The convoy of Kugas on a dirt road in the Eastern Cape.

When asked whether I would like to travel from East London back to Joburg as part of the new Ford Kuga launch, there was about a 10-second delay between receiving the mail and responding to it.

Once out of East London, the road was smooth and easy to follow.

The convoy of Kugas on a dirt road in the Eastern Cape. Pictures: Supplied.

Anyway, The Edge Hotel on the outskirts of Hogsback beckoned via a twisting pass, an ideal opportunity to test the flappy paddles and roadholding of the 1.5-litre turbocharged Kuga. 

From Hogsback we headed to Molteno via a good few kilometres of dirt roads which were generally in a good condition.

An antique shop in Smithfield.

Once back on tar and heading for our refuel and coffee stop, we passed some inviting road signs: Cathcart, Tarkastad, Queenstown, Sterkstroom conjured up images of guest houses, guest farms and camping.

Apart from being sheep country, Molteno is also the home town of South Africa’s beloved Ouma rusks. It started in the 1930s when, in an effort to alleviate the impact of the Great Depression, the town’s pastor offered each female member of his congregation money to start a business. In fact, so important is the factory to the town that a few years ago the holding company threatened to move because the roads were so bad that the rusks were crumbs by the time they reached the distribution points.The Eastern Cape government stepped in and repaired and resurfaced large parts of the road network in order for the townsfolk to stay employed.

Next on our itinenary was our overnight destination at the Gariep Dam, the de Stijl Gariep Hotel. And what a breath of fresh air it was, stylishly refurbished with large rooms overlooking the dam and serving some of the best lamb I’ve tasted in a long time.

So if you’re travelling to Cape Town, don’t go with the madding crowd for an overnight break; take the short drive off the N1 and wake up to the sights and sounds of the Gariep rather than the trucks and fumes on the road between Joburg and the mother city.

Before turning the cars towards Clarens in the Free State, we were treated to a tour of the dam wall. Designed and built in the late 1950s and 60s, it’s a breathtaking piece of engineering, keeping in mind that it was long before the time of computer-aided design, virtual reality, AI and all the other technological advancements over the past few decades.

The Hogsback Pass was a great place to test the Kuga’s road- holding ability.

Off to Clarens then, this time behind the wheel of the top-of-the-range 2-litre TDCi turbo diesel with all the trimmings.

Again, a large part was on well-maintained gravel roads along the border of Lesotho. This was an invitation to have some fun and test the Kuga’s ABS and stability control, which worked perfectly.

On the way to Clarens, Smithfield was a reminder that small-town South Africa has much to offer. Galleries, antique dealers, guest houses and restaurants have made it a bit of a hip and happening place, although it’s not quite a Dullstroom/Clarens kind of vibe.

Again, signs pointing to Springfontein, Rouxville, Reddersburg, Dewetsdorp, Tweespruit and Marquard remind you to venture out and see more of our country.

We arrived at Clarens Protea Hotel late on a Friday of a long weekend. Throngs of people mingled in the streets, sampling everything the popular eastern Free State town has to offer.

Home beckoned the following morning but not before stopping off at the Ash River, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme. South Africa is a beautiful and diverse country, we just need to get out more and explore.