Travel diary: Taking back roads to Matjiesfontein | 9Lives
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What could be better than an impromptu road trip to the Great Karoo? After heavy rains in Stellenbosch during June, July and August, my fiancée and I decided to head out to Matjiesfontein on the first sunny day as we approach spring.

The best thing about an impromptu road trip is that you can literally just go where the road leads you. As we headed out of Stellenbosch towards the N1, we decided to take the road less travelled and explore some new routes as we headed to this oasis in the Karoo.

First stop: Goeters Café in Wellington

I’m no good without a cup of coffee. So, as we passed all the familiar coffee stops in Stellenbosch on the hunt for a latte to kickstart our trip, I researched a few other coffee shops in the Paarl / Wellington area.

If you’ve recently been on the wedding scene, you’d know that the décor company, Baie Goeters, in Wellington has some seriously beautiful wedding inspiration items on their Insta feed. I’ve also been reading quite a lot about the Goeters Café that they’ve recently opened up in the Wellington student district. And so, we headed to Wellington to explore this beautiful little café across from the CPUT campus.

With low lighting and a lot of exposed concrete, this coffee shop is a very quaint spot and I can easily see why students favour the café. Apart from loads of sweet treats, they also have a menu on the blackboard that changes daily according to the fresh goodies available. From quiches to rusks and muffins, they have quite a selection. I do believe that any coffee shop is only as good as their cup of coffee and my latte was delicious; I also absolutely loved their crockery and presentation.

But my favourite part of the café was the fact that you have a choice of several different seating options. They have a big open area outside under the trees with graffiti on the walls and birds chirping in the trees. You can also sit inside in their lounge area; at the entrance you can have a seat at the bar counter or take out your laptop for some last-minute studying at the café tables.

Second stop: Bain’s Kloof Pass

From Wellington, we took the Bain’s Kloof Pass that ends in the Slanghoek valley. The roads on the pass is quite well-kept and the views are stunning. Just like with the Franschhoek pass, you aren’t really able to drive more than 80km/h at any given time, so you have loads of opportunities to take a look around.

From the top of the pass, you can see the entire town of Wellington in the distance. Because of the generous amount of rain that we’ve had, the area had a lovely, luscious green look and because it was such a clear day, we could really see quite far. You can spot several wine farms from atop the pass as well. Doolhof Wine Estate is quite dear to us as that is where we got engaged, and we loved looking down on the farm and seeing it from that vantage point.

Third Stop: Opstal Wine Estate in Slanghoek

My brother has been trying to get me to visit Opstal Wine Estate since the start of the year and we decided that this is a perfect spot for lunch. From the Bain’s Kloof Pass, be sure to take the turnoff to the Slanghoek valley heading to Worcester.

The Opstal Wine Estate, primarily known for its Chenin Blanc, has some stunning views! Seeing as we were still on the road, we opted for a sparkling grape juice and some snacks. We tried some of the delicious sweet potato, coconut and carrot soup, and a Mediterranean wrap. Their portions are quite generous, so I would rather opt for a split if you are just looking for a light lunch.

The staff also shared some info regarding the brand-new country chic Opstal Stay units that opened in July 2019. They launched two four-sleeper units and three two-sleeper units – all self-catering. We’ll definitely be back to give these a go in the near future.

Fourth stop: Magical Matjiesfontein

From Opstal, we made our way to the N1 just before Worcester to start the last stretch to the little historic town of Matjiesfontein. Armed with all the road trip music we could find, we sat back and watched the Winelands turn into the Karoo.

Way back in 1884, Matjiesfontein was founded by a Scottish railwayman. Then in 1899 the two-storey hotel was built and used as a military hospital during the Anglo Boer War. In 1968, famous hotelier David Rawdon bought the Lord Milner hotel.

Rawdon, who is responsible for famous South African hotels like Lanzerac (Stellenbosch), the Marine Hotel (Hermanus) and the Drostdy Hotel (Graaff-Reinet), completely renovated the hotel which opened its doors in 1970.

And the rest of the town? The entire Matjiesfontein village revolves around the hotel. It also has a coffee shop that is quite popular among travellers and a train station favoured by the Rovos Rail. There are also two museums and guests are pretty much free to explore the entire town when staying at the hotel.

It is truly a step into the past, as the hotel has been preserved in its entirety. The interior is decorated in a Victorian fashion and the hotel is operated in a traditional manner. It’s all very Agatha Christie. The accommodation offerings differ from pricey suites to more basic motel rooms. There is also a swimming pool, tennis court and what is known as the country’s shortest bus tour – only 10 minutes – which almost always ends with a song and drink in the bar.

I would definitely recommend booking supper at the hotel as well. The hotel serves delicious, hearty food and especially in winter, the comforting food ties in nicely with the cosy dining room and old-timey elegance. The bar, Laird’s Arms, is also open till late and you can stop by for a whiskey before bed almost every evening.

For us two impromptu travellers, this was a perfectly intimate breakaway. I could spend hours going through the museums, exploring the different buildings and appreciating the Karoo milieu. The staff is extraordinarily friendly, which makes you feel right at home.

Fifth stop: Rijk’s Wine Estate in Tulbagh

After a hearty breakfast and a last quick walk through the Matjiesfontein village, we embarked on our trek back to Stellenbosch. Just after Touw’s Rivier we got off the N1 and headed to Ceres as we still wanted to extend our trip a little bit. From there we headed to Tulbagh through Wolseley and stopped by Rijk’s Wine Estate for lunch.

This wine estate is also known for its

Chenin, as well as their Pinotage. We opted for a tasting of both combined with a lovely farm platter. I was quite impressed by their Touch of Oak 2016 Pinotage, while their deep yellow Touch of Oak Chenin was just as full-bodied. Their tasting includes seven wines which is a bit much if you are still on the road, but perfect if you are staying over.

Probably my favourite thing about Rijk’s is their beautiful Cape Dutch homestead and vineyards by the dam. The views are stunning, and the restaurant is situated on their stoep overlooking the vineyards. It’s the kind of stoep where you can spend several hours sipping wine while taking in the gorgeous scenery.



It was finally time to head home. An impromptu trip of one night and five stops – what a treat!


Free State-girl, living in Stellenbosch. Love to explore small towns, read in Afrikaans and everything pop-culture. My favourite yoga move is 'The Pigeon' and one day I'd like to own my own vintage cinema.

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