Wanderlust and the Gentle Art of Road Tripping
Hestelle and Marc Robinson are a Johannesburg-based family. They have three kids that are the ages of 19, 17 and 14. Road tripping is their family hobby and this is a short piece of one of their many travels.
Our family has a strange way of taking downtime. We dipped our toes in it once, got instantly hooked and now our fate is sealed. In fact, we’ve tried to go back to “normal” R&R and I’m ashamed to admit that on day three of the holiday, there were discussions of shovels and shallow graves. We just can’t stay put in one place.
Road tripping – that’s our thing. Sleeping in a different town every night and only on very rare occasions will we spend more than one night in the same place.
As my favourite Dickens quote goes “it is the best of times and the worst of times”. Hours trapped in small confined spaces on never-ending roads could be the breeding ground for some pretty hairy stuff. But those moments pass and by the end of your trip, you never remember any. What you do remember are the face aces from laughter, tummy cramps from bad food, especially this one time in Pofadder, but that is a story for another day and the most precious bonding time. These memories and stories now define us as a family, and the long hours spent on the road become golden threads that keep us together.
Here’s our road tripping formula:
Have a vague idea of where you are going but don’t know how you are going to get there.
Book your accommodation on route, never plan in advance (yes this has backfired but this is your opportunity to explain to the kids that this is how we build character)
Avoid major roads and highways (yes this too has backfired, this is your opportunity to not tell your partner “I told you so”… they know)
Budget – we set a daily budget and each family member gets the opportunity to manage it for a day, tricky business for a family of five
Playlists – everyone contributes and there’s a competition that no one ever seems to win.
Road Tripping in Eastern Cape, South Africa
Our most recent trip was to the province of contrast, the Eastern Cape. The second-largest province in South Africa, known for its beauty but also poverty. A province suffering severe drought and yet for our entire road trip, we were blessed with seven different types of mist, frequent light drizzle and no water. Contrasts!
Towns we Explored
Windburg, Excelsior, Hobhouse, Wepener, Aliwal North, Lady Grey, Barkly East, Cala, Lady Frere, Cathcart, Gonubie, Beacon Bay, Kidd’s Beach, Port Alfred, Kenton-on Sea, Bathurst, Grahamstown, Fort Beaufort, Hogsback, Alice, Whittlesea, Jamestown and Queenstown.
Some Road Tripping Highlights
Elliot is a really small town with really big mountains. It also boasts really small and really big twin churches. Strangest thing, all the vertical roads are tarred but the horizontal roads not. My son misheard and thought the town was called Idiot, now whenever you do something silly in our house you are an “elliot”.
Gonubie, one of the never-book-in-advance misfires, we spent hours trying to find accommodation and only managed to do so by nightfall, a quaint little cottage walking distance from the beach, only condition – no noise and NO party, words drawn out and accented by a stare that made sure you know she means business. Did I mention that it was New Year’s eve? So after some very quiet and animated card games, we slipped out just before midnight and stumbled upon the most amazing fireworks display over the bay. An unexpected colourful gift, the perfect way to welcome a new year.
Grahamstown, the moment you enter this town, you know this town has a rich history. From the white and green Cape Dutch homes, the cows shooting the breeze on suburban pavements, sandstone churches and the dapper Rhodes University.
Port Alfred, the poster child for sleepy nautical towns, where everything revolves around the ocean and river life. The irony, the only place we spent two nights and there was no water in town, something our landlady neglected to share when we made the booking. Washing in a salad bowl is an art we now have down to a T and your tadpole fishing skills are stellar by the end of day two of watering from a JoJo.
Hogsback, LOVE at first sight! This is not a town you stumble upon – you can’t simply drive through it and there’s it is all discovered. No, Hogsback makes you work to appreciate her beauty. Nestled high on top of the Amathole mountains, you have to drive through some really dusty rural community roads, dodge stray animals ranging from donkeys to piglets, follow an overgrown and winding pass, so dense you do not realise that you’ve driven up a mountain. Then you turn a corner and there she is in all her pine forest fairytale magic. One tar road, several dirt roads were strewn with pine needles, tales of elves and fairies, log cabins, breathtaking panoramic views and a bath on the edge of a cliff overlooking our country’s oldest forest.
Alice, a railway station, now derelict and disused, but one of our favourite photos of this trip. This town also hosts Ford Hare University, the alma mater of former President Nelson Mandela (sadly it was closed and we could not visit or take photos).
Mountain passes, There are some breathtaking passes in this region, some included Bottlenek, Cala and Barkley Pass.
Road Tripping Tips
Budget: If you are travelling on a budget, try this old-school trick. Budget for every day. Place each day’s money in separate labelled envelopes. Never dip into the next day’s envelope. If you have money left at the end of the day, carry it over to the next or even the last day of your trip and spoil yourself with a splurgy lunch or excursion.
Rookie mistakes: Day two of the road trip is often the hardest as the excitement of day one is gone and you have not quite worn in your road trip shoes. People tend to get a bit “scratchy”. Hang in there, it is about to get FUN! By day three you are a road trip pro and no unexpected challenge can faze you.
When you see a petrol station fill up. Us city folk are spoiled with a petrol station around every corner which is not the case everywhere else. No epic wanderlust explorer ever pushed his car off into the sunset.
Here is the South African Sign Language Translation of this article: