The first long distance trip that I remember was when I was eight years old and drove down to Cape Town with my family. We listened to the Quincy Jones album “back to on the block” so much that we knew all the words by the end. We stopped for loads of junk food (and peeing) and it was a long drive. My dad was so over it by the time we arrived in Cape Town, that he flew my brother down to drive us back home.
On the drive back, my mom made my brother stop off in the then Transkei (Eastern Cape) to visit her friend and a national park. It was great. That’s because mom knew how to road trip. You need music, a good temperament, food and stops. Stops maketh the road trip!
That’s why, at the end of 2017, whiling moving from Johannesburg to Cape Town, we decided to breakdown the thirteen hour drive with food, songs and great stops. One of our memorable stops was Graaff-Reneit and the Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park.
The Camdeboo National Park is the 19405 hectare park surrounding the historical town of Graaff-Reneit. Any nature lover will appreciate the mountains
diverse environment and you can even view black eagles close by. Activities here include game viewing, bird watching and hiking trails. They have tented camps and campsites with braais and power points, and a close proximity to the water (no swimming though). As per my relationship compromise rule of one night camping, we booked a campsite for the night but when we arrived it was so hot and dry, that we opted for a night in town. I had no complaints there.
Graaff-Reinet has the unique position of having 220 listed national monuments, which is more than any other town in South Africa. The Sundays River forms a horseshoe shape around the town, making walking around town easy. We underestimated how interesting the town would be and after one night there, it was clear that we would have to go back and explore a bit more, one day.
We stayed at the colourful Obesa Lodge which was a walking distance from some of the popular restaurants and sites. As the town is horse shoe shape, it’s pretty safe to walk within the horse shoe and it’s fairly well-lit. We had delicious dinner with very fresh products at Polka, which was recommended by our host as “the one the young people go to.” That’s me!
The Valley of Desolation
The valley of desolation is piled dolerite columns in the Camdeboo National Park and Great Karoo. From the viewpoints, you can see these amazing column formations with the Karoo plains in the background. The result of vocalic and erosive forces over 100 million years. It is incredible.
At the base of the trail to the viewing point, there is a reminder to leave no mark of your passing and “respect the right of other visitors to solitude.” The last bit seems a bit odd until you reach the top and are enveloped by the stillness, conscious of the light wind tickling its way through the bush, and awed by the silent black eagles circling above. Hence, it is sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of Mountains.”
It was a very calming experience. That is until, I heard a father say to his daughter “stay right there, don’t go close to the edge.” To which the little girl responded: “I just want to look down one time, just one.” Her father still said no and although she seemed to relent, I still I found myself nervous that she was going to make a run for it. It’s a steep drop.
This stop was so well worth it. the landscape was incredible. Sure it stretched the trip by a couple of days but you get the added benefit of South Africa showing off all the stuff of brochures along the way., made the detour well worth it.