So, off to a very special place in the Eastern Cape, Oubosstrand. More about that tomorrow. What I want to talk about today is how the scenery on the road there and back – there is no other word for it – utterly amazed me.
Two moms, four kids, two cars. Johannesburg to the south Eastern Cape. Across 1,300 km of highways and byways over two days. Where do I begin?
Well, the overnight stop was in the town of Graaff-Reinett and, believe me, this one has ten blogs in it just waiting to happen. It’s one of those places where the streetlamps look charming. Perhaps it’s because it has the magic three for making a place great in my book: great location, fantastic history and a current population that seem to know they’re on a good wicket.
From there, to get to the coast, you go through some great Klein Karoo scenery – the Valley of Desolation and the Naudesberg Pass before the Swartberg Mountains loom up large out of the horizon. A great surprise was the small (well, small compared to Meiringspoort, see below) “kloof” just outside Uniondale, with the road winding back and forth across a small river. I would love to go back when all the aloes are in full bloom, to see all the ‘rockets’ (“vuurpyle”) colour the mountain red and yellow.
Then the road opens up into the Langkloof – the bounty of massive apple orchids in the middle of what still looks like a Karoo landscape. It runs from east to west just inland from the Tsitsikamma forest, and I kept on staring at the mountain range on either side.
And then you cross the mountain just when you get into Kareedouw, with the road flanked by king proteas on either side. The word Tsitsikamma means “place of much water” in KhoiSan, but what the map does NOT tell you is that a quirk of geology meant that each little stream coming down the mountain has carved a chasm for itself on the way to the sea, and it’s all on display right on the N2. The two most famous are of course the Storms River bridge and Bloukrans, but there are about four others that are just as impressive. Of course, what makes this stretch of the highway the Garden Route is the way that the exquisite fynbos and king proteas in full bloom make way, seemingly on call, for green pastures with Nguni cattle grazing, swiftly followed by dense rainforest.
On the way back, the GPS led us through Meiringspoort, which was a regular holiday route of ours as children, and I’d forgotten how dramatic it actually is. On the day we went through it, the first large cold front of the season had come across the coast the night before, and the Karoo, already green from a good summer season, obliged with the most dramatic vistas of the Swartberg I have ever seen. I wish I could take pictures of it through the rain specks on the car windshield, but picture the clouds rolling over mountains in the Scottish highlands and you’re halfway there.
Meiringspoort looks like God took a blunt knife and cut a wafer thin slice out of the Swartberg from north to south just for the sake of letting a river through. It’s impossibly narrow, impossibly high and the layers of the Cape mountain folds that curve up from the river make you feel like you’re seeing the mountain’s insides – some secret place that’s supposed to be hidden but is now allowing you in.
On the north side Meiringspoort spits you out into the bright sunlight of the great Karoo and a race across the open spaces to a stopover in Britstown to go and give my dad a hug. A year ago, he was diagnosed with ‘terminal’ lung cancer, only to be told earlier this week that his lungs are now totally clean without any trace of the cancer.
Image credits: Photo taken by me