When we came back from family visit and traveling in Australia – January 2020 – we knew we had about four weeks time to get Trokkie ready for a road trip: our daughter Erika, husband Pat and the two grand daughters Lara and Chloe were coming from Jamaica! And the super bonus: while Erika and Pat had a 3-day-10-year-anniversary-mini-honeymoon kinda thing planned, we would be taking the two girls on a 3-day road trip to Cape Town, where we would meet up again with mom and dad.
This was to be Trokkie’s Maiden Trip! But in order to get her ready, we were VERY fortunate that our best friends, Gavin and Lee, came to help us out for a week prior to the big arrival. Between evenings of wine and Catan games, we worked hard days (between Eskom’s load shedding and other power problems) to get the solar system going so that at least we would have power for lights and cooking. Unfortunately our ablutions situation had to wait till after our road trip; there was just not enough time.
D-day 1: Kids and grand kids arrived at the airport in the evening and we met up with them for a meal at the airport for a mini reunion and catch-up session. The following day they flew on to Port Elizabeth, to spend time with Pat’s family while we finished Trokkie as much as possible.
Day 1 to 4 : Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and last prep
D-Day 2: On Thursday morning we packed Trokkie for her maiden trip. After collecting some parts of the solar system that had to be checked and replaced, we hit the road … at a mere 80km per hour! The just over a 1000km to Port Elizabeth would be a loooong trip. We eventually left Johannesburg after lunch, but the 200km to Kroonstad took about four hrs. We decided to call it a day at Kroonstad Ultra City (as said … although we have water and electricity, we still need a toilet) and started early again next day, arriving in Port Elizabeth late evening, past 9 pm. We woke up the next morning with the sunrise over the Algoa Bay and the lights of the chokka boats in the distance. Driving along the coastline we couldn’t miss the opportunity of taking pics of Trokkie with Shark Rock Pier in the background. Seeing we still had two days before leaving for Cape Town, we took the time to go shopping and organise Trokkie a bit more in preparation of the three days with the girls on boar
Day 5: Port Elizabeth to Plettenberg Bay
Another D-Day arrived and Monday morning we rocked up at Pat’s parents place with Trokkie to load the girls and their luggage (plus some extra luggage from mom and dad). After saying goodbye to the other grandparents the girls took up their position in the main cab. We had installed two sabs approved car seats between me and Stefaan so they could enjoy the wide screen views from their prime position – way different than being stuck in your car seat behind mom’s or dad’s seat.
As said … travelling at 80km per hour changes your time schedule on the road. And having left Port Elizabeth close to midday, all of a sudden the list of things to see and do on that first day was reduced to Monkey Land and Birds of Eden before reaching Keurbooms for the night. Although the Tsitsikamma is a beautiful stretch along the Garden Route, the girls were impatient to get to see the animals.
The guided walk in Monkey Land was fun and the girls were fascinated by the curiosity of the lemurs and some small monkeys with babies on their backs. The yells and bellowing noises made by some of the other lemurs and monkeys reverberated in the treetops and the girls could only look utterly bewildered. When fresh food/fruit was dumped on the feeding platforms the forest went berserk. Screeching and howling monkeys and lemurs were fighting for top spot on the platform to find the pick of the crop. The fighting wasn’t limited to the platform but extended into the surrounding forest where the different species warned each other off with mock (and not so mock) attacks and chases up the trees all amidst the cacophony of screams and cackle.
We left the monkeys and lemurs to their battle for supremacy and went to Birds of Eden next door. Lara, our oldest grand daughter, was more than happy to take the lead in search of all the birds mentioned in the little guidebook. We saw a great variety and she was very excited when she could identify a whole heap of them, with the cute colourful Rainbow Parrot having a scratch on the wooden bridge (bottom) being a firm favourite.
From there on we covered the last few kilometers to Keurbooms where we were going to camp. This was our first entry into a public campsite and we realised that in future – when our toilet facilities are indeed up and working – wild camping would be on the order of the day. Although beautifully maintained and shadowy, Trokkie is higher than a normal 4×4 vehicle or caravan. As such we had to negotiate carefully so as not to take home half of the bush! But we made it and parked close to the ablutions block , right next to the playground, much to the delight of Lara and Chloe. While Stefaan braaied the girls, went to shower and we had our first official supper inside Trokkie …. with Lara and Chloe. It was decided that for this short road trip, the girls and I would sleep in the bed, and Stefaan would be demoted to floor level, sleeping on the cushions of the dining nook. It worked! The only thing : I was performing a game of tetrus in the bed during the night to fit between girls moving around in their sleep. In the morning I had been reduced to about 10cm on the side of the mattress, while the girls lay spread-eagled across the rest of the bed!,
Day 6: Plettenberg Bay to Oudtshoorn
We were up reasonable early and after a cereal breakfast and a bit of playtime for the kids while we cleaned and packed up, we hit the road.
Just a bit further up the road, we entered the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary and after a short introduction video we hopped on a tractor to ride to the area where the elephants roam (reasonably) free. It was funny to see how well trained they are. They wander off into the pastures with any previous group of tourists, but as soon as they hear the tractor engine rumbling up the road again, they make there way back to the special “feeding barrier”: a wooden railing where they line up behind to make it easier and controllable to be fed. They know that food’s coming. We bought a little bucket with fruit and veg and were instructed how to feed the elephants. Lara was a bit hesitant initially, but when she saw me offering the fruit on my hand she gave it a try and eventually was able to feed a few pieces. After feeding we were split in smaller groups, assigned a guide and were allowed to walk with and touch the elephants. Again … after an initial hesitation, Lara took her lead from the guide and stroked the elephant. Unfortunately Chloe was not to be convinced to try it too. Being a few years younger, she felt safer sitting on my arm when we got closer to the elephant for a photo. When we heard the tractor coming up the hill we saw all the elephants around us slowly making their way to the feeding area again.
From the sanctuary we drove to Sedgefield where I had read something about a Fairy Garden. Seeing we had two little girls for company who love unicorns, mermaids and sparkles, we thought this would be just up their sleeve. Even though they enjoyed it and we hyped up the enthusiasm a bit, the fairy garden had seen better days. It was a pity, but the owner put it down to stealing (by visitors) and vandalism (by the monkey’s in the surrounding bush). We had a short lunch while the girls played in the playground.
When we left, we pushed through to Oudtshoorn. We camped at Oppidam – with very nice and private camping spots – where the size of Trokkie was tested once again in negotiating sharp bends and bushy paths. As a change to the previous day we started with dessert: braaing marshmallows on the fire. We cooked supper inside Trokkie and kept the girls busy with colouring in, play-doh, blowing bubbles and more. They were pretty impressed with Trokkie’s engine and were (mock) testing their mechanical skills. We decided that the girls should have at least once the opportunity to shower in Trokkie (at that moment we drained straight onto the grass … do-able for a shower, not so do-able for a toilet): heaps of fun and girlie screams of delight! And to stay in the Fairy Spirit of the day: we had to inform the Tooth Fairy that Lara had lost another tooth!
Day 7: Oudtshoorn to Laingsburg
What did we see in Oudtshoorn: the Cango Wildlife Ranch and Safari Ostrich Farm. Chloe still being fairly young, we decided to skip the Cango Caves. So … off we went to the Wildlife Ranch. We had a wonderful morning learning about crocodiles, baby hippo’s, big porcupines and had an exciting moment when we saw a turtle laying eggs or at least being busy covering them up. The walk through the big cat enclosure became a bit too much and we took a lunch break at the playground. A fun ending to our visit was a walk through the lorikeet enclosure where the girls could feed the lorikeets from a small tot glass with nectar. They enjoyed it a lot when they got used to the flapping of the colourful birds. Even when a bit edgy, they were exhilarated when the lorikeets landed on their heads.
Oudtshoorn and ostriches are inseparable, hence our visit to Safari Ostrich Farm. It was the first time we went on a tractor ride through the various pens with the different species of ostriches. Initially the girls sought safety close to us when the birds flocked close to the tractor, but realised soon enough they were just very curious and looking for the food handouts of the driver. After the tractor ride we got to the nest with eggs and as tradition will have it, the girls were allowed to pick up and hold an ostrich egg. They weren’t brave enough to test the “standing on the egg” theory. Afterwards they were allowed to feed the ostriches. It was a bit different from how we did it in the past – letting the ostriches pick from your outstretched hand – but the girls loved this more: feeding with big serving spoons. Granted …. I think more food fell on the floor and the trough than that the ostriches were eating from the spoon, but the girls giggled and laughed with every bite that made the pellets fly.
We were planning to sleep in Laingsburg on the other side of the Swartberg and that meant that, in order to get there before dark and keeping in mind Trokkie’s speed, we had to get going at around 3pm. At the turn-off to Laingsburg via the Seweweeks Pass, we realised however that it might be risky without fuelling up. We found the next petrol station in Ladismith, about 25km further. By the time we had filled up, we made the decision not to return to the Seweweeks Pass road but to continue in the direction of Montagu. Just out of Ladismith however, we saw another signpost towards Laingsburg. This turned out to be quite an experience and Trokkie’s first real off road test: after the first few km on tarred road, the next 2hrs we drove on gravel road. Especially the first part the road was quite corrugated – dropping our speed to about 20km per hour – until we passed a telkom/eskom tower. It seemed that the portion from N1 (Laingsburg) to the tower was much more used than the portion from the tower to Ladismith. The girls were advising Bompa all the time “not to pop a tire!” It was a beautiful trip: the girls singing “the wheels of the truck go round and round”, squealing when we hopped over bumps in the road, all while surrounded by a desolate semi desert and beautiful mountains turning a warm orange in the setting sun. Even though it was a fun trip, we were all relieved that we eventually hit the tar road. Sun had started to go down and we wanted the comfort of a cosy evening. (Note: the day Trokkie has a toilet and is completely self-sufficient, we would just stop any place there in the semi desert and make camp.) As it was, we had a good night at the Sit & Rus caravan park, be it very noisy because Laingsburg is a very seriously busy town for truck traffic.
Day 8: Laingsburg to Bloubergstrand
Next day was a matter of driving, driving and more driving. We would meet mom and dad at Warwick Wine estate for a celebratory anniversary picnic lunch at 12 noon and we had only four hours to get there. (We have gotten used to calculating time at 80km per hour instead of 120km per hour.) Murphy’s Law: the first 20km out of Laingsburg we – and a heap of other vehicles – got stuck behind an abnormal load vehicle from Eskom. What they transported we don’t know, but man …. that was a BIIIIIG truck. The girls reckon a million wheels, Stefaan reckons a 1000 wheels but no matter what …. the truck had more wheels than we had ever seen on a vehicle in our life! (pic right courtesy of Rotek Industries)
We passed over the Hex River Pass with its iconic baboon troops brazenly hogging the road and drove through the winelands of the Hex River Valley. We exited the valley through the mountains on the other side of the valley towards Worcester and saw the mountains burn. The smoke hung heavily over the mountain tops and in the valleys. (We would see more of the burned mountain on our way back home.)
We made good time and arrived at Warwick Wine Estate as the clock struck 12. It was a wonderful reunion with mom and dad, with a great lunch and good wine on a beautiful estate and ample time to catch up on each other’s adventures.
Day 8 – 11: Bloubergstrand and Cape Town
From Warwick we travelled to Bloubergstrand where E & P had booked a flat for the next 3 days for all of us. Trokkie had to sleep outside the gates, cos she’s too big for a normal parking spot. During the next 3 days we visited my sister, went to the Aquarium and Scratch Patch at V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
On Saturday E & P went to a wedding while we took the girls to the beach.
And on the last day we met up with mom and dad (who had stayed over after the wedding) and had a cool morning at the Elgin Railway Market for a nice breakfast and some cool entertainment for the girls in the playground: Chloe made some brave but unexpected moves on the climbing frame and Lara made it all the way to the top on the climbing wall!
Pat and Erika then took the girls to visit Pat’s uncle. Unfortunately that was the end of our time with kids and grand kids. They flew back to Johannesburg on 2 March to stay for a few days with Pat’s brother, before flying back to Jamaica.
Day 12 -14: Cape Town to Laingsburg to Ventersburg to home
We left later that day to see our friends who would help us install our exchanged inverter and battery pack and then went on our merry way back to Johannesburg.
Again … at 80km per hour, Cape Town to Johannesburg took us about 18 hours. Fair enough, we took a detour through the beautiful – but at that moment burned – Du Toits Kloof Pass which most probably set us back an extra hour. At 80km per hour we had ample time to enjoy the never ending vastness of the Karoo: water-pumps, sheep, cattle or nothing …. and getting into the Freestate with its sunflower and maize fields, tufts of kosmos flowers here and there and beautiful skies.
Anybody has heard about: you cannot un-hear or un-see something? Well … we’re now in that place. One remark from Lara and Chloe makes us look at high voltage power-lines with new eyes. They call them dresses or girls without heads. So … on our trip home we drove through the Karoo referring to the power lines as : wardrobe, little sister and big sister, mom and two daughters, fashion runway,… . It’s stuck and we’ll never look at power-lines in the old way ever again.
We arrived with Trokkie back in Johannesburg safe and sound. She had performed great! I’m sure she’ll keep us safely on the road for all our happy travelling in the future. We were lucky enough to see kids and grand kids again in Johannesburg on their last two days before flying back to Jamaica and it made the saying goodbye at the airport a little easier … this little bit of bonus time.
Their drawings of Trokkie on her maiden trip are stuck on our fridge!