A travel writer’s ode to beloved South African road trips
This article was first seen here on SAPeople.com
Part 1: Time to hit the road
It’s probably one of the only times a child is willing to be roused at three am.
“Wake up love, time to leave”, mom calls gently.
There are a few moments of confusion until it dawns on my ten-year-old self that the time had finally come: our annual road-trip vacation was about to begin. My sister and I would wander outside in our semi-conscious state and climb into the back of dad’s bakkie where a mattress and blankets would be waiting.
Of all the essential items for a South African family road-trip, the most quintessential is padkos. The revered basket would be under mom’s stewardship, and at appropriate times, out would come all manner of wonders. Layers of freshly made egg sandwiches (which, if you were lucky, included some bacon), Safari dried fruit, Golden Delicious apples, and of course – most importantly – biltong.
On the longer trips, once we’d exhausted the prized contents of the padkos basket, there was the absolute treat of a stop at Wimpy. While too young to delight in the fame of Wimpy coffee, we were just as excited to announce with confidence to the waitron “One Wimpy breakfast, please. With a strawberry milkshake.” A ten-year-old’s paradise.
Communicating with the parents through the canopy wasn’t always the easiest; imagine our delight the year we got really ‘larney’ and were given walkie-talkies. Beyond the initial excitement of using them, they existed for two primary reasons: to request toilet breaks and for my four-years-younger sister to report me for initiating some form of sibling rivalry.
Besides some sporadic incidents of sibling rivalry, life in the canopy was rather enjoyable. We’d watch the landscapes run by the windows surrounding us, listening on our Walkmans to the top 20 songs we’d taped from the previous Sunday’s radio hit parade…of course cursing the DJ’s when they interrupted the songs by speaking over them or – even worse – sang along to the songs.
You see, the journey was always a prominent feature of the trip. Especially in a country like South Africa where a one-way journey from Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town would take at least 20 hours of driving. The spread of destinations that lay on the maps, and then roads before us, meant years of exploring.
Peering wide-eyed over the bridge at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Graskop, gasping at the treehouses that were our new home at Bonamanzi, nervously taking the cable-car up Table Mountain, the thrill of sleeping in caves in the Drakensberg, and then the jaw-dropping experience of our first buffet breakfast…“You mean we can have as many waffles as we want, or the miniature wrapped DairyBell cheeses?” The next five seconds of disbelief were immediately followed by a dart to the waffle station as fast as small feet could carry.
Part 2: Roles Reversed
There’s a fascinating experience to be had when, fast forward a couple years to the present, it is now the child taking the parents on holiday. After emigrating to New Zealand, my parents were making their first return trip to the country they missed so much. The many road trips we were fortunate to take as children both formed and fueled my travel love affair travel, ultimately leading to my vocation as a travel writer. I now had the opportunity to take my parents on a road trip.
My gusty golf had replaced the 4×4 single-cab, Apple Music the Walkman, and artisanal pies the egg sarmies. I’d managed to keep our destination a secret; after the three-hour drive from Cape Town the (unfamiliar to my parents) Cederberg territory was giving no clues.
We finally pulled up at Kagga Kamma and, after check in, made our way to the cave suites. I’d also traded the caves of the Drakensberg for a slightly more luxurious option. Walking into the plushly-fitted cave, there was a look of confusion on my folk’s faces…there was only one bed. This would be where they’d sleep, but only the following night. You see I had a little trick up my sleeve.
Walking back outside there were two quad bikes. After a brief driving lesson, the parentals were told by the ranger to follow her and me, who were driving ahead in the game vehicle. After a short ride through the reserve we happened on the spot where my parents would be overnighting: a completely secluded section of the mountains, where a ‘star suite’ has been built on a slightly raised platform. With the canopy of heaven and its millions of stars, there’s a bed, a boma, a dining table, a rock pool, and then shower and bath with heated water.
The fire provided first ambiance and a little warmth in the fresh mountain air, and later coals for the braai. Once we’d eaten our fill and said our goodnights, I headed back to the main lodge, leaving them to the enjoy a night under African skies.
Thanks for a decade of road trips mom and dad. We may have to wait a little until the next one, but you always said the best things were worth waiting for.