Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cradock to Shamwari Game Reserve

Today's Route: Cradock to Shamwari Game Park 109 miles

After a lovely breakfast in Cradock, we left headed for Shamwari Gampe Park in the Eastern Cape. It was a very easy and short drive. The sparseness of the Karroo gives way to very fertile, green valley's scattered with farms before long.

As we got further south, the weather worsened and soon the blue sky was gone and clouds covered the sky. As we climbed another mountain pass, mist thickened and light rain started. As it was now quite cold, we put up the side curtains and pretty soon were very warm.

Arriving at Shamwari, we were very warmly greeted by the staff. This is a large private game reerve where every guest has every need catered to. We had a late lunch and then set off on a game drive. Six to eight to a vehicle - ours were Bill, me, Stuart, Cindy, John, Fredericke and Phil - and of course our ranger Shaun.

Althought he weather was a bit iffy, we did see good stuff - giraffe, hippo, lion, sprinkbok, impala, blesbok, wildebeest, gemsbok.

On return, just after dark we had a short breal and then a wonderful dinner.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Graaff Reinet to Cradock

Today's Route: Graaff Reinet to Cradock 111 miles (no track today)

As we had a short drive today, we decided to visit the photography exhibit in the town's museum and it was excellent. Pictures and equipment told the story of Graaff Reinet's past, and the camera collection brought back many memories for me.

Instead of the prescribed route for the day, we detoured through the game park - great to go game viewing in an open Ghost. it is a small park but we did see a fair amount.

The road to Cradock passes over two long and fairly high mountain passes, but it was an easy drive. Definately cooler on the plateau. Arriving in Cradock, we were treate to an amazing lunch in the garden of the hotel owner. Great cold buffett and excellent desert of melktert and koeksisters.

The hotel needs to be seen to be believed. All the houses on the street were aquired and restored in period correct fashion. Each house is assigned to a guest - so Bill and I have a 4 bedroom house, fully furnished with a garden too, all to ourselves. It is 1920's living at its best.

In the evening we were treated to various local singers performing in the Dutch Reformed Church - an imposing building nearby. Afrikaans songs, English songs - but the night belonged to the four Xhosa women who sang Nkosi Sikelela Africa - a powerful and very moving rendition of the National Anthem. The irony of this group singing that song at this location was not lost on me and I am sure I could feel the earth quiver as so many long dead souls spun in their graves. It was a fantastic performance, as were the other artists.

Dinner in the hotel restaurant was elegant and delicious. Candelabra on each table. Biltong salad followed by lamb chops, leg of lamb, chicken and Kudu pie and of course, desert.

Terrific day

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Graaff Reinet

Today's route: none - rest day

Today we spent in and around Graaff Reinet, a small but historic town in the Karoo.

An early start saw me checking the brakes and getting quite greasy - all is ok. Then John had arranged for the main street to be shut down so we could all parkl in front of the hotel to have a picture takes.So, after some arrangment we were all lined up, posed and then it was done.

After breakfast we had a real treat offered and several of us chose to participate. John had arranged for us to visit a private fossil collection, so off we went. Stuart, one of the tour organisers drove my car with me and Bill in the dickey seat. It was 30 km away.

On arrival, we found ourselves on the most magnificent farm with Cape Dutch architecure everywhere. It is a huge farm, in the same family since 1820 (original settlers). We were trearted to a lovely tea and then went to the fossil collection. Housed in its own building, this is the largest private colleciton in the world - you cannot imagine it. Huge skulls of dinosaurs and reptiles, all found on the farm. It was stunning.

Back in town we had lunch at a local restaurant wich was very nice. After that, a drive to overlook the Valley of Desolation. Terrific views up a very steep climb and then sunset before returning for dinner.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Geriep Dam to Graaff Reinet

Today's Route: Geriep Dam to Graaf-Reinett 191 miles

Today was a fabulous day - it was everything I wanted in a Ghosttour of South Africa. We left Geriep Dam, which is in the northeast of the Cape Province and headed south west for Graaf Reinett.

The drive wound it's way through the Karoo Desert - vast open plains of veld, with scrub brush and mountains on either side. Huge sky. Blue sky. Warm weather. And a great running car. What more could I ask for?

Our first stop was for tea in Steinberg - a very small Karoo town and quite typical. The tearoom was owned by an Afrikaaner who was very sweet. Tea or coffee, sausage rolls, apple strudel and of course, melktert. The cars caused quite a sensation - even the Chief of Police came out to see them.

We then pressed on to Middleberg for lunch - at the only hotel in town. Once again, the cars drew a very large crowd in this very small and dated town. Time has stood still in the Karoo.

After lunch we set off on the final leg for today - passed sheep farms, windmills and desolate dwellings. Two passes to climb - the highest to 5400 feet. Fantastic driving but very windy. Vervet monkeys all over the place. We arrived in the historic town of Graaff Reinet in the late afternoon to the Drosty Hotel. The hotel is charming, Cape Dutch architecture.

Graaff Reinet was settled by the Dutch very early in South African history. Like many Karoo towns, it too has changed little. Many wonderful buildings. We will be here two days as tomorrow is a rest and service day

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bloemfontein to Geriep Dam

Today's route: Bloemfontein to Geriep Dam 111 miles

Last night I offered the Boyntons to drive the Ghost today and I would drive their rental car as they needed a Ghost fix. So bright and early I went down to get the car ready for them only to find a flat tire. Well, I changed the wheel in a matter of minutes, but fixing the flat, for the non-Ghosters reading this, is a long, dirty and sweaty endevour. But, with the help if Bill, Lynn and Mike (and some choiuce language I might add) we did it in about 90 minutes. By this time all the other cars had left and off went Jacquie and Lynn. We followed after a quick breakfast in their rental.

The drive is quite flat, the road surrounded by endless dry karoo grasland, mountains in the distance. As this is sheep farming land, we saw ots of them! In the modern car I was able to go quite fast, yet never caught the Bowntons until we arrived at the resort.

The resort is comprised of self catering rondavels, camping and a restaurant in which we had lunch. It has a wonderful view of Geriep Dam. This is the largest dam in South Africa as it controls the Orange River and provides irrigation, drinking and hydropower. We had a great tour of the dam wall, deep inside and they actually opened one of the water gates and out poured 20 000 liters per second. Quite a sight.

The afternoon was spent on minor fixes on the car as well as sitting around BS'ing with Matt and Bob. We decided to skipt the buffett dinner planned and went to the only local restaurant where we had steak, sitting outside. It was terrific

Monday, October 5, 2009

Clarens to Bloemfontein

Today's route: Clarens to Bloemfontein 182 miles

The sun shone brightly on Clarens this morning - but not initially on us. After a breakfast of fruit and granola, we set off to get petrol - but the car would not start. Mystery as it was fine yesterday - fiddled around and got it going after a while and then it performed very well all day.

Leaving Clarens we again drove through wonderful rock formations (Bill driving) for some time before the road gave way to rolling hills. On either side, veld and farmland and in the distance the mountains. Mile after mile rolled byand it felt like we were sailing along.

We skipped the tea stop and continued on - the scenery flattening out as we got closer and closer to Bloemfontein.

Bloemfontein is not a pretty town - it is a stop for us between two other beautiful places.

On arrival we had a nice lunch, and then went to stock up on things at an auto part store. The rest of the afternoon was spent kicking tires in the parking lot - always fun.

An uneventful excellent day

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Champaigne Castle to Clarens

Today's Route: Champaigne Castle to Clarens 111 miles

We left the Drakensburg today, but not before we hade a chance to drive down the range with great views of the mountains in between the shifting clouds. Not too far along, we encountered light rain which caused us to put the top up.
Interesting locals at the gas station.

There were two mountain passes to climb as we left the valley and ascended to the escarpment. The first pass was 16 km in length, winding along as we climbed from 3200 feet to 6200 feet. At the top we stopped for tea - by which time the wind had really picked up and it was quite cold - we attached the side curtains and within a short time had warmed up substantially.

After tea we motored along the escarpment at 80 - 100 km/h until we reached the Golden Gate National Park. The park is absolutely beautiful, long winding roiads surrounded by tall rock formations and green poplar trees that turn brilliant yellow in autumn - not now though. In the park we climbed the second pass to around 7000 feet - the car needs second gear for these unclines - around 10% - and on one needed first gear all the way up.

Arriving at Clarens in time for lunch we found a wonderful little town full of art galleries, restaurants and gift shops. And actually open on a Sunday. Lunch was bobotie - a South African delacy of Malay origin and then a walk around town.

Tomorrow we head for Bloemfontein