Words and pictures by Kerrith Fraser.
In the chilly month of August, after it had snowed for the last time, we drove down to Addo Elephant National Park from our home in KZN.
I was keen to try the Bedrogfontein 4×4 Trail, a grade 2 – 3 route in the Zuurberg mountains of the Kabouga scattered suddenly, we braked to a halt, binoculars raised. A yellow blur and then another. We lost them in the brush. We waited patiently and then, from out of the greenery in front of our vehicle, stepped first one and then the other golden-maned cat. and Darlington sections of the park, while enjoying a week exploring the park and camping at the main camp.
Because of the chilly conditions, I had some concerns about camping in a flimsy tent; but my partner, Michael, and I consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the campsite provided electricity, and I had packed the fan heater and electric blanket!
Addo main camp bustled with activity; foreigners abounded in mobile homes and the game-drive vehicles were full as they were driven out to see the animals. Happily, the beautifully laid out camping and caravan sites were quiet. We changed our booking from a campsite to a caravan site, as these are considerably larger yet priced the same. Each spot includes a picnic bench as well as a mobile braai – such luxury.
Because of the recent rain and snowfall, our Bedrogfontein 4×4 Trail had to be postponed for a few days to allow the route to dry out, and we used this time to explore the maze of routes in the park.
We were very fortunate to spot two young adult male lions on the very first afternoon. When the zebra on the hill Right in the centre of the park is a magnificent picnic spot – Jack’s.
It’s a 500-hectare Botanical Reserve, a fenced-off protected area which has been put aside to monitor the impact of mega-herbivores like elephant on the sub-tropical thicket vegetation. The picnic site was named after a black rhino – Jack – who, in his dotage, enjoyed sunning himself on the grass which forms the centre of this beautiful rest area. The ablutions are clean and neat, and picnic benches have been cleverly built into the bush to provide private enclosures for both large and small groups.
Not too far from Jack’s picnic site we happened upon a magnificent sighting – a great male bushpig, a species I had only ever seen at night; and then only a glimpse. This stately gent grazed contentedly under the thin winter sun, in full view. We sat quietly, admiring his lustrous coat until he mooched off into the thickets. As the week wound to an end, we were given the green light to drive the trail. There’s a one hour drive out from Addo main camp through Kirkwood to the Addo Kabouga Section where the trail begins.
We arrived at the gate at 07h00 sharp and completed our paperwork. We were warned not to attempt the optional grade 5 river crossing, because of high water levels. The Parks Board had tackled the river with their tractor a few days earlier with disastrous results: it’d been drowned by the raging current and knocked out of commission. For the first hour, we drove along a two-spoor track in good condition, crossing a few streams. The road forks not too far down the path, the left tine ambling through to Mvubu campsite, a rustic setting alongside the river where one can spend the night before setting off on the Bedrogfontein. Keeping to the right lane, and on the 4×4 route, we passed a pair of jackal, a couple of ostriches and a herd of kudu darting through the bush. Then we entered the crevices of the Zuurberg, and the loose rocks and upcoming river crossings made it necessary to engage 4WD.
Bedrogfontein is rich with history; the route meanders through various locales where ferocious battles were fought during the Anglo-Boer war. Rock paintings can also be found sprinkled across the rocky terrain, and there’s much evidence of early farming activity in the form of old troughs and windmills. The road remains a well-kept track, and a clearing in the valley provides the ideal brunch stop before tackling the rocky river ahead. From here the trail becomes more challenging. The river isn’t crossed, but driven, in the direction of the gentlyflowing waters. Slow going in low-range, negotiating 90° bends in a streambed strewn with boulders. It was with relief that we rounded a final corner and emerged onto the dry bank. The road forks once more; the left path taking the visitor to the grade 5 river crossing. We bypassed this turn-off, keeping to the right, only to face a steep climb with a sheer drop on one side, a cliff-face on the other, and a chassis-twister midway which required diff-lock to negotiate. The road narrowed considerably thereafter; the sheer drop-off giving way to breathtaking views of the fynbos-dappled mountains.
Further along, stubby bush encroached on the track and the rocks beneath the tyres became jagged and loose. Near the end of the trail, we reached a rhino fence. It was unlocked, but needed to be opened and closed again behind us. By now we were high up on Zuurberg’s towering peaks, where the wind howled and pulled at the long grass. Sadly, we didn’t happen upon any rhino; but when we crested the mountain, the Darlington Section was revealed in the green valley below – a magnificent spectacle. From here, the trail’s an easy drive down to the basin, but with tight switchbacks as the road zigzags downhill. A couple of times we had to reverse in order to make the tight turns on the narrow path, but it is a welcome road after all the earlier bouncing and jostling. Once in the basin, the road straightens out and the only obstacles are the water-drainage road bumps. The Bedrogfontein 4×4 route covered a variety of different terrain, taking us from scrubby thicket through to the most beautiful fynbos. The trail led us over streams, through riverbeds, up steep mountain sides, and then dropped us down into the greenery of the valleys before zigzagging back up to crest the towering peaks once more.
Bedrog translates as deceit / fraud / trickery. Well, this trail certainly had an impressive trick up its sleeve! After a gruelling five hours of driving, bumping and bouncing along the trail, I was pleased that we were working our way down the last mountainous peak with Darlington Dam in the distance. It was quiet inside the cab; we were tired from an early morning and the long drive. And then I saw it, and my jaw dropped in hopeful disbelief. Now, to put the following into perspective, the reader must understand how earth-shattering this was for us. For the past five years we had been actively searching for this animal. We’d asked countless game guides to find us one. We’d planned our trips around where we could possibly find one. We’d tracked its spoor through the bush. But, after all our careful searching, the closest we had ever been to seeing one was a few scratches in the dirt. We’d come to believe this creature was mythical; that it existed only in guide books to torment and torture us avid game spotters. At 13h00, with the wind blowing gently, and the sky lilac with building clouds, I saw the shape and outline of… “Aardvark!” I shrieked in Michael’s ear. He swivelled in his seat, binoculars at the ready. There, across the landscape, making its way down towards us was our biggest tick yet: a beautiful, healthy ant bear.
We shared an hour with the aardvark as it shuffled around, scratching in the dirt, digging into termite mounds, snuffling in the bushes. It was only when it walked within ten metres of the vehicle that it saw us for the first time. With a burst of speed, the ant bear high-tailed it from bush to bush and back up the hill, before disappearing from sight. The Bedrogfontein Trail had played its last hand, and what a glorious end it had been! We returned to camp to bask in the glow of an exceptional trail and the biggest tick for us yet.
Nearest town (to Addo Main Gate) Addo Town (14 km) (to Camp Matyholweni) Colchester (5 km) PE to Addo Main Camp (72 km)
The main entrance to the game section of the park is via Addo Main Camp. From the Port Elizabeth side: take the N2 highway towards Grahamstown and the off-ramp signposted “Motherwell” and “Addo Elephant National Park”. Turn left at the top of the off-ramp and continue through Motherwell and on until you reach the park entrance gate on the right. From the East London side: Take the N2 highway towards Port Elizabeth. At the N10 intersection, turn right and continue on towards Paterson. Turn left at Paterson onto the R342 and continue for a further 24 km where you will find the Addo Elephant National Park entrance. GPS (WGS84)
Reception / Campsite / Chalets S 33°26‘39”E 25°44’45” Start of the Bedrogfontein 4×4 Trail is at the Kabouga Gate S 33°22‘39”E 25°27‘33” Nearest fuel stop Addo Main Camp has a fuel station which is open 07h30 – 16h00; it accepts cash and cards.
Terrain Rocks, flowing riverbeds, gravel roads and sand tracks. Distance / Duration 45 km / easily travelled within 6 hours Guided / unguided
Will I get lost? No, the trail is an easy-to-follow tweespoor; however, the exit is unclear. So, when the trail spits you out onto a dirt district road, go left to exit through the automatic gate.
Onsite compressor facilities You can pump your tyres at the Addo Main Camp fuel station. Onsite high-pressure wash facilities
Min / Max number of vehicles You can do the trail solo, but only six vehicles can do the trail each day unless special permission is sought and granted by the Park.
Time of year
All year round; however, if there’s a lot of rain, the trail may be closed. Difficulty The trail is graded 2 – 3 with a grade 5 river crossing as an option. Be sure to check river levels with the ranger before attempting a crossing.
Low-range Without a doubt. Diff-lock Preferable Minimum ground clearance The route is well maintained, so excessive ground clearance isn’t necessary; however, if the river crossing is attempted, more clearance is required.
Any tyre or tread pattern will do. However, careful wheel-placement is required when negotiating the sharp rocky areas.
Recovery points Not necessary
Exposure to heights Yes. There are steep inclines and declines as well as a sheer drop alongside the length of a mountain.
Wife and kids Addo Main Camp offers loads of entertainment for the family: a restaurant, a swimming pool, a shop that sells curios and basic commodities, the Ulwazi Interpretive Centre, an underground viewing hide, a floodlit waterhole at night, the PPC Discovery Trail, hiking trails, the Sasol Bird Hide, guided game drives and Horse Trails. Holiday programmes for children of overnight guests are also available during the July and December holidays. Food and supplies
The shop has basic supplies, so bring your own food and top up at the shop if need be. If you are not keen on cooking, the restaurant serves meals throughout the day; just make a booking.
Available at the shop. Braai grid
A mobile braai is supplied at each caravan- and campsite and cleaned for you daily.
Quads / Motorbikes
Although kids can cycle around the camping grounds, the most popular destination for mountain bikers is the Zuurberg Mountain Pass. As you leave the Addo main entrance gate, go left for about 1.2 kilometres to find the R335, which is the gravel road that climbs the pass.
ALSO IN THE AREA: The Addo Raptor and Reptile Centre which provides guided tours. They have over 30 different species of snake, lizard, gecko, frog and crocodile in their care on Main Road, Addo. They are open Tuesday to Sunday, 09h00 to 18h00. 042 233 0506. The Centre adjoins the Lenmore Complex which has a restaurant, bakery and deli. Daniell Cheetah Breeding Project. Here one can meet a variety of cats from cheetah to meerkat, as well as caracal, black-footed cats, leopards and serval. They are open 7 days a week, and can be found on the R75 national road, 40 km from Uitenhage and 80 km from the Port Elizabeth airport. You can feed their tame kudu and springbok before having a bite to eat at their shop. Nanaga Farm Stall at the N2, R10 and R72 intersection. They offer Sunday lunches, breakfasts, and a large selection of freshly baked treats, sweets and breads. There are rows and rows of pickles, jams and relishes; a small butchery offering farm biltong, and heaps more to tantalise the taste buds.
R375 per vehicle per day, plus conservation fees per person. If you have a relevant Wild Card, this could cover the conservation costs. The conservation fees for South Africans are R38 pppd (adults) andR19 pppd (children under 12). Bring your SA ID Book to receive the South African rate; foreigners pay an international rate. Accommodation
A caravan or tent site with electricity costs R175 for two people, R58 per additional adult, and R29 per additional child; the limit is six people maximum to a caravan site, and four to a tent site. It’s best to book a caravan site, as the price is the same as a tent site but it’s a lot more spacious. The ablutions are neat and cleaned regularly. There are many different styles of accommodation to suit all family groups: from safari tents and forest cabins, through to cottages and guest houses.
Trail bookings are made at Addo Reception (042 233 8600).