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Back in 2012, while on a quest to drive the eight passes of the Eastern Cape, SA4x4 was warned off trying to tackle the Baster Voetpad which links the Barkly Pass to Ugie. Locals felt that the BMW X6 we were driving at the time would not make the arduous, 35km-long mountainous route.
As we don’t like to leave loose ends, it has been our goal to return and complete what was started; and General Motors recently stepped up to the plate and offered the spanking new Chevrolet Trailblazer Z71 4x4 AT for the trip. Sporting a new face, upgraded interior and some aggressive black decals and rims, the bright red Trailblazer certainly looked the part of a vehicle that could easily conquer the notorious pass.
While researching the route, I came across three different spellings for it: Baster Voetpad, Bastervoetpad Pass and Baster Voetslaan Pass. The sign at the start of the pass refers to it as the Baster Voetpad; so, for the sake of continuity, I’ll stick to that for the article. However, if you do your own Google search, you’ll get the best results using Baster Voetslaan Pass.
The pass, which is also popular with off-road motorcyclists, can be driven in two ways – from west to east and starting from Barkly Pass, which is the route we took, or in the opposite direction starting from the Ugie side. The west to east drive is probably the easier of the two as you descend the really difficult sections, instead of climbing the rocky, sometimes wet and winding route to the 2240m summit.
Because of the pass’s remote location in the Eastern Cape, you need to take into account the travel time to get there when you plan your trip. We left East London on a Friday afternoon and headed for Mountain Shadows Hotel in the Barkly Pass, where we were to spend the night. The journey had taken a little over three hours. Depending on how much of a rush you are in, you should allow a good four hours to drive the Baster Voetpad Pass, and, unless you stay close by, my suggestion is to spend the night at the hotel as we did and tackle the pass the next day. The setting is pleasant, the staff friendly, and owner Ria Reabow is a mine of information as she grew up in the area, so it’s certainly worth the stay.
After breakfast on the Saturday morning, we drove out of the hotel gate and straight across the R58 onto the R393 – it’s directly opposite the hotel. From there, it was approximately 10km on a decent dirt road to the start of the Baster Voetpad.
The drive from the bottom of the pass to the summit winds its way through some spectacular mountainous terrain, but is not overly challenging. The loose rock and mud we encountered were easily overcome by engaging 4-high, and the Trailblazer and its 18-inch wheels (the test unit was shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts) made light work of the drive. At the top, we pulled into a sheltered alcove to get out of the wind and to admire the magnificent views of the Drakensberg Mountains, which disappeared into the distance.
Also known as the Dr Lapa Munnik Pass after a former South African Minister of Health, the route was originally discovered by Adam Kok III in 1862 when he led the Griquas on a trek from the Free State to Kokstad. Today, the pass is considered one of the most technical to drive in South Africa, and should not be tackled in a vehicle without decent ground clearance and low range. It should also not be tackled alone; if something goes wrong, it could be days before another vehicle came along.
The reasons behind these warnings became abundantly clear as we started our descent towards Ugie. The trail was wet and muddy in places, with mountain water run-off, and the route became a lot rockier. Still in 4-high, I soon engaged hill descent control and marvelled at how easily the Trailblazer “idled” over the rocky ground. With hill descent control, there was no need to touch the pedals: I simply had to point the vehicle at the line I wanted to take.
Although we had initially made good time to the summit, our progress slowed significantly on the way down. This was partly due to the conditions, but also because we stopped for photos.
About halfway down, I disengaged hill descent control, slipped into low range and completed the rest of the winding mountain pass in second gear. The rocky, uneven ground required a slow and steady pace; and as running boards were fitted to the Trailblazer, we also needed a constant look-out for boulders that could cause damage.
The low-down torque provided by the 2.8-litre diesel engine was perfectly suited to the rocky route, and the Trailblazer and its technology made the drive seem a lot easier than it actually was.
Having started out at 11am, we finally made it to the R56 outside Ugie at 3.30pm. The descent had taken roughly three quarters of the four-and-a-half hours it took to complete the pass, with the last few kilometres going through some picturesque pine forests owned by a logging company based in the area.
From the R56, it took about an hour to reach Woodcliffe Country House. Here, we spent Saturday night in the “Cottage”, a six-sleeper unit nestled at the foot of a mountain. I don’t think I could have faced the four-hour journey home to East London after completing the Baster Voetpad, so would highly recommend spending a night at Woodcliffe.
If you’re really keen and energetic, the farm boasts a circular 4x4 route; or, if you’d rather unwind, you can do as we did – relax around a fire while enjoying an ice-cold beer, secure in the knowledge that we had conquered the Baster Voetpad pass.
New Trailblazer Z71
SA4x4 scored something of a coup when given the new Chevrolet Trailblazer Z71 4x4 AT to drive the Baster Voetpad. We were the first media house in the country to receive the impressive new seven-seater SUV, which has been given a facelift based on the American-specification Colorado pick-up.
There was no missing the brightred test unit, which featured some well-placed blacked-out chrome, bonnet decals, and black rims. It looks aggressive, and really stands out from the crowd.
I have previously used a Trailblazer for a trip along the Wild Coast and found the vehicle highly capable, so am surprised that more units are not being sold locally. Of course, one needs to take into consideration that is up against rivals like the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest.
A new “face” and a revised interior shows that Chevrolet is clearly intent on using the updated model to take the fight to its rivals; and it’s the interior where the change is most noticeable. Thanks to the use of black leather and soft-touch materials highlighted by stitched inserts, there’s a far more upmarket feel to the cabin when compared to the previous model.
The flagship Z71 has been loaded with features, which include sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and climate control, a reverse camera, lane-departure warning, parking sensors and a multi-function steering wheel.
When it comes to off-road capabilities, the Z71 is equipped with low range, hill-descent control and other useful features such as a tyre pressure monitoring system. Despite lacking a rear locking differential, the Trailblazer felt comfortable over the Baster Voetpad and was never extended beyond its capabilities.
The 2.8-litre Duramax engine produces a very generous 144kW and 500Nm of torque. Fuel consumption for our trip was recorded at just below 11 litres per 100km. The Z71 retails for R623 200. Look out for a full review of the vehicle in a later issue of SA4x4.