PE to Joburg and back – via the roads less travelled.

In true SA Guided Tours style, a recent trip to Jhb provided an opportunity to leave the highway and explore the dorpies and  delights of the platteland.
3 ‘foreign’ provinces, 9 days and literally hundreds of photos cannot easily be covered in one post so we’ll condense it to a highlight or two. (See our FB page  for further cameos.)

First stop – Bethulie  in the Free State. Why? Because it’s one of the few places we’ve never been! And it has 2 landmarks of particular significance.

Bethulie Landmarks - English Monument and longest bridge.
The ‘English Monument’, with SA’s longest combined rail and road bridge in the background.

Approaching the town from the south, one crosses the Orange River by means of the longest combined road and rail bridge in South Africa At 1.152 km  long, and 51.5m high, it’s a striking feat of human creativity and engineering.
But then there’s a stark reminder of man’s potential to destroy. On the outskirts of the town is the site of the first concentration camp set up by the British in 1901 during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. In just 13 months of its existence, 1417 people, mostly women and children, died.  A never-finished ‘English Monument’  – unique because funded by the Imperial power – stand as lonely memorial.  (The graves and remains of the dead were moved to a new Memorial Cemetary when it was feared the camp site would be submerged beneath the waters of the Gariep Dam.)

Still in the Free State – The Sandstone Estate Heritage Trust, near Ficksburg, presented us with a truly mind-bogling private collection of narrow-guage steam locomotives and vintage agricultural equipment  – the largest number of both categories in the world. Housed on a working farm, all have been restored and are fully functional.

Some of Sandstone Estates Steam Heritage collection of rare road steam traction engines and steam rollers .
A selection of the rare road steam traction engines and steam rollers at Sandstone Estates.


Reaching Gauteng, we hit the big cities and the big – literally and significantly – sites.

Freedom Park in Pretoria certainly achieved its vision of being an icon of humanity and freedom. The //hapo museum is beathtaking in scope and design,  and the architecture, landscaping and imagery of all components left us both humbled and inspired.

//Hapo - freedom Park Museum
//Hapo – Freedom Park Museum
Fountained pool surrounding the Freedom Flame Gallery
Focal point of Freedom Park – The Freedom flame gallery – surrounded by tranquil water and nestled at the base of a 2 000-seat amphitheatre, with the symbolic reed sculptures behind.


It was a logical progression from Freedom Park to the Walter Sisulu Square in Johannesburg,  This is where the Congress of the People met in 1955 to draw up and adopt the Freedom Charter. (Thus it is also often refered to as Freedom Square – which causes a lot of confusion!) Now it is a vibrant open air museum housing a mix of trading areas, memorial structures, entertainment venues  and even a hotel.

Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown,
Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, where in 1955 the Congress of the People met and adopted the Freedom Charter,

The preamble to the Constitution of  South Africa and its core precepts loudly echo those of the Freedom Charter so Concourt, on Constitution Hill was definitely also a place to see.

The Constitutional Court
ConCourt, the highest court in SA, whose 11 judges stand guard over the Constitution and protect the Human Rights of all.


Johannesburg sprang up in the late 1880s because of the rich gold deposits below her soil. Those same gold deposits were very likely forced upwards from great depths along the edges of a crater caused by a meteor impact some 2 000 million years ago. So off we went to find the Vredefort Dome – at the center of the largest, oldest impact crater in the world. The crater itself has long eroded, as well as most of the central uplift dome,  but there are still visible indications of  impact in the area and see them we did.

Pseudotachylitic brecchia - a certain indication of an impact crater.
An example of pseudotachylitic brecchia – definite indication of an impact crater. The dark rock is granite that was melted during the impact, collected pieces of unmelted granite in its flow, and then solidified.
Outcrop of granophyre dyke
A ridge of hard dark rock -a granophyre dyke – stretching for more than a km, indicates where molten rock flowed into fractures caused by the asteroid impact. Erosion has now left them exposed.

Our next quest  was far more elusive, though we were searching for evidence from a mere 200 odd years ago! Off we went to the environs of Colesberg in the Northern Province, seeking the site of Governor Joachim van Plettenberg’s Beacon. Hardly anybody in the area had heard of it, and of those few who had, none knew its location. But with info we had researched we determined where X marked the spot and then our friendly B&B host set us on the correct route to find it. 30 km from the town, 5 km  of farm road and 1km trekking through the veld got us there – the site of the original beacon set up to mark the northern-most point in van Plettenberg’s exploration of the then Cape Colony. Thus was established its NE boundary, and thus began issues of land possession/dispossession that have repercussions to this day.

Site of van Plettenberg Beacon
The historic site on which Baron Joachim van Plettenberg, in 1778, erected a beacon to identify the NE border of the then Cape Colony

(A delightful story about why the border was not set further north)

After this most successful expedition we set our sights firmly homeward, with one last stop at  the railway junction town of Noupoort. Here was our final discovery – a British blockhouse – strategically positioned to protect the railway line during the Anglo-Boer war – but  so idiosyncratic and impractical in design that it was probably modifed from an existing windmill!

British Blockhouse at Noupoort
The blockhouse at Noupoort – unlike any other blockhouse in design.


Back in the Eastern Cape we settled into the pleasant familiarity of home.

Thanks SA Guided Tours for another  wonderful adventure and many memorable experiences