Published on 4/24/2015
Not so much a road trip this time, but we did do a lot of driving.
The Ceres valley is rather unique among the different South African climates. Nestled in between the Matroosberg range and the Koue Bokkeveld plateau, it's an agriculturally rich area with specific farming specialization, and it's only accessible via mountain passes. We stayed at the Klondyke cherry farm, which is also at the top of a tremendous little mountain pass. In short, the Ceres valley is a bit of a haven for the driving enthusiast
The main road into Ceres is via Mitchell's pass. This is a wide road that carries a lot of cargo as the farmers truck their loads in and out (Ceres has several cold storage facilities too). As a result, the pass is heavily congested at peak times, but off-peak it's a super pass to drive. It's smooth, it's got excellent bends and great camber. Driving this road is easy and relaxing. You have plenty of time to prepare for the bends and to get your gear changes sorted out to maintain pace through the wide lanes. And then there's ample acceleration stretches between the bends too.
Remember that Ceres is considered a rural town. At the fuel station everyone stopped to ask questions about the car. I am always surprised at the response this little 1.6L Mazda invokes from folk when we travel. And it's always funny to see their faces when they realise it's only a 1.6L, and not some fire-breathing V8 that makes a ton of power. The perception and reality around this little car is very far apart. When we reached the cherry farm, the environment was so tranquil it was actually surreal. It was also bitterly cold. The cherry farm is on top of the Matroosberg range, right next to the reserve, so you're easily more than 2 km up. And of course, we went in June, hoping to be there when the snow comes. The cottage and the bigger guest house is old, but the fire place and the constant supply of firewood made this a truly romantic experience. There's also very nice hiking trails on the farm.
The areas around Ceres is also well worth a visit, and of course it requires driving out via any one of the passes. The R43 between Worcester and Wolseley sports an excellent old train bridge, and an Anglo block house, built by the British very long ago. Tulbagh is picture pretty, and the Paddagang estate sells some excellent wine (when they are open). A bit further out is Riebeeck Kasteel where you'll find the excellent Grumpy Grouse Ale House, which (used to) double as a classic car dealer and have the stock on display. Towards the north there are two excellent hiking trails, and the Gydo pass, which is well known for the annual King of the Mountain event, which was sadly cancelled after two fatal accidents. The pass itself though is rutted, rough and requires quite some skill to navigate quickly. There are very sharp turns, heavy off-camber sections and uneven tarmac. At the top, there's a bit of a geological marvel, where persistent individuals will be able to uncover intact sea shells from the mountain side, and also apparently a restaurant which we couldn't find in the dark.
After a week we packed up and headed home. We drove down the short pass from the farm, which we had traversed at least twice a day for the whole week, and stepped into a bolt at the bottom. This was unbelievable. I had really thought we would have an incident free trip, but alas it was not to be. So I set about changing the wheel for the minispare.
And then, of course, what do you do with the wheel? I had to flag down someone that could take it into town for me. This car makes friends! After I had put the minispare on, however, I noticed that it was rather flat. I had to drive extremely slowly into town, which was about 15 km away. We finally met up with our friendly wheel transporter at a local tyre shop, where it was confirmed that the tyre wasn't repairable. And to make matters worse, the 205/50R15 size is not very common, and the actual Bridgestone stock that they could source immediately was no-where near the correct size for my rim. Finally I settled on a Michelin (195/55R15 if I remember correctly), which meant I now had odd-sized tyres at the rear which will cause problems on the drive shaft, axles and hubs in the long run. After the swap, and the spare was pumped up and put back in the boot, we set off home at a gingerly pace. And so of course, I had to buy another new set of rear Potenzas when we got back.