Ed s letter Backtracking the Karoo

Winona Griggs

Ed’s letter: Rediscovering the Karoo

Ten years ago, I embarked on an incredible adventure, traveling 5,000 kilometers in a Suzuki Jimny. My goal was to retrace the path of Jan Smuts’s historic raid on the Cape in 1901. Inspired by the renowned book Commando by Deneys Reitz, I planned a leisurely journey along the backroads of the Karoo.

Ed s letter Backtracking the Karoo

Image: Justin Fox

When I founded Getaway back in 1989, I had no idea that it would become such a hit. It all started with a few articles about backroading that we published in our sister magazine, Car. The response we received from our readers was overwhelming – they loved the idea of hitting the road and exploring the hidden gems of South Africa. That’s when I realized that there was a need for a dedicated road-tripping magazine.

Traveling on the open road, away from the usual tourist spots, has always been an integral part of South African culture. Whether it’s a family road trip in a station wagon, a summer vacation in a caravan by the coast, a Combi filled with surfboards, or an adventurous journey through the Kruger National Park, South Africans have always had a love for the great outdoors.

One of the best books about the Anglo-Boer War is Commando, written by Deneys Reitz just one year after the war ended. It’s a memoir of the war, but it’s also a tale of adventure, of traveling through open fields and meeting kind strangers. You could even call it South Africa’s ultimate travel book.

When I first read Commando in 2009, I was inspired to follow the path of Reitz’s guerrilla operations. The most exciting part of the story is when Reitz and his group of Boers team up with Jan Smuts to “invade” the Cape. They spend months traversing the dusty plains and mountains of the Karoo, engaging in small battles and constantly being chased by British soldiers.

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Chasing after them, my Suzuki took the back roads that closely followed their path. Reitz and his small group got separated from the commando during a fight. For the next few weeks, they tried their best to catch up with Smuts. The stories of their adventures during this quest are some of the most exciting parts of Commando that you can read.

Just like Reitz, I decided to go my own way instead of following Smuts. Reitz’s group couldn’t afford to get into any fights until they were back with the main group. The biggest challenge was crossing the Swartberg. Reitz knew that Smuts was heading towards Oudtshoorn, but there were soldiers stationed at Meiringspoort, so his group had to struggle across the rugged mountains to the east.

As I ventured south of the Swartberg, I was disappointed to find that Smuts had already headed north. This meant we had to cross the mountains again, but this time through the Seweweekspoort region. Since it was heavily guarded, we decided to take a lesser-known route over Boesmansnek to Gamkaskloof.

During our journey, we stumbled upon the tiny village of Die Hel, where I met a fascinating character named Koot Cordier. Koot was a towering figure, covered in goatskins and speaking an archaic version of Dutch. It was quite an unusual sight.

Driving my trusty 4×4, I descended the winding road into the picturesque valley of Die Hel. The weather was unpredictable, with rain showers and rainbows appearing intermittently along the way.

Ten years had passed, and I found myself back in Gamkaskloof, this time driving the new Suzuki Jimny. My goal was clear: to capture the perfect photo for this issue’s cover. But there was more to it than that. I was eager to dive back into the exciting world of off-roading. Each day was an adventure, as I veered off the beaten path, uncovering hidden routes and rocky trails I had yet to explore. With every turn and every hill, I couldn’t help but wonder what lay just beyond.

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The Karoo was the ideal playground for my road-seeking spirit, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was as if I had finally found my place.

In this issue, we pay homage to our backroading origins. Anton Crone shares his epic journey to Cradock, purposely avoiding the well-trodden N1 and N2 routes. Jim Freeman discovers the thrill of off-roading on his BMW bike in the dirt trails of KZN. Meanwhile, Tim Brink offers an abundance of excellent routes for mountain bikers to explore.

And, if you’re wondering about the article that laid the foundation of Getaway magazine, it was none other than ‘Passes and Poorts of the Karoo’. It’s no surprise that such a piece sparked the birth of a publication dedicated to adventure and exploration.

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