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The dirt road to Sutherland, that cold karoo dorpie deep in the interior. I’m driving an antiquated Land Cruiser, all the way to Joburg. Its a slow old beast, rattling and whining like a Bedford truck, but the high-up view is great, and rolling along at 65kph on the dirt is what it lives for.

DSCF6012 (640x480)  Strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with Pierneef. I’m doing this for a friend, and I’m indulging my need for big skies and min mense. The chosen route goes from Hermanus to Sutherland via Ceres, and then across the plains to Fraserburg, then Loxton, Victoria West and on to the N12 to Kimberley. Obscure, yes, but this was once the most direct route to Kimberley, favoured by transport riders taking provisions up to the diamond diggings. I’m also testing my theory that the experience of the Sublime – the sense of awe when confronted by an Alpine vista – is also absolutely to be had from Flatness. There’s that, and there’s the general idea of an end-of-year journey, a time to let stuff percolate. People do drugs, yoga, meditation or whatever to get a sense of perspective, but a road trip is the business in my book.

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DSCF6025 (640x480)The inscriptions on the landscape left by hardy pioneering types have gravitas and tell of long struggles

against the odds. There are small drifts and passes too, getting higher up, and unusual, specific plant forms.

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I was looking at one of these when I heard the dreaded bubbling sound coming from deep within the heart of the beast. Yip, she was boiling. Sunday afternoon, no-one on the road, no cell phone reception, 80ks from Sutherland. I was strangely unconcerned. I had water and food. Oh ja, and pencil and paper. I got a chair out of the back of the car and settled down to my first drawing of the trip. Pierneef would have approved, I’m sure. After a while an old Toyota bakkie came along. Inside it was a man called Anton and his sleepy wife. He said he was a foreman at the nearest farm and was a Kavango from northern Namibia. We drove back to the farm and flushed out the radiator. “You’re gonna make it to Sutherland now, “said Anton, and although I knew he hadn’t fixed the problem I was desperate to believe him.

The Kavango cowboy

The Kavango cowboy

Before you get onto the Sutherland plateau there is 15 ks of uphill starting with the aptly -named Verlorenkloof. I got a long way up that never-ending slope before the needle started spiking again. There I was, with the bonnet open and the day drawing to a close when the next Samaritan appeared. Another farmer and his wife in an old white Toyota bakkie. Staying in the car, with just a hint of a smile on his face, he made the diagnosis: ” Hy kook seker, ne?” Then told me to put the heater on full blast, and it had the magical effect of bringing the needle down straight away. ” Vat it maar kalm,” he said, ” ek volg jou agterna.”

I was impressed, relieved and grateful, and with a magenta light hitting the karoo scrub, I drove into the wide streets of Sutherland. Day One in the Cruiser: I’d met some interesting people and seen some pretty good stuff. And I had a couple of drawings under the belt too. What more can an oke ask for?

Ah, the plateau at last!

Ah, the plateau at last!






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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