Padstalle, the sex shop and surviving the Swartberg Pass: a Karoo road trip

Posted by Sarah Duff on 7 March 2011

I love everything about road trips – especially the part when you leave the city behind and hit the countryside. The N1 out of Cape Town must be one of the best roads in South Africa to start off a road trip on: you leave the northern suburbs and pass all the commuters stuck in stinky, irritated traffic jams on their way into town, drive through the beginning of the winelands and are then presented with the beautiful mountains near Worcester, and then you pop out on the other side of the the nine-kilometre long Huguenot Tunnel in the most scenic valley.

Christie Fynn and I were heading to Prince Albert to research a dorp story about Prince Albert. We could have taken the N1 the whole way along (a trip of about four hours) but we decided to take the scenic route on the famed Route 62. We agreed that, seeing as we were unhurried to arrive in the town, we would take a slow drive, stopping at interesting roadside spots along the way.

The first place that caught our eye, near the start of Route 62 was a tree surrounded by a pile of luminous, bulbous pumpkins heralding “˜Die Pampoenstalletjie’. We have a thing for farmstalls. We had to stop.

Die Pampoenstalletjie turned out to be one of the best farmstalls I’ve ever been to. The charming and very chatty owner Hettie has a pumpkin farm behind the stall (hence the name) and makes most of the jams and goodies herself. There was an amazing assortment of konfyts, from moskonfyt, makatanakonfiyt, apelkooskonfyt, and even a pumpkin variety: a sludgy orange concoction that Hettie is not very fond of.

Christie and I had to stop ourselves from spending copious amounts of money intended for the trip. I limied myself to a chilli mustard, aarbeikonfyt, a herbal tea made from herbs in the area, and some painted calabashes. After a rooibos, some beskuit and a chat with Hettie, we were back on the road again, only to stop at the next padstal less than a kilometer on. It was going to be a long trip.

Several farm stalls and a couple of hundred bucks later, Robertson announced itself with a sudden flush of wine farms. Christie’s a big fan of Springfield’s wine, so we just had to make a stop at their cellar just outside Robertson. After a quick tasting, we left with several bottles, clunking away in the back of my car. Robertson’s valley is postcard-picturesque, and is littered with some of South Africa‘s best wine names. We made a vow to come back soon for a long weekend to go through all of them and soak up the picturesqueness.

Route 62 has become a well-travelled tourist route for a reason – it’s a fabulous drive. The scenery, which is magnificent, changes constantly, it goes through some of the most charming dorps in South Africa, and there are countless attractions to pull you off the road. We kept finding ourselves wishing that we had a week to do it justice, especially as we had to whizz through the unbelievably sweet town of Montagu, with its white cottages and well-kept gardens.

We couldn’t help stopping the car every few kilometers or so on the road after Montagu for photos – the mountains are amazing. We became roadside attractions as we messed around with an impromptu fashion shoot, attracting the horns of burly truck drivers shooting past.

We’d been advised by a Facebook fan of Getaway to stop in at the Country Pumpkin on our way through Barrydale, another charming R62 dorpie. It’s a fantastic farm stall, with baked lamb & mint pies, fabulous lemon meringues, all manner of local dried fruit, huge boxes of freshly picked peaches for R45 and all the other ubiquitous farm stall goodies. It also has a restaurant, which we contemplated eating at (the fare looked farm-stall wholesome) but confronted with noisy American tourists complaining about something or the other, we decided to move on.

We’d told our GPS to take us to the infamous Ronnie’s Sex Shop, about 20 kilometres outside of Barrydale. The sex shop is a pub decorated with hundreds of pairs of autographed underwear, and an obligatory R62 stop-off. It’s a tiny place but well worth a quick stop for photographs and a drink. Having been on the road for about seven hours, we greedily munched our toasted sarmies (bought at the Roadkill Café, next door to the pub) and cold Windhoeks. There’s something about eating your lunch underneath a pair of panties that declare the owner to be “˜the best pomp in the dorp’ that makes it rather memorable.

We reprogrammed our GPS for Prince Albert, and continued along the R62, driving through the baking early afternoon Karoo heat, under that photogenic kind of sky – a deep blue tarnished with brilliant-white cottonwool clouds. The all-powerful GPS took us through Calitzdorp and declared, in that irritating prefect-sounding voice, that we turn left at a dirt road seeming leading nowhere. Somewhat sceptical, we followed its directions and went on a beautiful off-the-beaten-track route, through incredible red mountains that looked like baked biscuits, past isolated lush green farms, a photography studio in the middle of nowhere and fields of gaping-mouthed ostriches.

Leaving rolling fields behind, we started climbing up the Swartberg Pass, marvelling at the amazing views. It was only once we’d been on the pass for a long 40 minutes or so that we started questioning whether we were actually going the right way. We hadn’t seen any other cars, and the pass was seeming a lot longer than we had thought it was going to be. Nevertheless, we carried on, not really having any other option, and believing in the power of the GPS.

After driving on the pass for over an hour and a half, we were starting to get worried. There was no end in sight and the GPS kept recalculating how far we were from Prince Albert. It was then that we passed our first car – a bakkie touring vehicle. The first thing the German driver said to us was: ‘You girls are not going to make it over the pass. The rains have damaged the road and your car will not handle it. You’d better turn around and drive to Oudsthoorn.’

Our hearts sank, but being Getaway Girls, we decided to be adventurous and not heed his advice (although we did feel a bit worried driving past an abandoned car that apparently been damaged doing what we were just about to do). The tricky part of the pass which the German thought we wouldn’t make was a particularly rocky stretch towards the bottom of the mountain. With Christie driving my little Renault Clio, I jumped out and threw out all our heavy bags and bottles of wine to lighten the load. As Christie pumped the breaks softly, I moved rocks out of the way and we made it down safely.

We felt rather proud of ourselves for making it through and had a good laugh when we got out the end of the pass, which was barred by closed signs. It was at that point that we remembered a closed sign that had been pushed to the side of the road way back before we got on the pass. Oops.

In the settling dusk, we drove into Prince Albert and easily found our accommodation for the night – De Bergkant. We checked into our charming Victorian rooms, and had a much-needed gin & tonic and chat with the owner, Charles Roux, before heading out for dinner at the Gallery Cafe on the main street in town.

We had a well-deserved gourmet feast. We started with baked figs, roasted peppers, gorgonzola and Parma ham (exquisite), and then for mains Christie had a duck, port and black cherry pie, which she pronounced to be scumptious, while I had a spicy Middle Eastern dish of baked aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes and coconut milk. Yum. We managed to stuff pudding in – an entirely indulgent dark chocolate pudding with melting centre and fig ice-cream. We literally rolled into our beds that night.

Count for the day
Number of treacherous, rain-damaged passes survived: 1
Number of farmstalls stopped at: Lost count
Number of jams bought: 6
Number of bottles of wine bought: 7

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