During the week between Christmas and New Year we decided on a spur-of-the moment family road trip adventure to the Northern Cape. We had a few places on our ‘to visit’ list, but the rest was basically an adventure and exploration of the one province in South Africa that seems to pull us back, and definitely holds a special place in my family’s heart. If you want to catch up before reading on, you can check out the prep and Day 1 of our trip, or else you can just carry on from Day 2 and pop back later!
Day 2: Upington to Kathu via Van Zylsrus
Departure Time: 06.45am
Day 2 dawned bright and early. We packed up the car and went to have breakfast at Wimpy before heading off. After refuelling ourselves we stopped to refuel the Fortuner, and buy more ice for the cooler box! Our destination was Van Zylsrus for lunch, then on to Kathu where we would sleep the night.
As I mentioned previously, we love a good dirt road adventure! When my husband asks me, “Are you sure?”, my response is usually, “Have Fortuner, let’s go!”
We headed out of Upington on the N14 towards Kathu. After 89kms we turned off the tar road onto a dirt road. From there it was another 192kms to Van Zylsrus, on dirt. Woo Hoo!! I was excited.
Something I learnt when we did a road trip from Welkom to Cape Town was that you always see so much more when you go off the beaten track and off the main highways. What lies behind the ridge of mountains that sometimes seems to hide the secrets of what’s behind them from the monotonous grey snaking highway is often something you’d never expect to see!
Unexpected Natural Awesomeness!
Just after we turned off, I started! Thank goodness he loves me, or I’m quite sure he wouldn’t put up with it.
“Stop here, I want to take a picture.”
“Did you see that? Stop. Go back.”
I’m forever grateful that whilst we may be chalk and cheese on so many things in our lives, my husband loves a good adventure as much as I do. He also has endless patience when it comes to road trips. Thank you, my love.
This is why I asked him to stop!
How magnificent is that? Almost all the large shady trees had a nest like that in them. The bird that builds these nest colonies is called a ‘sociable weaver’ and is the one of few birds known to build such a large compound community nest. Isn’t that a spectacular sight to behold! I stand to be corrected (please get in touch if I am wrong), but the tree in the picture is a Camel Thorn tree.
The Camel Thorn tree is native to the Northern Cape, and is actually a protected species of tree. They are magnificent trees, spiny, thorny, hard, tough and rugged, just like the Northern Cape landscape itself. The fact that these Sociable Weaver’s choose to make build their colonies in these trees (as well as almost every telephone pole in the Northern Cape), is surely a natural version of how the Northern Cape itself is a home for humanity despite is harsh and rugged yet wildly beautiful landscape.
The Dirt Road
I’m not going to lie, 192 km on a dirt road is far! Very far! The landscape is stunningly beautiful and different with each twist and turn in the road, but it’s far. All pictures below are from the same road – what’s so interesting is the difference between the different sections, from dry light coloured dirt, to deep red soft sandy roads, to dry white pans where you can hardly believe that lift can even exist, but it does.
At one point we lost all cell phone signal and even GPS signal for about 30 or 40 km. I wrote a post a few days ago about the 10 essential tips for road tripping with kids! and one of the points I noted was that how I would always recommend that you pack a real, up to date, paper map to refer to! Whilst I knew that we would eventually get somewhere, I was a little bit stressed when we lost signal and had no map backup to refer to. Fortunately, we eventually got to the long anticipated t-junction we’d been looking for, and it was a short drive from there to Van Zylsrus!
Van Zylsrus is one of those little dorps (towns) that has survived the ‘dorpie fashion-kill’. It is still relatively untouched. The Van Zylsrus hotel is the centre of this little town, and is a true oasis in the desert. The decor …. I have no words! Every single piece of this quaint little hotel is an actual work of art in itself. We were there years ago when we lived in Kathu briefly, but I was so excited to go back and visit and to show my mom a truly unique South African place of interest. I’m going to stop going on about it now and just show you why it is one of my all time favourite places in South Africa! If for nothing else, the homemade food and dip in the pool is worth the trek to get there!
On leaving there, we hit our maximum temperature of the trip: 43°C!
We were also surprised that the road from Van Zylsrus to Hotazel, the R31, had been tarred since our last visit a few years ago. This helped us to make up a bit of time. We had to stop at Hotazel (Hot as Hell) and get a photo or two, it’s not every day you visit a place with a name like that!
Excuse the short shorts and mom bun, but it really was hot as hell!
From there we went to Kathu. Having lived in Kathu briefly in 2015 we used the opportunity to give my mom a whistle-stop tour of the town – there’s the mall, that’s where we lived, here is where the eldest went to school, etc. And then it was on to our accommodation for the night.
We stayed at Namakwari Lodge for the night. It’s a great place to stay, the rooms are spacious and have everything weary travellers need to be more than comfortable, and air con!!! The restaurant and bar facilities are excellent with a nice big play area for the kids to burn off all their pent-up energy after the long hours in the car!
Total distance on Day 2: 445.6 km
Day 3: Let’s go home!
On waking up on day 3, I was ready to go home. We’d ticked off all the places I wanted to see on our trip and I knew it was going to be a case of ‘heads down’, let’s just get home! We had enough drinks and ice and snacks that we wouldn’t need to stop. We set ourselves a goal of being home by lunch time.
After a lovely breakfast we left Kathu at 07.20am, it was already 23°C!
I have to say, there’s not much to marvel over and ‘see’ between Kathu and Welkom, except for one amazing site, the Bloemhoff Dam!
The Bloemhoff dam, is situated on the border between the North West Province and the Free State. In fact, whilst the area around the dam is one large conservation area, because it is divided by the dam the area on each side of is has been designated as its own separate nature reserve. The area on the North West Province side is called the Bloemhoff Dam Nature Reserve, and the area on the free State side is called the Sandveld Nature Reserve!
Amazingly, the dam wall is a whopping 4,270 meters long! It’s not a very deep dam, but it is very long!
From the Bloemhoff Dam to home we didn’t stop again, except for one bush wee … shhhh.
Dates of trip: 27 to 29 December 2017
Total Distance: 1783 km.
Number of species of animal noted: at least 24
Memories made: Enough to last a lifetime!
Thank you to the Northern Cape. I will forever hold a piece of you in my heart. Road Trip Tales!
Note: All photos are taken by myself. I do not authorise anyone to copy and reuse them without my prior written permission.
Don’t forget to pin the following image to refer back to this post when you are ready to embark on an awesome family road trip adventure …