Quirky South Africa, Part 1: Padstals of the Platteland

by | Mar 6, 2023 | Arts and Culture, Eastern Cape, Food and Drink, Markets/Shopping, Northern Cape, Roadtripping, Western Cape | 26 comments

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.

Mom at the
Tiny Mom taking photos in Meiringspoort, a dramatic mountain pass on the N12 Highway just north of De Rust.

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.

One of many padstals we visited
My favorite padstal — more about it later.

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.

Unassuming padstal
The Kruisaar Padstal, on the N12 between George and Oudtshoorn, doesn’t look like much from the outside. But it was full of wonders: row upon row of jellies, jams, preserves, and pickles; local grapes straight from the vines outside; voluminous quantities of candy; dried fruit; dolls and stuffed animals; biltong and droëwors made with beef, ostrich, and venison; an entire room full of handmade mohair blankets, hats, scarves, and other clothes; and a lady making roosterkoek (traditional South African bread) over a fire in a brick oven.

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.

Roosterkoek and rooibos tea
A lunch of roosterkoek (accompanied by the traditional toppings — butter, grated cheese, apricot jam) and rooibos tea at a padstal outside Cradock.
Mom drinking milkshake
Mom drinking a tasty berry milkshake at the same joint.
Jams for sale at the Nature’s Way padstal near Nature’s Valley.
Nature’s Way is on a dairy farm and it happened to be National Milk Tart Day when we were there.
Baby vellies for sale
Look at these adorable baby vellies! Spotted at the Jakkalsdrift Padstal (more on that one shortly).
Padstal toilet sign
We saw signs like this in several padstal toilets. This is never a problem for me — I can always find something to buy in exchange for a pee.
Creept padstal dolls
Padstal dolls: quaint yet nightmare-inducing.
The Daggaboer padstal
The Daggaboer Padstal, on the N10 Highway between Cradock and Cookhouse, must elicit lots of chuckles from passing motorists. Dagga is a commonly used word for cannabis, and boer means farmer. The padstal’s owner told me that farmers in this area once cultivated cannabis to put in horse feed, in an effort to keep skittish horses calm during the Anglo-Boer War. (I wonder if that strategy worked?) Sorry, pot-smokers — there is no dagga for sale at the Daggaboer. This Wikipedia page has some more speculation about the origin of the name.
Clothes for sale at Daggaboer
There’s no weed, but the Daggaboer does sell a lot of hip, sturdy, platteland-style clothing.

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 padstal
Jakkalsdrift: I love the ring of that word. Jakkals is Afrikaans for jackal, one of my favorite African animals.
Jakkalsdrift bathrooms
Jakkalsdrift has cute bathrooms. Like all padstal bathrooms, they are spotlessly clean.
Jakkalsdrift chickens
An adorable flock of chickens.

Jakkalsdrift is notable because it appears, from a distance, to have a small adjoining petrol station. But the petrol pumps have long been deserted.

Abandoned petrol pumps at Jakkalsdrift
I find abandoned petrol pumps strangely evocative.

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.

Mom and I enjoyed mince jaffles and a bottle of Coke Zero at Jakkalsdrfit. The jaffles were okay, but the best thing for sale at Jakkalsdrift is the “pickled mustard cucumber” (the yellow bottle next to my glass). I bought one bottle, but now that I’ve tasted it I wish I’d bought a dozen. It’s delicious and goes with everything. (Photo: Jeanie Freeman)

Silwerkaroo Padstal

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 Padstal
Silwerkaroo: A giant pink bus in the middle of the desert.

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.

Inside the top part of the padstal, which is the inside of the bus. There is another level a couple of steps down, where the kitchen is.
Inside Silwerkaroo
There were sooooo many cool things to take photos of inside. But I guess my brain was addled by the heat and all the driving and I hardly shot any. I somehow forgot to document the incredible mid-century record-player that was cranking out catchy rock-n-roll tunes from the 50s.
Lamb pie
Henco had one lamb pie left and Mom and I split it. Delicious.
Solwerkaroo bathroom
Best bathroom in the Karoo.
Artwork at Silwerkaroo
Ben made all the art pieces that dot the landscape at Silwerkaroo. They’re all fabulous.
Karoo art
My favorite.

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.

Ben and Henco at Silwerkaroo
Ben (left), who we caught having lunch in the middle of a hot, hard day of farming, and Henco (right). I forgot to write down the name of their very sweet, elderly whippet.

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.

26 Comments

  1. Albert

    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! ????

    Reply
    • 2summers

      That is certainly possible! I think she only drinks them while in holiday in SA 🙂

      Reply
  2. Jeanie Freeman

    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.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      There’s always next time.

      Reply
  3. dizzylexa

    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.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      They are definitely the best thing about road trips in SA. Hopefully Mom will be back 🙂

      Reply
  4. AutumnAshbough

    Unique food in a unique setting with spotless bathrooms? I’d sign up for that. Especially with a strawberry milkshake.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      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.

      Reply
  5. De Wet

    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.

    Reply
  6. De Wet

    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

    Reply
  7. Lionel Millard

    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.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Thanks Lionel! I’ll add this one to the list for next time.

      Reply
  8. Nicole Melancon

    This is wonderful! How fun to have your mom there for a visit. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    Reply
  9. John Sneed

    What a great road trip. I love those long desert drives with unexpected pleasures just over the horizon.

    Reply
  10. Rosemary Jamieson

    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.????

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Yes I’ve been wanting to do that for ages too. Someday!

      Reply
  11. Peggy Laws

    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!

    Reply
    • 2summers

      Haha, that sounds very exciting! Luckily we didn’t have any flats or police incidents although I can relate to both 🙂

      Reply
  12. Nancy McDaniel

    I want to go to the bus!!!!! reminds me of the bus in Priscilla Queen of the Desert!)

    Reply
    • 2summers

      It’s just the best bus.

      Reply
  13. I believe in Daffodils

    Great read ???? ???? There are some pastels along the road from Cape Town to the Northern Cape.

    Reply
    • 2summers

      We can never have enough padstals!

      Reply
  14. Carolize Jansen

    We’ve just visited the Jakkalsdrift padstal close to Winburg along the N1 and couldn’t wait to escape. No cucumber pickles anymore, half the menu unavailable and the worst toasted sandwiches. A frantic finch trapped in a chicken coop which staff refuse to let escape. Then only did I check the google reviews and saw how many 1 star reviews Jakkalsdrift has.
    Now there’s one more.

    Reply

Leave a Reply