By Stef Terblanche
It will soon be that time of the year again when we pack the car, strap the kids in, drop Rex at the kennels and head for our annual holiday destination.
Inevitably this will mean a stop or two along the way…either to fill up the car, drink some wake-up coffee, have an energy snack, let the kids go to the bathroom, or your wife spotted an inviting farm stall where she can spend all your holiday savings and take away boxes filled with homemade jams, cookies and funny wrapped-up little things.
Those of us who regularly travel long distance on the highways and byways of our beautiful country probably all have our favourite pitstops where we freshen up. In such a vast country with so many places to go, there really are literally thousands of interesting pitstops, farmstalls and delightful diners along our roads selling the most delicious treats straight from delicatessen heaven. In winter most of them have a crackling fire where you can warm your weary driver’s bones; but it’s summer now, so it’s more like shorts, sloffies (sandals) and sunscreen.
Of course, pitstops are most important from a safety point of view too. It allows everyone to stretch their legs and freshen up, especially those doing the driving. You’re on holiday, so there’s no need to rush! And it’s always a good idea to regularly check your car – tyre pressures, oil, water, clean the windscreen and most importantly, that you still have enough fuel. If you have any luggage or other items strapped onto a roof carrier, check that too. Wouldn’t be nice if the driver behind you suddenly sees a suitcase or a surfboard flying towards his windscreen, now would it?
Anyway, for this summer holiday season, we thought we’d whet your appetite with a list of some of the most fabulous and inviting stops around the country. Of course, this list is far from complete, so when you hit the road this summer, keep your eyes open for a new treat or two. There are so many to be sampled! Here’s our list for this summer.
Diesel & Crème, Barrydale, Route 62
If you are travelling along the iconic and very scenic Route 62 between Cape Town and Oudtshoorn this summer, be sure to stop at Diesel & Crème in the town of Barrydale. Your kids, and probably you too, will love their legendary milkshakes. This rustic and interesting roadside diner boasts some really excellent gourmet burgers – try the Gas Monkey Burger – homemade buns, great breakfasts, delicious lunches, fine selection of craft beers, hot dogs, old-school chicken pies, waffles and much more. The service is snappy and friendly, the décor is something else and there is also an impressive collection of vintage cars, motorbikes and old petrol pumps. With all these toys for dad and the boys, its excellent menu, friendly hosts, easily accessible location and the scenic surrounds, you won’t want to leave. That’s no problem…you can overnight in the Karoo Moon Hotel, which is also right there on the premises. And you can fill up the car at the service station next doors.
Milly’s Restaurant & Accommodation, N4 between Belfast & eNtokozweni (Machadodorp)
It started with the Milly’s Country Stall way back in 1974 when Milly and Wimcar started selling freshly-caught rainbow trout out of a cooler box at a local fuel station when the town was still called Machadodorp. It took off and the business grew into the Milly’s Caltex complex which now boasts a restaurant, accommodation, filling station and farm stall. The family-owned business is a true tribute to Milly’s legacy. If you are travelling along the N4 between Gauteng and the southern Kruger National Park this summer and feel like a bite to eat or a break from driving, this is the place to stop. From Milly’s menu and the farm stall you can choose from a wide selection of their flagship trout pie, sweets, other trout products, freshly baked bread and rusks from their own bakery, jams, jellies, Mediterranean chutney, fresh produce from their vegetable garden, a selection of premium coffees or tea, branded products including handbags and scarves, as well as a variety of gifts. Milly’s is a popular stopover for tourists and other travellers, and if you are too tired to drive you can book a comfortable room.
Boerqi Bistro & Ruiterbos Farm Stall, R328 near Mossel Bay
On the R328 between Oudtshoorn and Mossel Bay, high up in the fresh mountain air of the Outeniqua range foothills, you’ll come upon the Boerqi Bistro & Ruiterbos Farm Stall…something of a legend among locals and travellers alike. You cannot miss it, sitting beside the road in the middle of farm country with its brightly painted zebra stripes, pink and yellow plant pots and old petrol and diesel pumps proclaiming “fokkol petrol” (no petrol). It’s exterior all dolled-up kitsch; it’s interior a cavern of delight…comfortable lounge areas, fine and rustic dining thrown together, jars of everything homemade, woodfire oven pizzas, koeksisters, hertzoggies, dry wors and biltong, farm-style bread, creamy butternut soup, strong coffee, jars filled with sweets you didn’t think still existed, fudge, roosterkoek, bric-a-brac, hats, shoes, clothes, pottery, glassware, pots, pans and kettles, and plenty more. It’s the epitome of that old-worldly plaaswinkel (farm shop) of a bygone era, mixed in with a bit of Paris bistro and a family restaurant. There’s plenty of safe space and things to do outside on the werf (farm yard) for the kids while mom gets lost in the browsing in the katoeterwinkel (goodies shop) and dad samples the biltong and sweets. You will be leaving with bags and boxes full of katoeter stuff and delicious delights. I know, because I could hardly drag my sister, visiting from China, out of the place when we stopped there recently!
Potluck Boskombuis, Graskop
Most people know that one of the most beautiful parts of our country is in Mpumalanga near the Blyde River Canyon and Kruger National Park. It is home to wonderful little towns and attractions like Pilgrimsrest, Graskop, Hazyview, the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, the Mac Mac Falls and much more. But perhaps one of its best-kept secrets however, is the Potluck Boskombuis (Bush Kitchen) near Graskop, just the place to take a break from driving and enjoy a magnificent meal. You’ll find this unique gem just off the R533 from Graskop to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Look for a sign that says ‘Real South African Food’ about 26km out of town. Apart from the restaurant you will also find the spectacular Farm Falls here, with a wonderful deep pool at the bottom in which you can take a swim. There’s plenty else to do on the surrounding land. At the restaurant you’ll find some rustic outside wooden tables and tree stumps to sit on. You’ll be served some really good traditional food cooked on open fires and brought to your table in tin plates and mugs. Just the way they did back when this corner of the world was South Africa’s own Wild West (except it’s in the east). They keep the menu simple and traditional, with boerewors, T-bone steak, potjiekos, mieliepap, chicken kebabs, fresh vegetables, a vegetarian offering, craft beer, coffee and dessert. Of course, if you are in this part of the world, there are literally dozens of other fine eateries and pitstops you could also choose from.
Orchard, Peregrine & Houw Hoek Farm Stalls, N2 / How Hoek Pass, Grabouw
These three iconic farm stalls situated along the Houw Hoek Pass and N2 that cuts through Grabouw apple country and the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, are traditional favourite stops for Capetonians escaping for a weekend to Hermanus and environs. But they have also become hugely popular over the years with tourists from other parts of the country as well as foreign visitors. Coming from Cape Town, the Orchard Farm Stall – delicatessen, restaurant and coffee shop – is situated on the left at the R321 turn-off to Grabouw and Elgin. A little further on, where the R321 again joins the N2, you’ll find Peregrine Farm Stall on the right of the road, where it has been since 1964. Continue going east along the N2 and you’ll soon come to the Houw Hoek Farm Stall sitting on a little rise against the hill on the left of the road. All three have been favourites with generations of travellers who stop at them for coffee or tea, delicious hot meals, local apples, fresh produce, pastries, traditional bread, jams, pies, fynbos honey, cold-pressed juices, apple cider, local wines, cheesecake, nuts, chutney, delicious sandwiches, breakfasts, and just about any other delicious treat you can think of.
Houw Hoek Hotel, Houw Hoek Pass N2
If you are still on the N2 near Grabouw and it’s something a little more formal and a lot more historic you are looking for as a place to recharge your batteries, the Houw Hoek Hotel is just the place. Coming from Cape Town, just before the Houw Hoek Farm Stall, there’s a steep road turning off to the left – but look out for it or you may easily miss it. Follow the short road down to the valley below, park your car in the shade of the trees, and enter South Africa’s oldest licenced hotel still operating to this day. Built in 1799, its cosy hospitality has been enjoyed by travellers since the days of horses, wagons and stage coaches…and it has hardly changed. Sit on the stoep overlooking green lawns, ponds and the Jakkals River against a backdrop of mountains, and enjoy a meal, or a pot of tea or coffee, while the kids can run around in safety on the vast grounds. Their freshly baked scones with cream and jam are something to die for. It is also a popular wedding venue where all the rooms have stunning mountain views. On cold days there’s a lovely fire going in the lounge. And in the ladies, guests get to sit on a majestic Victorian toilet throne (yes, I heard about it so I had to take a peek when no-one was there!).
Springbok Lodge, Springbok, N7 to Namibia
If your travels are taking you north from Cape Town towards Namibia along the N7, after the town of Vanrhynsdorp the distances between the small towns start feeling endless. By the time you get to Springbok you will feel the need for a refreshing stop. It is also the last major town before you reach the Namibian border at Vioolsdrif on the Orange River. And it’s a good place to sleep over before taking on the long and lonely roads of Namibia. The Springbok Lodge has been a popular spot for travellers since the 1940s. Here you can enjoy a hearty pub lunch of steak and chips, fish and chips, a range of other meals and cold beer. There is a fuel station nearby where you can fill up the car and check the tyres. And if you wish to sleep over, there are a number of hotels and self-catering establishments.
Ronnie’s Sex Shop, R62 between Barrydale and Ladismith
Who hasn’t heard of Ronnie’s Sex Shop? Some 20km out of Barrydale a most unexpected sight greets you – a square white building in the parched veld on the right-hand side of the road, with large red letters proclaiming: Ronnies Sex Shop. This is where international travellers, local townspeople, bikers, weekend trippers, people on their way to the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, local farmers, and just about any other body passing by, stop to come together over an ice-cold beer, some good food, loud rock music, and even louder conversation. You will also find an impressive collection of women’s bras and undies hanging from the rafters, left behind by female visitors…the closest the place comes to doing justice to its name. The charismatic, and now legendary, Ronnie Price bought a small cottage here some years ago with the idea of turning it into a farm stall. He painted the name ‘Ronnies Shop’ on one whitewashed wall, to which his prankster friends added the word “sex” while he was sleeping. At first annoyed by the prank, Ronnie soon started smiling again as curious visitors started pulling up. He created the pub and later added the Roadkill Café. Thus, a legend was born, known around the world, as is attested by the hundreds of graffiti-like messages scrawled on the walls inside by the legions of curious visitors from around the globe who have stopped here at one of South Africa’s most iconic and favourite pit stops.
Mega fuel and convenience centres
Going to other parts of the country, you’re humming along on an endless road with many kilometres ahead of you through the vast open countryside under big, big summer skies. The fuel gage is edging ever closer to empty, your throat is dry and in desperate need of refreshment, and there’s a hungry hollow in your stomach. The kids are driving you insane with their nagging for a bathroom and your body is aching after hours of driving. It’s at times like this that few sights are as beautiful as the modern roadside oasis: those super large petrol stations with their restaurants, convenience stores and sparkling clean restrooms, usually duplicated or partnered conveniently on either side of the highway. Strategically located, they have become a familiar and very welcome sight along our roads. All the major oil companies in South Africa – BP, Shell, Caltex, Engen, Total, Sasol and Puma – have partnered with food-store and restaurant chains to bring travellers these convenient pit stops. During peak holiday periods they bustle with people and traffic, like little roadside cities. You’ll find one on any major route in the country, near big towns and cities and even on some lesser routes.
Ultra City Pitstop, N1 south, Bloemfontein
Those who travelled on the N1 south between Johannesburg and Cape Town a few decades ago, will remember that one of the pioneering predecessors of today’s modern fuel stop centres, was found just before Bloemfontein, aptly called Pitstop. It’s still there, just bigger and better now. Apart from all the conveniences associated with these mega fuel centres, the Shell Ultra City Pitstop has become something of a hub for sporting, entertainment and community events as well.
Ultra City Jacaranda & Golden City, N1 between Johannesburg and Pretoria
One of the busiest of the mega fuel station centres in the country is the Shell Ultra City Jacaranda in Midrand, along the N1 going north between Johannesburg and Pretoria. On the southbound side of the freeway you’ll find its partner site, the Shell Ultra City Golden City. Research has shown that more cars – fitted with tracker devices – stop here than at any other fuel station in the country. This is a convenient place to stop, freshen up and fill up if you are travelling north or south on the N1 and don’t want to exit the freeway and go into either Johannesburg or Pretoria with their traffic congestion.
Petroport Panorama with Bridge Restaurant, N1 Pretoria
Total’s iconic Petroport Panorama boasted the first roadside restaurant in South Africa to be built on a bridge across a freeway. You can sit in the 300-seater Bridge Restaurant above the N1 freeway and watch the traffic flowing by underneath it while sipping a coffee or tucking into a hamburger or pizza from Steers or Debonairs. And there’s free wi-fi connection too. The complex also has Bonjour convenience stores, biltong shops, clean restrooms, 24-hour secure shaded parking, an animal yard for the kids, and more.
It also serves as a public transport transit point.
Thanda Tau, N3 between Johannesburg and Harrismith
If you’re driving between Gauteng and Durban this summer, the Puma Thanda Tau fuel stop 90km from Harrismith is just the place to take a break and fill up. Apart from the usual services that include a fuel station, OK Express Store, Spur restaurant, coffee shop, bakery and even accommodation, you’ll also find an art gallery and an animal farm here, complete with lions, a rhino and a cheetah. Off to one side are chalets where travellers can sleep over.
The Old Jail Coffee Shop, N2 Riversdale
If you are travelling between Cape Town and Mossel Bay on the N2 and passing through the town of Riversdale, you could stop at one of the petrol service stations with their fast-food chain outlets on either side of the road. Or you could take a little more time, turn off into the town that is hidden from sight from the national road, and discover an old-world gem. Nothing much has changed here during the past two centuries. Drive straight down Heidelberg Road, which becomes Main Street, and at the end of the town, just before the road crosses the river, you’ll discover the Old Jail Coffee Shop. This authentic old building built in 1838 is still exactly as it was when still a working jail, complete with cells and even gallows where only one man, who murdered his mother, was ever hanged. In the courtyard where prisoners once exercised, you can sit under shady trees and enjoy something to drink or eat. There are plenty of picture displays around on the walls, depicting the history of the jail, the town and from the Anglo-Boer War. Or you can browse around in the interesting little shops housed in the prison cells offering arts, crafts, furniture, antiques and gifts. On Saturday mornings a weekly farmers market is held here.
Marilyn’s 60’s Diner, N2 Storms River Village, Tsitsikamma
In the heart of South Africa’s famous Garden Route, hidden from view from the passing N2 freeway between George and Port Elizabeth, is a tiny village where you will find, of all things, something of a shrine to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe and to various relics from the American 1950s and 1960s. But if you don’t keep a sharp eye open for the turn-off sign on the N2, you’ll miss it, as the village is completely hidden from view by the forest. In Storms River Village there are a variety of wonderful restaurants, B&Bs, backpackers, little shops, tree-top canopy tours, the nature reserve and of course the famous Marilyn’s 60’s Diner where both Marilyn and Elvis live on. Here you will find all sorts of Elvis and Marilyn memorabilia and photographs, old 1950s chrome-bumpered Chevvies and Cadillacs, a juke box, and much more, and every now and then a festival in memory of these icons. In true American diner style, Marilyn’s serves everything from steaks, cakes and shakes, to breakfasts, fries, American cocktails, hotdogs and burgers, and creamy desserts. The portions are big, and the food is tasty. There is both indoor and outdoor seating and children are welcome. And it’s just a short hop off the freeway, so you won’t lose much time.
Friesland Dairy Bar, East London
Finally, if you are anywhere near East London this summer and you want the best milkshake in the world, you have to pay a visit to the Friesland Dairy Bar situated in The Quigney just behind the main beach area. It may look like just an ordinary corner café, but boy, those milkshakes served in milk bottles are out of this world! And there’s a wide range of flavours to choose from, although my favourite is the plain old vanilla. This famous shop established and still run by the Cassiram family, has served their devoted customers for 40 delicious years. Happy travels…and enjoy the stop.