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November 2011. I’m on my way to find the mythical forest of Houtbos. That’s a long way north of Hermanus, and a lot empty space ahead.

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I stopped over in that little known centre of culinary excellence called Hopetown. Following a tip-off from the locals, I went looking for supper at the cafe at the BP garage, where they were well stocked in vetkoek, cold hard boiled eggs and pink viennas. But I chose one of these for R12. It was superb.

What to eat in Hopetown

In the morning I went through grasslands and thorn trees to Kimberley. I have an obscure route through the mieliefields and dorpies to Gauteng. Beyond Boshoff, I start hitting potholes, about 200 kilometres worth of them. I have to watch the road carefully now, and can’t look away as much as I like to. Resenting this, I start thinking bad thoughts about our democracy. I’m going to Parys, the first stopoff on my way to finding several sites I haven’t been to yet. The Jeep suspension is getting hammered, but at least I have Pierneefian trees to make me feel better…

Ah, so much better than fynbos!

J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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