It is less about the destination than the journey. Vast landscapes crisscrossed by gravel roads entice the curious, the adventurous and the nature lover. Speeding along a highway, or crawling behind multiple juggernauts along said highway, is for those who have no interest in the journey and have only the destination as a focus. Unnoticed are the small details that make life interesting – the scent of the vegetation, the call of small birds, the tiny plants that cover the hard dry ground, dried stick bushes waiting for life-giving rain to rejuvenate them – all is blurred in the rush to get ‘there’. Yet what is Life if we do not pause to observe what Nature has to offer?
It was with this in mind that we three musketeers ventured into the country for a few days of birds, botany and starry skies. We went with the flow of traffic along the N1 from Cape Town to Worcester via the Huguenot Tunnel. Although a preferable route would have been the scenic Bain’s Kloof Pass, the sight of massive trucks crawling up the side of the mountain and the small chance of overtaking made the tunnel the obvious choice, and soon we emerged into the spectacular Du Toit’s Kloof, where bare rockfaces loom over the Molenaars River, flowing strongly on its journey to join the upper reaches of the Breede River on the plains beyond.
As you approach Worcester, a rather insignificant brown information sign bears the legend: Karoo Desert Botanical Gardens, hidden among multiple road signs. Armed with knowledge aforethought, we swung into a long-established residential suburb winding up the foothills until we reached this small gem of a botanical garden that showcases the succulents, shrubs and trees of the Karoo regions. Low cloud and approaching drizzle kept us on a tight schedule, but we managed a brisk walk along one of the many artfully cobbled paths to reach a slope of soft shades of pink – the first autumn brunsvigia bosmaniae, their delicate blooms branching out from the central stem in a perfect ball, later to be tossed before the wind as tumbleweed. A few tours along the one-way circular road allowed us to complete our enjoyment of this small but immaculately maintained garden from the comfort of the car as temperatures plummeted. In spring the beds will be a mass of dazzling pinks and purples as the vygies come into their own, and a visit in September is already on the cards.
Our first meander under the belt, it was time to enter the magnificent Hex River Valley, where many of the vines bearing table grapes are still unharvested, great golf-ball sized bunches hanging heavy under a thick layer of protective leaves, unlike wine grapes that are trellised to get maximum sunlight. Youths line the busy highway, holding out boxes of grapes probably filched under cover of darkness, not far from the signs warning motorists not to stop and not to buy the grapes. A little further on, on the edge of town, a herd of untended goats roam across the road. These roads are not for the faint-hearted or unwary, and one can only feel for the long-distance truck drivers who encounter this many times over in a day. Beyond the goats the open road once again stretches before us, and our next destination is a delightful and very well-known padstal (farm stall) called Die Veldskoen.