Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Prince Alfred's Pass to Prince Albert

We left Knysna and Leisure Island, a little sadly, for me. We headed for Prince Albert, a right-angled swing into the interior, over the Outeniquas and away from their green horizon, crossing into the Little Karoo via Prince Alfred's Pass, one of many beautiful passes built by Sir Thomas Bain in the nineteenth century. Well, he had help. And that's a whole other story. Fortunately, Ian and Pam Beswick, the Knysna Belle's owners, had told us to ignore the alarming Pass Closed signs. Recent floods had washed the road away in places, but it was perfectly fine for the trusty 4 x 4. Go Landcruiser, aka Mogashagasha (she who goes over everything).

This stunning erica appeared again and again as we gained some height in the pass. I think it is Erica densifolia.

We travelled slowly - the road is narrow and very bendy in places, and we kept the windows rolled down. The scent that wafted in was dominated by helichrysum, below: honey-like, yeasty, dry-mustardy - a smell that can reduce me to childhood at a hundred paces.

We stopped at a spot where many white proteas were growing, got out of the car, and were overcome by birdsong. We saw very few: sugar- and sunbirds, mousebirds and prinias. It sounded as though we were in an aviary, the whole hillside vibrating with bright bird language. We thought they must nesting.

Having crested the mountains we dipped down into dryness, the green giving way slowly to the iconic Karoo. Just before Uniondale the road was washed away quite thoroughly in several places.

In Meiringspoort (another Thomas Bain pass) we stopped for a picnic and were joined by some very friendly mongeese. Gooses. Gice. Yes, I know it's mongooses. Dear Sir, please send me two mongooses for my new zoo. I mean mongeese. I mean, dear Sir, two mongice. Dear Sir. Please send me a mongoose for the zoo. And please send me another mongoose. Sincerely yours, etc.

What did we feed them? Chicken tikka strips from Woolworths, of course. I licked the spices off.

And then we got to Prince Albert. We passed a nasty road accident on the way in and when we did arrive I didn't know I was there. Because of this, below: I mean, WTF, mate? What happened to the bluegums? Will someone please let me know if they know? It's like the Karoo heart - tall, cool (aliens, whatever) - was sort of ripped out of the town...

We stayed at the Dennehof Guesthouse, a Heritage Site whose windmill, whitewashed buildings and thick walls, pepper tree and prickly pear, acacia in bloom and water running in the sloot, made us want to stay.

Except that his nemesis, the resident white bantam rooster [stalked by Vince in the dark hour before dawn (you know, the hour when you're supposed to overthrow armies)]...

...drove him to drink (more)...

But the bird triumphed, and had the last word, again, and again, and again.


  1. And again, and again, and again, and bloody hell, yet again! ;-)

    The mongooses for the zoo is hilarious. Is that a quote?

  2. It was one of two jokes I knew when I was little. I don't know where it comes from. It's the only joke I can tell.


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