Karoo Bugger Around Trip

19 – 17 March 2022

Friday 18 March – Andy suggested that those who could leave on Friday join him and Colleen at Kranskloof campsite, a well-appointed church youth camp in a secluded, grassy kloof above the railway line on the mountain side of the NI above De Doorns. They arrived first followed by Ken, Shona and Rob.  On a short hike up the mountainside the group retrieved some of the camp equipment abandoned by the thieves that had broken into the campsite months earlier. To cool down in the hot afternoon, creative ways were found to get Shona into the cement reservoir!   At nightfall Jurie and Sanette drove in. Although there was a fully equipped kitchen, naturally all preferred to braai for supper.

Saturday 19 March – In the early morning baboons could be heard engaging in a minor war in the mountain behind the campsite. Ian and Steph arrived around 10h00 and we set off, with Colleen and Andy locking up and returning the enormous bunch of keys.

Having filled up in Laingsburg, we left the N1 and headed east. The sluice gate machinery of the Floriskraal Dam wall was examined in detail as the group walked along the wall in beautiful sunny weather. We continued west through in typical Karoo vegetation with Colleen and Rob doing gate duty.

It was a real surprise to turn off the road in the middle of no-where into a large campsite shaded by old olive trees with its surface of sand meticulously raked by Peter, the Malawian who cares for the campsite whose owner lives in Villiersdorp.  Peter looked after us for the three nights we spent at Rammetjieskraal, ensuring that the gas heated showers and kitchen sinks worked well and filled the “intimate” square swimming pool with beautiful clear water from a borehole fed by solar power. Once again, complicated logistics were needed to get Shona access to the pool! A generous pile of wood left for us ensured a great braai evening, with Ian baptising his new look-alike to Jurie’s braai and Andy’s long-handled spade coming in very useful. 

Sunday 20 March – As usual, Jurie and Sanette got kitted up for a day of hard exercise on their bikes, while the rest of us climbed into our cars for a fascinating 4×4 drive up into the hills west of the campsite from where there were great views into the far distance. The 4×4 road was impressively maintained despite the considerable amount of rain that had obviously fallen recently. There were pools of water everywhere and water coming down a “chute” of rock. En route home we encountered an employee of the owner in bakkie. He had been given a weekend on the farm by the owner as he had been working so hard – a very nice employer to have!! He told us of the kudu and gemsbok on the farm. It transpired that Jurie and Sanette had taken the same route as we had, including pushing their bikes up the steepest parts – very impressive.

In the afternoon we generally relaxed, read, swam or – in Shona’s case -desperately tried to ID the many plants she had gathered.  As happened most late afternoons, the clouds gathered and we held our breath about having rain in the evening, but the clouds moved on. A huge fire was had, as usual, in the evening, and conversation varied between the specs. of competing 4×4’s  and solving the world’s problems.

Monday 21 March -We had a relaxed morning sitting around the revived fire before leaving around 10h30.  Again Colleen and Rob did gate duty as we drove the long way round on the gravel road parallel to the N1.   Jurie annoyed us by always seeing buck that we all had missed. We joined the N1 briefly before turning west and then north, driving along the side of the railway line and then turning further west we stopped for coffee in a wide river bed consisting of black sand.

En route from there to the farm, Kanniedood, we drove into a swarm of locusts – an experience we were to have intermittently for the rest of the trip. The lovely young couple, Peter and Michaela, who were 5th generation farmers on the farm, explained how devastating the locusts were, considering that they had just come out of a 7 year drought and the grass was just recuperating. They drove ahead of us to the first of several cement reservoirs fed by windmills and shaded by trees on the farm where we could bush camp. We chose this one as it had a large shady tree and we would be here for two nights.

Once we had all parked and were beginning to put up tents, Ken and Shona’s tyre monitor started bleating and it was obvious that the front left tyre was going down. In true 4×4 group fashion everyone helped, the tyre was taken off and floated in the reservoir to find the puncture and the tyre was changed. This is what friends are for!! The afternoon was spent relaxing under the tree or walking nearby and looking at all the sheep that came down to drink or ID’ing all the birds that were doing the same. Once again, clouds built up in the late afternoon, but moved away and a fire was made – not under the tree in case of setting alight to the tree.

Tuesday 22 March – As was becoming routine, Jurie and Sanette kitted up for cycling while the rest of us set off for a drive around the huge 5 000 hectares farm. Presumably because of the good rains, everywhere in the Karoo there was high grass, now yellow, growing between the usual Karoo bushes. It was a good thing that Andy had plotted the routes, as one could become very lost among the high hills, one of which was climbed by the group. We drove around the farm from reservoir to reservoir which were filled with various degrees of water quality, ranging from clear to green. At the clearest the reservoirs the group decided to have a swim and the tailgate of Ken’s Raider was used as a step into the pool! 

Back at the camping tree we all relaxed for the afternoon, while the clouds slowly built up and the wind increased. By 17h00 the rain really started and surprisingly the group managed to keep reasonably dry under the tree. The clouds moved on, rainbows were seen and we were able to light a fire and braai. So – the weather was exciting – not negative!

Wednesday 23 March-We left as usual at 9h00, returning to the railway line which we drove along, visiting the Bloed Rivier blockhouse built to protect the rail bridge. Sadly, a locked gate prevented us continuing further along beside the railway line, so we returned to the N1, drove north and at Prince Albert Road turned off to Merweville. We found a great little restaurant for a light lunch – Die Boekclub – and as we were leaving the village it started to rain. The group visited various shops – Colleen and Shona visited the “Little Shoppe” – and bought earrings that the shop owner said had special spiritual qualities.

As we left town heading for Fraserburg over the Theekloof Pass, the heavens opened and it began to rain heavily. Rob radioed that his wipers were not working, and, despite Rob’s protestations, Andy insisted we return to Merweville. A large workshop was found that was owned by a man who fixes windmills into which Rob’s car could be driven out of the heavy rain. The men took out his dashboard, found the recalcitrant wire that had shorted, and around 16h00 off we set again.

This time the rain had stopped, and it was just as well as the devastation we found up and over Theekloof Pass was astonishing. There were mudslides across the road, rocks and boulders all over the place, and water was rushing down the hillsides and into the river far below.  The waterfalls were huge – brown muddy water crashing over high ledges from the mountains on the other side of the valley and down into the river. We were so lucky that Rob’s wipers failed and we had to return to Merweville, as trying to drive over the pass in the heavy rain would have been very dangerous.

We drove through Fraserburg and 20 kms further on arrived at a house among high trees – Ou Klipskuur Self Catering and Camping. As by now it was getting quite late and it was now spitting with rain, Ken and Shona and Jurie and Sanette took the opportunity offered by the very friendly and caring owners to move into a well-appointed little cottage. The others put up their tents just outside the veranda of the cottage and the group either cooked on the stove in the cottage or used the built-in braai on the veranda.

Thursday 24 March – Today we left at 8h30 to drive back to the Fraserburg “Pastorie” in order to meet our guide to view the dinosaur footprints. She took us around the lovely old building with its high ceilings, old furniture etc. and its collection of fossils. She explained that near Fraserburg there is evidence of the Permian period (255 million years ago) and the therapsids which were mammal-like creatures that preceded the dinosaurs. We then followed her car out to Gansfontien, a farm a few kilometres outside town, where we walked around with her looking at the footprints of the dinocephalian, Bradysaurus, and the imprints of water scorpions, fish and water ripples. Very impressive. She kindly invited us back to her house for rusks and coffee on her veranda.

Back in Fraserburg we filled up with fuel, did some food shopping and headed out back south over Theekloof Pass. It was amazing how now the raging waterfalls we saw yesterday had reverted into trickles of water. We drove through a very wet karoo landscape to check in with Marge, the owner, at the farmhouse of Rooiheuwel Holiday Farm, and then drove on to the Boplaas Campsite – once again, very well appointed campsite with good showers, lovely fire area with benches and tables etc. The rain did not materialize, and we had a great braai with the usual huge fire etc.

Friday 25 March-The usual routine of leaving at 9h00 was followed, as we drove east towards Beaufort West and then north-west towards Oukloof Pass. Jurie and Sanette went cycling for the day, exploring all the roads on this huge farm. Before the Pass we turned north off onto a little twee spoor that was part of the old ox wagon trail between Fraserburg and Beaufort West. It was a super little road with great views that wound its way over the mountains, very close to the boundary of the Karoo National Park, into which it possibly went. Oxen must have had a terrible time dragging a wagon along this route. The northern end of the wagon trail passed farm houses, and we became aware that there were “no entry” signs, so we were delighted that we had entered the trail from the south!

Back on the road, we drove south into and down Oukloof Pass itself. The damage caused by the storm of the day before yesterday became very evident, with serious wash-aways and clearly the water had been right over and running along the road in places. Although we had to drive through water several times, like yesterday, we were so pleased that we were able to experience the effect of the storm rather than actually driving in it.

We collected more wood and paid Marge at the farm house on our way back to camp, and had the usual huge fire, braai and social evening.

Saturday 26 March – Sanette and Jurie left for a cycle ride to explore the tracks they had not managed to see yesterday. Andy, Colleen, Rob, Ian and Steph decided to follow the 10 km route to the top of the mountain next to the campsite. Ken and Shona decided to follow the route suggested by Jurie which set out along a jeep track along the base of the hills to the south of the campsite, then turned up into the hills and turned back on itself and back to the campsite. Foolishly it turned out, they thought that they were being very responsible, as Jurie knew where they were going if anything went wrong and having shared with him where they were going they would stick to that route!

The others all had a great bike-ride/climb and were back in camp around mid-day. The descent of the walk up the mountain was challenging but the views from the top were great.  Ken and Shona’s  route turned out to take more time than planned as the return path in the hills was completely washed out and entailed climbing over rocks all the way which meant slow-going for Shona. They weren’t personally worried, as they knew they were on the correct route, but there was nothing they could do regarding moving faster.

The others were concerned when the afternoon wore on and Ken and Shona did not appear. Ian and Rob drove along the jeep track and Rob walked some way along the foot path, but could not see Ken and Shona. Eventually, high above the campsite, around 16h30, Ken and Shona appeared, and Jurie very kindly climbed up to help them down the steep rock descent. Everyone welcomed them home, and Colleen immediately presented them with a much needed cup of tea! Their route actually took 6 1/2 hours of walking – no stopping! Shona and Ken felt very privileged to have such amazing friends that cared about them, and felt very guilty to have caused such concern.

After much needed showers all round, a huge fire was made and a great last evening braai was made. Andy, Colleen, Rob, Ken and Shona were going to return to Cape Town the next day, while Jurie, Sanette, Ian and Steph were heading off on another adventure into Namibia and up the Skeleton Coast. Toasts were drunk to Andy for organizing a really superb trip, and it was unanimously decided that a return to each campsite of the trip was in order.

Sunday 27March – Everyone packed up and left together, splitting when Jurie, Sanette, Ian and Steph drove north to Fraserburg on their route to their first night at Verneukpan and Andy, Colleen, Rob, Ken and Shona drove south to Leeu-Gamka to join the N1 and the road to Cape Town.

In all, a memorable trip, with wonderful fellow travellers. Many thanks to everyone.

Group of Travellers

Andy and Colleen; Jurie and Sanette; Rob; Ian and Steph.; Ken and Shona.