Where have I not been in South Africa? That was the question I asked myself when deciding on a route for our next road trip. Although I wanted to visit some well-known destinations such as the Umfolozi-Hluhuwe game reserve and Kosi Bay, it’s how we’d get there that mattered most. There are many little towns in South Africa, not so far from where I grew up, that I have not visited. Towns like Greytown, Eshowe, Melmoth and Tugela Ferry…towns that have never really been on my radar!
A couple weeks ago I met a few ‘Internationals’ who are based in our area and got chatting with them. One of them said that this area is ‘beautiful’ and it made me think. To ‘this’ person, the little town of ‘Ixopo‘ is a landmark that will undoubtedly be a particularly memorable place with regards to his experience of South Africa. This little town of Ixopo could be the ‘epitome of Africa’ for him!
It made me think of all those other little towns like ‘Ixopo.’ Those towns that are perhaps only ‘B or even C-listers’ when it comes to South Africa’s ‘Big Guns!’ Let’s face it, the ‘ beautiful and lush Ixopo valley’ is never going to be the next Table Mountain or Kruger National Park! But it is real-life South Africa. There are no people shoving flyers in your face or erecting the biggest, brightest sign with the best deals. Quite frankly, most of the people don’t give a hoot about the tourist and they may even look at you oddly or with an obvious curiosity when you tell them ‘you’re here to discover Ixopo.’
So when deciding ‘which way to go,’ I decided to think like an ‘intrepid traveller,’ intent on seeing ‘real, everyday KwaZulu-Natal.’ I decided to take the R33 road via Greytown and to descend into the dry, rocky, aloe studded Msinga area. To cross the Tugela River and to take a gravel road (unnamed on Google maps) down the Biggarsberg Knostrope Pass and into the historical battlefields for the Boers, the British and the Zulu Warriors.
“We changed again, and yet again, and it was now too late and too far to go back, and I went on. And the mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before me.” – Charles Dickens
The plan was to reach Hluhuwe town and from there, to explore the Umfolozi-Hluhuwe Game reserve for a day or 2. I completely misjudged the distances we needed to travel and got lost in the Zulu Homelands despite having a Garmin and google maps on the phone. I used neither gadgets as I thought it was fairly obvious where ‘this’ road would take us and instead occasionally referred to an old map I had bought along. One that evidently had been printed at least 30 years ago and of which many of the ‘signless’ dirt roads we travelled on that day, did not exist on the map. Nevertheless, it was fun to get lost! It’s always when you are lost that you stumble upon places you never knew existed or get to see something you hadn’t anticipated, like a group of men practicing a traditional Zulu dance routine on the side of the road!
The spectacular views we experienced while driving down the Biggarsberg Knostrope Pass, connecting Helpmekaar to the historical battlefields of Rorkesdrift. (GPS S28.442300 E30.419716)
“Getting lost is just another way of saying ‘going exploring.”
― Justina Chen,
While we got to experience some panoramic views, ‘this day’ wasn’t all flowers and photo moments. My son – who I had assumed was car sick, was in fact quite sick with a severe case of ‘gastro.’ Since we’d already been travelling for 5 hours – and I realised that it wasn’t the sharp bends (or my driving) that was causing my son to vomit without much notice, we had to keep on going. We stopped many times. By the end of the day, we’d had a few changes of clothes, finished the entire stock of loo roll for the trip and bought at least 6 packs of wet wipes. To make matters worse, since it had been a very hot day – the windows were mostly up and the air conditioner was efficiently circulating all those ‘gastro’ bugs around the rest of us. My daughter soon started vomiting too and my travel companion complained that she was on the ‘verge…’
I needed to go quickly, especially since it was getting dark and we still had a couple hours to go before we’d reach Hluhuwe. We’d been lost in an area near Nquthu and had taken a number of roads that ‘felt right’ ….but weren’t. Since very few of them were sign posted, when we reached a ‘fork’ in the road, we took the bigger one! My logic was that it would eventually take us to a town and we’d be able to decipher exactly where we were on the map!
“It may be that when when we no longer know which way to go that we have come our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry
When we finally discovered where we were on the map…near a town called Babanango, the historical territory of the famous Zulu king ‘Dingane,’ we still had at least 2 hours to drive.
We arrived at the ‘reasonably’ priced Bushbaby Lodge and campsite in Hluwuwe around 8:30 at night and could barely keep our eyes open! A cold shower to wash away the long, dusty journey, a thick pasting of Mosquito repellant (since there were no Mozzi nets or air conditioners) and a comfortable bed was all we really needed. As for the next day’s ‘plan,’ the thought of sitting in a vehicle all day looking for game, was not very appealing at that stage. And so we changed the plans once more. Tomorrow we’d drive a couple hours north to Kosi Bay for some well deserved ‘beach time!’ Hopefully the bout of ‘gastro’ was only a 24 hour bug!