Category Archives: On the Road

Mossel Bay to Pretoria – not just a Journey

One of the benefits of reaching that age where they automatically give you a pensioner’s discount at the supermarket check-out without asking for an ID, is having the time – and the good sense – to turn a potentially mundane trip into a mini-holiday.

And this is exactly what we did when travelling between our Mossel Bay and Pretoria homes during March this year – instead of rushing to complete the 1250 kms road journey in 2 days with one overnight stop, we decided to stretch it out with a two night stay in Prince Albert, Western Cape and a further night in Springfontein, Free State, turning it into a four day, three night adventure.

Day 1 Thursday

After spending most of the morning packing, loading and preparing our Mossel Bay home for a lengthy hibernation, we left around lunchtime and set off on the familiar route to Prince Albert via the scenic Robinson Pass then through the town of Oudtshoorn and the winding road that takes you through the spectacular Meiringspoort. No matter how many times we drive this route, I still end up driving through Meiringspoort with my jaw in a dropped position – it is that special.

But this time there was a twist – just beyond the last of the 25 river crossings (it’s the same river each time) we encountered the first of many swarms of locusts that filled the air and pinged and ‘thunked’ against the grille, windscreen and roof of our SUV as we drove. The arid parts of South Africa have been plagued by swarms of biblical proportions through the summer, due to good rains after years of drought conditions.

This video was taken after stopping at the roadside and gives an idea of the numbers of locusts – a tiny fraction of what we drove through for tens of kilometres

Once we reached our destination I spent half an hour carefully prising locust bodies from every nook and cranny of our car, at the same time providing a veritable feast for an army of ants that descended on them as they dropped to the ground.

Our usual B&B in Prince Albert was fully booked so we had booked into one we had not tried before – De Bergkant Lodge – which turned out to be an excellent choice – lovely spacious room, good breakfast, efficient management and a super 15m pool which I immediately tried out as the temperature was hovering in the low 30’s (deg C)

De Bergkant Lodge, Prince Albert
De Bergkant Lodge, Prince Albert – our room was the one in the corner

After the swim and relaxing a while we had dinner at the Rude Chef (No – he/she wasn’t) restaurant. Prince Albert has always had an amazing selection of quality restaurants for a small Karoo town, but like so many other places Covid has had a devastating effect on the tourist industry which is only now recovering. So the choice of eating places has reduced but the quality is still there.

Day 2 Friday

After breakfast at the pool we set off late morning to visit the Weltevrede Fig Farm about 30 kms outside Prince Albert, along a gravel road that made its way through the mountains in spectacular fashion providing beautiful views over every rise.

Road to Weltevrede Farm, near Prince Albert

Weltevrede appeared at the end of the road, like an oasis in the arid countryside, the fig trees spreading up and down the valley in a broad green ribbon.

Road to Weltevrede Farm, near Prince Albert

We had a look around then settled at a table under a tree and lingered over a light lunch and coffee, just enjoying the ambience while farm workers carried out tray after tray of prepared figs and set them out to dry in the pure Karoo sunshine, where the air is dry and devoid of any pollutants.

Weltevrede Farm
Weltevrede Farm – prepared figs drying in the sun
Weltevrede Farm – their Fig Tart is delicious!

We took our time travelling back to Prince Albert and relaxed for a while before I set out to add some species to the pentad list that I had begun the previous afternoon with mostly the species visiting the garden. Heading out of town in a northerly direction I soon found Pririt Batis, Namaqua Dove, Pied Barbet and White-necked Raven and a swing past the small Waste water treatment works added SA Shelduck to take my pentad list to a modest 30.

Pririt Batis / Priritbosbontrokkie

After another invigorating swim we walked across the road to La-di-dah restaurant for a meal – our first choice was grilled Karoo lamb chops but disappointingly they had just sold the last ones and we had to revert to other meat dishes.

Day 3 Saturday

A longish drive lay ahead so we left after breakfast and made good time via Prince Albert Road where we joined the N1 National road to Beaufort West, Richmond and Colesberg, with comfort and coffee stops at Three Sisters, Karoo Padstal and Chargo Farm Stall at Colesberg.

As we left Prince Albert a Booted Eagle flew over the road ahead and I quickly added this welcome raptor to my pentad list.

We reached our overnight stop – Prior Grange farm near Springfontein – just after 5 pm and settled in to the Garden Cottage.

Prior Grange near Springfontein Free State
Prior Grange – the main house
Prior Grange – the Garden Cottage

It was time for my birding/relaxing walk to stretch my legs and with not much daylight left I headed straight to the dam behind the farm house and found it fuller than I had ever seen it, in complete contrast to our last visit before Covid when it had held a fraction of the water it now had.

Prior Grange dam

The dam had a single Grey Heron and small numbers of Red-knobbed Coots, Moorhens, Cape Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals, Little Grebes and SA Shelducks, while the reeds were busy with Bishops and Weavers and a single African Reed Warbler which had me puzzled for a while as it was making an unusual sound (for me, probably not for him)

Prior Grange dam
Cape Shoveler / Kaapse Slopeend

Heading back to the cottage I added Karoo Thrush, Pied Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher before dusk fell, taking my pentad list to 32 after an hour’s atlasing, leaving the next morning to complete the two hour minimum atlasing to count as a “Full Protocol” card. Dinner, served in the cottage, was roast lamb and veg – what else on a Karoo farm?

Karoo Thrush Turdus smithii Geelbeklyster, Prior Grange
Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor Witgatspreeu, Prior Grange

Day 4 Sunday

I was up early to complete the pentad card with a walk around the garden and along the road, adding Cloud Cisticola, Lesser Kestrel (on the same pole as I had seen it a few years ago), Cape Glossy Starling and Anteating Chat.

Lesser Kestrel / Kleinrooivalk

The grassland next to the road was waterlogged in places after substantial summer rains

On the road out after a full English breakfast I added a few more including a Black-headed Heron at a mini wetland in the town, taking the pentad total to 44 and raising my personal tally for the pentad to 98 species after completing 6 cards since 2014.

All that remained was a drive of around 550 kms to our home in Pretoria – we arrived just after 4 pm, glad to be ‘home’ (Pretoria version)

Overnighting in the Karoo – Abbotsbury is a delight

Google “Abbotsbury” and it comes up with a Wikipedia article about a village in the English county of Dorset, about a mile from the English Channel coast.

The Abbotsbury we like to visit couldn’t be further from that description – it is a Guest Farm deep in the Karoo, some 27 kms north of the historic South African town of Graaff-Reinet, and is one of our favourite stopovers on the long road between our homes in Pretoria and Mossel Bay.

Location of Abbotsbury

In 2021 we had the pleasure of two stopovers at this peaceful and hospitable guest farm, on our way to Mossel Bay for our winter and summer stays, and we were once again enchanted by the setting and the comfortable Garden Cottage which has become a brief “home away from home” for a number of years.

The Garden Cottage

The setting is sublime – set among a cheerful garden which is in complete contrast to the surrounding arid conditions, yet fits the purpose perfectly

Abbotsbury guest farm – the Garden Cottage

And the interior is just as charming with that homey feeling that has you instantly relaxed

Abbotsbury guest farm – the living room
Abbotsbury guest farm – the lawns
Abbotsbury guest farm – time to relax on the stoep
Abbotsbury guest farm

Getting there

We have done the road trip between Pretoria and Mossel Bay or vice-versa many times and usually travel on the N1 National Road between Pretoria and Colesberg, then choose between the route via Beaufort-West/Meiringspoort/Oudtshoorn or via Graaff-Reinet/ George.

The latter route is the one that takes us past Abbotsbury, which lies a few kms off the N9 National Road and as soon as we turn off and pass through the entrance gate I feel a sense of relief at escaping, for a while, from the main road. It’s also a signal to open the car window, breathe in the fresh Karoo air and listen for the calls of the birds that favour this arid habitat.

Abbotsbury Graaff-Reinet

It’s a short drive from the road up to the farmstead along a dusty farm track that passes kraals with sheep and goats, keeping a lookout for birds in the scrubby Karoo habitat

Abbotsbury guest farm
Abbotsbury guest farm – even the goats are good looking
Abbotsbury Guest Farm

Once we have greeted owner Graham and settled into the cottage, we relax for the rest of the afternoon on the stoep overlooking the garden and lawn – by now Angus, the friendly Scottish Terrier, has come to “greet” us and persuade us to throw his old tennis ball so that he can scurry after it and bring it back for the next throw.

Angus, Abbotsbury’s friendly Scottish Terrier

Time for a Walk

For the last hour or so of driving before we reach our overnight stop, I start looking forward to the walk I will take once we are settled in – firstly to stretch legs and body that have been unnaturally dormant while driving for several hours and secondly to fit in at least an hour’s quality atlasing in a pentad that has limited coverage.

The farm has a character all its own and around every bend there is something photogenic to admire

Abbotsbury Guest Farm
Abbotsbury guest farm
Abbotsbury guest farm

There are some quirky plants along the way

Abbotsbury guest farm
Flower amongst the thorns, Abbotsbury guest farm

And the Birds

Atlasing statistics show that the pentad in which Abbotsbury lies has a total of 100 species after 13 full protocol cards, with my contribution being 65 species from 7 cards. I usually expect to find 30 to 40 species during a visit and the images below are a selection of some of those I have come across and been able to photograph –

Karoo Scrub-Robin Erythropygia coryphaeus  (Slangverklikker), Abbotsbury guest farm
Cape Sparrow Passer melanurus  (Gewone mossie), Abbotsbury guest farm

The Pied Barbet is one of those birds that are heard before they are seen, alternating between their two calls – one a soft descending hoop hoop hoop, the other a loud nasal pehp pehp pehp – very much a feature of this arid habitat

Acacia Pied Barbet Tricholaema leucomelas  (Bonthoutkapper), Abbotsbury guest farm
Cape Robin-Chat Cossypha caffra  (Gewone janfrederik) , Abbotsbury guest farm
Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata  (Grootstreepswael)
, Abbotsbury guest farm
Cape Bunting Emberiza capensis  (Rooivlerkstreepkoppie)
, Abbotsbury guest farm
Grey Tit Parus afer  (Piet-tjou-tjou-grysmees) , Abbotsbury guest farm
Southern Masked-Weaver Ploceus velatus  (Swartkeelgeelvink) , Abbotsbury
African Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus nigricans  (Rooioogtiptol), Abbotsbury

The best part about my afternoon and morning walks of an hour or so each around the farm is knowing a delicious dinner or breakfast will be served when I get back to the cottage