Life, as Jim Freeman has been told and experienced first-hand, is what happens while you are making plans, with the result that (as Scottish poet Robbie Burns said in his poem “To a Mouse”) “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / gang aft a-gley.”
It is not always bad when planning goes awry: improvisation becomes the order of the day and the resulting spontaneity can lead to a hell of a lot of fun … and occasional mayhem.
The latest on a career-long list of ill-considered story ideas came when **RoadTrip** secured the new Renault Duster 1.5dCi Prestige EDC 4×2 – quite a mouthful for a well-equipped rather than luxurious package – to evaluate its worth over a midweek break from the Mother City.
“Well,” was one suggestion, “Renault is French and Duster suggests dirt roads: let us find some French-inspired spots in the Klein Karoo.” That plan was quickly scuppered because the French influence in the Western Cape is most keenly felt around Franschhoek, and it definitely does not qualify as either Klein Karoo or dustbowl.
Our second idea harkened back to the album **Diesel and Dust** by Australian eco-rock group Midnight Oil in the late ’Eighties. With its 1.5-litre diesel-powered engine conducting the automotive orchestra, this option seemed a winner and it was off to funky Barrydale that the Duster and I set out.
Unfortunately, it started clouding over the moment I crested the Du Toitskloof Mountains and by the time I got to Robertson it was raining heavily. “Diesel and mud” does not ring quite so musically on the ear.
The Duster was recently announced as a finalist in the 2019 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year (COTY) competition. I tested a previous iteration of the 4×4 variant over the Seven Passes Road of the Garden Route a few years ago – and was **very** pleasantly surprised.
Although I knew I would not be able to compare the two in terms of off-road capability, I was particularly keen to assess whether the new Duster matched my memories in terms of the ability of the vehicle to maintain a fair clip on the highway while achieving phenomenal fuel frugality.
In a nutshell; it did. The steep Du Toitskloof Pass between Paarl and Worcester was easily dealt with, generally in top gear and without any hint of strain from the turbo-diesel engine, while the flat and straight-ish sections of the R62 saw me consciously slacking off to avoid going too far over the speed limit.
Calculations on my return to Stellenbosch indicated I would easily have obtained more than 1,000 km from the 50-litre tank, making this one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles I had driven all year.
For a seemingly small SUV, the Duster is remarkably roomy both in terms of driver comfort and storage space. The 478-litre boot space is expandable with a 1/3-2/3 folding rear bench seatback.
Karoo **avant garde**
Barrydale is one of those “arty” Western Cape towns like Hermanus, Stanford, and Riebeek Kasteel. While there are any number of spots that can describe themselves as **avant garde** – there, at least I managed to include a French phrase! – one that truly prides itself on eclectic funkiness is the Karoo Art Hotel.
A gallery-cum-hotel where the walls of rooms and communal areas alike are adorned with the paintings and sculptures of local artists (mostly commercially unknown and all items for sale), the Karoo Art Hotel has 14 en suite rooms and a separate garden suite. It is your typical **platteland** hotel with its reception, bar, lounge, and restaurant on the ground floor and rooms above. It has creaking wooden passages and stairs and, unsurprisingly, there is a ghost … apparently a young woman of somewhat dubious morals after whom the bar is named.
Like most hotels of its ilk and vintage, it is situated in the main road of the town – quite unlike the rest of the popular attractions of Barrydale that line the R62 as it cuts through the extreme Northern part of the town. Indeed, Barrydale is like the proverbial iceberg where at least two-thirds lies hidden from sight.
For all that the Karoo Art Hotel is “off the beaten track”, it is extremely popular with tourists and coaches often stop and disgorge travellers of especially European origin. General manager Alicia Giliomee also wears the hat of executive chef of the Gallery restaurant of the hotel and here we receive a pleasant surprise because she is a professional member of the international gastronomic guild, **Chaîne des Rôtisseurs** (even more French).
A local girl with nearly two decades in the kitchen, Giliomee is currently engaged in her second stint at the hotel. Her beautifully presented cuisine is best described as “local with a twist” and, the night I arrived, I was treated to **bobotie** spring rolls followed by a mild Karoo lamb curry.
Recently, the restaurant was acknowledged in the 2018 Eat Out awards as a “highly commended country-style eatery”. The wine list abounds with the wines, ports, and brandies for which the R62 is renowned.
Before turning in for the night, I treated myself to a snifter of the Joseph Barry 10-year. It is one of the finest brandies of South Africa and I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with distiller Ferdi Smit at Barrydale Cellars the next morning.
I was disappointed to discover wine and brandy were no longer made on the premises and that production had been given over to a craft lager: apparently, years of drought have forced local farmers to rip out their vines.
Of the drought there was no sign as I backtracked to Montagu. The rain was lashing down, transforming the Talana secondary road, which runs roughly parallel to the R62, into a greasy skidpan. I took it easy but still found the vehicle sure-footed in the wet thanks to ABS and electronic traction control.
Mud caked the underside of the Duster when I pulled off at the Kingna Distillery and sampled the five- and eight-year-old distillations of Ruan Hunlun. Kingna is one of the relatively unknown brandies of the R62 region but the area epitomises all that is magnificent about the Klein Karoo when the apricot, peach, and plum orchards are nearly ripe for harvest. Call ahead on 023 614 2721 to arrange a tasting.
The skies were still heavily overcast when I returned to Barrydale, so plans to photograph the colourful strip that includes the Karoo Moon Motel, Diesel and Crème vintage diner, and Country Pumpkin restaurant (among others) had to be shelved. I decamped instead to the bar of the hotel and ordered a bottle of an inexpensive but pleasant Doornkraal Merlot from De Rust.
A few clouds lingered the next morning but these soon burned off and I got the pictures I have been unable to shoot the previous day. With its retro theme, Diesel and Crème is where every biker and petrolhead who travels the R62 **has** to stop and take pictures.
The light got steadily brighter as I turned homewards and I could not resist taking some of the dirt backroads. They still were not dry enough to leave plumes of dust behind the little SUV but the rains had cleared the air, so the majesty of the blue Klein Karoo mountains was gloriously evident.
And then, just before I entered Robertson, I spotted a French flag flying atop a kopje and a road sign indicating this was the turn off to the Nuy Valley. Yes, I thought excitedly, the Grand Marshal of Napoleon … what could be more French than that?
Nope. Wrong spelling (it is Ney) and even the wrong nationality (probably Dutch). I did learn, though, that the first wine from the valley (a white Leipzig) was served at a banquet in Cape Town to celebrate the 21st birthday of then-Princess – later, Queen – Elizabeth II in 1947.
Our vehicle: Renault Duster 1.5dCi Prestige EDC 4×2
Engine: In-line, four-cylinder, eight-valve turbodiesel
Displacement: 1,461 cc
Maximum power: 80 kW @ 4,000 rpm
Maximum torque: 250 Nm @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic EDC
Luggage space: 478 litres
Ground clearance: 210 mm
Consumption: 4.8 ℓ/100 km (claimed by manufacturer)
CO2 emissions: 126 g/km
Base price: R334,900.00
Space, driver comfort, road-holding, and the fuel-efficiency of the turbodiesel engine.
We do not like
Instrumentation is pretty ordinary, layout of the infotainment screen and driver aids are non-intuitive
RoadTrip rating: 87%