Words & Pictures by Andrew Middleton
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Like Sani Pass in Lesotho, or the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park further west, Baviaanskloof is somewhat of a rite of passage for any South African 4×4 enthusiast. The protected nature reserve is home to one of South Africa’s most diverse biomes of flora and fauna, thanks to rivers that flow year-round, and large altitude changes. But if – like us and many more overlanding locals – you’ve been through the Baviaans main drag and are in search of a new adventure in this spectacular part of the hidden country, then there is an alternative. Enter Doringkloof 4×4.
Resting in the heart of the Baviaanskloof, this trail is on a working farm overshadowed by the giant Kouga mountain range, which towers above the land from every angle. If you’ve been through the Baviaanskloof, you’ll already know that these giant mountains provide a deep valley to travel through, but you may not know of the hidden routes that go right over the top.
Along with a hidden exit over the range, Doringkloof also offers four more 4×4 routes which are worth exploring. When we visited late in 2016, the entire Baviaanskloof region was suffering the worst drought that the owner of Doringkloof can remember, and looked in a rather sad state. Dry shrubs and near stagnant river crossings had already begun to lower my expectations of Doringkloof, but, as usual, I’d have my thoughts turned upside down.
Thanks to an underground spring which naturally flows all year round, a small field of lush green grass and shade trees welcomes campers, as does a small dam for swimming in. ‘Lakeside’ chalets are available to rent, and, depending on your needs, there are two-person huts as well as a larger house with a full kitchen and five beds.
Deciding to stay for two nights in the larger Lakeside chalet, we gave ourselves plenty of time to explore all the 4×4 routes on the farm before heading off on ‘Route 5’ which takes you all the way to Kareedouw. The farm’s routes are primarily levelled sections of loose rock – typical jeep track – and, while many are easy, a couple of sections proved extremely challenging, with loose rock and shale beside vertical 50m high cliffs.
The cliffside 4×4 trails were blasted into being by the forestry department more than 50 years ago. The rough tracks now serve as access points to some of the highest mountains in the area – rising to well over 1100m above sea level from the 400m ASL base. Trails 1 and 4 are easy enough for a soft roader and will take you about two hours to complete. Trails 3 and 6 are much more technical, with 5km and 8km lengths respectively.
While trail 3 offers loose rock and axletwisters into the Kouga Mountains, route 6 offers extremely steep switchbacks that are kept secure in places with a cement base. These routes are suitable only for vehicles with diff-lock and drivers with experience. Unfortunately, we could not complete the latter route as our vehicle did not have enough clearance.
Route 2 is a hiking trail, while Trail 5 leaves the farm to exit the Baviaanskloof via the Kouga Mountains. Though relatively short, it will take you most of a full day to complete the 4×4 tracks on the farm, so plan an extra night’s accommodation if you’re keen on exploring a bit more.
Doringkloof’s rocky routes are a blast, though it was the ‘Rus en Vrede’ route offering another escape from the Baviaans that interested me most. At 78km in length, the route does not follow the traditional east-west direction of the Baviaanskloof trail, but instead goes south, up and over the Kouga mountain range. The scenery is predictably spectacular with stunning panoramic views over the Baviaanskloof catchment area, rivers, streams and farms below. Not particularly strenuous, the trail is rated as a ‘2’ in difficulty, and majors on breathtaking mountainous scenery with views all the way to St Francis Bay and the Outeniqua Mountains on a clear day.
A huge variety of plants, including 500-year-old cycads, protea and even daisies, show off their worth, while baboon and leopard fight for dominance. The trail takes about five hours to complete, at a moderate pace, from Doringkloof to the Baviaans Lodge. You’ll be sweaty and ready for a break by this point, and just 15km beyond the trail’s end, you’ll cross the Kouga River. With its perfect white sandy beaches and warm, deep water, you won’t be able to resist a dip, a picnic, and the perfect end to one of the best 4×4 trails in the Baviaans area.
Though we stayed in Doringkloof for two nights, if you don’t wish to explore Doringkloof’s more technical 4×4 trails, another option would be to stay one night in Doringkloof and the next night at Baviaans Lodge. The trail can be completed in both directions; but, to get the most out of it, our advice is to take it slow and soak up the scenery.
What We Drove
For this trip, we were graced with the latest of Chevrolet’s offerings – the updated 2017 Trailblazer 2.8 LTZ. For 2017, the Trailblazer has received a host of interior and exterior updates, including a new and far-improved infotainment system and more intuitive switchgear.
The exterior is more angular and aggressive, with new wheels, too. Under the skin, not much has changed, and the Trailblazer still has no diff-lock, which caused us some serious difficulty in the axle twisters.
For 99% of our trip though, the big Chev offered perfectly adequate 4×4 ability, and proved a comfortable companion, with masses of overtaking torque on the long, boring tar roads.