Sunday, March 13, 2011

Scenic Drives of South Africa

Few things in life bring to mind such idyllic thoughts of freedom than the road trip – of driving through wide open spaces, the wind in your hair and the thought that you can go just about anywhere. Most visitors to South Africa have heard of the Garden Route, but with its stunning natural landscape, impressive rock formations and deep gorges, South Africa has even more to offer. Try one of these rides on for size and you’re guaranteed a view you’ll remember for a lifetime:

Camp’s Bay to Chapman’s Peak, Cape Town

Begin your journey just 5-min from the City Bowl. The well-maintained road descends into the arms of famed Camp’s Bay, framed on your left by the Twelve-Apostles, part of the Table Mountain range, and on your right by the sea. The road hugs the mountains and meanders south through Hout Bay, culminating along Chapman’s Peak Drive where dramatic rust-coloured cliff-faces extend above before succumbing to the crashing sea below.

Sani Pass, Drakensberg

This drive is not for the faint-hearted, the novice driver, nor the average rental car. The landscape is stark, the road is unpaved and potholed, and don’t even think about the state of the guardrail (there isn’t one). One treacherous hairpin curve after another, this adventure road climbs up into the clouds until you reach the mountain kingdom of Lesotho where you’ll want to calm your nerves with a drink at the highest pub in Africa.

Swartberg Pass, Klein Karoo

Between Oudsthoorn's Cango Caves and Prince Albert, this unpaved road tip-toes along the mountain’s edge offering sweeping views of the shrubby Karoo-landscape far below, a gentle welcome before it takes you on a journey of secrets, bobbing and weaving its way through canyon rockwalls as old as fossils, giant proteas that flower pink and yellow in season, and endless varieties of the fynbos so unique to South Africa.

Route 62, Western Cape

Rolling vineyards, tidy farmhouses and quaint country villages give way to the dry openness of the Karoo between Ashton and Oudsthoorn on this scenic alternative to the N2, dubbed the longest wine route in the world. On a summer’s day the heat along this route rises in shimmering waves – if it’s too much, take one of the many roads heading south towards the sea where you might be lucky enough to find a cooling waterfall bursting from the craggy mountain face.

Seweweekspoort, Klein Karoo

The lines in the jagged rock walls that line either side of this narrow road reveal the crushing tectonic power that formed them – vertical lines slope to horizontal and back again. Hues of red, orange and yellow blanket the space. In the quiet of centuries, one can’t help but think back to the days of pioneers, when this keyhole through the seeming impenetrable mountains provided a merciful escape from the hardships of the interior.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Humble and Historic – Tulbagh Awaits

Tulbagh. It’s a place that’s just out of reach but one that seems to keep its hold on you long after you’ve left. Beyond the grasp of tourism, one and a half hours from Cape Town, it’s an historic haven off the beaten wine lands tracks in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. A rare treasure, its honest authenticity has survived its modern day need to play on the world stage as a premiere wine making region.

Church Street is perhaps the most famous example of Tulbagh’s past – building after building it is a national monument of Cape Dutch architecture, painstakingly restored after a devastating earthquake destroyed the original structures back in the 1940’s. Perhaps it was only a latent aftershock from the “big one” that must have formed Tulbagh into such a dramatic valley so many millennia ago.

No longer private homes, these days the national monuments of Church Street have mostly been converted into an array of B&B’s, curios and caf├ęs. With all the modern excitement it’s difficult to imagine the truth of the past, when Tulbagh’s first citizens bustled along this lane conducting the business of the day. But for the observative, a raw reminder of Tulbagh’s founding souls can be found at the Church itself, just at the edge of town. Walk through the gates and the respect of generations will envelop you as your eyes settle on one ancient tombstone after another. The names, the dates – the only thing these souls have left on God’s earth – now crumbling into the distance, about to join the bones of their patrons in surrender to the elements. Nothing lasts forever – and to me it feels like an honour to hold testament, if only for a moment.

Just a few minutes out of town, the road meanders into the countryside past picturesque wine estates. Drostdy-Hof Manor stands watch like old faithful, flanked by others who hold the valley’s humility steadfast whilst making an impression on the palettes of unsuspecting wine lovers everywhere: the fourth-generation Twee Jonge Gezellen Estate “The House of Krone”, Saronsberg Cellar, and the historic Oude Compagnies Post. It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of the place – and the chapel at Montpellier stands like a beacon to such notions, its small stature belying its position amongst the vines on a hillside of monumental beauty.

It seems to me that the people who visit Tulbagh have something in common with the people that live there – maybe we’re drawn by the call of the mountain range, the quiet that moves on the breeze, or even the past that seems to whisper from every rock, nook and cranny. Something draws us all there – something that makes the jagged mountain peaks that curve overhead in the shape of a horseshoe landscape feel like home’s embrace.