Cape Town - It’s not always easy travelling as a single mom. It is difficult in the sense that you are only reliant on yourself. There is no-one to share childcare and driving duties when you are travelling 1200km far, with two kids under nine in tow.
But am I going to limit myself and my kids to a life without adventure just because there’s no man around to change a tyre? Of course not! So the three of us decided to do yet another Karoo road trip, this time in a VW Caddy Maxi Trendline 2.0 TDI 103kW DSG (R433 800).
Do’s and Dont’s
Having previously done cross-country road trips with the kids, I have learnt from my past mistakes. The first booboo was to take a car that was simply too small. About two years ago I selected a Mini Cooper five-door for our journey. Delightful little car, and that was pre-divorce so we were two adults and two children (and their autumn luggage) driving to the Free State from the Western Cape.
Fun trip, but a bit of a squeeze - so much so that I had to routinely check if there were actual children underneath all the pillows and blankets.
So I had several reasons for choosing a seven-seater bus: the kids are now at an age where they are constantly at each other’s throats. In the Mini, an argument would ensue the moment a strand of hair or fingertip crossed the invisible line that separated the rear seats. In a seven-seater, each kid would have his own bench where they could nap, play, draw, dream, and not argue.
I was quite looking forward to the trip, because I love the vast Karoo expanses and the way it completely uncluttered my thoughts. The Caddy’s 530 litre boot, with all seven seats up, is lekker big, and after I packed there was still quite a bit of room to spare. I also compiled a playlist on iTunes, to play through the Composition Media system via Bluetooth in the Caddy.
Armed with enough droëwors, biltong, naartjies and apples to feed half the Toyota Stadium, we set off. This was another lesson I had learnt from previous trips: the moment any sugar or colourants enter the confines of the road-trip vehicle, the kids turn into Gremlins and it’s very hard to threaten them with a smack if they know your hands are supposed to be on the steering wheel.
N2 to Route 62
Our route would comprise the least busy roads, but they would have to be tarred, in order to keep statistics for flat tyres as low as possible. First we did the obligatory bit of N2 to Swellendam so we could turn right into Barrydale (Route 62), but the kids started complaining they were hungry so we stopped at Rolandale farm stall just outside Buffeljagsrivier for some roosterkoek.
As we walked outside to wait for our order, we were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful play area with a view of rolling green mountains in the background. After shooting a few hoops at Rolandale, we turned left to picturesque little Suurbraak which would lead us to the breathtaking Tradouw Pass.
The Caddy may be a luxurious passenger panel van, but it is kitted out with enough safety spec to keep the Caddy upright and the mother’s mood light. There’s the normal ABS, but then there’s also stability and traction control as well as Hill Hold, MCB (VW’s Post Collision Braking System) and a frontal electronic differential lock (EDL). Six airbags protect all occupants up to the rear. When we drove over the gorgeous Tradouw Pass, body control felt rather tight for a van, and I was quite pleased with the way its MPV-body snaked through the pass.
A beeline for the N9
Because the grandparents live 1200km away and we left home so late, I knew we’d have to spend the night somewhere. I’m quite happy to drive to the ends of the earth, but the kids get road-trip weary and the grandparents get very nervous when we drive in the dark. But we were on a budget - a shoestring one at that. Tripadvisor.com pointed us to a quaint fairytale tower in the heart of Nieu-Bethesda, just a few kays on the other side of Graaff-Reinet.
When I entered the address into my TomTom, it gave me an estimated time of arrival which was way after midnight - in other words, five more hours on the road. As the last pink rays of sunlight kissed the Karoo mountain tops near De Rust, I began to worry. How can it be possible, if Nieu-Bethesda is so close to Graaff-Reinet? Between Willowmore and Aberdeen the road just stretched into infinity - and the kids’ moaning and complaining went on for just as long.
Just after 9pm we drove into Graaff-Reinet. The friendly staff at Bethesda Tower called just as the kids were tucking into their KFC Chicken Wraps á la Drive ‘Thru. “Don’t worry ma’am, Nieu-Bethesda is only about 45 minutes away now. We’ll switch on the lights and keep the rooms warm for you.” (They were fully prepared to serve us a late dinner too, but I declined because I didn’t want to trouble them).
Relief flooded through me, because Google Maps had a similar crazy ETA as the TomTom. I’m still not sure why.
A one-horse, wonderful town
At the signpost that reads “Owl Route”, we left the N9 and ascended into the hills, which lead into a valley, where Nieu-Bethesda is situated. And what a relief when we arrived in this sleepy hollow Karoo Heartland town, with wide, tree-lined dirt roads and not a street lamp in sight. I parked the Caddy across the tiny police station, and we made our way to the charming Priory next door to the fairytale tower, where we’d be spending the night (unfortunately the tower was fully booked).
Karoo winter nights are known for being chilly, but the staff had put multiple heaters in the rooms for us. We opted for the cosy double room upstairs, which is fantastic value at only R350 per room, if you don’t mind walking outside to gain access to the bathroom downstairs.
The next morning we sat on the sunny stoep of the Bethesda Art Centre, eating a scrumptious breakfast from the little kitchen at the bottom of the Bethesda Tower, called the Tower Café. Will we be back? We sure will, and we recommend you visit them too. Go to Bethesdatower.co.za if you’re after something completely different and ridiculously inexpensive. You can read more about the history of the town here.
After breakfast, we were very keen on seeing the Helen Martins museum and Owl House (which the town is famous for), but I realized I didn’t have a cent of cash in my wallet and the town has no banking facilities. Grateful that I at least had a full tank of diesel (no fuel stations there either), we left the town and headed to Middelburg. And speaking of diesel, the Caddy’s economy was holding up well. It had been filled up in Cape Town, I drove it in and around Hermanus for a few days, and it was only in Willowmore that I filled up again. I could probably have driven 1000km on that first tank, but being alone with the kids in the middle of nowhere, I had to fill up when I had the chance. Stick to the speed limit and you won’t easily use more than 6.5-litres/100km. When we finally reached Bloemfontein in the afternoon, we had just over half a tank of fuel left.
The long way round
After spending seven days in the freezing Free State, it was time to leave, but this time we took my mom with us, which made things much easier. It’s great when there’s someone to pass the homemade sandwiches to the back, or to take away the kids’ electronics when they don’t behave.
With the tablets confiscated, it gave us a chance to play “guess what animal am I” - and we covered everything from the Komodo Dragon to the Groundhog to the Blue-ringed Octopus between Graaff-Reinet and Oudtshoorn.
In the meantime, I had also been paid so my budget looked a little better for accommodation, so this time we’d spend the night at the stylish Boulders Lodge & Spa - a four-star establishment with a contemporary Karoo theme, on the outskirts of Oudtshoorn.
We arrived on a bitterly cold Sunday night, and the charming owner, Le Roux van Dyk, was there to welcome us in person. He also put my mom and I in the best rooms in the house - I had a luxurious spa bath in my tasteful bathroom which went down a treat with the kids. Prices range from R780 to R1440 per person per night, including a buffet breakfast where I encountered the lightest, fluffiest Karoo omelette south of the Sahara. Local cheeses and jams also adorned the breakfast table. It was good to end off the school holidays with some luxury! Visit boulderslodge.co.za when you’re in Oudtshoorn next.
The final stretch
Five long hours later we entered my hometown of Hermanus, safe and sound. The Caddy Maxi played a huge part in making our trip so successful. Having so much room minimised the quarrels significantly. The rear bench is very easily accessible and the fact that there are sliding doors on both sides, easy operable by smallish kids, made getting in and out a cinch.
But a tip would be to decide which door you’re going to use, and stick to it! Otherwise important things (such as favourite teddy bears) may fall out. Another road-trip tip would be to cover the fabric seats with towels, if the kids are going to be indulging in padkos. Then you can just shake out the towel to get rid of the crumbs, and spills are absorbed.
The Caddy’s extensive list of standard convenience features helped too. There are enough 12 V power sockets in the Caddy’s cabin, but what I really needed were some more USB ports (at least one more) for tablets and phones, which all seemed to be going flat at the same time. Stowage cubbies are aplenty, with drawers underneath the front seats as well as cupholders all the way to the back. A handy shelf in the Caddy’s ceiling was perfect for cooler bags and other bits and bobs. Despite its large and long dimensions, the Caddy is not hard to manoeuvre about, but the Park Distance Control (front and rear) with rear view camera is an extra worth spending on at R9350.
If you always wanted a Kombi, but you can’t afford one (the VW Kombi 2.0 TDI SWB Trendline Auto retails for R543 800), the comfy VW Caddy Maxi with its punchy, frugal engine, is the next best thing.
Facts & Figures
VW Caddy Maxi Trendline 2.0 TDI 103kW DSG
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Top Speed: 186km/h
0 - 100 km/h: 10.9 sec
Fuel tank: 55 litres
Realistic fuel consumption: 6.0 - 7.2 litres/100km (6.4 litre/100 extra-urban)
Luggage volume: 530 litres (all seats up)
Warranty: 3 years /120 000km
Service plan: 3 years / 60 000km
Price: R433 800