After hearing enough stories of this crime ridden city we just used it as a jumping off point. Our safari dropped us off at the MoAfrika Lodge which was nice enough. Gave us enough time to do laundry and relax a little after our week long safari. The next morning we said goodbye to Joburg. Didn’t even stop in to say hello. Now there are many ways you can get from Joburg to Cape Town, if that’s where you’re trying to go. N1 is the most direct even though it’s probably the least scenic. But we weren’t on it the whole way and took some other smaller roads on the way that showed off the landscape a lot more. You can also opt for N3 southeast down to Durban and then follow the coast the whole way down. But for the way there, we hopped on the N1 and made our way to Ficksburg.
Ficksburg. (Night 1)
Approximate driving time: 4.5 hours
Location: Free State province
Accommodation: Buzz Backpackers
Accommodation Review: When it rained, it rained in our room. The Russian owner moved here with/for her boyfriend and also to be here for the end of the world in 2012 (I don’t think she’s too happy that it’s 2013). John, who runs the kitchen at their Buzz Tavern makes an AWESOME braai. Ours consisted of boerewors, sosaties, pap en sous, pork rashers, and some garlic bread and salad. Even if you don’t stay here, because it was in the process of being sold we were there, find John to make you dinner.
So why Ficksburg? There’s many other small towns around the Free State, but there was actually something going on in Ficksburg. We went because of the annual Cherry Festival. It happens every year at the end of November and it just happened to be going on while we would be driving through so we decided to check it out.
This is the longest running harvest festival in South Africa. It’s about a week long and filled with all sorts of different activities. The real festivities really happen on the weekend so if you want to go to this I’d plan on arriving on Friday and hanging out at night and then all day Saturday. While the festival takes place in town, several cherry farms outside of town offer tours where you can pick your own cherries and learn a little bit more about the farm itself. These are coordinated through the festival (you just have to sign up for a time slot) or you can call the farm and coordinate yourself. Some names are Constantia, Ionia, and Ben Nevis farms. Unfortunately we did not get to do this.
The cherry festival has a lot on offer including a wing eating contest where the kids do the gobbling, cherry pit spitting contest, a circus routine, for those willing to shell out a little more dough- the tours mentioned above, a cherry cooking class, and a wine pairing. A few of the farms also make their own cherry wine which is fun to try in the spirit of things.
Another thing to note is that The Cabin Farm Stall has its own celebration, called The Cabin Kersie Kapperjolle, during this weekend celebrating summer, creativity, and the cherry harvest. In its second year, it seems to be a fun place to spend an afternoon.
We did eat breakfast at Constantia Cherry Farm on our way out of the city. It was delicious and really affordable. There are a million cherry things to purchase in their gift shop as well if you’re looking for a souvenir or two. (picture of breakfast)
If this wasn’t going on in Ficksburg we may not have stopped there, but Ficksburg is a good jumping off point for spending time in Lesotho (pronounced less-oo-too). Lesotho, although completely surrounded by South Africa, is not a part of South Africa. It is indeed its own country, a kingdom in fact. The Kingdom of Lesotho.
You can either stay in caves in Lesotho or stay in Ficksburg as it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away. I’m not sure what the whole border crossing entails but whatever floats your boat. Here you can really rough it by taking a multi-day pony riding adventure across the rugged landscape of the remote Sehlabathebe Nation Park.
Graaff-Reinet. (Night 2)
Approximate driving time: 6 hours
Location: Eastern Cape Province
Accommodation: Aa’Qtansisi Guest House
Accommodation Review: A true BnB. Old people everywhere. Very quiet. A beautiful place, though, and a lot of care has been taken to really make you feel at home. Staff is wonderful and you might as well just eat there for every meal because the chef knows what he’s doing. We had springbok and ostrich. Yum! Oh, and while it’s a little pricier than say, a backpackers, they throw in a free cocktail on arrival. Why not?
Graaff-Reinet is picturesque. It is called the gem of the Karoo after all. Surrounded by Cambedoo National Park, beautiful Jacaranda trees in their purple bloom and old Victorian buildings line the streets. We stayed the night and visited the Valley of Desolation in the morning.
I think one of the greatest parts of the road trip we took was the scenery. I had no expectations going into South Africa because I really didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the beautiful landscape of farm land set against plateaus and mountains, billowing clouds, wild animals, monkeys, and the occasional tortoise. The windmills though, those were the best part.
Off to Cape Town!