We ate hastily that night and because of the lack of light and tired limbs, as well as the thought of an early start in the morning, we retired early. We woke as the sun was just beginning to give the sky some light and had a couple of biscuits before striking camp and packing the Bucky . We drove out of the park and down the valley; it was a beautiful morning and eventually the sun itself rose out of the mist in the lower valley to the east. The Drakensburg at this point finally gave up its secrets. Just as we rose up the eastern edge of the escarpment, the sun burst out and lit up the ridge. The famous amphitheatre, a massive wall of rock which formed the backdrop for the “Zulu” film, revealed itself, bright red in the early sun. It’s sheer size and majesty defy description, but I noticed the ridges that I had photographed from the camp. They had looked so huge from below, but now they were dwarfed by these magnificent ridges. We stopped the Bucky , despite our urgency for getting Kirsty to work, and soaked in the scenery of bright red rock. It is enough to make you cry. The scale of the Drakensburg scenery has to be seen to be believed.
What I tell you here cannot do it justice. We breakfasted at the top of the escarpment and then took the old road back to Jo’burg, to avoid the tolls on the motorway. We could still make good time on these tarmacced wide straight roads; the only problem being the potential speed road traps that the police would set up along the way. We met two of these on our route, but they did not dampen the wonderful spirit of driving on an open road. I was disappointed when we got back in amongst the smoke suburbs of eastern Jo’burg. I dropped Kirsty off at her local office in Oliphantsfontein and headed for home myself.
I spent another couple of days in Jo’burg and then, with Kirsty’s permission took her Bucky down to another part of the Drakensburg in the east, with the prospect of spending a couple of days in the mountains and a couple of days in Kruger National Park. I was still a bit daunted by spending time out on my own in Transvaal, but pleased to be visiting another area of the country.
Once more the drive was as good as any other part of the visit. I drove to the east of Pretoria to join the N4, the main road east that links Gauteng with coast, at Maputo in Mozambique. It still seems strange that this road ends in one of the poorest countries in the world, as it starts so prosperously. The wide, well graded and tarmacced dual carriageway sped along and between the wide open prairie fields of Transvaal were large industrial sites, such as the big coal-oil power station. South Africa not having any crude oil reserves had to convert much of its coal into an oil substitute when imports were being blockaded. After a bite to lunch in a fast food joint just outside Belfast, where there were huge roadworks looking at improving the road down the coast, I continued on through the prairie lands. Just as with the road to Durban, the flat prairies give out, and you reach dramatic descents through another part of the Drakensburg. The hills here are nowhere near as tall, but the scenery in its own way is just as dramatic. A number of tunnels allow the main road to drop down to the lowlands in which Kruger sits. I never made it to these in the first instance, instead I turned off the main road and headed through a series of orange farms in some sheltered valleys before heading north along the road to Sabie.
Sabie is a place I never stopped in, but I get the sense of it being an inland resort. The reason I never stopped was because the weather had turned foggy and rather miserable by the time I reached there, but I saw many people hanging around trying to find something to do. So much South African scenery depends upon good weather, as I was about to find out. I carried on driving and beyond Sabie the landscape became weird.
There are several places in Africa that had been taken over by the British and where the landscape had been moulded to look like home. The land above Nairobi looked like Scotland, Harare always reminds me of Surrey, and I have already said how the Midlands of Natal looked like the Marches. But always in these situations there would be something that made it look like Africa, perhaps a mud hit or rondavel or two. Even the presence of a black face was enough.
But around Sabie, the landscape had none of these features. So empty from people, there was nothing that said “Africa” to me. The pine forests, the damp roadsides thick with temperate weeds, the neatly kept tarmacced roads, all said at the least North America and just as easily Scotland. There were massive areas of no change; either forest or wide open plain, high up on the escarpment top. Then, as if to buck the trend, a single farmstead, as pioneering as the Voortrekkers and miners who came before, were eking out livings in forestry or farming, but realising a sideline in tourism helped pay the bills. Tea rooms, craft shops, horse riding opportunities were often attached to these isolated outposts.
I approached the little town of Graskop from above. In amongst the midst of dark pine plantations and brown pastures, a cluster of houses and gardens broke up the hugeness. I drove into the centre but it was late afternoon so I did not linger long. Apart from a gleaming yellow Barclays Bank there were few stores or amenities, and the plots which looked so neat from a distance turned out to be old junk yards of rusting cast offs from house and farm. And from someone who comes from a city and country where so much of the space has to be utilised, I thought there was a huge amount of waste – you had to drive everywhere. But even here, just to prove me wrong again, I would turn a corner and see neat little houses and an avenue planted with ornamental trees. South Africa was proving itself once more not to fit in any boxes.