The Classic Safari Challenge 2011

15th August to 6th September 2011


One Kingdom - and back again: 

Safari Diary from Knysna - September 3

We crossed from South Africa into Lesotho. Having done Swaziland, we could hardly miss out on this little kingdom. Great scenery, and a very comfortable, modern five-start hotel at the Lesotho Sun.

After yet another fine meal (some of us opting for the Chinese Restaurant which serves an excellent Kung-Po Chicken) and comfortable overnight, we made an early start for the border.

This border is one of those one-hut affairs, and at ten-past-eight the pole was lifted and we were back where we started… leaving the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho to return to South Africa. We descended fast... the drop from 1,600 metres causes your ears to pop in tune with Bentley exhausts on the over-run.

A long day’s drive brought us to Craddock. This is one of those places you simply have to visit before you die. Dutch style houses in traditional streets greet us after a drive into the Karoo – the large area of semi-desert that stretches from Eastern Cape above Port Elizabeth across the hinterland of South Africa to the Atlantic. We all park up in one street, having found the Victoria Manor hotel.

This hotel is run by a simply redoubtable and extraordinary woman, Sandra Antrobus, who lives and breaths a life that is a total throwback 100 years, surrounding herself with Victoriana. The hotel reception area blows your mind – giant period etchings look down. Nelson, with two arms, two eyes, and two legs, commands the deck of a battle-damaged sailing ship, next to another giant etching of the harbour of Sebastopol in mid-carnage. Mahogany and Scots Pine abound, with the musty air you thought could only be found in the library of the Reform Club, with worn leather chairs, and carpet you trip over as it slides on polished floorboards.

This hotel is special. What makes it different is all down to Sandra the owner who runs the place with a vice-like grip that knows the meaning of the word service. 

The attention to detail is impressive – struggle to put the key in the door in the dark and a hotel porter is by your side in a bound, knowing just the knack of how to apply the right amount of pressure as a Victorian lock is turned.

Sandra’s Hotel is over half the street. It’s a collection of houses, all adjoining, some you have to cross the road for… you get a whole cottage to yourself, and such is Sandra’s vision that the hotel has steadily expanded as a shop or house has come on the market. One of her acquisitions was to take over the butcher’s shop opposite the hotel, and transform it into yet another extension of something that is a total throwback to the Victorian age.

Dozens of framed etching and pictures adorn every wall… you sleep in an antique brass bed, under a lazy fan, soak away the aches of the day’s journey in a giant iron bath, and dine at Victorian tables, using hundred year old bone-handled cutlery that must to be washed by hand afterwards… modern machines have no place here.

We left the dining room realizing this had been on of the most special eating experiences of the whole event – Sandra’s hotel is truly unique, with coffee served to the sound of four local singers. We have stayed in many very fine hotels on our journey from Dar Es Salaam, but nothing compares with the friendly service found from Sandra’s team, and nothing compares with the atmosphere either, a total throwback to another age.

The rally.... what is going on with the rally? To return to the topic, quite a lot has happened in the last few days. We have had a lot of gravel roads, all of them through stunningly breathtaking countryside, with several Time Trials, one over 100 kms long – on one, Geoff and Jennie Dorey tossed their Alfa into the long grass, rolling in the process, but emerging totally unscathed, the car however was beyond even the panel bashing skills of the sweeper-mechanics. This incident distracted the Triumph crew of David and Jo Roberts who minutes later skidded on the gravel into a ditch, bending the front steering arms, but this was soon knocked back into position to enable the front wheels to work, and they drove into town last night.

Xavier’s Chevy was sick last night, and Andy Inskip had to change a wheel bearing, the only problem was finding a spare… however, a passer-by seeing the back of the car in the workshop stopped to say he also owned a 1941 Chevrolet, and could he offer any help. Have you got a rear wheel hub and brake drum? Yes, was the answer, and half an hour later the rallycar was coming back together again. Xavier’s problems were not over, as today he ran up two punctures on his Blockley tyres, on a Time Trial, which surely dishes a good performance on the leader board. Also getting a puncture (again) was the Land Rover Discovery of Roger Allen, who suffered a puncture on a Time Trial… they were leading the 4x4 class at the time.

Rudi Friedrich’s got seriously cold in the morning’s chilly wind that ripped down a mountain pass and we spotted him thawing out in novel fashion – sitting on top of the radiator of his 1932 Alvis, which continues to thrash just about every other entrant, including the much more modern classics, much to the navigator’s displeasure. The pace of this car is such that within an hour of the morning start, it comes roaring past the officials in their Toyotas and Land Rovers tasked with the job of setting up checkpoints head of the entrants.

We have driven a spectacular gravel mountain pass into Knysna and the modern-glass-marble-and-stone structure of the Pezula Hotel, hotels don’t come more modern than this and a total contrast to the atmosphere of yesterday, with yesteryear’s charm.


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