FOR THE ROAD: The Honda BR-V makes a great long-haul companion. Image: QuickPic
Cape Town - To finish writing a book, a girl needs peace and quiet - “a room of her own”, advised UK novelist Virginia Woolf.
I had spent most of last year working alongside my co-writer, Lindiwe Hani, travelling from Cape Town to Joburg monthly, to finish our soon-to-be-released book, Being Chris Hani’s Daughter.
By the end of January, the end was in sight. But as much as I tried to use earplugs and close windows to block out noise, our Cape Town home is directly beneath a busy, tourist-infested plane route. I was struggling to complete the final nips and tucks on the 75 000-word manuscript. My usually quiet local coffee hang-out had become a din of “auf Wiedersehen” and “parlez-vous”.
In desperation, I went on to Google in search of a secluded Cape getaway. The isolated village of Suurbraak in the scenic Overberg region, just east of Swellendam, came up. With fewer than 3000 inhabitants, Suurbraak (or “brackish”, which refers to the thicket-bracket ferns that grow in the area) looked ideal.
I decided to go the lone-wolf Airbnb approach. Of course, my diva side would have preferred some swanky, five-star hotel, but that would have meant having to deal with people and interruptions.
Less than three hours and just over 200km from Cape Town, I set off for Suurbraak early one morning in a seven-seater Honda 1.5 Elegance Manual BR-V.
Packing was a breeze as I folded down the third row of seats to create ample space to fit my huge suitcase and two cooler boxes filled to the brim with home cooking supplies for the week. My thick, freshly printed copy of the new book fitted perfectly into the cubbyhole.
I could easily have taken along six other people in my BR-V, but, I reminded myself, I was off on an isolated Salinger mission.
Secretively, just like I’m more of a boutique hotel girl than a self-caterer, I would have preferred a Range Rover Sport as my steed. But, I reminded myself, while the Rover gulps over 18 litres/100km, the frugal BR-V sips a mere 6.5 litres/100km.
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I was still somewhat sceptical when I discovered that the BR-V, made in India, is based on the same platform as Honda’s smaller Mobilio and Brio. En route, the BR-V - with its naturally aspirated motor that produces peak outputs of 88kW/145Nm - was fairly nimble. But on steep mountain passes and when overtaking, I needed to do a fair bit of down-gearing to maintain momentum. What would happen once I hit the dirt roads leading to Suurbraak? Would the BR-V cope?
Nestled in a valley at the foot of the Langeberg, at the southern end of the breathtakingly beautiful Tradouw Pass, Suurbraak is known for its ample rainfall. On arrival in the small village known as Xairu - a Khoisan word meaning “beautiful” or “paradise” - as feared, I was faced with mud to get to my abode, which lay off a dirt road close to the local river. Although the BR-V has no dedicated off-road 4x4 capability, its impressive 210mm ground clearance proved highly competent in conquering challenging terrains.
On arrival, my trendy, architecturally designed wooden Airbnb abode was both wild and superbly comfortable – a true living-off-the-grid experience, with solar heating and gas cooking the order of the day.
For the next week I relished the delicious quiet beside the distant sounds of the river across the way. On the wooden deck, from my comfy sofa, I got lost in polishing words and phrases as birds twittered away to keep me company. All my needs were met - the kitchen was well supplied, the double bed and cotton sheets in the gorgeous attic were all five-star comfie and, best of all, there was not a soul in sight apart from the occasional hiker.
As a reward for all my hard work, I took a morning off to explore the village. Walking along Main Street in Suurbraak feels like one has slipped through a crack in time, with donkey- and horse-drawn carts a familiar sight. Historical buildings have been carefully restored. The two church sites, dating back to 1828, are a direct reminder of the town’s religious heritage, which sprang to life when the London Missionary Society established a mission post, targeting the local Attaqua Khoikhoi population for “salvation”. In 1875, Suurbraak was taken over by the Algemene Sendingkerk.
I also managed to do the famous Fynbos Route hike, known for its gorgeous proteas and impressive views of the town.
Lost in time, my seven-day retreat felt more like seven months.