Words by Patrick Cruywagen. Pictures by General Motors SA.
Trail Review: Slagboom Outdoors 4×4 Trail
I’m greeted by two lions as I climb out of my Isuzu bakkie at the Slagboom Outdoors 4×4 Trail reception area. Well, they’re Boerboels, dogs that look as big as lions; and they make me as nervous as I would be if they were the kings of the jungle. Owner Boetie Whittle tells me that these two have won honours at the Kirkwood Wildsfees in the past. Now they look after his farm.
The Slagboom Outdoors 4×4 Trail is situated on a working Nguni cattle and citrus farm. And what makes it even more special is the fact that it lies within the confines of the greater Addo National Park, one of the area’s major attractions. Boetie took over the farm from his dad in ’81 and quickly felt the need to share this little piece of the Eastern Cape with the public.
As we make our way to the 4×4 trail, I notice lots of oranges on the ground. These oranges are superfluous to requirements and they’re fed to the Nguni cattle to supplement their diet. Boetie tells me how expensive farming has become of late, what with the rising costs of electricity and diesel; so these days he focuses more on the cattle than on the citrus. The 4×4 trail,accommodation, and other activities on offer obviously help widen the farm’s revenue stream.
The trail isn’t marked, so you need a guide or you’ll get lost. There are five sections of trail to choose from, each offering a different level of challenge, from a 3 all the way up to a 5. Boetie guides you to your chosen section and then leaves you alone. He meets you again at the end, so you’re free to drive at your own pace.
The trail is situated in the foothills of the Zuurberg Mountains, so you’ll spend lots of time driving up and down in the valleys. Early on in the first section of the trail, we encountered a mud hole, and, rejecting the chicken run, drove right through it.
The incline that followed
was as slippery as a tenderpreneur, but we managed to claw our way to the top, where we waited for the vehicle behind us. They failed to appear, so we walked back; to find them stuck in the deepest section of the mud hole. We took the escape route to get down to them, as there was a danger we’d slide straight into them if we took the route we’d come up. Once there, it was a quick snatch and they were out and we could all continue. Soon we were descending to the valley floor. The vegetation is dense, and at times crowds the trail. It made that horrible scratching sound as we drove through it – so if you’re precious about your vehicle you’d better have VPS protection film fitted (www.vpsprotection.co.za) before visiting here. A handsaw to cut back the worst of it will also save your paintwork. In the old days, locals used donkeys to gather timber from the high-lying slopes. The animals would then drag the wood down to a central area, making tracks along the hillside in the process. When Boetie decided to build his 4×4 trail, he just used these existing trails. Most of the route is more or less natural, in that there are no bridges or artificially-sculptured technical bits. When it rains, some sections can become impassable.
On the tough descents and ascents we put our Isuzu into low-range, and then cruised along in first or second gear. Out here the locals call the Isuzu bakkie slap chips because of its suspension travel and softness of the ride. I cannot agree more. One of the great things about Slagboom is that it offers challenges and trails for vehicles of different capabilities, so you can drive it in a Nissan X-Trail or a Land Cruiser. The only difference is that the Cruiser will be able to drive all five sections, while the X-Trail will be limited to one, or possibly two.
Slagboom Outdoors is much more than just a 4×4 trail. It’s the kind of place to bring the kids, as they will be kept very busy on this working farm. Plus, it’s safe; as there’s a big police training college nearby – just look out for police vehicles on the road into Slagboom, as they tend to speed a little. There are a few hiking trails to choose from, for those who want a little exercise. The Diepkloof Wandelpad will take you to the very same viewpoint we drove past while on the 4×4 trail. For the less active, there are some bass in the dam, so bring the rods. Then, for those with good balance, there’s the paddling option in the river which flows past the Langman campsite. Once you’ve enjoyed all the activities on offer at Slagboom, you could take a day trip to Addo, as the main gate is just 17 kilometres away. Slagboom is the ideal weekend getaway for family and friends, and it’s just an hour’s drive from PE.
Location: Province Eastern Cape Nearest town Addo Elephant Park, 17 km Kirkwood, 31 km
Directions The easiest way is on the R355: take the Zuurberg turn-off and then follow the signs to Slagboom. GPS (WGS 84)
Slagboom turn-off S33° 25.422 E025° 38.973
Doopgat Campsite S33° 22.165 E025° 38.593
Slagboom Reception S33° 22.077 E025° 39.576
Nearest fuel stop Kirkwood or Addo Elephant National Park
TRAIL DETAILS: Terrain Mostly rocky, or muddy, and with a few water crossings. Some parts may be impassable after rain.
Distance / Duration Several trails to choose from, all of varying distances and difficulty. One can do anything from two or three hours, to a full day’s, driving.
Guided / unguided Guided only. Owner Boetie Whittle can either drive the whole trail with you, or else he guides you onto a section and leaves you alone to drive at your own pace before joining you at the end again to show you another section.
Recovery facilities Yes
On-site compressor facilities Yes
Min / Max number of vehicles None
Time of year I have driven this trail in both summer and winter; rain will most definitely change the difficulty of some of the muddy inclines and also the level of the water crossings. Still, one can drive it comfortably in both seasons.
Difficulty You decide what level of difficulty you want to drive; they have everything from a one to a five.