Five of SA’s nine provinces in one day!

En route to Beaufort West
En route to Beaufort West

Today’s plan is to drive until I’ve had enough – and I’m not accustomed to long drives.  That does mean hourly stops for the animals’ piepie breaks and walks, and those are rarely short because Akela loves sniffing and there are so many strange smells.  She can spend 10 minutes smelling a single leaf – I’d love to know what she can tell.

The day started off spectacularly – our early morning long walk was under a blanket of bright stars.  I seem to have grown more appreciative of the Karoo landscape too – the varying vegetation and always the spectacular mountain ranges, like those above on the road to Beaufort West.

The telephone poles alongside the road tell the story of changes in information technology – a once busy telephone pole now only carries two strands of wire.

I’m starting to get used to the Sony A200 DSLR camera and it seems impossible to take a bad photograph with it.  I’ve only been using the Auto setting and must still explore the manual overrides.  I love the way it starts focussing as you bring it to your eye and the speed of taking the pic and saving it.  No lag at all!

I tried the SatNav on my Blackberry cellphone for the first time and was surprised to see the distance to Mokopane was about 1,500km.  I thought it was more… could it be reached in one day?

Beaufort West really surprised me… it has character!  I remember it from 20 years ago as a rather dusty and easily-forgettable town.  If this wasn’t a drive north with a mission I would have stopped to explore.  Another time.

Breakfast was beckoning and the Shell UltraCity before Three Sisters proved to be the perfect stop.  It was, without doubt, the best National Road service station I encountered in the trip north.  (The worst was a BP stop on the outskirts of Bloemfontein.)  Staff made eye-contact when they spoke to you, they were outgoing and very friendly.  And of course nothing beats a toasted bacon and egg sandwich.

There was a great playground for kids (no pets please!) and an equally great place to walk and water pets.

The last time I drove this route I remember being bored out of my mind.  I must have changed because I appreciated the scenery far more than before.  But then I remember looking at Hermanus’ mountains in 2004 and thinking, “Strange that I never noticed how beautiful they are are before.”

In the past 20 years I’ve driven more national roads in France and the USA than I have in SA, and ours leave much to be desired.  I wondered if a better legacy project for 2010 shouldn’t have been a proper freeway between Cape Town and Johannesburg.  Now that would generate a lot of jobs!

As one drove out of the Western Cape, traffic police patrolling the N1 were replaced by traffic police hiding alongside their speed traps, while large, articulated trucks drove in convoys of six, making overtaking a slow and dangerous business.

The approaches to Bloemfontein arrived with a proper freeway system but enjoying the decent road wasn’t to last for long, and was replaced by the most irritating feature of road travel in the Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo – toll roads!

If these were engineering wonders, or spectacular roads along scenic routes, they might be justified.  But all the toll roads I experienced fall far short of freeway status and most were plagued by road works.

The whole of the Western Cape has two toll roads – the Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 between Paarl and Worcester, and Chapman’s Peak Drive.  All other national roads are free.  I lost count of the number of toll plazas between Bloemfontein and Mokopane, and the cost must have been around R200.  It’s iniquitous and a sign of public sector incompetence.  A cop out!

Imagine if the Western Cape had to levy a special tourist tax for visitors from these provinces, to level the playing field.

As dusk and Johannesburg approached, Blackberry’s SatNav – or Vodafone’s SatNav to be more accurate – really came into it’s own.  Using it chews up the cellphone’s battery but luckily, with no car charger, I kept the battery going by charging the phone from my laptop.

One learns to rely on SatNav so quickly… at the expense of all inner sense of direction, even glossing over road directional signs in favour of Blackberry’s directions and instructions.  And this was how I found myself on the M1 South at about 7pm on a Friday.

The outbound lane was crawling at a snails pace as a result of a rather gruesome accident.  The speed limit (due to construction work) on my side was 80km/h; I was doing 100km/h and was – by far – the slowest vehicle in sight.

And then there was another realisation – Joburg’s motorways have no street lighting and rarely have road verges where you can pull over!  I had arrived in the Wild West and darkest Africa in one fell swoop.  Eskom must love Joburg Municipality!

The M1 North to Pretoria offered more delays caused by accidents and drivers pushing their luck when they saw a gap.  French taxi drivers would be at home here.  The Great North Road (N1) is littered with toll plazas and, given the heavy traffic on the road, seems to be way under specification.

The solution seems easy to me.  Let Jacob Zuma pay his own legal bills and transfer what’s saved there as well as the budget for politicians’ protection units to road building.  Those cool dudes in their dark glasses and hearing aids could be redeployed…

“That was a long drive!” Kenya just crashed.

Enough of those flights of fancy… the reality is I drove over 1,500km in a day, I saw five of South Africa’s nine provinces in one day.  I had arrived in Mokopane/Potgieterusrus in Limpopo Province.  Who would ever have thought that I would visit Potties!

It’s not that onerous a journey, even driven alone, and it does give one a unique perspective of South Africa’s incredible landscape.

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