Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Going big in big-sky country

The Namaqua West Coast region is famous for its open roads, starry skies, and magnificent flowers. Making the most of it depends on having the right vehicle, writes Clifford Roberts.

Travel can be so random. In determining what the next trip might be, you could sit for hours, even days, thinking about it. Then, suddenly it’s there. For us, the lightbulb moment involved sheep, or more specifically, a story about the tradition of the sheep trek we’d encountered that had piqued our interest. Now we had an excuse. While visiting a unique museum display dedicated to this farm practice and situated in the Northern Cape’s Loeriesfontein, we would also take in the famous windpump museum. Throw in some farm stays, the region’s flower season, and a few days in the coastal town of Strandfontein and the trip practically made itself.

The opportunity for me to take the bike along was a bonus; one that came about when I realised the packing space I’d have at my disposal. Since the super spacious Kia Carnival we had was a seven-seater and we were only going to take up three seats, the rest could fold away like they’d never been there. This, of course left ample space for our luggage! For the six-day trip, we planned to take in a handful of environments – from urban Cape Town, through the cultivated lands of the Swartland, into the arid spaces of the Hantam Karoo and coastal plains of the Namaqua West Coast – before returning through the Sandveld. It’s an area of exquisite, wide-open landscapes, covered by long roads just itching for a real cruiser like the Kia.

The first real sense of drama hit us at the Vanrhyns Pass, border between the Western and Northern Cape provinces. During our previous travels to the area, we briefly stopped at the gritty Bagdad Café farmstall but simply had to pull over again at the sight of the sprawling brown landscape of the Knersvlakte on this crystal-clear day. The precipice pass traverses for kilometres like a fault line – its scale so massive that it affects the climate. Between its plateau and floor, the diversity of grazing options led to the very sheep trek we’d been inspired by.

Farms around here are large and almost exclusively dedicated to sheep farming. Water comes from boreholes, which explains the presence of windpumps (and the Fred Turner Museum, run by Elna Brand). They’re interesting for their mechanical differences – farmers imported many from the US, Canada, and England, until locally made versions started appearing after World War II. The oldest example at the museum dates back to 1880.

The museum has a small dining area and for lunch I took up Elna’s offer of sheep offal served with quince preserve and skuinskoek, a fried bread of sweetened flour. Then it was off to a small shed housing the trek museum. Elna explained that farmers still move their sheep today, but that changes in the climate and the increasing cost of farming have whittled down the numbers who brave the journey. Inside the shed there’s a traditional, home-made tent, wagon, and trek artefacts such as animal skins and tallow soap.

Settling in and around the fire at our first overnight stop, Taaiboskraal Guest Farm, I thought about our own travel paraphernalia and how easy it is nowadays. Just looking at the Kia, it is leaps and bounds from what I’m even accustomed to back home, never mind wagons. Given the ease of control, myriad of safety features and on-board sensors, it’s virtually self-driving already.

Glorious food and scenery

I relished the evening’s supper – lamb chops and some boerewors we bought at a small butchery in Vanrhynsdorp. For the sake of our gall bladders, we held back on the skilpaadjies… The next morning, I took the bike for a spin on farm. The air was cold to the bone. Still, shooting down the jeep track in the silence of the veld was exhilarating. Once back, we packed up and headed for Nieuwoudtville.

It was the annual flower season, but the rains have been slow this year. As such, the full display promoted in the brochures were still a week or two away, although carpets of white, purple, and orange were already visible from the roadside. Flowers, of course, are a major income earner for the town this time of year, along with the processing of tea that is farmed in the area.

We made a quick stop for refreshments at the Brandkop outpost, a surprisingly chic establishment surrounded by handful of abandoned, ramshackle houses. We were soon back on the road, and I set the cruise control and user-friendly, intuitive onboard navigation to our overnight destination.

We stayed at Leeuriet Guest Farm, owned and run by Jacques and Tina Strauss, and checked in just in time to crack open a beer and watch the sunset. The 4 000ha farm has been in the Strauss family for generations, but only began developing its tourism potential in 2019. The large farmhouse serves as a good base for exploring the region, although that night we eat in. Jacques prepared a rosemary-smoked, deboned leg of lamb that had spent 24 hours softening up in buttermilk. It was a feast that we won’t soon forget.

By morning, we were eager to hit the road again, this time towards the coast. The tarmac flowed almost silently beneath the Kia, to which we’d surprisingly quickly become accustomed to. My 92-year-old father-in-law was particularly impressed by the rear passenger armrests, push-button operators for electric sliding doors on either side of the vehicle, large side windows, dual sunroofs, and the ample space around each seat that makes a long ride softer on gammy knees. For me, it was the fuel gauge. All along this trip, it tracked steady at 7.5 litres/100km – not bad for a vehicle this size.

The imposing Maskam Mountain near Vanrhynsdorp gradually shrank in the rear-view mirror and was the last of the mountains we saw for a while. Soon, vineyards and other cultivated fields appeared, all made possible by the incredible engineering of a 300km network of canals fed by the Olifants River.

It was another few kilometres from Vredendal before we spotted the first sliver of ocean. Again, sunset chased us, but there was just enough time to pick up two bags of firewood from the local convenience store, offload and pour the sundowners. The light show over the ocean was spectacular; a crescendo of oranges and mauves that suddenly faded to deep purple and black. Again, in the morning, I tackled a new MTB route; the Viswater trail that runs along the cliffs between Papendorp and Doringbaai. It’s hard not to feel small and humbled in the face of such awe-inspiring landscapes.

We returned to Doringbaai for lunch, snapping more pictures of the blackand- white lighthouse and harbour factoryturned- wine cellar below. It was another magnificent setting, enhanced by the menu of fresh seabream, beans and sweet potatoes baked in syrup that we enjoyed at The Cabin. Of course, the sun was shining gloriously, with not a breath of wind, on the morning of our departure. We loaded the Kia one last time and headed south, tracking the railway line service road. At Lambert’s Bay, we arrived at a gate and a security guard demanding a permit. “Private road,” she said. I pleaded ignorance and, thankfully, she didn’t force us to go back the way we came.

Lamberts Bay was the last stop we made on the trip, and we grabbed a drink at Isabella’s Restaurant in the harbour. The fish factory was churning out a stench, or could it have been from the hundreds of birds on the island nature reserve just beyond the harbour wall? Either way, we had to move on.

We passed Leipoldtville, Elands Bay and Redelinhuys before rejoining the N7 at Piketberg. The countryside became familiar again. It was rough to be back home already, we said to each other. Still, certainly was a blooming good holiday.

Travel guide

Brandkop,Nieuwoudtville

Brandkop is renowned for its annual mountain bike and trail-run competition, as well as the restaurant, camping facilities and cottages on the adjoining farm of Pieter and Elizna Louw. Brandkop itself used to be a small settlement but petered out, leaving the houses abandoned. These were once used during the filming of 1990’s TV series, Die Manakwalanners. www.nieuwoudtville.com

The Cabin, Doringbaai

Doringbaai is in the news again thanks to the revamp of The Cabin restaurant, undertaken by the chef, Bertus Basson, in the TV show, In die Sop. The hamlet has a surprising number of eating options, with The Cabin and Fryer’s Cove’s jetty bistro certainly leading the way with their good food and magnificent sea views. The Cabin offers a small selection of standard options as well as its “feast” set menu. Bookings for the latter are required, with two days’ notice.

www.doringbaai.com

Die Plaaskombuis Steekbokfontein farm

This must-stop just outside Lamberts Bay offers a glimpse into history. The farm itself is home to cave paintings and archaeological study sites, which can be seen on a tractor ride offered by farmer, Albert Burger. His wife, Carol, runs the homely restaurant with its fascinating museum and accommodation. Occasionally Die Plaaskombuis serves goatmilk cheese by Betty Bok, whose kiddie-friendly farmstall is located a little further down the road. www.steenbokfonteinaccommodation.co.za

Big on space, comfort and safety

Taking a closer look at the new Kia Carnival, there are numerous standout features split between various models. Beyond the aesthetics, the most prominent of these is the interior space. Not only does it seat seven people (with the option of adding an eighth seat), but everything also folds away to leave plenty of room for anything from biking gear to a power generator. Seating can also be rearranged to allow passengers to sit face-to-face, plus there’s seat warming and cooling ventilation.

Extra space doesn’t mean less light though. In addition to large side-windows, the Carnival is equipped with two sunroofs. Access highlights include the electric sliding doors on either side of the vehicle, as well as the button-operated back door. The driver’s console is the next prominent feature, designed to provide good visibility as well as enabling quick choices with minimal distraction. Controls are embedded in the steering wheel and the centre-console touchscreen. Ample USB ports are provided, including in strategic seats around the vehicle, while a wireless charging tray bin lets you charge compatible mobile phones wirelessly.

Fuel consumption has been whittled down by designing an engine that runs quieter and smoother, while eight-speed automatic transmission provides a good balance between economy and power.

Safety features are numerous, aided by various sensors and 360° camera coverage. Forward Collision Avoidance Assist which engages the front camera and radar when negotiating an intersection, while Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist alerts the driver to objects in the blind spot while driving and parking. In addition, Smart Cruise Control not only maintains the selected speed, but also engages radars, cameras, and brakes to keep the vehicle at a safe following distance.

Model line-up & pricing:

• 2.2 CRDi EX 8AT 7-Seater: R799 995

• 2.2 CRDi EX+ 8AT 8-Seater: R879 995

• 2.2 CRDi SX Limited 8AT 7-Seater: R999 995

• 2.2 CRDi SXL 8AT 7-Seater: R1 024 995

*All Carnival models feature Kia’s unlimited kilometre, 5-year warranty, including roadside assistance, as well as a 6-year/90 000km maintenance plan.

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