Graaf Reinet, Afriski Lesotho, Sani Pass, Himeville and Monks Cowl trip report

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2018
    Cape Town

    Default Graaf Reinet, Afriski Lesotho, Sani Pass, Himeville and Monks Cowl trip report

    Part 1

    It was mostly a Cap Classique kind of trip. Definitely classic as well mind you. So you might be asking what the hell Cap Classique has to do with a ski trip to Lesotho; well best read on then.

    Eddy, myself and the our rose Amy departed from a grey, melancholic and moody Oranjezicht. It was as if Table Mountain was determined to show off all degrees of amazing light through the clouds. The Jeep was loaded to the rafters. The trailer creaked under the weight of all the food (read booze). I was determined to make a swift departure for Graaf Reinet. As such we left only an hour late. We quickly settled into the fast lane of the N1 heading North and made it without incident to the first Engen 1 Stop, 15 minutes away, where I demanded copious amounts of coffee. Wimpy used to serve great coffee but on this occasion i had what might have well been sewerage water. A quick bacon and eggs later and we were once again underway.

    The Hugenot tunnel and the drive through the Hottentot Holland mountains is always an epic way to leave the great city of Cape Town behind; with the views never disappointing. We made a quick stop at the weigh bridge where we found out that our rig weighed in at 3 700kg. I did not wait around for the officials to inform me about exceeding any weight limits. When we emerged on the high side of the escarpment, the clouds had cleared and it was a beaut of a winter's day. Speaking of beauts the all knowledgeable Eddy Naicks gave us a rapid tour through the geology of the Cape mountains. A messa being a flat topped peak, a beaut a conical shaped peak with a hard cap of rock ala Signal Hill and a conical being just that, a conical shaped peak without a hard rock cap (see what I did there... Hard Rock Cafe / hard "cap"classique lol). And just as this paragraph took a detour so did we off the N1 to a typical Karoo scene. Parked next to the railway line with low rise peaks in the distance we made a beautiful road side picnic of Graham Beck non-vintage Cap Classique, a delicious selection of cheese, fruit and savory crackers. A bottle or 2 later and we bade our farewell to a postcard scene but not before Amy became one with nature and experienced a proper long drop. As a responsible adult figure who had just consumed a tad too much of the vine, I gave the keys to Eddy Naicks who drove us safely to Graaf Reinet. We descended down the escarpment into the Camdeboo during golden hour. Again, it was as if God was showing off and giving as a veritable masterpiece of his work. The views were magical.

    Graaf Reinet is a special place. It is like taking a time machine back into the history of South Africa. We were fortunate to stay in a historic cottage in the historic centre of town. There are plenty of great foodie spots in the dorp and we enjoyed some expertly prepared Karoo lamb that evening. Later once back at the guest house we had a few bottles of bubbly and Aperol and had the best of times. I read the bible and didn't understand the lesson; that is until it dawned on me that i was reading the French version... Shortly after, a long tiep followed. The next morning I woke to the beautiful sounds of the birds singing. Not! Eddy Naicks was whining for me to wake up. This after the previous nights festivities where he caused my morning concussion. Eventually a mere 2 hours after we had planned to leave Graaf Reinet, we made a departure and our assault on the mountain kingdom of Lesotho began. With 8.5 hours of driving ahead of us we would only hit the border at sunset with the tortuous dangerous mountain passes of Lesotho beckoning in the dark. This day was going to be an epic day of driving....

    Part 2:

    Colesberg is a pointless place. Not even sure why I am writing about it. Feels sort of like a place where the desolate go to find solace. Bakkies and dust kind of place. On this day though there was a smattering of golden Jeep and posh Capetonians. (spell check confuses Capetonians with Cameroonians! I am insulted lol). Colesberg is really where everything went wrong. Damn Wimpy. I managed to bring myself towards myself in the ablution facilities having knyp'd hard for 3 hours! While I was busy doing this Wimpy was busy on a hunting trip to find pig to prepare our bacon and egg sandwiches. An ice age later we eventually had our sarmies and a veritable ocean of coffee. When an American vehicle's cup holders are not enough; you know you have enough. Our rose, the beautiful Amy, took the wheel of the Jeep at the insistence of Tom. This was because as a future soccer mum; she needed to learn from an early age how to pilot a large SUV; which is the weapon of choice of the Atlantic Seaboard soccer mum. She drove like a champ all the way to the border. Safe and fast. Adaptive cruise control mastered. Hooter mastered. Indicator lessons to be learnt (just kidding my beautiful rose).

    At 17h30 we parked across 7 empty parking bay at the border post with our long and impressive rig and like a Hollywood scene ran at speed into the bland border post to have our passports stamped. Again nature called but apparently the Lesotho border post's toilet's don't have any water and the kind border official informed me that i could relieve myself on the side of the road. On my insistence he clarified that you can pee on either side of the road in Lesotho. What a welcoming country. Lesotho is apparently a very beautiful mountains country. Not that we'd know as by now it was pitch black. A few observations about road safety in Lesotho. They do not have cat's eye nor side barriers nor chevrons to warn you of the precipitous drop off the cliff edges. What they do have are period road signs telling you that there are turns in the road... no #### Sherlock. What would be more useful is a sign telling you when the road is straight! I will admit it now: I could not see a thing in front of me. Were it not for the star in the East (a lorry with a roof light driving in front of me) and the expert google navigation by Eddy Naicks (hard left, soft right etc) I doubt we would have made it safely as we did to Afriski.

    Afriski itself is an interesting spot. In short it is definitely recommended but with a few caveats. The altitude. Yoh! Hectic man. I was asphyxiating. Sleeping was like climbing Everest. Compared to the ski resorts in Europe which are at around 1500 meters; the 3200 meters of Afriski is positively stratsopheric. The slope itself is lovely. Nice soft fluffy snow with a decently long main run. Also not too busy with fellow skiers. If I were to go again I would rather stay in a cabin than the backpackers. The main lounge area of the backpackers is depressing. There is no alpine ski feel to the backpackers. The rooms are very small and dimly lit. I felt like i was on a submarine. They were at least comfortably warm. The ablution facilities were more suited to a smaller build. The toilets were very narrow. They were however always clean and there was always 2 ply. The showers were not great with about 2 minutes of hot water before the glacial downpour of freezing water hit. The main restaurant has a fantastic wine selection and the food was of the highest order; really really yummy. A special shout out to the live musician who provided jovial entertainment. A real singing talent with a wide and varied repertoire. The ski instructors were professional and always helpful. Amy, our rose, looked beautiful and serene on her snowboard, a real natural. All in all Afriski was a blast.

    However a real blast of fresh air awaited us at our next destination...

    Part 3:

    Sani Pass Mountain lodge is a postcard picture of the edge of the world. It is barren and desolate. This is harsh terrain. Yet it has a stark beauty that is striking. It would be easy to image this as a place that dragons call home. On a more practical note this is also one of the coldest and windiest places that I have ever been to; I started school in Canada and know well of arctic blizzards. My humor was at this point at quite a low point. As I was the designated driver from Afrkski to Sani Pass Mountain lodge my gin supply was curtailed. Adult responsible behaviour. What a drive. Had I not been in a hulking 4x4 towing a heavy trailer this would have been an epic driving road. Perfectly snaking through towering peaks with a multitude of hairpins, chicanes and every turn imaginable. This is the kind of road that was made for a loud Italian V12 to blast around at high speed; the cacophony of noise reverberating off the majestic cliffs. Even at our sedate pace this was an inspiring drive. Getting back to my cold climate Sani Pass Mountain lodge induced low humor I set about putting the troops to work in erecting our trailer top tent in record time. Maslow speaks of shelter being somewhere fairly high up in human needs; he is right. Edward was efficient as always in taking charge of the nitty gritty of making camp. Amy was surprisingly well adapted to nailing down a howling shelter. Once erected and safely inside Amy, Edward and I were visited by our dear friends Johann, Dionne and Sai. This is the wonderful team that so expertly introduced me to the ins and outs of bush camping on our epic 2018 adventure to Botswana and Zimbabwe. There kindness and generosity was forever imprinted on my heart. Due to the hostile conditions they had made a decision to descend Sani Pass that afternoon. After democratic deliberation the team it was decided that it would be safest to descend with team Johann down the pass. This was quite a decision to have taken. By now we were all exhausted from so hurriedly setting up camp. Somehow all managed to summon up the energy to rapidly break down camp in equally record time. Their was a certain emotion of sadness to be leaving but equally a satisfaction that we would be descending to more inviting surrounds.

    Sani Pass is epic in every way. The superlative pass of Southern Africa in every way. Mad to think that a crazy man thought of making a pass through this seemingly unpassable mountain but there it stands for all to see. The initial neck of the pass is something else. The rate of descend is epic. For every 3 meters forward you loose 1 meter in elevation. A series of 6 switchbacks of 180 degrees test the skill of the driver and car to the limit. That we had named the Jeep, Mufasa, did not sound all that funny clingly tighly to a narrow mountain road (Disney education triva; Mufasa fell off the mountain). There are views for days of the valley below. The bravado of the locals driving up the pass in less than ideal vehicles is something to behold. The Quantum taxi reversing downhill on the cliff edge to make space for us was eye opening stuff.

    We found warmth and comfort that evening at the quaint and delightful Himeville Inn; an old English style hotel that was built in 1904. It has charm in bucket loads. The evening dinner was full of fantastic meat, copious beer and raucous laughter. This elevated mood was carried over to the bedroom where we had our own lounge with its own fireplace. Johann played barman and got us all suitable jovial over a few glasses of his pineapple wine. I cannot clearly remember the rest of the night. The large number of empty bottles the following morning provided evidence of a joyous kuier. Himeville is a must visit village for anybody passing through the area. With a tiny population of approximately 1700 people it is small and attractive. The local rural museum is a wondrous treasure trove of local history and artefacts. Amy and Edward were like to sulking children in a boring church. Grant was manically happy. We spend a good 2 hours wondering around the place. Eventually with a few local history books purchased we decided to leave the sleepy village and head for the towering mountains of Monks Cowl.

    Part 4:

    Monks Cowl is a very very pretty place. The convergence of artisanal coffee cafes and craft beer spots should be the give away. This is posh territory. Home to the rich. It's a X5 and Range Rover Evoque kind of place. I completely understand why. If I had the money I'd also want to live in such a place. God was in a generously good mood when he made this spot. The towering peaks of the Drakensburg and the fertile valley below is the stuff of Cry the beloved country musings. Inspiring enough to make you want to paint and write. Amy, Edward and I arrived a day early. Having bade farewell to Dionne, Johan and Sai in Himeville we had made a leisurely drive from there to Monks Cowl. The road was mainly B roads that meandered around picturesque valleys. The short bit that was on the N3, was vomiting inducing. What a ### road. Despite average speed restrictions the local drivers still drive like maniacs. I feared for my live! Never seen so many GTI's and M sport Beemers buzzing around my rear end. Turns out that the hand gestures a few of them were making at our vehicle was not because of my stoic obeying of the speed limit but rather because we where shedding luggage from the trailer. The pole holder cap had come loose and our 2 meter long tent rods were falling out. Oops.

    Arriving at Monks Cowl at golden hour was lovely. We had arrived earlier enough to set up camp beautifully. A side note: Howling Moon's trailer top tent is really comfortable. Sleeping elevated off the ground makes for luxurious camping. We unzipped the inner wall that usually separates the main sleeping quarters from the add-on room making one massive room. It got really cold at night but we were snug with our electric blankets on full blast and the gas heater giving hot blasts of warmth. Couple that with the copious amounts of wine that was consumed and we were practically the cause of global warming.

    The following day after a most pleasant sleep we awoke to the sound of birds chirping and children playing. It was bliss. We had a scrumptious breakfast of Mimosas paired with bacon and eggs. Later we washed off the dirt and grime of the past few days under hot and flowing showers; essentially it felt like we were in a spa. Ed suggested that we have some cheese cake and coffee at one of the local posh haunts. We did. And it was lovely. Camping the way I like it. Chinos and collared-shirt stuff.

    Back at camp we decided to get to making a massive bonfire. Edward made a massive fire. Amy and i prepared a veritable feast. There was so much food! In the happiness we all ate, drank and chatted until the wee hours. Camping together at Monks Cowl was the best part of the trip; simply because we were all together and we were all close and kuiering. All the neighbouring campers children running around and playing made for a really wholesome experience; their innocence and lust for life makes for a wonderful world. Spending time with the teenagers / young adults was equally eye opening for me. The are so young yet already so wise. Hats off to all of their parent's for a good upbringing. And so to the adult participants... well we did wholly support the Cape wine industry, and the local beer industry, and the craft gin industry and Scotland's malts. At least we can say cheers to our glass having always been half full much like our adventure which was always only the happiest of times.

    Happy camping.

    SUV: 2014 BMW X3 2.0d :-) (not a real 4x4 etc I know... but man does it drive lekker)

    4X4: 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Overland

    Jurgens XT 65B with Howling Moon TTT

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    Somerset West

    Default Re: Graaf Reinet, Afriski Lesotho, Sani Pass, Himeville and Monks Cowl trip report

    Hi Grantt
    Enjoyed your post, I used to rep those area's and know all the placed you visited, brought back some good memories and I don't think I ever left the Himeville Arms without a headache the next morning.
    kind regards
    Neil Sauls

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2012

    Default Re: Graaf Reinet, Afriski Lesotho, Sani Pass, Himeville and Monks Cowl trip report

    We have been to through most of those places at some time or other over the years and often frequent the Berg areas you describe, at least 2x per year.

    Enjoyed your post and it made us "lus" to go do a tour again.

    # 5 Mitsubishi Pajero GLS 2015
    # 4 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2013 trade in
    # 3 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2011 good trade
    # 2 Mitsubishi Pajero Sport 2010 did not aquaplane so well
    # 1 Mitsubishi Colt 2005 with 3.2 DID (160kw WOW!)
    Jurgens Xplorer 2013 (new retirement home)
    Challenger Wilderness "The Penthouse" (sold and will be sorely missed)
    Platkar 1: BMW 118 (SWAMBO)
    Platkar 2: Nissan 200 SX (Retirement project)


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