Duimpie de Beer, an unlikely hero, lives in Aberdeen and drives (or used to) the little blue bakkie that has, since I first met that one, given me a soft spot for little blue bakkies. You see, a few years ago, on one of our trips to Nieu Bethesda, we found ourselves stranded, having run out of petrol (what a rookie mistake!) on the seemingly-never ending stretch of tar between Beaufort West and Aberdeen.
It was a Friday, at lunchtime, but the kind woman at the Tourism Bureau in Aberdeen assured us when we phoned her, that she’d call Duimpie at home, where he was having lunch. Sure enough, half an hour later, his little blue bakkie appeared in the mirage on the tar road. Back to the present though.
Aberdeen in November is dry and dusty, but around every corner are magnificent blooming bougainvillea of every hue, clambering over fences and hugging old tin houses. The N9 slithers around Aberdeen. If you turn in, toward the towering steeple of the church, you get to the main drag – unsurprisingly called Voortrekker Street. It comes out the other side and joins back onto the N9. It’s easy to feel like those are the only openings into this tiny, friendly town.
With a little exploring, though, you’ll find the dust road out of town that heads South-East toward Klipplaat. For 44 km you will travel on an entirely straight road through perfectly arid Karoo landscape overhung by an enormous sky. Then the road will bend to the right, once, and from there, it’s pretty much straight again for the 30 km to Klipplaat.
An old railway line chugs along next to the road and at the abandoned Aberdeen Road Station we stopped, turned the car off and listened to the sweltering silence of the Karoo. It was interrupted only by an occasional horror filmesque squeak of a sign, rusted and forlorn.
The station building still stands, a room filled with old files, meeting notes and who knows what other bits of paper. Peoples’ stories whispering to each other as gusts of Karoo wind blew through the broken panels of the windows.
Further down the road, Klipplaat sat heavily in the heat, the village shop providing highly-needed ice-cold Creme Soda as a couple of local kids watched us curiously. I don’t think many people stop in Klipplaat.
The road between Klipplaat and Steytlerville is completely different as you head toward the hills of the Baviaans. It’s full of bends and curves as it snakes through the aloe-dotted koppies.
As you round the bend quite close to the Steytlerville road, Draaikaans appears: the most magnificent example of Cape Fold rocks which look very much like a fossilised Prehistoric tiramisu. I’m sure dinosaurs loved tiramisu.
Once you’re on the tar road to Steytlerville, the cliffs to the left become covered in painted flags. I’m not a huge fan of any kind of graffiti in nature (I love it in the city) but when you’ve spent some time in Steytlerville, the quirkiness makes sense. They’re all flags that connect to South Africa’s history.
Entering Steytlerville on the broad, double-laned Main Street, I was surprised to see family crests adorning the streetlights. They’re of the families who reside in the area and, for those who didn’t have a family crest, one was made to depict that family’s history. I think that’s lovely.
It’s loveliness is repeated all through Steytlerville: a small, neat town with the Royal Hotel slap-bang in the middle and beautifully-restored Karoo cottages intermingling with equally gorgeous, slightly delapidated versions of said Karoo cottages. I have a thing for delapidation.
These days, Steytlerville has become a bit of a hot spot. Well, a hot spot in Karoo terms. The Karroo Theatrical Hotel, just outside town, with its Saturday night cabaret, brings an influx of visitors each weekend. Next time we’re there, we’ll check that out.
This time, though, we were hosted by the fabulous people at The Royal Hotel, with its beautiful courtyard around which it’s spacious, neat and comfortable rooms are set, each building with the poster-child Karoo stoep, on which to watch the birds flitting in the trees.
The main hotel, with its elegant dining room and suitably lively pub (the Springboks were playing) which opens onto a stoep on the main road, exudes Karoo hospitality, as do the pub’s patrons. To the point that we were invited to an after party by some locals at their house down the road.
I’m not a huge rugby fan, so while GM worked herself into a stress ball about the Springboks latest antics, I did what one must in the Karoo: sat on the stoep watching the world go by attempting to study for my Postgrad exams, making friends with a lovely family from PE and keeping up with the feeding schedule of the swallow family who live in the eaves.
Shane and Francois were fantastic hosts and we ate like royalty. Speaking of royalty, the silent couple in the corner of the pub add a fantastically regal – if somewhat ghostly, this is the Karoo, ghosts are de rigeur – atmosphere.
As the sun set, the sky turned that heart-squelching blue and the stars started twinkling as the sweltering heat of the day let up a bit. We decided against the after party and GM went nightswimming (who doesn’t have an ear worm now?) before turning in and sleeping the sleep that only comes in the quiet of the Karoo.
Waking to the sound of thunder and fat, heavy drops on the tin roof was the best morning present The Weatherman could give and we threw open the door to let the smell of rain on dust in. Bliss.
A bite to eat and it was time to head off down the concrete single-track road to Willowmore.
It was way too soon, I could’ve stayed a month.
Steytlerville, being a Karoo dorpie, is fabulously flat and, with its broad roads, there’s lots of space for ambling along admiring the town’s architecture, crests and enormous church.
The Royal Hotel were fantastically welcoming and helpful. While not set up to be universally accessible, the room we were in was huge, with plenty of space to transfer onto the bed. The bathroom, too, doesn’t have bars or anything and only has a bath but is spacious enough to transfer to the toilet from the front. There are a couple of small steps up to the rooms and into the main hotel areas but everyone was incredibly helpful and I’d go back in a heartbeat!
Please feel free to contact me if you would like more accessibility details on any of the places that we visited.