Off the beaten track 2

As the town of De Doorns fades in your rear view mirror, and assuming you are headed towards the Hex River Pass, a delightful farmstall will suddenly appear on the left-hand side. No matter how many times I take this road, it is still a surprise how I nearly miss it every time and have to tread on the brakes quite sharply to make the turn in through the white gate posts that welcome visitors not 10 metres off the N1.

The offerings of this well-patronised establishment range from a good offering of wines (mainly muscadels and ports), the ubiquitous jars of homemade relishes and preserves (some really special rarities) and at the moment, boxes of table grapes freshly picked from the vines a short distance down the road. Crisp, crunchy and not too sweet, you cannot get better quality anywhere. After a quick recce of the rooms where the remnants of granny’s kitchen utensils are rather hopefully on sale (I remember most items from my long-ago youth), we went out into the pleasant garden under the shade of vines and bougainvilleas to lunch on very tasty and generous portions of chicken teriyaki salad and avocado open sandwiches. It was fortunate that we were not yet aware of their reputation for cheesecake, and so we left after a satisfying lunch, feeling very virtuous in our abstinence from dessert.

Low clouds obscured the normally breathtaking views of the Matroosberg and light rain occasionally fell as we drove up the Hex River Pass and summited the plateau at around 950m. At this ear-popping altitude the clouds were lighter and we began to be hopeful of a good weekend ahead, with birding, stargazing and relaxing on the agenda. The road to Leeuwenboschfontein winds across the plateau, with Montagu a paltry 70km ahead of us – very hard to believe when it takes so long to get there, but perhaps that it because one stops frequently to admire the views and travels at a sedate pace through hamlets where dogs and children play.

No sighting of the usual black harriers or blue cranes, nor any LBJs, was slightly disappointing. but that’s the birding life! We pulled in through the white-pillared entrance of Leeuwenboschfontein in the early afternoon, already well pleased with the unhurried pace of the day. Check-in to our chalet was quick and efficient (I have been here many times) and a quick unpack and cup of tea saw us heading off along the gravel road in search of anything that flew. Some small success in that area, then we wound our way up into the hills to the observatory to familiarise ourselves with the terrain that we would next see by starlight.

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