Higher Ground


Words by Koos Zietsman Pictures by Sanette Zietsman

In December last year I had the unique opportunity of driving an exciting new 4×4 trail in the Witteberg mountains, east of Lady Grey (Eastern Cape).  The route consists of two separate off-road trails; one that runs on the escarpment (the boundary of the old Transkei) and another that traces the Karringmelkspruit River. 

Higher Ground - Trail ReviewThe latter – named River Rat Run – starts at the bottom of Joubert’s Pass and dives straight into the Karringmelkspruit valley where you find the river, teeming with trout and so clear it looks like glass.  is pristine mountain-fed stream also o ers the angler an opportunity to lure the occasional yellow fish. World-renowned author and  sherman Tom Sutcliffe called it “a trout stream for the connoisseur”.

The trail includes four river crossings, none of which are too deep or difficult, but are serious enough to warrant a grade 3 rating and a  fluctuating heart rate. One of these crossings is aptly. named Baboon’s Super-Tube because of its smooth rock face worn away by years of water passage. The riverbed’s scenery is spectacular and there are a number of shaded picnic spots beside clear pools so it’s the ideal place to bring the family and relax.

The River Rat Run takes approximately four hours to complete when driven at a leisurely pace. In contrast, the second trail, Transkei Ridgeback, takes the better part of a day to complete, climbing high into the mountains to an altitude of roughly 2 570 m above sea level. This trail’s indescribably beautiful; I drive a new trail every two to three months so I’ve seen my fair share of amazing routes, however, as far as rankings go the Lammergeier is undoubtedly my favourite thus far.

The Transkei Ridge is moderately difficult. Most of the obstacles reach a 2 or 3 rating but there are two sections at the end that are closer to a 4. Here you’ll tackle loose rocky hills, mountain-pass switchbacks and limited manoeuvring space. I was travelling with the trail’s co-owner, Kevin Isted, whose guidance and hand signals were indispensable through these tougher sections. You’re allowed to drive the trail solo but it’s advisable to have a second 4×4, particularly in the winter months when the trail can get cold, snowy, wet and particularly challenging.

If you do get stuck the recovery fee’s not cheap – expect to pay up to R2 500 per vehicle. The Lammergeier Highlands Reserve boasts something for everyone: hiking, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, quad biking, white-water tubing, and for this 4×4 adventurer, the rich reward of solitude and a rare sight of a Cape Vulture gliding close by. It’s off-road paradise.

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