Day 1 of the PharSide South African Road Trip taking you from Durban to Jagersrust at the foothills of the Northern Drakensberg...
You may remember some time ago, I decided to do a little some thing different on my trip to South Africa, instead of spending the entire holiday doing the usual, jolling it up by night and recovering by day, we decided to embark on a little journey across the country from Durban to Cape Town, but also not via the usual routes, but where possible, go off the beaten track so to speak (if the potholes are anything to go by) and see many parts of South Africa that myself and many have not yet explored and many parts that brought back a lot of memories. This may be a long post but the awesomeness of this trip will most definitely keep you going all the way until the end... and hopefully entice you to do the same on your next visit to our beautiful country.... I know its taken me a while to put this together, so fasten your seat belt and prepare yourself for an epic journey... this is Day 1 🙂
Before leaving London I booked the machine that would get us from point A to point B through Car Hire 3000 for a reasonable £500 for two weeks for a mid-range car (cause there was no chance in hell I was going to drive a 900cc Chev Spark from Durban to Cape Town) I decided to go for an all time South African faithful, Toyota Corolla or similar, similar being the operative word because when I picked the car up from Hertz at King Shaka Airport, quite unsurprisingly it wasn't a Corolla, but a Chev Aveo,(quite a mamba hey 🙂 ) when I asked why, I was told they don't do Corolla's anymore. Oh well, I'd just flown from London to Durban via Joburg and quite honestly didn't have the energy to argue, so I thought I would at least give it a run for its money, 1 x performance test coming up 🙂 As it turns out, as a whole car wasn't too bad (for a rental) and I actually grew quite attached to it over the course of the journey since it endured everything I gave it. I will however add that if making a booking make sure that you don't hire the car from Hertz, and here's why, when I returned the car it was checked over by the dude at Cape Town airport while I stood there. Everything checked out fine and the car had a full tank of petrol from the BP petrol station at Cape Town Airport. A couple days after I got back to London I was checking over my credit card statement and noticed that over R500 had been charged to my card the day after I dropped the car off. I got hold of Car Hire 3000 to find out why and they said they'll investigate it with Hertz. A couple days later they got back to me and said that Hertz had charged my card in error and I can expect a refund which I eventually got, but I guess if I hadn't chased it up, I would have never seen that money again.... so well done Hertz, you fail.
Here's a little pic to give you an overall picture of this epic journey we took across the country which covered 2500km's over 4 days.
Day 1... Captain's Log 🙂
It was Sunday, after waking up with hectic DMS coupled with a mahoosive hangover thanks to an epic Sharks win against the Lions the day before, with beads of alcohol seeping from my battered body, myself and the Jen managed to get the Mamba packed and later that afternoon we said our good byes to Durban and hit the road, running a mild hour and a half late of course due to said condition 🙂 We set course for the foothills of the mighty Drakensberg.... a little village that I once called home for about seven years that goes by the name of Jagersrust to be precise, which is about 30km's further from Bergville next door to the Royal Natal National Park as seen in the pic (ja the pic you've seen in the Metro a few times now). The journey from Durban was pretty uneventful since its just normal freeway however when passing through Maritzburg we saw the aftermath of a massive accident that seemed to have happened just minutes before. It looked horrendous in the sense that without a doubt there were fatalities, definitely not something you want to see right at the beginning of a 2000 mile journey, but I guess it does put a little reminder in the back of your head that shit like that does happen if you aren't careful. As we got to the top of Town Hill putting the mamba through its paces to get to the top we entered the Natal Midlands and its miles and miles of lush scenery that always reminds me of a song we used to sing at primary school in Bergville that went something like "Green are the hills of Natal, White are the rivers that run" and thats all I remember, but I guess they are very true words when you're charging through the Midlands Meandor. Shortly after Mooi River heading towards Escourt thats when things got a little hair raising. We hit possibly the worst down pour of rain I've seen in the last 10 years. Picture the scene, you've got your wipers on full speed with zero visibilty with a thick layer of water on your windscreen as if someone is spraying your windcreen with a frickin fire hose. Cars were pulling over and stopping on the freeway however I pressed on although at a constant 20km'h using the truck in front of me's rear lights as a guide just far enough in front so that I could see them and provide more than enough stopping distance when his break lights came on. Welcome to South African storms I guess because as we approached Wagendrift Dam outside Escourt the storm disappeared just as quickly as it started pounding down. We continued on turning off the N3 on to the first of many single carriage roads at the Winterton turn off. As we started driving through Winterton, the memories started flowing. This was where I spent my first couple years of boarding school in Class 2 (Grade 2) and Standard 1 (Grade 3). Strangely enough Winteton looked pretty much just how I'd left it those many years ago, the Rugby Club was still there, the School was there although the playground was over grown and I was really shocked that the local main shop, Simmies where we were aloud to go to after "Sunday School" on a Wednesday was still operation. Bergville was pretty much the same although looked a lot more run down than from what I remembered, my old school that I went to from Standard 2 to 4 was hardly recognisable due to the unkept bush that was blocking the view. 30km's to go and we'd be at our destination for the night. Those final few km's became so familiar all over again since I'd travelled the journey every day on the bus for three years and still 18 years later as we passed the rural township there was still the odd cow standing in the middle of the road, guinea fowl darting across the road and of course, goats, goats and more goats.
As we got closer, unfortunately our view of escarpment was hidden since although we weren't in a storm anymore, it was still very overcast, but on a clear day, taking this route, bypassing Ladysmith on your way to Joburg is truely breathtaking.
As we took the turn off to Jagersrust passed Drakensville Holiday resort you could instantly tell that things weren't going to be at all the same as I'd remembered, the grass on both side of the road peer over like walls as if they hadn't done a fire break in at least 5 years. Drakensville seemed to have expanded quite a bit, they've even got a super tube now 🙂 Jagersrust looked exactly the same at face value, however speaking to some family friends that evening is when the reality of our once unbelievably awesome village unfolded. To give you a bit of background, Jagersrust is a small village which consists of approx. 52 houses, which were previously owned by Eskom and Water Affairs to house people who worked for the two. When we lived there, the place set the scene for the perfect upbringing, us kids used to run around day and night with not a care in the world, the closest police station was in Bergville, 30km's away but it wasn't required since this was a very pleasant safe community far from any crime whatsoever, well unless you could call me cruising around on my fully unroadworthy 50cc Yamaha with no helmet a crime 🙂 We grew up fishing and playing in rivers, chasing cows and getting chased by farmers for trespassing. However in the time that I've been away, pretty much everyone has left, the village has become extremely quiet with hardly a person seen on the streets, the houses are either empty or have 20 people living in a 3 bedroom house, a once decent thriving neighbourhood has quite literally turned to ruin. Crime is sky high to the extent that the residents have since erected a 9 foot steel wall around the village to try and cut down the amount of burglaries and assaults that were occuring on a very regular basis. Apparently the reason for this is that the dairy farm that surrounds the village his since turned into a fully operational township. After the farmer died years ago, his wife and son were left on the farm, the son became a bit of a loose canon to the extent that the wife packed up and left. Rumour has it that the son is currently sitting in jail in the US for smuggling heroin into the US from Mexico. Now since the farm had no-one to run it and the bank couldn't sell it so they basically handed the entire farm over to the caretaker. These days the care taker lives in the main house and charges people for space to build shacks on the land. In other words, the place is pretty f^&ked and people have had to go through measures that are unheard of just to live with a very small sense of security. Now I'm not one that would normally worry, but after listening to some stories that night about what goes on there, I slept with one eye open that night. It is sad what has happened to the place where I felt safest growing up, its a place that I spent some of the best years of my life and years later its degraded into what it is now. If anything it painted a rather clear picture that whilst in some areas of South Africa the difference may be painted over with silver lining, there are places that have really changed, and I'm sorry to say, but for the worst.
One things for sure though, you may be able to change the towns and villages but the scenery itself is exactly as I remembered it which is truly amazing, As your eyes glare into the distance and you take it all in, it definitely brings your closer to God. Next time you head to Joburg from Durban or vice versa, I highly recommend, in fact I insist that you take a detour between Harrismith and Ladysmith and go via Oliviershoek Pass and Bergville cause trust me, you won't be sorry... as the views are unbelievable... unless its overcast and cloudy of course 🙂 We had now covered lush Kwa-Zulu Natal and it would be good bye to Sharks country until my next SA visit.
Check out the map below of the exact route for Day 1
View PharSide SA Road Trip - Day 1 in a larger map
That's Day 1, check back tomorrow for Day 2 which consisted of 16.5 hours in the Mamba covering 1200km's of pot holes and Stop/Go's and a very near miss.... it's gets very interesting!
Here's a few pics from Day 1