Off-beat sneak peek at Baviaans

Helen Crooks

LIVING on the coast has a lot of advantages until, that is, you want a spur of the moment break at a time when the beaches are choc-a-bloc with tourists. Be it Christmas, Easter or any other holiday time, where do you go to avoid the crowds and how do you find somewhere at the last minute that’s not over-booked or seriously over-priced?

This was the problem that presented itself to us when we decided, at the very last minute, to take a break just after Christmas.

The choice of where to go was obvious: head inland to avoid the masses who live there for the rest of the year and who were currently enjoying a no doubt hard-earned beach break.

But with only two days to spare, distances presented a problem, so we narrowed our choice down to the Baviaanskloof, an area we explored a few years ago with a vow to return. Now was the time to revisit this pristine area, but where exactly to go?

There are lots of beautiful camping sites and self-catering accommodation but after an arduous year my partner and I were looking for a bit of pampering and, after a brief internet search, settled on the Assegaaibosch Country Lodge near Kareedouw, which not only had rooms available but also at a price which would not break the bank, especially as accommodation was on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis.

We were a little disappointed on arrival to be told that the 4×4 scenic tours into the Baviaanskloof – advertised on the lodge’s website and in its brochures – were no longer available, but we were assured that there were self-drive trips that could easily be tackled by my Ford Bantam bakkie.

Arrival day being a dry, (very) hot affair, we decided to save the drive for the following day in favour of relaxing by the large, sheltered swimming pool (and jacuzzi!). Later on we tackled the pretty 1.5-kilometre on-site forest walk, which meanders past a wedding venue with a difference, being set, as it is, in the middle of a lush green treed area.

Despite the heat, the walk and the many swims had stimulated our appetites, so it was off to the sports bar for dinner, which is also something different. No menus, no choices (well not the first night in any event) but the tender lamb pie was home cooking at its delicious best, as was the chicken schnitzel we opted for over lamb chops on the second night.

After a simple bacon and eggs breakfast the next day it was time to explore so first we ventured into Kareedouw, which boasts an interesting array of places to eat (being on the R62, Kareedouw is the ideal place to take a meal break if travelling from PE to Outshoorn or even Cape Town) but had no tourist information centre as we had hoped.

Perhaps it is a deliberate thing (keep those pesky tourists at bay!) but information on drives into the Baviaans is non-existent, with drives recommended at the lodge being to J-Bay, Eersterivier or Plett. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

So it was over to the ever helpful Frans Strydom, the lodge’s assistant manager who offsets the long hours he puts in with a great sense of humour. He pointed us in the right direction and so we set off to explore this truly amazing part of the Eastern Cape.

The gravel roads are steep and fairly twisty in parts but the bakkie handled them with such ease that it would be safe to say that the average family vehicle could also tackle the route, placing what would normally be an experience reserved for those with off-road vehicles within reach of us lesser mortals.

Reaching a T-junction as we drove on top of the world there was again very little to guide us as to which route to take, so we opted to follow the signpost to the Baviaans Lodge Wilderness Resort and were well rewarded for doing so.

The scenery changed dramatically, with green mountain folds being offset with blue-black peaks in the distance. We happened on a large tortoise ambling happily along the road and then stumbled on a stunning inland “beach” with a large rock pool feeding a stream which gently tumbled its way across rocks and boulders.

We carried on with this route until we reached “civilisation” – two farm houses literally in the middle of nowhere but populated by friendly folk who advised us that the advertised Baviaans Lodge was still a 45-minute drive away, so we opted to save that for another day and turned back to our base and its welcoming pool.

And that was that. The next morning, after breakfast, our mini break was over but not before we enjoyed one more scenic treat: The R62 leads to the Churchill Dam, and it is well worth taking time out of the drive back to PE for a brief visit.

The multi-arch dam was established in 1943 and, PE residents will be happy to know, it has recovered well from the recent drought and is currently around 98% full.

A short hour’s drive later we were back in PE, rested and relaxed from our mini break, which was probably enjoyed all the more for being an impromptu escape from the city and its crowds of summer tourists.

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