Adventure for hire!

Maryke and Clifford Roberts have always dreamt of exploring our beautiful country in their own 4×4, hitting the dunes or a scenic gravel route in and around their home in the Western Cape. After a few days spent in a rented Suzuki Jimny from Tread Lite 4×4, the couple are well on their way to becoming full-blooded adventurers.

We hit the road from Strand, raring to go, and exchange our car in Brackenfell for the Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX. The brand new little beast is dark grey and looks ready to tackle anything we can throw at it. We pack our frozen meat, wors, butter and cheese in the large fridge that charges while you drive and stack dry ingredients and canned food in one of the neat black crates. We set off, ready to become adventurers for a week or so!

We head out on the R27, and our first stop is House of Blakes, which forms part of the Blake’s family wine farm, on the Yzerfontein road. The great thing about Blakes, which opened its own tasting room in November last year, is that the small deli next to the pizzeria allows you to pack a picnic basket, choose a bottle of wine and then venture outside. If the weather turns, everyone moves inside to relax between the wine barrels. You can order delicious cheese platters, but I see that everyone who has not ordered pizza regrets their decision as they longingly stare at ours!

Gordon Breaky and Dave Coleshill are the pizza masters at Gordo’s Pizzeria at House of Blake’s. They have been part of the Yzerfontein community for a few years and make their own pizza base and sauce from scratch every morning. If it’s sold out, it’s tjaila time for Gordon, who believes in freshness and keeps nothing overnight. We tuck into one of Gordon’s famous Evil Jungle pizzas, a combo of chicken, peanut butter and fresh coriander. Gordon worked on the island Maui and that is where this pizza was born.

Blakes is a true family business. Father Andries is the winemaker, mom Marinda is the business brain, and Van der Bijl (who studied B.Comm marketing) is in charge of operations. The Blakes’ other son, Christoph, is an assistant winemaker at Mooiuitsig, just outside Bonnievale. Van der Bijl says they have seven wines in total, spread over two ranges: their flagship Blake range and the new 16 Mile Beach, which pays tribute to Yzerfontein, with names that are special to the locals – Swemgat, Blomtuin and Rooipan. The flagship white blend and red blend were named after Andries’ and Marinda’s birth stones: Tourmaline and Amethyst.

“As former cellar master at Swartland Wines, my father’s knowledge of the terroir enables him to buy select grapes in the Swartland,” explains Van der Bijl. The wines are currently processed in Riebeek Kasteel and stored and bottled at Swartland Cellar, but if all goes according to plan, the 2022 harvest will be handled on the new site. When we buy some delicious Malbec for our first camp braai that evening, Van der Bijl smiles and says his father would be happy. “He is Malbec crazy; even his boat’s name is Malbec. As he gains more Malbec fans, his smile grows bigger.”

Heading north

The box of wine fits snugly between the crates, and our journey continues north. At Buffelsfontein Game and Nature Reserve, a giraffe hangs over the high game fence. His heavy neck pushes the wire down until he can comfortably enjoy the long grass on the other side of the wire. The 4×4 route here stretches over 14 km and, explains the assistant over the phone, it is rated a 2-4 on a technical level. They require that a minimum of three 4×4 vehicles book together, so unfortunately we had to pass on this opportunity to put the Jimny through its paces. The route stretches for 7 km in opposite directions and runs through powdery sand, which make the route tough in the dry summer.

As we arrive at Stompneus Bay, the sun turns a beautiful gold. We check into the Midwest Caravan Park, a municipal park under the private management of Renette and Ou Bul Van Dyk. Renette handles the day-to-day management, but Ou Bul is a fisherman first, and helps out only when he is not at sea.

I am grateful we have adequately planned and do not need to stop for anything at a store. We’re scratching our heads about how and where to pitch a tent, but Renette is an old hand. “The sun rises and sets to that side. The wind comes from the other side, so put your tent’s mouth towards the sea.” We do not argue with a local expert and quickly set up camp. With sleeping bags and mattresses rolled out and pillows laid down on clean sheets, we immediately feel right at home.

It’s not long before our fire is lit and the polenta is simmering on our small gas stove. As we pour a well-deserved gin and tonic (kept ice-cold thanks to the handy fridge in the Jimny), we realise we did forget one thing – ice! Luckily the neighbours, just to the left, have a spare bag. And while on the topic of neighbours, you will not believe how this Jimny tickled their interest! “When you drove in with that small car and roof rack, we certainly did not think you would be so comfortable and prepared. May we take a look?”

We explain how the inventory list with Tread Lite works: you only need to bring only your own food and clothes. The Jimny’s General Grabber AT tyres, our neatly stacked crates and the small fridge are inspected and discussed. Soon the salad is made, and we are ready for dinner under the stars. The soothing sound of the waves is the perfect background music – sheer bliss!

During the jovial evening, there is a general kuier, and we learn more about the Van Dyks. Ou Bul and his wife are part of the Stompneus Bay landscape – he was born and bred here, like his father and his father before him. “Fishing is in our blood. You have no choice but to become a fisherman.” His eyes wander as he tells how, as a young boy, you first learn to row in a small boat before your father later buys you a second-hand outboard motor, and you get to know the moods of the sea. Today he owns a huge boat that provides work for nine crew members. During the off-season, Renette’s small paint business works hard on repainting and restoring the boats.

Winds of change

Winds of change

The West Coast is changing, Ou Bul remarks with a hint of sadness in his voice. “People come with big cars, buy plots and build big holiday homes. They turn up their noses at the fishy smell from the factories and the fishermen who only know this life,” he says. “Here, we care about each other. We share, we reach out to each other. That’s how you should live, not in isolation and with only your own interests.”

Midwest has been under Renette’s management for two years, and the compliments on social media is testament to her strong hand. No day visitors are allowed, and the camp with its 19 stands and maturing trees providing shade, is spotless. Each site is cleaned and raked every morning. Renette makes sure the ablution facilities are well-kept, and that power points and lights all work.

When she walks around in the morning to hear if everyone has slept well, people strike up conversations with her, asking where they can get this or that, and which spots in the area are worth exploring. She blossoms when sharing her knowledge of the area.

Ou Bul braais abalone fishcakes, hotnos fish (Cape bream), and lobster tails during our stay. During one of our shared braais, he says the caravan park is one of the safest places in the whole of St Helena Bay. The granite cliffs protruding from the water just in front of the campsite form an oval-shaped pool – a true paradise for children to swim and explore safely. “In summer, the campers carry their chairs to the shallow water and relax right there. Later, as the water rises, all you see are their heads and wine glasses in their hands bobbing about in the water,” he laughs.

The stretch of dirt road separating the caravan park and sea is private property, but Ou Bul says he will never be able to close it. “So many residents come here to walk their dogs at sunset. It is quiet and safe, and many of the campers have conversations with the locals over the fence. This is a welcoming community.”

On Monday morning, the beach is quiet as everyone slowly wakes up and starts preparing coffee over open fires or small gas stoves. Our camp neighbours appear, stiff-legged from sleeping on the ground. We all “complain” about how uncomfortably we slept. Yes, it is not a comfy as home, but this is why we are here – for the camaraderie and spirit only camping brings. Tins of rusks and cookies are shared, and at the far end, a couple is cooking bacon and eggs in their Cadac skottel. Our neighbours on the right pack up and head out, as the load shedding adversely affects their fancy mobile home. Our little gas stove is suddenly the most luxurious thing in the camp!

The boats are coming in

During our chats with locals, we hear about Oppikaai where you can buy some of the best fish and chips in the area, and we pop around. The harbour is as crowded as a beehive, with people coming and going continuously.

Not being locals, we wonder what is going on, and ask around. “We are waiting for the boats to come in with snoek,” says a young man, with a toothless smile. A woman next to him explains that when the snoek run starts during Autumn, everyone is a bit rusty when it comes to catching this fish. ”We have been phoning all day to find out where they are, but no one seems to remember how their phones work. I hope it means the fishermen are wrestling with a few big ones,” she says, laughing heartily at her own joke.

There are stalls selling samoosas and sausage rolls, and although we suspect it is meant for the tired and hungry fishermen coming in, the bystanders quickly empty the bowls. As we chat more with the locals, we realise how everything in this little fishing town revolves around the ships coming in and going out. The women wait ashore for news from the men in the boats, and holidaymakers hang around the harbour waiting to buy fresh fish. There is a constant ebb and flow as the fishermen leave and the tourists follow.

We hang around for a while as our Jimny is getting lots of attention. There are curious questions, and everyone wants to take a selfie with the little head-turner. As we are about to leave, the first boats arrive with a convoy of seagulls flying on either side of the boats. We decide to move on, and come across the “Dit en Dat, not Perfect Padstal”. There’s a sign on the road close by advertising shade nets, lobster nets, ground sails, and bird netting. In this area, you need this stuff.

Back at camp, as the sky is painted in pink and blue candy floss hues against the horizon, a tiny kingfisher sits on the fence at our braai, curiously looking on. Occasionally he takes off, dips into the shallow water, and then comes back to his spot on the fence, greedily swallowing his prey. Behind him, hundreds of Cape cormorants find their way to the rocks for the night, creating a pitch-black border around the shore. Night falls, and we head to bed.

“I like to have a coffee at sunrise with my neighbours,” declares our new friend camping to our left, as he strolls over to our camping spot. “The camaraderie amongst us campers is one of my favourite things about camping. It’s second only to sitting next to the fire listening to the night sounds,” he continues, while sipping his coffee with one eye closed to miss the teaspoon in his tin mug. We sit together in comfortable silence, admiring the scene as the sun breaks through the clouds in golden splendour. The camp is dead quiet. The fishermen headed out before sunrise and most of the holidaymakers are sleeping in as the mercury dipped unexpectedly during the night.

Curious neighbours

Another neighbour – he is from Moorreesburg – heads over, also sipping a steaming mug of coffee. He glances in the direction of the Jimny, and asks, “May I have a peek?” He walks around the vehicle, looks at the roof rack, and opens the back door. “Where is your trailer?” he asks. We explain that everything fits in the vehicle, hence Tread Lite’s slogan: “Everything you need, nothing you don’t.”

He looks sceptical. “Yes, but where do your camping chairs fit in? Do you have a shovel and broom? And braai necessities?” As he recites all the equipment that has a hanging or standing place in front of his caravan, we nod in agreement to each question. He thinks for a moment. “Yes, but do you have a gas stove for a quick coffee?” We laugh and nod again.

He is quiet for two sips of coffee. Then he wonders out loud if the vehicle would get stuck in loose sand and how heavy it is on fuel. I tell him about our previous night’s visit with Ou Bul, who also drives a Suzuki Jimny. Ou Bul believes there is no better compact 4×4 on the market. “I’ve dragged big Colts and Fords out of the dunes at Atlantis,” he told us. “The Suzuki Jimny is excellent – you can drive anywhere, without a worry of getting stuck.”

The sceptical neighbour seems to be satisfied, for a moment. “But I do not believe this car is in much of a hurry, probably a bit unsteady on its wheels when hitting the road?” This prompted another neighbour to answer, “Yes, but you are not in a hurry on the road either, are you? That’s why you like camping!” Amen!

More people gather around to see if we will be able to pack everything away again. There are ooh’s and aah’s, and then the logo on our spare wheel is snapped with a camera phone. “We need to keep this number,” one neighbour remarks. The option to rent a fully-equipped vehicle for a few days of adventure is quite appealing to apartment dwellers or those who do not camp regularly. You can see how they are making plans to introduce friends to the camping lifestyle in this way.

After three blissful days next to the water, we must pack up and move on. The advantage of camping is that if you are still camping for another day, everyone with whom you made friends around the campfire on the days before will offer you their leftover wood, coffee, ice or milk as they depart. The unwritten rule is that you will do the same when you move on. We empty our fridge and do precisely that, and our Morreesburg neighbour gratefully accepts our gifts.

We say our goodbyes and watch in the rear-view mirror as everyone waves us off. Contact details have been exchanged, and we are deeply grateful for the new friends we leave behind. That’s the West Coast for you, and we hope that is how it stays.

Travel Guide

Tread lite 4×4

The company was started in 2018 with a small fleet of 1.3-litre third-generation Jimnys. The newer fourthgeneration Jimny was added towards the end of 2020 and is very popular among both national and international tourists. Both vehicles are excellent overlanding options.

In terms of camping gear and equipment, there are several options. We wanted to try out the camping lifestyle, and the Jimny was equipped with everything we needed, from dishwashing soap to a tea towel. If you’re camping in winter, I would recommend taking an extra blanket or duvet. If you are staying in a guest house or self-catering unit, they will pack the vehicle accordingly. They call it “Packed-For-You” and make the equipment list available beforehand in order for you to select what you want to take.

Touring Namibia with a Jimny is very popular, especially for tourists driving from Cape Town to the desert. Treadlite prides themselves on understanding and catering to their clients’ specific needs. They also provide advice on itineraries and routes and can even help to put together a complete tour package together.

* With Tread Lite 4×4 you can collect your fully-equipped Suzuki Jimny in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban or Windhoek. CONTACT:+27 60 302 3207 | www.treadlite4x4hire.co.za

Our Vehicle

Model: Gen 4 1.5 GLX (available in manual or automatic)

Engine size: 1.5-litre

Fuel consumption: 9 litres/100 km (Suzuki’s website claims a lower rate, but this is Treadlite’s average)

4×4: 2WD/4WD and low range

Safety: Airbags, ABS and ESP Lugsakke, ABS and ESP

Comfort: Cruise control, climate control and Apple Car Play/

Android Auto connectivity

For a more affordable option, older models are available:

Model: Gen 3 1.3 (available in manual or automatic)

Engine size: 1.3-litre

Fuel consumption: 10 litres/100 km

4×4: 2WD/4WD and low range

Safety: Airbags and ABS

Comfort: Air conditioner, Bluetooth connectivity

Midwest Caravan Park

CONTACT: +27 84 781 8933 | midwestkaravaanpark@yahoo.com

Highlights in the area:

• Visit the Da Gama Monument, which commemorates Vasco da Gama’s first visit to South Africa on 7 November 1487. Da Gama called the bay “Bahia de Santa Helena” after Constantine’s mother, Helena, who was a very influential Christian woman. St. Helena has 18 smaller bays.

• If you drive another 35 km, you will find the West Coast Fossil Park, which boasts a world-class museum, restaurant and amphitheatre. It is part of the Cape West Coast Biosphere Reserve and lies 10 km from Saldanha Bay. The area was formerly a tropical forest and the estuary of the ancient Berg River. Over time, the bodies of more than 280 animal species that lived in and around the estuary were trapped in the canal and floodplain sediments. Later, phosphate sand were deposited on top, and the remains of the animals became fossils. The sea level has receded by more than 10 km, and today the ancient estuary is the area known as Langebaan Road. Tourists are transported to the excavations by golf carts, accompanied by guides. The fossils found here are among the richest in the world, with between 250 and 300 species already found.

CONTACT: +27 22 766 1606 | edu@fossilpark.org.za | www.fossilpark.org.za

• Another 50 km further is the !Khwa ttu San / Bushman Heritage and Education Centre. The new museum opened on Heritage Day in 2018 and there are many accommodation options in the area, ranging from luxury camping to selfcatering. The new executive chef is Werlise Rautenbach, whose famous tasty braaibroodjies made with, Kokerboom cheese, game salami, roasted onions and apricot chutney, have people returning time after time. Another favourite is the rooibos-smoked yellowtail on farm bread. Here, the Bushmen tell their own stories in their own words. No poster or exhibition is set up before the older people and leaders of the Bushmen have verified the information. All the Bushmen guides were trained at the centre and all work is undertaken under the guidance of archaeologists and anthropologists. You can enjoy 5 km and 10 km MTB routes and your dog is welcome.

CONTACT: +27 22 492 2998 | info@khwattu.org | www. khwattu.org

• You can choose from two popular 4×4 routes in the area – Klein Tafelberg 4×4 between Rededelinghuys and Aurora, or the Atlantis Dunes, where there are also sandboard excursions with registered companies. KLEIN TAFELBERG: +27 83 771 6237 | ktb4x4 @ breede.co.za | www.kleintafelberg4x4.co.zaATLANTIS DUNES: www.capetown.travel/atlantis-dunes | www.atlantisdunes.co.za.

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