Williston was originally known as Amandelboom, thanks to a big-ass almond tree planted there in 1768 by Johan Abraham Nel to honour his son’s birth … how’s that for some useless info? What you do need to know is that this eccentric little dorp in the Bo-Karoo is well worth a visit.
Until quite recently, Williston was a non-descript dot on a topo map, usually a place I’d pass through at warp speed on my way to moer and gone. That’s changed, big time, after an #OpenAfrica road trip through the area earlier this year. I now it seems I’m best buds with half the dorp … because that’s how they roll in the Karoo!
Let me tell you, Williston is the undisputed ‘Kingdom of Quirk’, especially if ‘Die Ark’ ends up being your first port of call. There are many mind-officially-blown moments on the cards here in Pieter and Elmarie Naude’s shop-cum-bar-cum-restaurant-cum-theatre-cum-guesthouse. That’s pretty much guaranteed.
The rambling hacienda – it’s got a bit of an Afrikaans-Mexican vibe going – brims with all and sundry, from larger-than-life characters, old Peter Stuyvesant ad boards and ‘Karoo Porn Art’, to a never-ending parade of everything that is weird and fabulously wonderful. Plus, there’s an endless supply of ice cold beers.
Local characters drift in and out (look out for the local preacher man with his tattoos and parrot, who’s also rumoured to brew some of the Bo-Karoo’s best craft beer. Everything said, this dusty Northern Cape dorp (and it’s soon-to-be-legendary) Karoo Winter Festival, makes for a damn delightful first bite at the culinary, art and outdoor adventures you’re bound to experience along the Open Africa Karoo Highlands Route – www.openafrica.org
Down a few beers, but keep it tidy as you must soon head out along the Richmond gravel road to Langbaken Farm. They make some of the finest cheeses in all of SA, but the real reason you’re out here is to ride that bike, right?
Good news is that a number of trail options start along this back road, with many a farm road tripping past corbelled houses and through game camps. The rounded little ‘stone igloos’ date back more than a century to a time when early Trek Boers settled on these deserted scrubland plains.
These very plains await you each morning at dawn, with extra-terrestrial MTB routes zig-zagging amidst the lunar outcrops. Merino sheep, springbok, kudu and eland abound and you may even encounter the odd flock of South African llama (watch out – they really do spit!) on this desolate Karoo ‘altiplano’.
If you’re a gravel biker who wants to keep it ‘Gran Fondo’, then you could put your head down and crank the 100km odd dirt strip all the way to Fraserburg (and back if you have the whole day). Otherwise opt to explore some of the local farm roads and dual track, with the Dagbreek Farm loop a firm favourite.
As you head out past Langbaken, turn left after 1km at a big barn, then continue through the Sak River until you see the Dagbreek turn-off to your right (3km). Cross the cattle grid into a dip-and-climb, looking out for llama, springbok, eland, kudu and any number of other antelope species.
At the main house (6km), keep left past the dams and the guesthouse, following the farm track into scrubland kopjes. There are a number of route options, but you want to bear right and keep to the most distinct track, until you reach a corbelled house (11km). The route meanders on into the distance, so follow your front wheel, and suck in the fresh air.
Chat to Peter & Francie Schoeman to arrange a cheese tasting in advance, and definitely plan to stay over for a night or two at Dagbreek. This is not a one-day game J
Langbaken and Dagbreek Trails: Fast Facts Block
GRADING: Easy to Intermediate
DURATION: 1hr to 1 day
CONFIGURATION: Return and/or circular
START POINT: Langbaken Farm
TERRAIN: Dual-track, gravel roads, some game tracks
BEWARE: Sheep, springbok, kudus, eland and llamas
POST-RIDE BEER: Die Ark – (053) 391 3659
MUST-DO EVENT: No MTB events in this area but the Annual Williston Winter Festival, which lasts a whole weekend, should mess with your head.
ACCESS: Public roads; always check with farmers first
CELL RECEPTION: None
ACCOMMODATION: Dagbreek Guesthouse is the perfect spot to plug into a proper, laid-back farm vibe. The house is well-equipped and runs on gas, and at night the stars will blow your mind – call Sanet on (082) 373 2694 / (053) 391 4142.
LOCAL CONTACT: Peter and Francy Schoeman – (053) 301 4161 / (082) 550 4981
Follow the N7 from Cape Town to Van Rhynsdorp, then take the R27 and R63 through Calvinia to Williston. Plan for 5-6 hours on the road.
GPS: 31°21’25.1″S / 21°17’05.0″E (Dagbreek)