged to writers A G Visser and D F Malherbe. The corbelled houses built by nomadic sheep farmers 200 years ago are only found in the area and stick out like carbuncles in this big sky country.
Like the town, our gracious lodging, Lord Carnarvon Guest House oozes history and eccentricity. Dating back to 1886 and built in typical Victoria style it was home to Colonel Carel van Zyl who received an OBE from Queen Victoria during the Boer war. He later became major of the town and was never seen out of his full military uniform festooned by his medals.
Although we were not successful in making a fire in the hearth due to the blocked chimney, we were served the most delicious meal of the entire tour – Karoo lamb pot roast, Boere vegetables and the obligatory rice and potatoes!
The cosy Victorian styled bedrooms belied the icy morning that accosted us as we exited to find the Cabrio soft-tops frozen with winter’s first frost. A freezing 135 or so kilometres through the stark Northern Cape to Williston was truly chilly but taking our time to thaw out while browsing around the quirky “Mall” was a pleasure.
As always, these trips off the beaten track never fail to reveal some amazing surprises. Behind, a grimy, obscure façade, Protea Motors at Nieuwoudtville hides a staggering collection of two wheeler motorised transport and other motoring memorabilia.
Not expecting this out of the typical flower season, the March flowers at the Hantam National Botanical Garden just outside town had us rushing out of the cars to soak up some sun and take photos of the awesome vista.
I was disappointed that we could not find where to buy produce in the “bulb capital of South Africa” and after some aimless searching braved the dusty corrugations that took us to Papkuilsfontein. This private farm with guest cottages that are the original stone farm buildings, although without electricity, are fitted out with every comfort once could wish for. A roaring fire, paraffin lanterns and warming bottle of “red” after a traditional wholesome dinner has us promising to return for the spring flower spectacle.
Distressed by little bits falling off our much loved motor on the return corrugated dirt road, a direct route was plotted to the carwash in Vanrhynsdorp where we spotted an original Adenauer Mercedes Benz in the showroom. Our line-up, quite unusual in these parts, caused somewhat of a stir amongst the small but appreciative audience.
Regrettably, but luckily, we were advised not to take our planned route to Clanwilliam due to road works on the N7 so we missed out on the rooibos capital, Citrusdal Baths, Piekernierskloof Pass, the planned lunch stop at Hebron and a little shop at Tant Dollie. Instead, we made for the West Coast and the first of our much anticipated crayfish at Elands Bay – so fresh and delicious one almost felt sorry for them. (Almost, I said!)
We couldn’t wait to hit Paternoster, our next stopover for two nights – a quaint fishermen’s village on the edge of pristine little bays hugged by white-washed cottages and holiday homes. Ours was one of these; to have been better located would be impossible. Every room opened out to an unhindered view of the sun setting on the horizon dipping in behind the boulders and crashing waves. Sadly we were warned not to leave doors open during the night as uninvited visitors were likely.
Safe walks, friendly locals and ridiculously inexpensive seafood … what more could we wish for a whole day at leisure. However, we were soon back in the Cabrios and making our way via Darling to the Riebeeck Valley. So much to see, do and taste that we were delayed by the outstanding olives at Ormonde and Slow Beer down the road and missed out on lunch at Hilda’s Restaurant (now Top country restaurant) but tasted fabulous Old Man’s Sparkle at Groote Post.
On our way into Riebeeck Kasteel we detoured into Kloovenberg for olive tasting and so glad we did! It was fabulous and very welcoming though Het Vlok Kasteel, seemingly less well publicised, was just as stunning. I warmly reaffirmed my deep love for our spacious Cabrio as I indulged in the huge variety of tasty goodies.
Christelle Erasmus, published author of cookbooks and a warm hostess at La Montagne, steered us to Bar Bar Black Sheep for dinner. After Carnarvon this tongue in cheek, humorous spot was the net favouriye culinary highlight…
The next day, after a detour via Tulbagh, probably the most beautiful town in the Cape, our route took us though the tremendous Bainskloof Pass. The cars purred up, over and down, as we could marvel, topless, at the awesome, unspoilt landscape of this road which has been altered very little since it was built in 1853.
The rest of the day revealed a tapestry of colourful autumn scenes as we may our way through the winelands of Wellington, Paarl and on to Franschhoek.
Before check-in at the Klein Waterval Riverside Lodge 10kms outside Franschhoek we were drawn like moths to a flame … the local car enthusiasts’ mecca … the Rupert Car Museum at L’Omarins. The setting is as exquisite as the contents which apparently changes every few months. This time there was an iconic array of classic Mercs including a 1930’s 540K and a 1950’s Gullwing.
The Ferrari collection is a highlight of the exhibition. A SS Jaguar was particularly pretty!
Not at all ‘ponsy’ like much of the region, Klein Waterval was exquisitely located in its own vineyards. A hospitality bar, run of the house, a host who’s wry sense of humour and eccentric style had us wondering when Sybil was going to appear from the kitchen in true Fawlty Towers style. The crispiest bacon, bottomless filter coffee and energetic pair of Jack Russells ensured we were genuinely “at home”.
We could not leave the area without a visit to Hillcrest Berry Farm tea garden which originally opened to showcase their berry products. Packed and after a short wait for vacant table, we found out why …
Nasty weather was approaching over the mountains discouraging us from taking the route over the Franschhoek Pass and the Elgin-Grabouw Valley, so on through Stellenbosch to the Lord Charles in Somerset-West and the 2012 Mercedes Benz National Gathering.
This year’s sojourn will be hard to beat, great food and wine as promised but nothing beats South African hospitality and the beauty if the Cape.
Don’t hesitate to seek our recommendations about places we have seen and visited. With so many review sites and not knowing which are genuine testimonials – I pride myself in finding hidden gems, details of which I gladly share.
After the National Gathering we returned to Jozi by Shozaloza Premier Classe – cars and all – gotta say it was a highlight of the trip!
Until the next one … cheers