Many years ago, a friend accused me of being able to smell a roast leg of lamb from 500 miles away! Well, there might have been some truth to his accusation.
It began late one Friday afternoon, when I rolled into Prince Albert. I was driving a big, silver Isuzu KB300 D-TEQ LX, with a factory-fresh Jurgens Fleetline in tow. The three of us were en route to our first campsite, Olienhof Rest Camp, located on a working olive farm located on the edge of the village below the Swartberg mountains.
The brief for my trip was to keep it country: stay off the big roads, but stick to the tar; and find places to stay on farms, nature reserves and game parks. The route would see me heading up the N1 from Cape Town to Beaufort West, then heading east to Aberdeen, and up to Graaff-Reinet and Nieu Bethesda.
I met Wendy Williams, manager of the Olienhof Rest Camp, and her husband, Andries, as I drove in past the olive orchards to the shaded camping area. The couple, with son Luke, were on their way out. ‘Welcome − please make yourself at home, choose any spot you like.’ Wendy went on to explain that they were on their way to help prepare for the potjiekos evening up at the show grounds. ‘Come and join us. The whole dorp will be there. And the food is really outstanding.’
So, my notorious olfactory canal hadn’t let me down. Okay, it wasn’t quite 500 miles, but once again I’d locked in like a lamb-seeking missile. I headed off to the show grounds, where a R50 ticket promised me as much grub as I could eat… but I couldn’t get much further than the third pot.
I asked a local farmer, ‘What gives this meat such a lekker flavour?’
‘Ag, man’ he said, ‘it’s the Skaapbossie, the Perdebos, the Kapokbossie and the Rivierganna.’ A youngster, half-hidden in the smoke from his coals, added, ‘Oom, don’t forget the Silverkaroo and the Ankerkaroo.’ For all I knew, the sheep could have been grazing on truffles… but the taste was fabulous.
I spent the weekend in Prince Albert, but could easily have spent a week. The Olienhof Rest Camp, literally two minutes from the village, was tops. This is where a caravan comes into its own: you go out, explore, and then you can nip back for your home comforts, whether that means a meal or just putting your feet up.
The history of Prince Albert stretches back to 1762. This village grew up around Zackarias and Dina de Beer’s loan farm, Queekvalleij; and the stately NG church, whose spire dominates the village, was built in 1842. It seemed appropriate that a black Model T Ford was parked in front of the church on this Saturday morning; however, Prince Albert was humming. The long, wide, main street was packed with cars for the church bazaar which was the follow-up of the potjiekos evening.
The temporary stands groaned with farm produce, wors and the delicious Karoo lamb I had tasted the night before − some of the same farmers I had met then were busy braaing chops and wors, and I was munching a roosterkoek filled with strips of lamb. However, there’s a lot more to this village than just kos.
Strolling down the main street, I found a collection of four interlinked showrooms in a building called the Watershed. The watershed consists of a shop called the Karoo Collection, and three galleries: Jurgen Schadeberg Gallery, Alex Hamilton Gallery, and the JP Meyer and Anthony Shapiro space. Across the road was the Fransie Pienaar Museum; perhaps the best country museum that I have seen in my travels. I visited the Café Photo Albert, where you can have a fine meal while admiring the Stephan Jaggy photographs taken on his trips around the globe. Then there’s the Showroom Theatre, a world-class art-deco theatre and cinema in the middle of the Karoo.
It was hard to leave, but I was on my way to the Karoo National Park on the outskirts of Beaufort West, and I was really looking forward to the visit. I had visited the park with my wife, Dominique, while towing a huge Dethleffs caravan on our way to camp in the snow at AfriSki in Lesotho. (See the ??? issue). But, on that occasion, we’d had only enough time to overnight, and no time to explore the park. I already knew that the campsite and facilities were superb − one of the reasons why the park is so popular − but I was really looking forward to exploring it with the new Isuzu.
I waited at the gate for about 10 minutes before the ranger opened it, at 07h00 on the dot. It was freezing cold, and thick mist blanketed the landscape; not exactly the weather I was hoping for. I stopped at the viewpoint after the steep climb up the magnificent Klipspringer Pass, and here I met Paul and Liz Pignéguy from Hout Bay in the Cape, who were on an extended trip.
Paul kindly scribbled their itinerary in my notebook − Mokala, Madikwe, Hwange, Chobe, Ngepi, Ghanzi, Stampriet, Springbok, and home. The mist was still so thick you could hardly see a thing, and Paul and Liz chose to head back down for breakfast; but I pressed on. Perhaps my aural and visual senses were developing along with my supposed over-developed sense of smell! Half an hour later, just before the Doornkloof picnic site, I came across a rhino right next to the road. He lumbered off some 300 metres and then stopped to browse on some acacia thorn – which was when the penny dropped. It was a black rhino! If it had been a white chap, he would have been grazing with his head down. I was lucky he hadn’t given me a rev – they’re notoriously cranky fellows. My heart was still thumping as I moved on to try the Afsaal 4×4 loop.