48 hours in the Northern Cape

Posted on 24 April 2024
The Northern Cape. What a place. What a massive place. So, where am I going? Where indeed. I’m heading out from Cape Town first to the Cederberg on the Elizabethfontein Road, then on the back roads without numbers, left at nothing, right at the death’s door donkey, onwards to Calvinia, Loeriesfontein, Stofbakkies and Pofadder (the town, not the snake).
From there, east to Kakamas, down the legendary R27 and R354 dirt roads to the tiny dorpie of Middelpos, and finally home to Cape Town, through the wind farms of the Moordenaars Karoo. That’s the plan. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans… I’m roughly following the Country Hotels portfolio to check out a few of their out-of-the-way Northern Cape hotels and inns. Into the wide blue yonder. The highlights included the R364 road out of Clanwilliam towards Calvinia, on which is Botterkloof Pass – unexpected, impressively dramatic.
Also, a wealth of late-season flowers, tortoises everywhere – apparently a sign of great bounty – and, once in Calvinia, the poetry of Hantam light, quite unlike anywhere else, is utterly magical. And then… load-shedding. No problem in the Calvinia Hotel restaurant – steak on the grill, chopped salad. They’re organised people, obviously used to this. Tomorrow will be even rarer – the back roads beyond Loeriesfontein and a reunion with Pofadder. Excellent.


Today is one for the record books. For years, I’ve wanted to get really lost in the Higher Karoo between Calvinia and the Namibian border. Now, I’m doing it. The Calvinia Loeriesfontein R355 is as smooth as tar, as empty as the moon and full of intrigue, an unexpected kokerboom forest, rutting tortoises (what a racket), magical passes, cobras, the light, the silence. Loeriesfontein offers decent coffee, that famous Windpomp Museum and a posh octogenarian couple from Somerset West, as happy as Larry murdering the Afrikaans language over a full English breakfast.
And then the hidden R355 out of Loeriesfontein slides to the right, away from Kliprand and becomes what Google can only guess. Then, the white quartz koppies. Then Dikpens, the hidden salt pan. The encroaching red Kalahari sands, like cayenne pepper against the scrub- salt-white landscape. The moon rocks. What a day of sensory overload. And finally, Pofadder, a dorpie that trades in trippy guest house names (Vraweer, 7de Laan, Lekkerbly) and the very impressive Pofadder Inn by Country Hotels with its heritage roses and rump steaks.
The old Loudmouth, the Ford? Despite developing a startling penchant for tooting its own horn- literally – this Ford is a real trooper. It loves going fast on smooth dirt (red, white, grey, klip, all of it), and its suspension travel is a boon in the dips. I love it up here. Like all comfort zones, I wonder why it took me so long to leave this one.


Next, Kakamas. I drive on the rough mountain tracks north of its Orange River islands in search of the famed white quartz mountain (which I find!).
A vineyard lunch at Die Mas winery is delicious (it’s big business up here, sweet wine). Then to Augrabies Falls National Park, knee-deep in dassies, but not tourists, only a few aimless Germans who’ve gone the wrong way. It’s other- worldly, Augrabies, the sci-fi-ness of it. It’s a meticulously run park, scrupulously clean, with a shop selling Jelly Tots, Disprin and Vellies – all the essentials.
The back roads beyond Kenhardt and Brandvlei with big, bigger, biggest skies, plenty of cloud tourism (it should be a thing), late flowering veld, grader barns, forgotten railways and then – exactly what the doctor ordered the Middelpos Hotel. For those who’ve never been to Middelpos, it’s a tiny, wide spot in the road between Calvinia and Sutherland, lost in time, stalled somewhere around 1954. It is Nieu-Bethesda without the people, smaller.
The hotel is an anachronism within an anachronism, but authentic, working, used – anything but pastiche; lamb smells from the kitchen, koffiekoekies on the wide stoep, pink malvas in pots, and peacocks somewhere in the distance, their cries blown in by the wind through the pepper trees.
Load-shedding? As we speak. Falling off in chunks. I may stay forever.

The final day. What is supposed to be a simple run for home turns into the Day of the Passes (spectacular Gannaga, Katbakkies, Gydo, Michells), of aliens and old friends, of sunburn on the monumental green-grey plains of the Tankwa Karoo. The Tankwa Karoo is one of the great wilderness areas of the world, and we are immensely privileged to have it on our doorstep.


I have come here hoping to find nothing and, typical of the province, found a great deal of everything. Quiet, space, time. And people. Many in back kitchens, working over Agas, Dovers, side by side, getting older, slower, a bit bent, but reservoirs of stories, recipes and a quiet energy borne out of the need to simply get on with it. So, I recommend the Northern Cape to those who recognise the importance of a job lot of ’60s continental crockery finding new life somewhere like Middelpos, who smile at a shoe brush by the front door and relish in a muddy dam against an arid landscape.

Article extracted from Getaway’s March 2024 issue.

Images: Alamy, Istock, Courtesy Images

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