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A trip through the Northern & Western Cape of South Africa

by Terry Baker, 1st May 2001

Douglas, and in particular Bucklands, which is the confluence of the Orange and Vaal rivers, was our first destination.

Hilary & I left home from Edenvale on Saturday 22nd April in the morning and headed toward Kimberley, not sure if we would stop in Kimberley on our way, or if we would turn off at Windsorton to go to Barkly West and then on to Douglas. Our first stop was in Potchefstroom, where we had coffee and tee made out of a flask of hot water taken along with us.

We also consulted the map & decided that to go via Barkly West would involve a large section of dirt road. As dirt roads in that area are generally not good, we decided to go via Kimberley. It also gave us a chance to pop in to see Richard ( my son) & his family. We did not stay long with them as we were due to spend the night in Douglas, although we had no overnight reservation there.

I must add here that it had been my wish to visit Griquatown as well as I had never been to Griquatown, and I had read a bit on how Robert Moffat had set up a mission station there before going on to establish the mission station in Kuruman, my birthplace.

Having lived in Kimberley many years ago, I thought I knew the way out of Kimberley to Douglas. In fact I thought that Griquatown and Douglas had a common exit from Kimberley, namely the Schmitsdrif road.

After about half an hour after leaving Kimberley it became evident that we were on the Griquatown road and not the Douglas Road, so we continued through Schmitsdrif and through Campbell toward Griquatown.

Griquatown

We arrived at Griquatown at sunset and went to the first B&B we found. The hosts did not appear to be home and when phoning the advertised number it seems to have been answered by the local exchange who was very helpful in deed. Not only did she give us an alternate number but also advised us of an alternate guest house. I promptly phoned this number whilst parked in the main road virtually opposite the large NG Church. Karien who runs the Little Guesthouse, 082 876 4956, answered, and promptly asked where we were at the time.

The Little Guesthouse

On hearing of our location, said "stay right where you are because you are virtually opposite our house, and I will be with you in 5 minutes". A car pulled out a few meters in front of us so we followed until the car stopped on the outskirts of town. I asked the elderly lady if she was Karien and on hearing that she was not, we retraced our steps back to the church. We clearly followed the wrong car and Iím sure the lady we followed was in a state of shock after being followed by these strange people from "Gauteng".

On our way back to the church we passed a guy on a motorbike with a girl on the back, going in the opposite direction, neither of who was wearing a crash helmet, but then this is Griquatown and very remote. We had no sooner arrived back at the church, and with car still running, when the guy on the bike arrived to ask if we were the couple looking for the guest house. On confirming that we were, we were asked to follow him. A few hundred meters down the main drag there was the Little Guest House and Karien, who I mistook for the child on the back of the bike. After introductions we were shown the guest house and soon established that this couple had only just arrived back from honeymoon and the guy Jim was the local minister.

On hearing of our interest in the history of the area, Karien & Jim went off on their motorbike to see if they could organise for the local Museum, the Mary Moffat Museum, to be opened for us the next morning. We had no sooner unpacked the car and were starting to relax when I heard the motorbike outside and went to see what had transpired. Yes, the lady will open the Museum for us at 8:30 the next morning (Sunday), but we must not keep her too long as church starts at 10 am and she was clearly expected to attend. Well this is the sort of service we certainly didnít expect. We were given instructions on what to switch off when going to bed. "What about locking the doors?", I inquired. "Donít worry about that," came the reply, "the door doesnít lock and we have never had a problem, just close it when you go to bed". So thatís what we did.

One thing I noticed when arriving at Griquatown is that the ambulance seemed very busy with all the coming and going. I asked Jim if there was an accident. He told me that the ambulance is used as a taxi after hours & at weekends. He says that the ambulance driver claims a distance of 40km for the weekend but that the petrol bill for the same period is about R400! Now if thatís not using ones resources!

The TV is a "communal" one in the lounge of this large guest house. "It is connected to the neighbour up the road, as are the rest of the neighbours. He is the only one with a Satellite Dish. So if you want to watch the rugby you will be more than welcome, because that is what the dish owner will be watching." So, we watched the rugby before going to bed. Twice during the breaks the TV channels jumped briefly to other channels and for part of the game the commentary changed to English, most likely for the benefit of the "guests."

After a good nightís rest and a brief breakfast we went to the museum and was met by the lady who runs it, Mrs. Hetta Hager, 053 343 0180.

Amongst other things, we learnt from this lady where the Moffat Church in Campbell is. We had to go back to Campbell in any case to get to Douglas so popped in to see & photograph the Moffat Church there.

Moffat Church at Campbell

We did not go inside as the locals were using it for a church service at the time.

Douglas

We arrived at Douglas during the course of the morning via a good dirt road from Campbell and after having a look around. went to Bucklands to see the confluence of the Vaal and Orange (now Gariep) rivers. Bucklands is not a "town" as such, but a collection of plots along the river all the way from Douglas.

Prieska

After Bucklands we proceeded to Prieska and drove through the town. I noticed the offices of Leigh & Day, the firm of British attorneys who are representing all the asbestos sufferers in the area.

From there we could have gone directly to Fraserburg via Copperton, but being still a bit nervous of dirt roads, proceeded along the tar road to Britstown, where we filled up with petrol and then on to Fraserburg along a tar road that becomes dirt after a few kilometers. We joked that the farmer Vos must have known the guys tarring the roads because it is tarred up to the Vos farm and almost as far a Vosberg, which looks as though it is where the rest of the Vosí live.

Fraserburg

We had pre-booked into the Teekloof Hotel, 023 741 1330, in Fraserburg for the night of Sunday the 24th April, so the lady at reception wasnít surprised when we pitched up. We were the only guests at this one also. We walked around town and noticed a van belonging to Lennings Rail, one of my former clients, and now also part of Grinnaker-LTA. (Must remember to phone Wally Langsford and ask him about that one) Saw the most beautiful sunset from the outskirts of town but the camera was in the hotel. Also saw a complete mudguard from a model T ford, or something similar, that had been discarded there. A car chassis from a similar era was propping up a fence of one of the locals.

Next morning, Monday the 24th, the hotel owner phoned the lady who runs the local museum just to make sure that it would be open for us, which it was. We had a good tour of the museum which in a previous life was the rectory.

Fraserburg Museum

Lots of fossils from dinosaurs etc. Heard the life history of the lady who runs the museum and who looks as though she is in her mid twenties and how she used to work in and run the local hotel. After our visit she had to dash off to do work for the church which is celebrating its 150th birthday.

We had a lot of time to kill because we were booked into a hotel in Sutherland that evening. On the way to Sutherland, along very good dirt roads, we came across a little bridge crossing a stream, so decided to stop and take a stroll.

Sutherland (Monday 23rd)

The South African Astronomical Observatory at Sutherland is along this same dirt road some 18 km before Sutherland. At the entrance is a large gate which is closed and forbids entry, but displays a phone number, 023 5711205, which you can ring to make bookings. Tours are given on the first & third Monday of the month at 2 p.m., and Friday and Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. only, so you must plan properly and book or you will be disappointed as we were. I phoned the number but the lady who answered was unsympathetic and had been give instructions that very morning not to take any bookings and to advise all that visits to the observatory were discontinued with immediate effect! We left disheartened for Sutherland, the town.

SAAO at Sutherland

After checking into the Sutherland Hotel, 023 571 1096, you canít miss it, itís the double story building at the first stop sign, we unpacked the car and started making inquiries. No one is at reception. You will find the owner, receptionist and bar lady, Mrs du Plessis, in the pub. We clearly were not the only occupants. In fact the pub already had some people in it. Most of them were blokes with big beards that looked like they were on an expedition to the Antarctic. It was fitting as it was very cold in Sutherland, especially that night. A cold front had just reached Sutherland. It seems that a few scientists or construction personnel were staying at the hotel. We went for a drive, found old Boer War graves, the cemetery is in a bad way and needs urgent attention. Margaret Thatcher, together with John Vorster, the then prime minister, opened the observatory in about 1975.

Iím sure at the time Margaret Thatcher and John Vorster must have visited the war graves and I bet they were not neglected then. Afterwards we found the municipal building and the Information Office. Its almost opposite the cemetery. There is only one main street and virtually everything is in that street, everything except the museum.

At the Information Office, we got to know where the lady is that really knows everything about Sutherland. She runs a shop called "Die Trommel" which is almost next to the Hotel, and she used to run the Information Office until recently. She organised for us to see the museum, told us about a sheep farm that produces cheese from sheepís milk, and told us how to get into the Observatory grounds. She also told us to visit the local NG church which is always open for visits and which was used by British soldiers during the Boer War.

Off we went to see the church. Introduced ourselves to the local church official at the manse, and he took us to the church and then left us to our own devices.... very interesting. There is a bit of graffiti from British soldiers preserved in the church. We could not stay long because by this time we had an appointment at the local museum for 3:30 p.m. The museum is not actually a general museum, but rather the birthplace and home of the Afrikaans poets and authors NP Louw, and his brother De Wet Louw.

Other dignitaries from Sutherland like Dr. Olivier, a civil engineer who was responsible for the construction of many water projects including the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam (now Gariep Dam). He was knighted for his work and became Sir Olivier.

After the museum, we made our way to the Sheep Farm to see how cheese is made. The farm is about 50 km out of town towards Calvinia and the road becomes very bad once you leave the main road. Ideally a 4x4 is required to get there. But we made it by about 5 p.m., by which time Koos van der Merwe, the owner, had already left for town. As we approached the house we passed some sheep in a crawl, one of which was outside and in the driveway and in our path. As we approached the sheep started moving away from us toward the house. A dog, obviously very well trained took over and took care of the sheep.

Koosís cheese-maker and assistant, a young girl named Jo-Marie gave us coffee and rusks, and then showed us around the cheesery. We also saw how the sheep get milked and then visited the cooler room where the cheese is kept. We bought a few pieces of cheese and departed again for Sutherland before it got too dark as we were concerned about the bad farm road. Jo-Marie presently makes "sweet-milk" and "fetta" and will soon be making "Roquefort" as well.

That evening Hilary thought we should go and look at the stars. The stars were so bright that we had difficulty finding the Southern Cross. The reason for this is that all the other stars are just as bright as those in the Southern Cross. It is unbelievable - I did not think the sky would look any different in Sutherland to anywhere else, but boy was I surprised!

We eventually went to sleep at about 1 am after our neighbour also decided to turn in by switching his radio off.

Next morning, Tuesday 24th, before continuing our trip we went back to the Sutherland Observatory, opened the large gate and drove in. After carefully closing the gate we went right to the top and drove amongst the observatories. We saw the construction of SALT (South African Large Telescope) the new large telescope under construction and had a superb view of the surrounding countryside. A springbok was grazing a few meters from our car. We did not get out of our vehicle because we did not want to upset anyone nor the springbok. We just wanted to make sure they are using our money well! R50 million seems a lot to spend on a telescope.

After closing the gate carefully behind us we pursued our journey, back to Sutherland and on to Carnarvon.

Matjiesfontein

We did not head straight for Ceres but decided to make a detour via Matjiesfontein, mainly to avoid further dirt roads.

Matjiesfontein has the most marvelous museum at R3 a person and all based in the railway station. It goes on and on and on and goes downstairs into basement-like rooms. It is one of the most comprehensive museums that I have seen of all sorts, including Boer War regalia, weapons, Cameras, Bone China, patents, inventions, implements, tools etc.

Ceres

It was raining when we reached Ceres and we had rain over the pass from Ceres all the way to Tulbagh.

We stopped in Tulbagh for tea until the rain stopped and then continued on to Porterville and then on to Piketberg. As it was mid to late afternoon we decided to proceed on to our next destination, Saldanha Bay via Velddrif Drift and Vredenburg.

Saldanha

We looked around for B&B in Saldanha. The first place we tried was full. The second place, Janeís, was on the beach front and charging R265 per person, a bit beyond our budget, so we headed back toward Vredenburg where we saw B&B advertised on the way in.

Oranjevlei Farm B&B

The sign from the main Saldanha/Vredenburg road says "Proceed to second farm to Oranjevlei".

When we got to the reception, there was a sign on the door to tell us no one was home, but it had a cell number which I promptly phoned. Karen answered and said she would be with us in a few minutes. She was, and we took room number 5. The rooms are 200 year old horse stables converted to B&B, but are very nicely done, and had all amenities we required and the price was right. In fact they were so neat we decided to stay for a further night before heading for Cape Town. That night we went to eat at a restaurant at the recommendation of Karen. The restaurant, Meresteijn, is in Saldanha, overlooks the Bay, and is owned and run by Karenís sister Babetta and her husband.

In addition to the rooms Oranjevlei has a very nice pub and dining room / restaurant. Next morning there was another young lady at reception who told us what to do & see in the area.

She also told us that she would move us to room 6 for Wednesday the 25th as room 5 had been booked by someone for a few days. No problem - room 6 was everything that room 5 was. In addition it had a fascinating framed area covered in glass showing the original "dry-stone" construction.

When Karen appeared she asked if we had heard a commotion & shots being fired in the night. Evidently her father had heard the dogs "carrying on" with the sheep, and had fired 2 shots into the air from his shot gun to stop them. He was not sure if they were his dogs or the neighbours that were causing the problem. Sheep dogs get bored easily and need to herd sheep all the time. Anyhow, because it was dark, one of the shots had hit the telephone lines and rendered the place without phone lines. A familiar thing in Gauteng where our lines get stolen overnight.

Off we went to visit Paternoster. What a beautiful little fishing village.

The local hotel at Paternoster is owned by an interesting chap who originally comes from Calvinia, and who lived in Pretoria and worked for the SABC before settling in Paternoster.

His pub is a must, just to read the walls. They are covered in pictures, graffiti and idioms (and idiots), but a must to see.

Walking distance from the hotel is a "farm" stall that sells everything from the sea bottled - but very little from the farm. We bought some pickled fish, anchovies and home made ginger beer labeled "Moerse Lekker Gemmir Bier" from him. (The ginger beer also has a warning that one should not drink and drive, on itís label) His house, I assume its his house, next door, has bunches of things hanging from the fence all around. It looks from a distance like bunches of bananas, but itís salted fish (called Bokoms) drying in the sun. Itís the equivalent of our familiar "biltong". This owner explained to us that he is clean out of Bokoms and that those hanging in the sun outside will only be ready by the week-end, by which time all the visitors would be there.

Our next stop was a shop on the corner called "Winkel Op Die Pad" that sell everything else. That is everything that the previous guy does not sell. She also sells books written and autographed by the renowned local Paternoster writer, Pieter Pietersen. We bought one which I still have to read. We also bought some dried fish labeled "Bokoms vir Biginners en Bangbroeke", some dried snoek and a few other things. When I asked about the label on the Bokoms, she told me its been prepared by de-heading, de-skinning & de-boning and ready for visitors to eat.

From Paternoster a 7 km dirt road takes you to Stompneusbaai. As you drive toward the fish factory at Stompneusbaai, there is a turnoff to Shelley Point. Shelly Point is a nice housing complex where we bought a plot. I estimate that there is about 3m of sea sand below our plot. Apart from that it looks well situated. We had a lunch of cheese, anchovies, bread and ginger beer on the beach, before moving on to St. Helena Bay and the back onto the Velddrif/Vredenburg road and on to Langebaan.

Me, at "our plot"

Langebaan has one of the most beautiful beaches. Unfortunately the wind was blowing a bit and it was rather cold, but we had a good walk on the beach, had an encounter with a wet Labrador dog, a few seagulls, a kite, and one of those crab-like things that creeps around half out of itís shell.

After an ice cream we went back to our B&B at Oranjevlei and found the telephone technician up a telephone pole attending to the destroyed telephone lines.

We decided to go for a drink at the pub. It was only the 2 of us at the pub until Karenís dad, Hannes joined us for a "dop". He introduced himself & I said "Oh! the guy with the shotgun" and he just laughed.

What an interesting chap he turned out to be. If you see his daughters youíll know the other reason he needs a shotgun. He says if he wins the lotto he is going to buy a bulldozer and bulldoze the neighbours on the first farm. I donít think he likes them. The neighbours have got the weirdest sheep dogs. They herd cars and bang quiet hard against the side of the car doing a fair amount of damage. Once you know how to handle them its OK. Just drive like hell!.

Yzerfontein

We left Oranjevlei with reluctance on the morning of Thursday the 26th heading for Cape Town, but couldnít resist turning off to Yzerfontein to check out if I could find my cousin, Aubreyís, beach cottage there.

Before we got to Yzerfontein & probably about 86 km from Cape Town, we could see Table Mountain as clear as daylight. From Yzerfontein beach you also have a very nice view of Table Mountain.

I found what I think is Aubreyís house with a "sold" sign on it! Bruce (my son) and I visited Aubrey & his family a few years ago with my uncle Eric, about 4 months before he (uncle Eric) passed away. Shortly after that Aubrey went to practice at Guyís Hospital in the UK.

There is a very nice farm stall where the Yzerfontein road tees into the N7 main road to Cape Town.

Cape Town

We went on to Cape Town and directly on via Boyís Drive over Muizenberg, through Fish Hoek and on to Simonís Town, where we booked into the Central Hotel. Walking distance from our hotel, just past the city hall, is a Toy Museum. You have never seen a larger collection of Dinky Toy Motor Cars, Dolls, Trains, Steam Engines and Meccano Sets. I even managed to find a Dinky version of my Jaguar XK150.

First time ever that I have seen a cast iron toy motor car!. We drove a few hundred meters to The Boulders where there is a colony of penguins. If we knew where it was we could have walked there.

Next we drove via Ou Kaapseweg to the V&A Waterfront where we had a good walk around the shops and amongst the many boats until we found our way to the pub where we had a beer. Back to Simonís Town via Main Road for a fish & chips supper at the Salt Sea Dog, which is virtually opposite the Central Hotel.

Friday the 27th was a holiday. We had made arrangements to meet William Thomas for lunch and Dot Lawson in Sun Valley for morning tea.

It was good to see Dot again but sad to hear how Noel had passed away after a heart attack on December the 6th, 2000, whilst they were on holiday visiting their sons Ivan & Clifford in Phoenix, Arizona.

After our visit to Dot, we picked William up at his home and then went to Peddlers on the Bend in Constantia. Very nice place to lunch. After dropping William off we went to Hout Bay Harbour. Hilary went shopping for goodies at the fish shop whilst I had a look around the pawn shop. What a lot of Junk and boy you want to see his prices. I think his standard lowest price for anything is R350. I left there a bit disgusted but was warned because I have been there on our previous trip.

Our drive to Cape Town was via Llandudno, Three Anchor Bay, Camps Bay, Sea Point.

And then we went back to Simonís Town via Muizenberg. Muizenberg was a big disappointment. The town is very run down with Balmoral Hotel all barricaded up, likewise the Empire Theater looked as though it was falling down. The building between the Empire & Balmoral, a large face brick building looks abandoned with most of the windows having been broken. A few people were surfing near the railway station. A lot of people "just hanging" out. It looks a real "drugs & prostitute" venue. Other buildings like private residences were well kept and newly painted. Mountain View Lodge in Clevedon Rd., where I once briefly lived, has been completely redone in face-brick and looks good. The reason I only lived there briefly is because I was there during the 1969 Ceres/Tulbagh earthquake and it was a horrifying experience, even for us in Muizenberg some 100 km from the epicentre. We moved out the day after the earthquake even though all the buildings shook to the same extent, even the new one we went to around the corner.

Return Journey

We left Simonís Town on Saturday the 28th heading back home. As we passed Muizenberg the Annual Kite Festival at Zandvlei was just starting with only one kite visible up to that time. We went past Strandfontein & Mitchellís Plein & picked up the N2 freeway towards Somerset West where we stopped briefly just to pick up a "Nose Week" magazine which is not easy to buy in Joburg.

Up the Sir Lowryís pass we went until we found the "Houwhoek Farm Stall", 028 2849015, near Elgin. We had tea and apple pie & lemon meringue pie. There we bought more dried fruit and some grapes & some honey (in comb) and delicious apples.

On we pushed until we reached Mossel Bay. We had an ice cream on the beach near a big cave, and the surfers were out as were the fisherman. We also had a look in their local flea market.

We passed through George and started up the Outeniekwa Pass. The view was great and on the other side as we turned off of the Uniondale road toward Oudshoorn, we were stopped by yet another farm stall. This one had more dried fruit etc. but also had ostrich eggs for sale. After I felt how heavy a fresh ostrich egg is, I insisted Hilary have a feel as well! She also couldnít believe how heavy it was. Anyhow she wasnít buying. I think she got scared of the size the omelet may be.

In Oudshoorn we found a nice B&B, the Ostrich Nest, 044 2722924. We could not believe the number of B&Bís and restaurants in Oudshoorn. Supper was had at a Swiss Restaurant walking distance from our B&B and that was after we had had a long walk through town. The sunset we experienced at Fraserburg was not to be repeated, not even in Oudshoorn.

Cango Caves

Next morning, Sunday the 29th, we set off for the Cango Caves some 30 km out of town. Its the first time we have seen the caves and we were both very impressed. Itís a must if you are in the area. We only did the small tour of half an hour because we still had a long way to go. Although the tour was short we saw the two largest chambers, namely the Van Zyl Chamber and the Botha Chamber.

Breakfast was had at the very closest farm stall come restaurant come entertainment complex which is situated at the turnoff to Prince Albert, not more than a kilometer from the caves. They have camel rides, boat rides & all sorts mainly for the kids.

Prince Albert

From the caves we headed for Prince Albert via the Swartberg Pass. The Swartberg Pass has a reputation as being the most nerve racking (or should that be wrecking) experience of all time. I remember my mother talking about it and it has not changed. It is dirt all the way with much of it having no barriers or low stone walls at all. It is also very narrow in places so that only one vehicle can pass at a time.

A lady at the uppermost viewpoint looked at me and commented "My senewees is klaar!".

The road sign asks descending vehicles to stop so that the ascending vehicles can pass, but I think it works better if the one against the mountainside stops so that the outermost vehicle can pass. Anyhow the view from the pass is outstanding and this route is highly recommended. I also came to the conclusion that the pass must not be tarred because it is great just as it is. It will become a racetrack with many accidents if it is changed. A particular feature are the geological folds that can be seen in waves and in some places are completely vertical.

At the bottom of the pass you come upon a beautiful little village stuck in a time warp. This is Prince Albert. They just happened to have the main road closed for an Olive Festival at the time we passed through. How convenient. Well we spent an hour or 2 there and this time the Fransie Pienaar Museum, 023 541136, was open.

From Prince Albert we chose a dirt road to the main N1 road. This connects at a place called Kruitfontein and is 10 km south of Leeu-Gamka. From there we just followed the normal boring route all the way to Beaufort West and on to Colesberg where we slept that night.

On getting to Colesberg, we heard on the radio that a chap had been trapped at 190 km per hour between Leeu-Gamka and Beaufort West at the exact time we were along there. I can understand us not seeing the guy at that speed, but what puzzled me is the fact that we didnít see any speed traps or cops along that route. He was evidently fined R8000. Itís a good thing that we were sticking more or less to the speed limit.

Yesterday morning, Monday the 30th, we left Colesberg and went to Gariep Dam, before proceeding home via Bloemfontein.

We arrived home at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, fully exhausted and satisfied that we had a splendid holiday. Back to work tomorrow!

oooOOOooo

 
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