My mom came for a visit and the two of us took a weeklong road trip through the South African platteland (Afrikaans for countryside). We drove from Joburg to Bethulie, Bethulie to the Garden Route, up through the Karoo Desert to Hanover, and then back to Joburg.
The last time Mom visited, she was my plus-one on the Rovos Rail. I certainly wasn’t going to exceed that level of luxury this time, so this trip was all about low-budget quirkiness. Our transport was a rented Corolla. Our accommodation was unusual, inexpensive hotels and Airbnbs. Our entertainment was walking around small towns (plus one national park) and stopping at lots and lots of padstals.
What Are Padstals?
Padstal means farmstall (technically it translates to “road stall”, but farm stall seems to be the commonly provided translation) in Afrikaans. And I guess that’s what they are: little roadside shops, most with an adjoining café, selling products from surrounding farms. But that description is not really sufficient. Padstals are modest little jewels that pop up on the horizon, right as you’re feeling too drowsy or thirsty or hungry or bored to drive another mile. You pull up expectantly, never knowing exactly what you’ll find. No matter how small or unassuming the padstal looks from the outside, there’s bound to be something delightful, funny, weird, or delicious inside.
Mom and I probably shopped at a dozen different padstals — I think we gave quite a boost to the overall South African padstal economy. I generally did a bad job documenting our padstal stops — most of the time I was too lazy or tired from driving to bring my camera inside — but here are some random shots.
My Favorite Padstals
I loved all the padstals we visited, but two of them stood out and deserve special features.
The Jakkalsdrift Padstal
My first feature is the Jakkalsdrift Padstal, on the N1 Highway about halfway between Kroonstad and Bloemfontein. Jakkalsdrift doesn’t necessarily have the best food or product selection, but it’s super weird in a way that I like.
Jakkalsdrift is notable because it appears, from a distance, to have a small adjoining petrol station. But the petrol pumps have long been deserted.
I asked the owner, Ferdinand, what happened to the pumps. He told us that he bought the Jakkalsdrift Padstal eight years ago, only to learn soon afterward that the petrol station was not properly licensed. He said he’s been trying to obtain a license ever since, to no avail.
People sometimes get annoyed when they waste time pulling off the highway to get petrol, and tell Ferdinand he should post a sign on the road saying “No fuel”. But I’m personally glad he hasn’t done that. (Also, what kind of reasonable business person would do that?) I discovered the Jakkalsdrift Padstal in exactly this way myself, and I’m happy I did.
I’ve saved the best for last. Of all the places we stopped during this road trip, the Silwerkaroo Padstal is the one I’m still dreaming about.
Silwerkaroo is on the N12 Highway, halfway between De Rust and Beaufort West, in the middle of South Africa’s Groot Karoo. As we drove along this far-flung stretch of desert road, radiating with midday heat, Mom commented that she hoped we could find a padstal for lunch. I told her I doubted we would…who could possibly survive out here?
Very soon after I said that, we came upon this:
Silwerkaroo is run by Ben Arnoldi, a sheep farmer, and his partner Henco Heyns, who runs the padstal (and the nearby guesthouse) and bakes up a mean lamb pie. Ben built this entire structure himself — by trial and error, he said, using whatever materials he happened to have around — in 2020. The result is more than a padstal; it’s a work of art.
The Karoo has a reputation for beautiful weirdness and Ben and Henco have captured that weirdness perfectly. I know it’s far, but I have to go back someday to stay in their guesthouse and shoot 1,000 more pictures. I simply have to.
Do you have a favorite quirky South African padstal? If so, please comment.
I’ll be sharing more of our quirky South African road trip in future posts. Read part 2 of our Quirky South Africa journey.
Loved reading this. Nice angle you use the pastals. Hey, I think I remember seeing your mom in a photo drinking a milkshake on her lat trip out here, she must be a milkshake connoisseur! 😉
That is certainly possible! I think she only drinks them while in holiday in SA 🙂
I will miss those padstals. I can still taste the pickled mustard cucumbers. I think looking at all the different types of food, was the best part of visiting so many padstals. And, of course, I’m sorry I didn’t buy a mohair blanket.
There’s always next time.
I love that pink bus padstal, in fact I love all padstals and thankful that my Dad would always take the road less used whenever we went on holiday and insisted that we stop at anything that even looked like a padstal. So sorry I never got to meet your Mom but sure she had an awesome time with you.
They are definitely the best thing about road trips in SA. Hopefully Mom will be back 🙂
Unique food in a unique setting with spotless bathrooms? I’d sign up for that. Especially with a strawberry milkshake.
When I was in the States last time, I realized how spoiled I’ve become by public bathrooms in SA. I’d say 90% of public toilets are clean here…In America, even nice restaurants often have dirty sinks and toilet paper strewn on the floor. The labor shortage is real, I guess.
Thanx for the Padstal trip report. I’m a South African (part-time blogging) living in Germany, and am doing the Pretoria via Bethulie, Jeffreys Bay, Wilderness, Oudtshoorn, Aberdeen back to Pretoria road trip in two weeks’ time. I’m a huge padstal fan, especially in the Karoo, where there’s plenty of good lamb-tjops and other goodies to buy. Thus, your references are carefully noted. Now, I’m waiting for your blog including your Bethulie accommodation.
Hi De Wet, oh wow, that sounds like an awesome trip! I hope you have a great time. My next post will indeed be about Bethulie. But you actually don’t have to wait — I’ve been to Bethulie twice before and I always stay at the same place there. It’s a very special hotel and I already have a post about it: https://2summers.net/2021/04/06/back-to-bethulie-and-the-royal-hotel/. Enjoy.
Thanx for this post. I’m a South African (sometimes blogging as well) living in Germany, and I’m a huge Padstal enthusiast. I’ll be doing the Pretoria, Bethulie. Jeffreys Bay, Wilderness, Oudtshoorn, Aberdeen, Pretoria in two weeks’ time and your padstal notes are carefully noted. Now I’m waiting on your Bethulie accommodation notes
Such a fabulous article and well written. Agree with comments about Silver Karoo, such a quirky spot and so unexpected.
Karoo Padstal kms north of Richmond on the N1 is absolutely fabulous and is one of the best in the country.
Thanks Lionel! I’ll add this one to the list for next time.
This is wonderful! How fun to have your mom there for a visit. Thanks for sharing your journey!
What a great road trip. I love those long desert drives with unexpected pleasures just over the horizon.
Great article- thanks for sharing! Next time try the Swartberg Pass (need a decent car or take a tour). It’s an add on to the magnificent Meiringspoort.😎
Yes I’ve been wanting to do that for ages too. Someday!
I did a similar trip, several years ago, with my daughter visiting that time from the UK. We knew we had to be in Pringle Bay by a certain date and just meandered down – and back – on all the back roads and also stopped at many Padstals. It was a memorable trip. Burst tyres, super friendly farmers, some pretty officious Traffic Cops and ALWAYS getting into some Dorpie when it was dark, despite out best endeavours. We ended up in glorious and super interesting B&B’s (It was a little before the time of Air BNB.) I am sure your mom had a wonderful time!
Haha, that sounds very exciting! Luckily we didn’t have any flats or police incidents although I can relate to both 🙂
I want to go to the bus!!!!! reminds me of the bus in Priscilla Queen of the Desert!)
It’s just the best bus.
Great read 📚 👍 There are some pastels along the road from Cape Town to the Northern Cape.
We can never have enough padstals!