Preparations for our trip

Gerida and I normally have a rule that we do a longer trip over the December/January period across border, and a shorter trip through South Africa over the Easter period.

This year (March/April 2016) our trip took us through the Natal Drakensberg, Midlands, Eastern Cape and the Free State. A total distance of 2 813km.

Our trusty Land Rover Defender (Shrek) is now well equipped and no special preparations were required for the trip. We opted using the rooftop tent as we were only staying for one night at a venue. We left our trailer (Donkey) at home this time round.

Note:

The travelling times in our report are estimated times using Track4Africa and Garmap. The reason being is we often stopped on-route and could therefore not calculate our actual traveling time accurately.

Photo gallery:

Photos and video clips of the trip are on the Gallery page of our website.

Our Route

The map below shows the route that we followed during our Easter break:

2016 Easter Route

 

DAY 1 (19 March 2016) Natal Royal National Park (S28.68214 E28.97443) – KZN: South Africa

Natal Royal National Park

We stopped at the Tower of Pizza (S28.65910 E29.04616) for a long overdue visit to one of Gerida’s previous colleagues. Ilonka and her husband Pierre are the owners of “Tower of Pizza”. The visit did not disappoint. Apart from the fantastic reception we got, the food was absolutely sublime. Pizza’s to die for. Excellent service. A must see if you are in the vicinity.

This was our second time camping at the Natal Royal National Park. Last time round we still used our ground tent – and it took for ages to set up camp. This time, it took us less than 15 minutes to set up camp and get comfortable. It always amazes us when we are the only rooftop campers around. People stare A LOT!

The park was pretty packed – being a long weekend and school holidays. This park is perfect if you are camping for more than a day. LOTS to do – walking, cycling, horse riding, walking trails, the Cascades, swimming in the ‘berg’ streams. Absolute bliss. Perfect for holidays with kids and active people (bowing my head in shame … as we do NONE of these things).

Dinner was pretty basic – pizza leftovers. By 20:00 the park was quiet and only braai fires were visible. We got into bed early and braced ourselves for the next day. This was the start of what turned out to be one great short holiday.

Distance and time:

Pretoria to Mahai Camp (S28.68979 E28.94612) in the Natal Royal National Park – 388 km and 5 hours travelling time.

Road Conditions:

The roads were in a good condition. The tar road between Harrismith and the Oliviershoek Pass has finally been completed and in good condition.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

The campsite is excellent. Green lawns and plenty of shade and with an amazing view of the mountains.  Ablutions are a good condition, well maintained and clean – although small and almost always occupied.

Cost of camping for 2 persons for one night – R 330.00

 

DAY 2 (20 March 2016) Monks Cowl (S29.04897 E29.40707) – KZN: South Africa

Monks Cowl

Traveling to Monks Cowl takes you through breath-taking scenery. Almost impossible to capture this on film. You HAVE to be there to appreciate it.

Although the weather was acting up – and it looked like cold weather was fast approaching, Monks Cowl is a must. You need to see this in your lifetime. The campsite is more basic than Royal National but the scenery much more beautiful. Monks Cowl was packed – but we were able to secure a site on one of the higher levels – nudged in between an older couple and a young crowd of 7. It amuses us when we sit and listen to the young people while they chat about things they still want to do. A bucket list is just that – a list – until you DO something about it. Makes me and Pieter more and more appreciative of the fact that we get to live our dream of traveling.

Monks Cowl is a bit noisier than Royal National – but on the other hand, the camp is much smaller and more enclosed. Noise travels far.

For the first time on our trip, we made a fire and had some braaivleis. Enough to have as padkos the next day. We had to watch while the young one’s next to us made pancakes …

The ablutions at Monks Cowl is less catered for than Royal National. The ladies ablutions have ONE (true story …) shower – and this has to service the whole of the camp. This is definitely not sufficient …

We went to bed early (that is what is so amazing about managing your times on holiday – YOU decide when you want to get up … and go to sleep). I guess the 12 hours that we packed in that night was …. Uhhmmm… sufficient?

Distance and time:

Royal Natal National Park to Monks Cowl – 105km and 2 hours travelling time.

Road Conditions:

The road travels through mountain terrain which resulted in slow travelling (not that we cared …) but the road surface (tar all the way) is in a good condition.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

The campsite is excellent and split in two between campsites with power and those without. Green lawns and a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains.  Ablutions in a good condition, well maintained and clean – although not enough shower facilities.

Cost of camping for 2 persons for one night – R 330.00

 

DAY 3 (21 March 2016) Oribi Gorge (S30.73196 E30.27336) – KZN: South Africa

Oribi Gorge

We got up early the next morning, as I knew this was MY day … the day in which I get to shop until I drop (which basically means we get to stop at every “Padstal” there is along the way). I negotiated with Pieter to take us through the Midlands Meander … something that I have always wanted to see.

After breaking up camp (the very basics) … we got onto the road and said goodbye to Monks Cowl.

On our way (R600) from Monks Cowl we stopped at the Valley Bakery Shopping Centre (S28.98393 E29.48250) to buy a few things that we needed. At this centre is a branch of the Ugly Duckling … and seriously, you DON’T want to miss stopping here! Take your time … there is plenty to see, and buy, and admire, and wish for … THIS is when you need to play the Lotto … and win big – so you can spend ALL at the Ugly Duckling.

After spending all my savings, we took the N3 towards Mooiriver where we turned off on the Midlands Meander route (R103). By this time, the weather had taken a turn for the worst and it started raining and was getting very cold.

Our first stop on the Meander Route was at the Junction Shopping Centre (S29.35697° E29.99685°) where we bought some of the best chocolate that I ever tasted at Chocolate Haven. Apart from the fact that these chocolates are handmade, they are SUPER tasty … You also get a diabetic version that is absolutely divine. Worth a stop and totally worth spending time at this shop.

The next stop was Tsonga Shoes & Bags (S29.45061° E30.10895°). The brand says it all, but the prices of the handbags and shoes are ridiculous.

From Tsonga Shoes & Bags we followed a very wet dirt road to Culamoya Chimes (S29.45200° E30.07900°). Culmoya Chimes is situated deep in the meander and you have to work to get there … with pouring rain and muddy roads, this was a testing time. But … and this is THE biggest BUT ever … it was SO SO SOOOOOOOO worth it. Go and have a look at the excellent website and avail yourself of what they have to offer … A.Maaaaa.Zing. Seriously, worth EVERY minute you spend there.

Getting hungry so, we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly Farmstall (S29.45814° E30.13640°) for homemade pizza and hot coffee. The wind and rain were killing us. We joined the N3 again en-route to Oribi Gorge shortly after.

Driving along the N2 gives you glimpses of the ocean at times – and again, this made me so appreciative of the fact that we can travel. This morning we were surrounded by mountains, and now we were driving along the ocean … magic.

Oribi Gorge has only 4 campsites. That’s it. Spacious, but NO view. The ablutions are aaaawesome, but then again … not to many people to stay over and camp here. You can order food from the kitchen – where well managed and qualified Sanparks employees assists you. But, we had leftover pizza (again) for dinner … By 18:00 we were in bed. Shopping, doing the meander and just taking in the fresh ocean air makes for looooong days.

Oribi Gorge is dead quiet … ideal place for a one night stand over …

Distance and time:

Monks Cowl to Oribi Gorge – 358km and almost the whole day to get there. Not because of road conditions but the endless number of farmstalls along the way that we had to stop at.

Road Conditions:

We took the road through the Midlands Meander on-route to Oribi Gorge. The road is narrow and winding through valleys, resulting in slow travelling but nevertheless very rewarding.  We can definitely recommend that travelers consider this as an option to the busy and uninteresting N3.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

The camp at Oribi Gorge (S30.73196° E30.27336°) is small with only 4 marked campsites. Of the three KZN campsites that we visited during the trip this one is most definitely the best maintained and clean.  The only negative is that you don’t have a view of the Gorge from the campsite.

 Cost of camping for 2 persons for one night – R 170.00

 

DAY 4 (22 March 2016) Yellow Sands (S32.90416 E28.07417) – East London, Eastern Cape: South Africa

Yellow Sands

Ooooo … what a long distance to travel. Scenery is beautiful – stunning – amazing. The road goes through passes and mountain ranges – green valleys of lush green grass. God’s country. You have to see this … an absolute MUST.

When we eventually got to Yellow Sands (just outside of East London), we had reached our limit of travel for the day. What a sight to see the ocean from the reception at Yellow Sands. And again, to smell the salty air … hear the ocean …

Camping at Yellow Sands has been perfected. Each campsite is secluded and apart from the rest. If wanted, you can walk naked and nobody will know … *wink*. We set up camp, made a fire and just sat there admiring the scenery. Blue skies and breath-taking views.

We showered outside (we camped a bit far from the ablutions), and this just made us long for our bush trips where showering outside is a norm. Yellow Sands is a must stay for longer than a day. A week … month? Year. THIS will be our first stop when Pieter and I eventually go on pension and start traveling nonstop.

We got up fairly early the next morning as I wanted to at least put my feet in the water, but also to get some fabulous pics of the sun rising. Yellow Sands did not disappoint. Magic – absolute magic.

We packed up and drove up to the ablutions to shower … plenty of time to get ready, and we were not in a hurry. The ablutions at Yellow Sands are pristine – you get the feeling that this was well thought through. Enough showers – enough space to put your stuff on … enough basins and mirrors … and best of all, CLEAN. Very well maintained and looked after.

We drove out of Yellow Sands … with heavy hearts. Next time round, we will be staying there for a much more extended period.

Distance and time:

From Oribi Gorge to Yellow Sands – 502km and 7 hours travelling time.

Road Conditions:

The road surface is in a good condition. What is frustrating is the number of slow moving trucks on the road and not enough places where you can safely pass.  You constantly need to be on the lookout for local traffic that pass on blind turns and double lines.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

Yellow Sands has the most beautiful campsite and beach that I have seen in a long time. The ablutions are in mint condition.  Most campsites are separated by natural bush from the others which is great for privacy.  It is also not a very big campsite and it is quite.  Mostly visited by older people maybe because there are no shops, restaurants and entertainment activities in the close vicinity. We just loved it.

Cost of camping for 2 persons for one night – R 150.00

 

DAY 5&6 (23&24 March 2016) Mountain Zebra National Park (S32.22357 E25.47944) – Cradock, Eastern Cape: South Africa

Mountain Zebra

Exciting day. I get to pick up my sheep wool slippers from my favourite farmstall – Daggaboer just outside Cradock. This will be my 12th pair. I also get to see Isobel again (owner of the farm stall).

Glorious day … warm with no rain. Sad day, because we are almost at the end of our holiday break.

Daggaboer did not disappoint … apart from my slippers, I managed to bag a very nice homemade table cloth, fudge, homemade lavender body butter and of course Daggaboer’s famous bobotie pies. Life could not be better …

Daggaboer is situated 47km from Cradock on the N10 direction Cookhouse. You can find their very interactive page on Facebook.

Reality struck though when we entered Mountain Zebra. This is our favourite go to Sanparks National Park and where we always had fabulous times. This time round the draught was evident in everything we saw. And yet, according to the rangers on duty, the park is looking better than in February when they almost had no feed for the animals. According to recent studies, the water table in the park was not affected by the draught and should recover significantly as they get more rain.

As always, the park did not disappoint – as well as the campsites. With a packed camping ground, we settled for a spot quite near the ablutions (we don’t do this often as the noise and slamming of bathroom doors are annoying and very disturbing). And again, we were the only rooftop campers in the whole camping area.

Mountain Zebra camping site has the most divine view – from all sides. And apart from the fact that the camp is packed, it is a fairly quiet camping site with minimum disturbances. Yeah … you are still able to take your afternoon nap without being awoken by loud crowds and noisy neighbours.

We set up camp and just lounged around the rest of the day. Nothing more entertaining than watching the incoming crowd set up camp. And of course … having a Daggaboer bobotie pie just makes this a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

It became windy late afternoon, and we showered and went to bed early. We hoped we could hear lions during the night, but to no avail. Wind was to strong … Mountain Zebra now has 4 males and two females in the park …

We slept in the next day – first time on this break of ours. When we got up, the camp was deserted. Most people go out very early to catch great animal sightings.

Pieter and I went to reception to book a night drive and also see if they are able to assist us with dinner before the drive. And as always, Mountain Zebra did not disappoint.

Fairly uneventful day went by quickly, and before we knew it, it was time for the dinner and game drive. Night drives at Mountain Zebra is an ABSOLUTE must. They never ever disappoint.

Apart from the fact that the rangers stay on site and are not hurried to get back home, they are super clued up and knowledgeable on the park and animals. This must have been our 8th night drive with them, and still we learn new things every time round.

We got up to a rainy and wet day the next morning … and sadly, this was our last day. Before we exited the park, we drove our most favourite route and said goodbye …

Rain is always welcome … but in hindsight, we always worry that the young won’t make the cold winters when the rain is late.

We were on our way to Bloemfontein …

Distance and time:

Yellow Sands to Mountain Zebra National Park – 336km and 5 hours driving time (slow driving because of the last section of the road to the campsite is through the park with a speed limit of 40k.p.h)

Road Conditions:

Good tar road with one or two short sections that is bad, no longer than 30km in total. There are road works just before Cradock with stop/go control sections.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

The facilities at the Mountain Zebra campsite is of high standard. Due to the drought in the area (and the rest of South Africa) there is almost no grass in the camping area.  Only a few campsites still has grass.

The cost for camping at Mountain Zebra National Park was R 479.75 for 2 people for two nights.

Other Costs:

Conservation fees of R 40.00 p.p.pn. is payable if you are not the holder of a Sanparks Wildcard.

ch 2016) Mountain Zebra National Park (S32.22357 E25.47944) – Cradock, Eastern Cape: South Africa

 

DAY 7 (25 March 2016) Reyneke Park (S29.13527 E26.13999) – Bloemfontein, Free State: South Africa

We entered Bloem late afternoon … and we were tired. We got some takeaways and made our way to Reyneke Park where we would spend the night.

Distance and time:

Mountain Zebra National Park to Reyneke Park, Bloemfontein – 433km and 5 hours driving time.

Road Conditions:

The road bypassing Middelburg was closed for road works and all traffic is routed through the town of Middelburg. The rest of the roads between Cradock and Bloemfontein is in a good condition.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

We booked a room for the night at Reyneke Park at a cost of R 540.00 for 2 people for the night. It is a double room with 2 beds, a table and its own bathroom with a shower, toilet and washbasin.  There is a little stoep area overlooking the garden.  Secure parking under a carport is provided at the door for each room.  This is a good place for a stop-over when travelling through Bloemfontein.

 

DAY 8 (26 March 2016) Golden Gate (S28.50587 E28.61769) – Clarens, Free State: South Africa

Basotho Cultural Village

On the N8, just outside of Bloemfontein we paid a visit to Bob Rodgers Park and took a trip down memory lane as this was where Gerida spent a great deal of her childhood. Nostalgic time … some tears shed and some grateful moments as she looked back at the house they lived most of her childhood. Things change … and change is something that we don’t always deal well with.

Travelling from Ladybrand towards Clocolan on the R26, 3km before Clocolan is The Cabin Farmstall. Faaaabulous farmstall. Excellent shops … PLENTY to buy and aaaamazing food. Pity most of my money was now a mere memory …

And further on with the R26, 3km from Clocolan direction Ficksburg, is the Constantia Cherry Tea Garden and Farmstall. Again … fabulous farmstall. Cherries galore. A definite MUST if you are in that area.

We stopped at the Glen Reenen camp area at Golden Gate where we met with some family whom we have not seen in a long time. From there we entered the Golden Gate Park and started working our way toward the Basotho Cultural village. Having a curios husband like I have … no roads goes untraveled … and we were able to get a peek at the most amazing scenes on route to the Basotho Cultural village. The vastness of Golden Gate and the mountains is breath-taking … and again, no photo does not justice.

The Basotho Cultural village is such a special place … Apart from the view from the cabin, the inside is very cosy and comfortable.

We unpacked the basics and enjoyed the fact that we have an on suite shower and ablutions. We are definitely not used to comforts like this. The cabin is well equipped and staying there was an absolute bliss.

Knowing that this would be our last night, we had a braai and did some retrospection of our holiday. Again, one for the books. My husband never seizes to amaze me when it comes planning our holidays and routes.

Distance and time:

There are two possible routes to follow:

The faster route is the one over Winburg, Senekal, Paul Roux, Bethlehem, Kestell directly to the Basotho Cultural Village, at a distance of 333km that should take you more or less 4 hours.

The other is the more scenic route over Botshabelo, Ladybrand, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Clarens, through Golden Gate to the Basotho Cultural Village, a distance of 334km that would take you 5 hours. We opted for the more scenic route.

It is a tarred road in good condition with some road works between Bloemfontein and Botshabelo.

Accommodation (Quality and Cost):

At Golden Gate we stayed over in a Basotho style rondawel at the Basotho Cultural Village (S28.48873 E28.74382). The rondawel is well equipped with two beds, a kitchen area with a microwave oven, two plate stove, a toaster, a weber braai and all the crockery and cutlery that you might need.  Total cost for two people is R 724.42 per night.

Other Costs:

A conservation fee of R 40.00 per person per day is also payable.

Negatives:

If you enter the park from the Harrismith or Kestell side the Basotho Cultural Village is 5km from the park’s unmanned entrance gate. What SANParks don’t tell you when you make is booking is that you need to drive another 25km to the Glen Reenen Office to book in and pay your conservation fees (if you don’t) have a wild card or to present your wild card and then return to the Basotho Cultural Village where you are booked. None of this can be done at the Basotho Cultural Village as reception only manages the museum.

 

DAY 9 (27 March 2016) Pretoria, Gauteng: South Africa

This was the last day of our Easter break and today we were heading home, Pretoria. The route took us from the Basotho Cultural Village in Golden Gate (The old QwaQwa National Park area) to Harrismith where we joined with the N3 and heading north towards home.

Distance and time:

It was in total 390km back home and it took us 4½ hours.

Road Conditions:

Good tar road all the way back home.

 

Greetings

Pieter & Gerida

Landrovingafrica

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