Chasing the most off-beat parts of the Rainbow Nation

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 18 June 2021

A three-week, 9 000km journey traversing all nine of South Africa’s provinces, helps kickstart local tourism in some of the most off-beat parts of the Rainbow Nation.

Words & Photos Jacques Marais

Elise Stadler and Vusi Mahlathini kayak the diverse Kosi Bay estuarine lake system.

We set off on our Beyond Lockdown trip last year on the day Uncle Cyril okayed inter-provincial travel. What a feeling it was to be back on the road after a solid six months of seclusion, watching Table Mountain recede in our rear-view mirrors.

Up ahead, the N7 rollicked and rolled along amidst a tapestry of wheat and canola fields. Beyond the Moorreesburg plains, the Winterhoek and Cederberg peaks scrabbled skywards, while the desolate Kners-vlakte glowed in the dawn rays to our west.

Our Beyond Lockdown Expedition was finally a go, with 9 000km, nine diverse provinces, over a dozen ecosystems, and a thousand smiles waiting along the way as the road unfurled through the windscreen.

Easing the Isuzu into a gravel climb on the picturesque Piekenierskloof Wine Estate.

Next to me, in the Isuzu D-Max driver’s seat, was Peter van Kets, my adventurer mate. This was to be our fourth ‘Beyond Expeditions’ mission together, all while exploring the breathtaking outdoor playground that is the African continent.

Our original 2020 plan was a four-country journey focusing on desert rhino conservation but ‘then Covid happened’. So we came up with Beyond Lockdown, an adventure symbolising our belief in an eventual end to all the mental dissonance and financial pressures brought on by the hard lockdown regulations in South Africa.

Climbing coastal rock stacks north of Strandfontein.

We also believed fervently – and still do – there had to be a way to help those hardest hit by the economic fallout. And the place to start was at the very bottom of the tourism food chain, with those small community operators at grassroots level.

We couldn’t offer much financial support but we could create visual collateral and expose their businesses to our extensive media networks. So we took to the road and went feral along a clockwise route meandering via some of SA’s wildest and most remote regions.

Join us as we condense three unforgettable weeks of adventure, and introduce some of the quirky characters we met in breathtaking destinations.

My Name is Oubaas

Namaqua West Coast (Doringbaai)

Fish the West Coast ‘Camargue

‘This is the dorpie I grew up in’, explained Oubaas ‘Johannes Denzel’ Gertse as he rowed his tiny wooden ‘bakkie’ boat onto the windswept Olifants River estuary, nodding obliquely in the direction of the village sprawling along the riverbank.

‘Oubaas’ Johannes Denzel Gertse in a pensive moment.

There are 50, maybe 60, houses in Papendorp, dotting the Strandveld shoreline, and most of those who live there are subsistence fishermen. ‘It’s a hard life, but it is a satisfying life’, he says in Afrikaans, wistfully patting Blackie and Whitey, his two dogs perching on the gunnel beside him.

Oubaas supplements his income by ferrying visitors onto the expansive Ramsar site at the mouth of the Olifants River. They can either fish off his boat, watch the profusion of aquatic birds or sit back and tune into his storytelling.

Pelicans, flamingos, spoonbills and ibis abound but post-pandemic tourists are few. It’s a place of unbounded tranquillity and understated natural beauty; if you would, imagine theCamargue marshes in the south of France, but without having to shell out ¤10 for an overrated café latte.

The people here are quirky as anything and life is lived simplistically and close to the earth. Papendorp lies just off the R326, between Lutzville and Doringbaai.

Oubaas demonstrating how to haul in a snoek on a handline.

Do It

Oubaas is a subsistence fisherman, part-time tour guide and terrific storyteller. Fishing bakkie outings are R200 per person (maximum of 2) and take 1.5 hours; get hold of this local legend via the tourism team at namaquawestcoast.com.

Stay Here

Thorn Bay Self-catering, from R850 a unit for two.
027 215 1333

!Xopan loping effortlessly along the crest of a Bokspits dune.

My Name is !Xopan

Kgalagadi (Bokspits)

Animal tracking in an old desert

‘I know these dunes; they’re like the streets in my hometown. I walk here, because I grew up here, a true Kalahari Child. I am proudly Bushman. I am !Xopan.’

It was an icy day when we met !Xopan in the dunes of Erin Game Ranch, a !Khomani San Community Farm near Bokspits on the Northern Cape’s Red Dune Route. He works as a guide with the inimitable Vinkie van der Westhuizen, and they spirited us away on an authentic animal tracking experience in the Kgalagadi.

Peter Van Kets earthing himself with some red Kgalagadi sand.

It was freezing cold and at one stage, !Xopan had to borrow my down jacket to keep the biting cold at bay, as he was only in a loincloth to show us how his forefathers hunted a few hundred years ago. His spirit and smile never wavered, and that night he regaled us with impossibly tall Kalahari tales as we tucked into traditional Noord-Kaap fare around their flickering fires.

Khomani means the ‘forgotten people’, and – as with the blood-orange sand of the Northern Cape’s rural Red Dune Route – you’ll find it impossible to erase them from memory once you’ve experienced their encyclopedic knowledge of the arid veld and witnessed their rich, yet humble and unfettered lives.

The expedition team camping at Kalahari Trails Nature Reserve.

Do It

Authentic Kalahari Experiences offers animal tracking, game drives and a host of interactive cultural activities with the San community near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park entrance. khomanisan.co.za. For animal tracking (R350pp), contact Vinkie on 072 977 0120.

Stay Here

Erin Game Ranch: semi-luxury tent – R350pp sharing; rustic campsite with own tent and equipment – R180 pp; 087 285 4299 or 072 948 4713

My Name is Galefele …

North West (Mahikeng)

Discover Afro science fiction at Lotlamoreng

Around three decades ago, I went on a weekend quest into the thorny backcountry of Bophuthatswana, then a so-called independent homeland or Bantu-stan. This was when I first heard of Lotlamoreng Cultural Village after locals at the Kidarele Bar & Lounge regaled us with a story of a famous Zulu sangoma constructing a tourist village nearby.

Concrete sculptures by the legendary Credo Mutwa.

On that trip, we eventually found Lotlamoreng and got to meet the famed prophet, Credo Mutwa. It was a bizarre day of bone throwing and strange portents, and since, I’ve stayed in touch with Lotlamoreng. Social Media connected me with Galefele Matlhwăi Molema, and – 30 years on – we met this local guide and historian once again in Lotlamoreng during the Beyond Lockdown trip. These days, the fantastical giant cement statues and enchanted structures of the cultural village are overgrown and unkempt but, in a way, this merely adds to the magic.

‘We sometimes bring the Boy Scouts here but other than that, few people visit’, Galefele explains. ‘That’s why a few friends and I began the Mahikeng Cultural Society so we could preserve history. I mean, this is Afro sci-fi at its roots and Credo captured the concept of chituari, or extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth, perfectly.’

Author Jacques Marais in deep discussion with Galefele Molema.

Do It

Galefele is the perfect guide and interpreter to make the story of Lotlamoreng come alive; the village is in disrepair, minimally maintained through his passion and a handful of colleagues. 081 775 9382
[email protected]

Stay Here

Mahikeng Scout Centre of Excellence for Nature Environment: Camping R30 pp; bungalows R80 pp; Malerato Bungalow R120 pp; hostel R40 pp. 018 381 7439

Lana’s Boutique Hotel, from R950pp.
081 011 1819

Sedikwa Guesthouse: R820 a room.
064 553 8498

My Name is PC

Khoisan Conservancy

Mountain bike the ‘mini-Serengeti’

We left behind the seas of sand shaping the vast swathe of the Kalahari, sailing the tarmac tides into the heart of an endless grassland ocean. Our GPS pinpointed us at Faugh a Ballagh (an ancient Irish war cry translated as ‘Clear the Way’) but below our feet, the waving grass of the Karoo-Gariep Nature Reserve did an excellent impression of Kenya.

Peter Van Kets cycling in the Karoo-Gariep Conservancy.

PC Ferreira and his family are deeply rooted to this land upon the sedge-lined shores of the windswept Seekoei River. ‘Here on the Gariep plains, it’s about more than just family, though’, he explains to us. ‘No man can be an island: our workers, our neighbours, our friends… they are all family, and the only way we’re going to ever get through this horrible Covid thing is if we stand together.’

PC is a local farmer-turned-conservationist and he has been instrumental in creating the Khoisan Conservancy here in the Karoo-Gariep Nature Reserve. His mountain bike trails, hiking routes and running trails offer a human-powered escape into the expansive grassland plains and rocky outcrops where the Free State, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape overlap.

PC Ferreira and ‘Mama’ Beauty Thingani, who has been running the household since forever’.

That night, I sat on a shale-stacked koppie while shooting a billion-star sky. I looked forward to the following day; bulleting by bike along gold-washed tracks; or paddling the glacial chop of the Seekoei River and being entranced by petroglyphs dating back to when Khoisan hunters ranged upon these plains.

Do It

Bike, SUP, paddle, trail run or flyfish for yellows within the expansive Karoo-Gariep Conservancy, or join them on a Shy Five Safari.
karoogariep.co.za

The five-day Karoo Seekoei MTB Route follows a scenic trail along the Seekoei River. Cost is R8 500 pp, including all meals and accommodation at guesthouses, guides and support vehicle.
Contact David on 082 453 6357

Stay Here

New Holme Nature Lodge: R450 pp; Shy Five Night Safari drive is R250 pp for a two-hour drive. 082 567 9211

Zane Schmahl SUPing on the Seekoei River estuary.

The Joys of Vitamin G (ravel) …

The Beyond Lockdown trip proved to me that local travel has not lost its glitter… The characters I’ve mentioned are but a few of the local tourism heroes. There were a dozen more quirky individuals of indeterminate race, age and culture who we connected with along the way.

I set off on our road trip filled with misgivings about the state of South Africa rolling in the pit of my stomach. Post-Lockdown blues, cut-throat crime, corruption scandals, an utter lack of political will, economic junk status, load shedding … let’s admit it wasn’t all moonshine and roses.

Mountain biking into the Karoo-Gariep sunset while waiting for the night sky to light up with a billion stars.

Since our return, I have hope because of the people we’ve met along the way. These folk keep on keeping on – regardless of the challenges – and you can help save their businesses by getting in your car and dust-tailing onto those beautiful back roads… they are waiting to welcome you with open arms and wonderful smiles.

Read More at beyondexpeditions.co.za

Stunning back roads where the Free State joins the Northern Cape on the remote Gariep plains.

More must-do adventures …

Gauteng
Big City Life came alive through the enthusiasm of Eelco Meyjes, while pedalling the bustling streets of Jozi and experiencing graffiti over the handlebars of our bikes.

‘Let me put it this way,’ says Eelco, as we pedal along. ‘The legendary Banksy dreams of a city where graffiti is legal and the inner-city abounds with splashes of colour and quirky quotes. I mean, nobody would ever be bored while in a traffic jam!’

Do It: Get on your bike and get psyched. 082 457 4936, ebiker.wordpress.com. Book well in advance.
Ride options: Graffiti Walls Private Exercise rides R160 pp; Monthly Rides (three routes available) From R185 pp.

The Jozi ‘Graffiti Trail’

North West Province
We drank 70% proof mampoer with the ‘Donkieboer of Maratwane’ in the hideaway eco-village of Groot Marico and listened to poetry written in an adobe rural classroom by the fabulous storyteller, Herman Charles Bosman. Then we dipped dizzingly deep into the vodka-clear Marico Eye, an inland dive site where the visibility and underwater scenes will blow your mind.

Do It Get more info on the Marico Eye at marico.co.za or [email protected]

Stay Here
River Still farm: Cottages are R370 pp; riverstill.co.za
Marico Eye: Day visitors R80 pp; chalets from R350 per weekend; camping R70 a site plus R80 pp.

Diving Marico Eye in the North West Province.

Mpumalanga
Standing atop Mariepskop, named for Maripi, an erstwhile Pedi chief, you feel the energy of Africa deep within your bones. ‘Mariepskop rates as one of the best kept secrets in all of Mpumalanga’, enthuses Romy Antrobus-Wuth, one of our Kruger-2-Canyons guides, while we gaze in awe at the panorama from atop the summit. ‘The biodiversity is off-the-scale’. A Conservation South Africa project is considering mountain biking, trekking and trail running routes to boost local cultural and adventure tourism here.

Do It Find community tourism and cultural activities at kruger2canyons.org. Entry to Mariepskop is R25 pp; trail-run or hike the summit or forests, or walk to enchanting Klaserie Waterfall.

Looking for satellite signal on the Mariepskop cliffs in Mpumalanga

Limpopo
We sated ourselves at a Harvest Festival lunch with the ‘Mountain Foodies’ of Magoebaskloof, a gathering of delightfully guileless women. Barefoot and beautiful, they are versed in culinary witchcraft and organic wisdom, and you’ll fall under their spell. Nearby, the indigenous forests of Kurisa Moya (Place of Tranquil Spirit), await. Wander into the green heart of this breathtaking woodland with David Letsoalo, one of Limpopo’s leading Birdlife (SA) guides. ‘I love this forest with all of my heart’, he says, hugging a moss-covered tree trunk. Then he stands stock still as he lets the surround-sound of bird song envelop him and he rattles off bird names as he snaps his fingers in the direction of their calls echoing from deep within the emerald canopy.

Magoebaskloof ‘Mountain Foodies’

Do It You’ll be enchanted by the Cheerio Tea Garden, Zwakala Brewery, Kurisa Moya Forest, and the village of Haenertsburg. A half-day birding hike with David Letsoalo in Kurisa Moya Costs: R1 250 for three people (four hours). 082 568 4678
lovelimpopo.co.za; limpopobirding.com; magoebasklooftourism.co.za

Stay Here
Zwakala River Retreat: Cottages from R900; camping from R500 a site.
083 980 8433

David Letsoalo at the Kurisa Moya forest’s ‘Big Tree’

KZN
We were seduced by the aqua adventures (and palm wine, age-old fish kraals and birding) of the incredible Thongaland Region of iSimangaliso. This tiny piece of paradise lies at the heart of the Thonga community and is partly owned and run by these warm-hearted folk. There are few places with such a kickass combo of culture, cuisine and adventure on tap. We paddled onto the estuary with Vusi Mahlathini of Thongaland Travel to kayak amid fish traps while fish eagles, kingfishers, flamingos and palm-nut vultures cruised the big blue above.

Experiencing the ‘Utshwayelo’ fish kraals

Do It Kosi Bay Kayaking Adventure – R300 pp (2hrs) through mangrove forests, fish kraals and estuary tides; Cultural Fish Kraal Tour & Palm Wine Tasting – visit 700-year old fish kraals and sample Thonga palm wine – R300 pp for two hours. Get in touch with Vusi, Ric or Elize at thongalandtravel.com

Stay Here
Utshwayelo Lodge: Chalets and luxury tents R1 220 (for 2); camping R850 for two. 082 909 3113

Ancient fish kraals of the Thonga people in iSimangaliso.

Eastern Cape
’m standing atop Esikhaleni, or The Place of Great Noise, with Mzo Xolo Gxala, gazing at the tempestuous waves hammering against Hole-in-the-Wall. Few tourists know of the sketchy scramble up The Queen – as the adjoining outcrop is known – and even fewer would be gutsy enough to tame the vertigo it is bound to induce. ‘There are local tales about this place; mermaids lived here and a Xhosa prince wanted to marry one’.

Mzo smiles as he describes how Neptune lost his temper with the prince, and battered a hole in these cliffs to rescue his daughter.

Mzo owns Coffee Bay Kayaking & Adventures, offering superb hiking, MTB, trail running as well as cultural activities.

Do It: Guided three-hour Kayak, Hiking or Snorkel Tours R250 pp (minimum of 2). Hotel Rates: from R700 pp B&B, depending on season. Reach Mzo via Ocean View Hotel, Coffee Bay.
oceanviewhotel.co.za






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