Oh how I wish I had a 4×4. A proper bakkie (or SUV, I’m not picky) to explore the backroads with. I love my Polo, don’t get me wrong, but I feel for her every time I hit a dirt road. But a bigger vehicle would allow me to discover places I’ve been avoiding. Crossing the Zuurberg Pass, taking the Elands River road, have a proper Wild Coast trip, do the Baviaanskloof from end to end for the first time, head to the mountains of the North-Eastern Cape to tackle some of those beautiful passes and get lost on the dirt roads of the Karoo Heartland. And that’s just all things in the Eastern Cape. I sometimes wonder how people can afford to drive big 4×4’s when I can barely afford my second hand sedan. Maybe it’s because we’re comprehensively insured, medical aided, long-term policied and retirement annuitied that I don’t have the finances for a luxury like that. My bosses see my posts so I’m not going to say perhaps I don’t earn enough. Maybe I should do something on the side to earn more. Who knows?
In my dreams a car company will one day call me and say something like, “Hey Jonker. We see you and everything you do. How you promote the Eastern Cape and South Africa not just for work but because you have such a passion for it, showcase everything there is to see and do, your online presence and promotion, you passion and your value. We would like to sponsor you a 4×4 to use and put your branding on along with ours and in return you make sure you showcase the vehicle as much as possible, include it on your destination photos and always mention it in your posts.”
Oh well, a guy can dream, can’t he. Maybe one day when I’m big.
If you have ever been to Nieu-Bethesda in the Eastern Cape’s Karoo Heartland, you would have dropped down the winding pass towards the village and noticed the typical Karoo koppie on the other side of the valley below. Did you wonder what it’s called? In case you did, it’s called De Toren, translated to English as The Tower.
Today’s post isn’t one of a well known or even public spot, but I do want to show you the expanse of the Karoo in the Jansenville / Darlington Dam district. A couple months ago we spent a weekend with our church cell group on the farm Wortekuil of Willie de Wet. Willie farms with goats and sheep, but also offers a bit of hunting on the farm On the Sunday morning we all piled onto his bakkie and off road buggy and off we went to Dam se Kop.
Dam se Kop is the highest part of the farm and named so because you can catch a glimpse of the Darlington Dam. The walk up to the top wasn’t anywhere as bad as I thought, but perhaps the fact that it was a cool morning and slightly overcast helped a bit. Wouldn’t want to do it when the temperature pushes the late 30C’s.
Once at the top this was the view. You can see for miles and miles across a typical Karoo landscape, flat, dry and hauntingly beautiful.
A few months ago we spent a weekend on a friend’s farm near Darlington Dam and he took us for a quick drive to see what the dam looked like. Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the dam wall itself, so my picture is of the runoff below the wall.
Darlington Dam, also referred to as Lake Mentz is located off the main road between Kirkwood and Jansenville and was completed in 1922. The primary reason for the dam being built was to provide an adequate supply of water to especially citrus farmers further down in the Sundays River Valley with irrigation water for their trees.
The story of the land on which the dam is located goes back to 1905 when P.W.F. Weyers settled on Darlington in the fertile Sundays River Valley and planted fruit orchards and vineyards. Later a hotel, post office, shop, smithy, house and several outbuildings were established on the farm, but these all disappeared under waters of Lake Mentz when it was established in 1922.
The original dam was designed to store 142 million m3, but the high sediment yield of the Sundays River meant that sediment delivery into the reservoir basin quickly reduced its capacity. The dam wall was raised by 1.5 m in 1935 and again by 5.8 m in 1951. By 1979 the reservoir had lost a total of 41.47% of its design capacity.
The serious drought of 1966 and 1967 emphasized the necessity to commence work on the Skoenmakers Canal to link the Great Fish River to Darlington Dam in view of an expected increase in irrigation below Darlington Dam and the demand for water in the Port Elizabeth metropolitan area.
In the 1990s the ‘lake’ was renamed the Darlington Dam and today it has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park.
One of the things I realised during lockdown that I was missing out on was seeing the aloes in bloom while driving through the Eastern Cape’s Karoo Heartland. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to see on a road trip and the thought of missing out on it this year kinda depressed me. Business travel opened a little while ago and suddenly I had the opportunity to make a quick trip up to Nieu-Bethesda for work. Yay, yay, yay! Outside Jansenville I just out to stop to stretch my legs and take a couple of photos.
One of my favorite things about driving through the Karoo Heartland during the winter is seeing the aloes in bloom. But there is another Karoo succulent that grows between the aloes that most people don’t really notice called Noors. The Noors is a type of euphorbia and found especially around the town of Jansenville. They are smallish, thorny plants with milky sap and the reason that the region is called the Noorsveld.
The origin of the name noors is uncertain but is believed to originate with the British whom the prickly plant with its yellow flowers reminded of gorse. It is supposed that “gorse” evolved via Dutch speaking settlers into “noors”.
The noors is frequently chopped as fodder for stock with the result that Noorsveld farms can carry one unit per morgen compared with one unit per three morgen in Karoo conditions where the noors does not occur.
The Karoo Heartland has a unique beauty which I have really learned to appreciate more and more as I have gotten older. If you’re a forest or beach person then the Karoo may not be for you, but if big skies and open spaces feed your soul then there is no better place. One of my favorite Eastern Cape Karoo Heartland landmarks is the Koffiebus and Teebus mountains outside Steynsburg. Although there are many similar Karoo koppies throughout the whole region, the fact that there is a thick one (the coffee pot) and a thin one (the teapot) next to each other like this is quite noticeable.
Being from the Eastern Cape we all know that there are areas where you have to be very careful driving at night. Unlike our friends in the Big Smoke it’s not robbers and highjackers we have to be careful of, but rather Kudus. These big antelope jump fences up to 2 meters tall and come and browse on the side of the road after dark, often jumping into the road and colliding with cars when they get startled by the bright lights. Because of this Kudu warning road signs is a regular sight on the roads of the Karoo Heartland.
But lately, a new sign has stuck its head out. A Warthog warning sign. Now warthogs don’t jump fences, for that their legs are way too short. But they do burrow underneath and they can often be seen on the side of the R75 road towards Graaff-Reinet from Port Elizabeth. Hence, Beware of Warthog signs.
For some reason, I just want to sing, “Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze…” when I drive past them. Go figure…
When I downloaded this photo of me sitting in the road near Jansenville in the Karoo Heartland from my camera onto the laptop and saw it, the first thing that came to my mind was “The road is long…” from He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother by The Hollies. The tune, melody, words, everything. It’s probably also the best description of my life lately. Between work and personal life it’s been busy, busy, busy with lots of time spent on the road and driving my desk when I’m not, catching up on admin. I wouldn’t have it any other way though because I love what I do, but in the process blogging was the one thing that was left on the luke hot back burner. There just hasn’t been much for blogging and I really need to make a plan to change that. But a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So at one stage or another, I need to get back into blogging and this is as good a time as any. I posted for the first time in over six weeks on Port Elizabeth Daily Photo earlier this week and its time to get Firefly the Travel Guy going again after this break. So, “The road is long, With many a winding turn…”