ON THE WILD SIDE: We spotted giraffe and springbok during our travels and partook of springbok pies at Peregrine Farm Stall. Pictures: Jim Freeman
ON THE WILD SIDE: We spotted giraffe and springbok during our travels and partook of springbok pies at Peregrine Farm Stall. Pictures: Jim Freeman
River Lodge is a four-star facility on the Bushmans River.
River Lodge is a four-star facility on the Bushmans River.
According to culinary lore, an 18th century recipe for jugged hare was prefaced with the sentence: “First catch your hare.” This injunction resonated recently when a friend and I planned a road trip to the Eastern Cape without first having arranged a car in which to conduct our travels.

Now road trips need to be fun and, on occasion, they are entitled to descend into silliness. This was going to be the case, we thought, when the only vehicle available was a bright red but tiny three-cylinder Ford Fiesta 1.0 litre.

Let me sketch the picture: my friend and I are both well over 1.8m and each weigh northwards of 100kg.

We also planned on being away for nearly 10 days, so there was a fair amount of luggage to be stowed somehow, somewhere.

In the interests of situational ridiculousness, we decided to turn our journey into a hunting trip. It was going to be a hunt for the best pie between our Cape Town departure point and destination at Kenton-on-Sea. Note, that this was not going to be fortnight-long trek from one cellophane-shrouded indigestion bomb to another but rather a quest for the best fresh-baked-one, who was poached and left for dead a few years ago at the premises meaty masterpieces.

People from the Western Cape swear the country’s best pie can be found at Peregrine Farm Stall on the N2 outside Grabouw. Those from the province that boasts an ocean you can swim in without a wetsuit aver it’s at Nanaga, also on the N2, between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.

It was against these two legendary pitstops that all pies would be measured and, just in case our gustatory enthusiasm overcame us, we had a number of stops planned.

Let it be said straight off that the five-door Fiesta Titanium was a revelation. It accommodated our lengths, breadths and accumulated weights with ease and rocketed past beefier vehicles with ease on steep uphills and seemingly never needed to be refuelled.

Unlike us.

I won’t say I couldn’t face another pie till I die – but I could do without puff and shortcrust pastry for a while.

Peregrine proved to be worthy of its reputation. The place is always busy because it stocks a wide range of tasty treats (eat-in or takeaway) at value-for-money prices. We opted for the springbok pies (patriotic boys that we are) and scoffed them right there. My travelling mate sat on an antique red tractor, which looked far more suited to his physique than the Fiesta, but we were soon to be disavowed of that notion.

A good pie is one that doesn’t only taste good while you’re eating it, it doesn’t repeat on you for the next hour and make the interior of the car a living hell. Generally, this wasn’t a problem we’d suffer over the next two weeks but, every now and then...

Our first stopover was at Sedgefield, at the friendly and understated Pelican Lodge.

The town, with nearby Wilderness, is a perfect overnight stop on the way to the Eastern Cape. Actually, it’s almost a travesty just to spend the night there and make an early morning getaway because these two small towns are the jewels of the southern Cape.

One of the highlights of any trip along the N2 is to crest the Kaaimans Pass in the late afternoon and see Wilderness’ blue flag beach fall away into the distance

Apart from pristine beaches, the people are seriously cool and there are so many good restaurants and pubs that you could spend a week racking up the kilojoules without feeling too guilty.

There are also world-class B&B establishments that are worth repeated visits.

Sedgefield residents are understandably proud of the shortcrust Cornish pasties offered by Steam Whistle Stop, the town’s converted railway station. Personally, I prefer the Banting pies that are only sold at the Whistle Stop stand at the weekly Wild Oats Community Farmers’ Market each Saturday morning but you’ve got to get there early before they’re sold out.

Regardless, Wild Oats is an essential stop when you’re in the area as it’s widely regarded as the finest fresh produce market in South Africa for cheese, pickles, berries, honey, baking, fudge - I could go on!

(I stopped off at a pie shop between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay on my return and had a perfectly good kudu pie but I was so pied-out at that stage that I couldn’t do it critical credit. The same goes for the Pitt Stop, a truckers’ favourite in Riversdale.)

Nanaga sits astride a shamrock interchange that diverts you off the N2 towards Addo or Kenton-on-Sea and the coastal road to East London. Like Peregrine, it is a destination of itself rather than just a waystation for grub and a cuppa.

Try the warthog pie with a pint of extra-cream milk that’s produced locally. Hey, we can go back on our diets next week, right?

I was told about Nanaga by Alan Weyer, general manager of Kariega Game Reserve, who’s been known to consume a pie or two in his time. He’s also told me about two pretty decent side-by-side pie shops in Alexandria – about an hour’s drive from Kariega – but we only stopped at one.

The game reserves in the Eastern Cape, the exception being Shamwari, are hugely underrated. They provide phenomenal species and biome diversity with the added extras of being quite inexpensive for locals and malaria-free.

Kariega Game Reserve has five lodges including a private homestead and a luxury tented camp. River Lodge, a four-star facility, is on the Bushmans River and you can step out onto your private jetty and travel by boat in either direction (not under your own steam, though) - either into the bush or to the town of the same name.

Kariega is home to Thandi, the rhino who was poached and left for dead a few years ago but who survived to give birth to two calves. I was privileged to be led on foot into the densest thicket when her first, Thembi, was just a few weeks old and got to within 15m of them both.

Anyone who knows the Eastern Cape knows there is one other taste sensation not to be missed, the queen pine. So it was that on our way back to Port Elizabeth we stopped in at the Oakly Farm Stall and ordered two lamb pies and ice-cold pineapple juice.

It seemed a fantastic idea at the time: separately they were brilliant but in combination they left us driving with the windows down.

In motoring circles, they call it bio-fuel.