Tales of Hangovers and Highways
By Erik Brits
‘The highway!’ she said, excitedly gesturing in an easterly direction across miles and miles of scraggly Karoo terrain. She had that look in her eyes that said I was being obtuse and she couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t understand, on the other hand, why this friendly lady insisted that there was a highway here. The three braincells that weren't still floating in red wine from last night were firing furiously but in futility - had I somehow missed 4 lanes of roaring tarmac somewhere between Sutherland and Calvinia?
Let me explain how I got here. I had been invited to investigate Snowfields Boutique Winery - the coldest winery in Africa, nogal - and in my city dweller’s innocence, I had done my best to accept all the Karoo hospitality bestowed upon me. And oh! What hospitality! After the wine tasting I was invited for dinner, 3 courses worth, and since there were open bottles of wine already, well… Needless to say, every time I drove over the slightest vibration in the road the next morning, my eyeballs tried to roll back through my skull and hide in my armpits. Self-pity was passed around the car by the bucketload, from me to me, and my ability to work out why this poor person kept telling me about a highway was simply non-existent.
Fortunately, I probably wasn’t the first person she’d dealt with who had overindulged in the local generosity, because she soon gave up on explaining and plonked a pamphlet in my hands. ’The forgotten highway’, it read. Kilometres of dirt road from the days of ox wagons and world wars, stretching through the entirety of the Karoo. The forgotten highway takes you in roughly the same direction as the N1, but you will have the majority of the road to yourself, allowing you to romanticise the trek as you dig around in your memory for scraps of history lessons about some of the epic journeys undertaken across the face of South Africa in times forgotten.
It looked like a fascinating journey, so I tucked the pamphlet into my pocket, and braced myself for a bumpy ride back to my B&B. My trip back to Sutherland was only 30km, but in this desolate landscape it still felt epic, and when I found a patch of spring flowers stubbornly refusing to accept that it was basically summer, I finally managed to crack a smile and leave the hangover behind.
I spent many a glorious student night in Sutherland, pretending my way through an astrophysics degree whilst letting the bright girls in the class do all the work... I was the entertainment. However, when working on the telescopes your schedule is entirely nocturnal, so it was a royal treat for me to get to see the landscape in all its daylight splendour. Although no longer in the Tankwa Karoo National Park, the landscape surrounding the town is still of similar ilk, and makes for eloquent romanticisation as one drives over endless corrugated gravel, deep in thought. The town itself looks like the stereotypical one horse that might actually be a donkey town, but the Louw Huis Museum is well worth stopping at.
However, as you may have gathered, I was there for the wine. The approach at Snowfields is old-school. There is no automation, and the wine is as flavourful as the winemakers. I am no expert, so I can only tell you that I enjoyed drinking quite a lot of it, and brought 4 bottles home - but I think that says enough? I have often driven through this part of the Karoo on my way to other destinations, but from now on I will make a point of stopping by instead of just admiring the landscape from a car window.
For more info, have a look at www.snowfieldboutiquewinery.co.za The area makes for a great weekend destination out of Cape Town - be sure to stop at Matjiesfontein on the way, and do take a camera and some walking shoes.