Finishing up in the Karoo Desert Botanical Garden at 11h30, there was still no particular plan on which route to take after Ceres. I had a vague intention to go back via the spectacular Bain’s Kloof Pass and through the Wellington/Paarl winelands, or even across to the West Coast road, but when we passed the turnoff for Bain’s Kloof there was a big sign saying ‘Closed’. What a disappointment, but undeterred we drove to Ceres through more snow-capped mountains of the lovely Michell’s Pass and into this verdant valley. Far to the north was the white-topped summit of Table Mountain, Cederberg version, and it was almost tempting to go that way, but a previous trip some years back on the incredibly bad surface of the Gydo Pass had rattled my oil filter loose and necessitated some expensive repairs. I wasn’t going to see if the surface had improved.
As we cruised as slowly as we dared along the edge of the road, eyes searching for birds on bushes, we were rocked by the slipstream of endless 4x4s rushing up the valley to get the kids to play in the snow before it melted, and it once again highlighted that little provision is made for those who simply wish to park at the side of the road and observe the local wildlife. We nonetheless kept out of trouble and a snap decision was made to go further inland to the N1 where the choice of direction would be Touws River or De Doorns. What a fortunate idea, as we wound past scenery never seen before by taking the lesser roads – the aptly named Waboomsberg had almost a forest of these trees leading up the slopes, with not another one in sight to either side. Perhaps it was a conservation effort as all the other trees had been cut down in the days of ox-wagons to provide wheel rims and brake blocks, being the only protea species that grows to such a size that harvesting wood is viable. It is doubtful that many reach their maximum height of 9m these days.
Reaching the plateau above the Ceres valley, we rounded a bend and were confronted by a tumbling mass of fur and legs – an incredible sighting of two bat-eared foxes playfully running along the road. We followed them for a short distance before they crossed the road and darted under a fence to bound across a nicely ploughed field, allowing views that any safari-goer would envy! And immediately after that, a scrub hare was spotted under a bush, but it must have been stunned by a car, as it allowed us to walk right up to it without moving. There was no visible injury and it was definitely alive so hopefully it recovered. And immediately after that, we found a group of blue cranes strolling elegantly in another open field, followed by our first sighting of a Pale Chanting Goshawk pecking on the ground and very obliging with the photo opportunities.
We were now level with the snow and the shaded cuttings were lined with a few inches of the white stuff. People were making very small snowmen and taking selfies in the snow, but I had no need to interrupt our inland adventuring – I know snow is cold. We were nearly at the N1, amongst some spectacular examples of Cape Fold mountains, and the next decision was which way to go – Montagu (the long way) or back through the Hex River Valley. It was 14h30 and we were a long way from home.
(To be continued)