It’s amazing how a full tank of petrol relaxes a man. That was close, but the lesson had been learnt and we wouldn’t flirt with disaster like that again.
As we stood in the queue at the Vida in Worcester to indulge in a flat white and a block of brown-coloured calories, the enormity of the journey ahead sunk in. We weren’t exactly doing Cape to Cairo, but 1,500kms is still a long way in a 50-year old car.
The quickest way to get from Cape Town to Johannesburg by car is to jump on the N1 near my house and basically stay on it until you arrive in the city of gold. I’m not surprised that people say that the “roadtrip is boring” because of how long and straight and road is – a boring life is a matter of choice.
Of the several alternatives available, we decided on a route that would make the most of the beautiful Cape areas. After Worcester, we would take the R62 to Graaff-Reinet via Barrydale and Oudtshoorn. Trying to do 1,500kms in one day in a car with no aircon or safety features of any kind isn’t terribly smart, so we would overnight in Graaff-Reinet in the Klein Karoo before completing the journey to Johannesburg using the second half of the N1.
In total, this adds only around 100kms to the journey. Driving a bit further in the pursuit of good memories seemed like a good idea to us. Also, the route is closer to classic car hotspots like George and Knysna where we could get help if we needed it. The theory was that if the car was going to break, it would probably do so on the first day.
I have no idea if this theory is even remotely grounded in mechanical science, but it was a comforting thought nonetheless.
The valley that stretches from Worcester to Montague is unbelievably beautiful. Surrounded by mountains that watch over the bustling wine industry in the area, the road offers an irresistible combination of sweeping curves and ever-changing light through the clouds that dance over the peaks.
After successfully avoiding the numerous culinary and grape-derived temptations of Robertson, we journeyed through the mountain passes to Montague. No South African roadtrip is complete without stopping at the “padstals” – farm stall-style shops that are found all over rural South Africa on main roads.
The Montague padstal is a good place to stretch the legs and throw your credit card at your problems and your waistline. With a bulk packet of yoghurt-covered cashew nuts clutched in our hands, we were ready to carry on.
The car had attracted a small crowd of onlookers. One of life’s great joys is a child smiling from the inside out, which is exactly what greeted us as we got back to the car. We spoke about our planned route in this fantastic old car, which made the men want to be us and the women want to be with us.
Ok, maybe not – the kid was impressed though! Next stop: Barrydale.
Barrydale is the petrolhead gem of Route 62. Diesel & Crème is a retro restaurant that offers everything from vintage signs and petrolhead paraphernalia through to billion calorie gourmet milkshakes. It’s easy to forget the time there…
After our mildly hungover late start to the day, it was already 1pm and we were not even close to being halfway to Graaff-Reinet. We foolishly elected to indulge in both the gourmet milkshakes and huge burgers, which only served to compound the damage done to our bodies the night before. They were delicious, but the only thing we felt like doing afterwards was going to sleep.
We checked Google Maps and realised that we were in trouble. The plan had never been to drive in the dark, but it didn’t look like we would make it to Graaff-Reinet before sunset. After gorging our way through South Africa’s unhealthiest (but possibly most delicious) lunch, we rolled back to the car to continue our journey.
At least the Alfa was in good company in the parking area with a new muscle car friend…
One of the things I most looked forward to was visiting Ronnie’s Sex Shop. Before you get the wrong idea about my relationship with Dale, it’s worth noting that this is actually a pub. As legend has it, the place was a total non-event until Ronnie’s friends decided to vandalise the wall with the ridiculous name. He eventually agreed to open a pub instead of a padstal and the rest is history. Many a tourist has taken a picture here, helping to make it famous.
The pub itself is iconic, but not immensely exciting. We would never have stopped for even one beer anyway since driving a classic requires full concentration, but the proximity of Ronnie’s to our prior culinary sins in Barrydale ensured that there was absolutely no space for anything else in our abused stomachs. That didn’t prevent us from quickly stopping for the quintessential Route 62 photo of course!
By 3pm, sunburn was starting to become a serious problem. The windscreen has absolutely no tinting and the side windows have to stay open to prevent certain death from heat-related illness. Frequent reapplication of my sunscreen helped to a point, but the combination of sun and wind meant that I was starting to look like a desert adventurer rather than a guy driving through the perfectly civilised Cape.
4pm came and went…
Out of nowhere, an exciting road sign appeared. The 60km/h warning sign with a picture of a twisty road – bingo! Best of all, while the recommended speed is 60km/h, the speed limit is still 120km/h. Challenge accepted.
I had no idea that this pass even existed, let alone on our route! After an exhilarating 13.4kms and (apparently) 39 bends of one of the finest passes I’ve ever driven, we pulled over to breathe. The 1300 Nord engine had given its all through there and deserved a break. We squinted through the sun at the sign at the top of the pass.
“Huisrivierpas” – built in 1896 and reconstructed in 1966. The Alfa was built in 1969 and would be significantly reconstructed in 2019. We were literally carrying the baton of motoring history.
Carrying the baton is thirsty work and the need for coffee was becoming impossible to ignore.
The charming little town of De Rust lay ahead. Classic Alfa owners spend their entire lives in paralysing fear of de rust, but De Rust would hopefully be better. Like an oasis, the town’s garage and inevitable coffee shop appeared on the horizon.
The time was 5:15pm. The coffee shop closed at 5pm. It turns out that De Rust and de rust are equally unfriendly to Alfa owners. We put in de petrol (obviously) and pushed ahead with only a bag of melted yoghurt cashews to keep us company.
By this stage, even the JBL had given up. The power bank was empty and phone batteries were heading into danger zone. The generator warning light was making ever-more-frequent appearances. The petrol problems were long behind us, but electricity problems were top of mind.
Google Maps told us that we would be in Graaff-Reinet by 8pm, or approximately 30 minutes after sunset. A dodgy alternator is one thing, but a dodgy alternator trying to run the headlights is quite another…
To be continued…