13 days in a Healey
End of April, beginning of May 2020 there was supposed to be a HUGE Austin Healey gathering in Knysna. 12 overseas participants and over 50 cars. What could go wrong?
Lionel Hewitt put an enormous amount of effort into organising the tour, only to see it having to be cancelled at the last minute.
The year 2022 was once again a year where the Austin Healey Club scheduled a National Tour. It was the Cape Town guys turn to organise the event and Stefan Hrabar stepped forward and offered to organise a tour for us. It was decided to ask Lionel for help and Stefan would organise the tour in the Knysna area. Not a replacement for Lionel’s Tour, but a new tour remembering the tour that never took place.
Tour to the Tour
Many of us had to travel from Gauteng to the Wilderness, our venue for the first two tour nights. Martie and Clive Craig organised a fantastic Tour to the Tour for seven excited Healey owners.
Meet at Engen on the highway and depart at 0730 on 26th April said the instructions. Not sure how six of us managed to get it right and start from the R59 Engen and one lonely soul departed from the N1 Engen. All was not lost as we all met at the Parys toll. Onto Kroonstad, Bloemfontein and overnight at de Stijl Hotel overlooking the Gariep Dam. A cruise on the overflowing dam, where the skipper was wary of getting closer than two kms to the wall, was followed by a great dinner.
Next day had us gaping at the spillway with the water going over it by 1.2 metres.
Onto Nieu Bethesda to visit the Owl House and a tasty lunch of cheese, bread and locally brewed beer at the Brewery Delli, then a short drive to Graaf Reinette. We stayed at the Karoopark Guesthouse which was an old school hostel that has been converted into a guest house. A trip to the Valley of Desolation, 700 metres above the town, saw us say goodbye to the sun and then we enjoyed a fantastic roast lamb dinner after returning to the hotel. Next morning saw the ladies sleep in and some of the guys helped Andries replace his disc caliper bolt that he lost the previous day. Aren’t car club members great! A call to the chairman of the local SAVVA club, Paul Merifield saw him put us onto Graham Botha of Botha’s Garage who arranged to meet Andries at 0630 the next morning and miraculously a new bolt was sourced and fitted by about eight men. Some of the ladies went into town to do “window shopping” and then we visited the local motor museum on the way out of town. We arrived at Sophie’s Choice outside Willowmore at 1300 for lunch. The great lunch that she served led to us only leaving there at 1530 to drive to the Wilderness Hotel.
Needless to say, we were the last to arrive.
It was great seeing everyone from previous tours as well as meeting new tour participants who would be experiencing Healey hospitality for the first time. The night saw us in the hotel for dinner and late to bed.
Next morning, after a great waffle breakfast, we were off for a 140kms drive to Swartberg Manor and lunch. At the foot of the Swartberg Pass, the setting is so tranquil and beautiful. The owners of Swartberg Manor donated the club a two night stay in their establishment which we gave away as a prize during our evening prize draws. The drive back to the hotel seemed so much longer that the drive there, maybe because we had such a nice lunch.
More waffles again for some at Saturday’s breakfast before we drove to Mossel Bay where most entered the Port Authority on time. Some however, got lost. A extremely informative presentation was made on how this Port has supported the offshore oil and gas activity on the south east coast of South Africa as an Oil & Gas services hub and how it continues to expand its facilities.
After we left the port, we proceeded on the R 328 to the foot of the Robinson Pass to lunch at Eight Bells Country Inn. Again a great lunch and afterwards an opportunity to line the cars up for a photo shoot. Not everyone joined the lunch but we still managed to get 16 out of the 25 cars together for the pictures.
Afterwards some of us drove up to the top of the Robinson Pass. What a great drive and what a spectacular view, all the way to Mossel Bay and beyond.
A braai at the hotel followed and it was once again, late to bed with an early rise the next morning for the men going to the motor show.
Sunday morning after more waffles for breakfast, we braved the cool morning air to travel to Knysna for the Motor Show. The venue this year was Thesen Harbour Town, a fitting setting in the middle of the estuary, with the Heads to the south and the forested Tsitsikama Mountains to the north. Brian Bruce did a great job getting the show on the road and only received official permission ten days before the event. There were not as many cars as we have become accustomed to but the quality was good and it was great to see many youngsters in their modern CLASSICS joining the show.
That night, we all went to Salinas Restaurant for a first class meal and the draw for the Frederique Constant watch and model that had been kindly donated to us. The usual evening draws took place and then it was time to draw the ticket for this magnificent watch. What a pleasant surprise when Annie Roberts from Canada had her ticket drawn as the lucky winner.
Monday morning we had to pack our luggage, as we were transferring to the Dunes Hotel in Keurboom Strand. On the way, we visited the Knysna forest and Jubilee creek. Healeys are too low to travel on the forest roads so we parked at Toties Country Market and a fleet of four taxis, ably led by David, took us into the forest. A 1.8 km walk up the hill felt like 10kms, but we all managed it. Back to Toties for lunch. This tour has seen us have breakfast, lunch and supper everyday, it is no wonder that by now, our clothes seem to have shrunk.
Leaving Toties, we drive back about 10kms to the N2 to travel past Plettenberg Bay and then on to the Dunes at Keurbooms Strand. Driving these 10kms makes you realise that most of us have not really explored our own country. Here, there is farming, dairy, cattle and produce, that one would never dream of coming across in the mountains above Knysna. All this, within 12kms of the centre of Knysna.
We book into the chalets at the Dunes and relax for a while. Then onto Mels for drinks, which Steve said was only a 1km walk from the Dunes. Mike and I sort of lost track of time and only left for the walk after dark. That 1km was a fib, closer to 2kms and we had to walk back to dinner as well. Anyway, it let us walk off the pizza at Mels before dinner.
Tuesday and a late breakfast and a short drive to the angling club for a boat cruise up the Keurbboom River. This river goes up into the Keurbooms Nature Reseve and is a tidal river with a rise and fall of nearly a metre. It is also home to the Half Coloured King Fisher and the Knysna Loerie. The Burnt Orange at the angling club hosted us for lunch before we set off for a 10km trip to the Roberg Nature Reserve where we enjoyed a very restful drink overlooking the open sea on one side and the beach and Beacon Island on the other side. The view from the top of the hill is breathtaking and well worth the time.
Later that evening we had dinner, almost in front of the Beacon Bay Hotel, at a restaurant called the Fat Fish. By now, it is probably how most of us were feeling.
It is now Wednesday, seven days since we started in the Wilderness. A short drive up the N2 to the crags where we visit Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. At Monkey Land, which is a free-roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary, are 450 primates in their forest home. There is 128 meter suspended canopy walk though the area. For those afraid of heights, it is not that bad. We then moved onto the Birds of Eden alongside Monkey Land.
Birds of Eden, alongside Monkey Land, is the largest single dome free-flight bird sanctuary in the Southern Hemisphere. 50 meters high, covering 23 000 square meters of forest. There more than 3500 specimens of more than 280 species with the main focus being African birds.
Once again, it’s time for lunch, not sure if we are hungry but as it is a wine estate, it sounds like a good idea. Believe it or not, there are 12 wine estates in the Plettenberg Bay area and we went to Newstead Estate.
Their Rose variety was very pleasant and the ladies decided a few bottles would be good to take home. Not sure where they are going to put them, maybe we will have to just drink them before we return home.
Anyone who has been in the area knows about Enrico’s Italian Restaurant in Keurbooms. Enrico ran a restaurant in Melville for many years before moving to Keurbooms. He is an avid car collector and at one stage had over 140 cars. He has trimmed his fleet and now only has 85 cars. A festive dinner was had by all and it was only a 2kms trip back to the hotel.
Thursday 5th May 2022, our last full day. We travelled along the N2 to the Crags turning off the N2 to Natures Valley and continued through Groot Rivier Pass. The Bloukrans pass has been closed for many years so we weren’t able to see what the main road used to be like. We then went to Storms River Village where we had lunch at de Oude Martha Restuarant.
Bloukrans River Bridges Old & New
IMAGINE JUMPING OFF THIS BRIDGE. IT’S ONLY A 220 METRE FALL!
About a 40kms trip back to the hotel for a final picture before we went off to a new hotel venue for a final “happy hour”.
Some glamour arrived because Stefan called it a GALA DINNER
The Scottish folk just don’t understand what a gala is!
For the first time ever, someone managed to get the rose and the rat on the same day. Mike Ward got the rose for helping Ian fix a hole in his sump and the rat for calling Jenny his GRANDMOTHER. Nobody can remember what the joke was, but it must have been good considering the laughter
The evening progressed with more jokes being made and the laughter continued. Everyone I have asked what the jokes were about cannot remember. If you can, please let me know.
Many were leaving early in the morning to return home so goodbyes were said that evening. As Lionel said
“It’s not goodbye but “TOT SIENS” ek sien jou weer.
Thanks go to Stefan and Rusty for making our tour so great and to everyone on the tour for making it so much fun.
Tour from the Tour
Some of us decided to take the opportunity of attending the Classic Friday at the Simola Hillclimb. I had sleepless nights worrying where we would park our cars and how we would get to the hillclimb. My saviour arrived after one phone call. Lionel said, park your cars at my house and I will arrange David to taken you all to the hillclimb in his taxi. We duly got to his house at 0900 and the eight of us were at Simola by 0930, ready for the action.
Ian soon disappeared and was in his element taking photographs from various locations.
No Austin Healeys entered on the day but we have been here before.
David picked us up at 1415 and we collected our cars from Lionel. John, Trevor, Mike W, Mike H and David set off to overnight at Sophie’s in Willowmore. Ian had booked accomodation in Knysna so he stayed behind and caught up to us on Saturday morning. Once again, dinner at Sophies was an experience and the rooms were large and totally relaxing.
Mike Hatchett left us at 0600 as he decided to drive straight through to JHB on Saturday, towing his Frogeye. The rest of us left at 0700 and met up with Ian in Graaf Reinette for breakfast at Hello You. Again a great venue for breakfast, recommended by Sophie. Onwards toward
Bloemfontein where we were booked into the Hobbit Boutique Hotel. This is the house where JR Tolken, the author of Lord of the Rings, was born
The hotel itself is exquisite but unfortunately the area around it and the New York Restaurant has become a venue for upmarket night clubs which led to their festivities going on until 0200.
Next morning, after breakfast, we started on our last journey, HOME. From Kroonstad, we got rain, the first bad weather in 13 days. The waterproofing on the Healeys was now tested to the extreme.
Well the 2022 Austin Healey National Tour was over. The next one, Where? When 2024 Organised by whom?
These are all questions that need to be answered soon so that we can all, once again enjoy a great Healey Tour.
Source: Austin Healey Car Club