December 2021 Cape Trip day 2: Day Off/Desolation Peak

After an epic start to my trip, I decided to take the second day as a rest/exploration day. The goals were simple: visit a few places around Graaff Reinet, buy some items and then drive to Uniondale.

My brother had suggested I visit the fossil museum in Graaff Reinet. I looked it up on google, and as it turns out, ended up at a different fossil museum – it says something about how many fossil museums there are around Graaff Reinet!

On arrival I found what is believed to be the largest private fossil collection on earth. I also found a farmer very confused about how I knew about her collection. Note to anyone visiting: book in advance, don’t just show up!

The display is pre-mammal, so they are all very strange looking reptiles. It was really interesting!

I went from there to a place I have wanted to visit for years: The Valley of Desolation.

I first visited Graaff Reinet in 2003 – on my first trip to the Cape. I remember looking at one of the hills behind the town and thinking how big it was. In hindsight, I was probably looking at Spandaukop, one of the most impressive mountains of the park.

Driving into the park, I was already impressed by the views. Ironic that the Valley of Desolation happened to be so green at the time, though!

I briefly stopped at the view point overlooking the town before heading up to the main car park.

A short walk from the main car park lead to the iconic view of the rock spires. While they are impressive, for me the highlight was the views of the surrounding peaks – especially Spandauskop.

The main car park is practically on top of a mountain summit. It has no official name, although the Government Survey Maps mark it as “Valley of Desolation”, so I refer to it as Desolation Peak. There is a circular trail around the summit, including the summit beacon itself. Naturally I took the walk around to tag it.

The views were great in every direction. I had to laugh, though, while so many peaks I had worked really hard for don’t count as “mountains” by the 7% definition, this random summit where my car did most of the work is one.

From there I drove back down the mountain and had some lamb chops in Graaff Reinet. The Karoo is well known for its lamb, and this lamb was good – but not as good as what I had had in Middleburg the day before.

From there I set off for Uniondale. The drive from Graaff Reinet to Uniondale is reasonably long. I did have to swerve to avoid hitting a tortoise one point. The road was reasonably beautiful in places, with some large desert peaks at the start, and some more interesting formations near Uniondale.

I stopped in Uniondale to buy some food, only to find the town had a single small shop. I was able to find most of what I needed, although not a shop I’d go out of my way to visit.

I proceeded from there to my accommodation for the night – which was called Landsrivier – and was further surprised to discover I had booked a place with no electricity and no phone signal. It had solar lights and gas hot water, but little else. The location looked great, though.

My goal for the next day would be Mannetjiesberg, the highest point in the Kammanassie Mountains. My accommodation was at the base of the mountain, which is why it was selected. This would be my first time seeing the range – I couldn’t even find photos of it online. However, the summit was in the mist as I arrived, so my run of not seeing the mountain would have to continue for now.

I unpacked my car, and then took a walk around where I was staying, taking some animal trails up to the road that runs up the ridge towards the peak (which is blocked to cars by a locked gate – not that my Corolla would have coped anyway). I eventually found some phone signal, sent some messages, and then dropped back down to the house.

With no power and no phone signal (luckily I had three different power banks that were fully charged), I decided to lie down and continue listening to the audiobook of Mandela’s autobiography – Long Walk To Freedom. I had started it just before I set off on this trip, and was now at the point where Mandela had just arrived at Robbin Island. I have to say – it’s a brilliant book, highly recommended. I would finish the book just before I began the drive home a few days later.

Overall a productive day, but one of the biggest days of the trip was about to follow!

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