Words and pictures by Andrew Middleton
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Located just outside the picturesque little farming town of Bot River, the Honingklip trail is a paradise for any nature lover, and especially for one driving a 4×4. As it traverses part of the majestic Kogelberg mountain complex, the picturesque trail offers everything from brutal axletwisting mayhem to leisurely exploration. Set in and around the Ruwami Nature Reserve, the trail offers eagle-eye views of the lush valley and ocean far below.
The main trail stretches over about 28km of intersecting tracks, and explores the top of the mountain’s large plateau at its furthest reaches. It’s generally a leisurely drive with lots of large rocks, sand and steep hills, but nothing too serious or car-breaking. That remains true until you turn down one of the side roads marked with a red arrow. These optional-obstacle invitations were a constant distraction for me. They are tempting, but be prepared for a wide variety of challenges, from axle twisters, to steep hill crests, and log gardens. Not recommended for anybody with a phobia about lofty heights or spiky rocks, as some of these trails aim you straight up the mountain side, so you’ll need a few brave pills if you’re a novice, or some skill and lower tyre-pressures if you rate your offroading skills.
Looping and undulating like a giant serpent, the mountain tracks dish out almost any terrain imaginable, from coarse white beach sand to sharp boulders and peaks that test your underbody protection. Although it was probably due to a lack of talent on my behalf, our Ford had to make quite a few attempts on one of the steeper inclines, with rear diff-lock engaged. Put it down to a large rock step preceded by a long bed of loose pebbles. And tyre pressures that should have been down a notch, had they not been highwayterrains which are prone to sidewall damage when faced with sharp rocks. That’s our story, but the owner of the farm reckons his Jeep can get up an evensteeper 40 degree slope just to the right of that route without breaking a major sweat. In other words, there’s something for a spectrum of abilities and vehicles.
When you do make it up that particular incline, or go around it to the top of the mountain, you’ll be treated to a wonderful variety of fynbos and other rare plant life. Amazingly, it was only recently that large parts of Ruwami were still infested by eucalyptus and pine trees planted in the 1940s. After massive efforts had cleared the aliens, dormant Fynbos seeds quickly grew, and now bloom all over the magnificent Kogelberg mountain range.
Driving east up the reserve is a special treat offering spectacularly green views of the Elgin Valley, Worcester Mountains and Caledon district from high above.
Boasting scenery that is arguably even more beautiful are the trails heading west toward the Atlantic Ocean. Tracks here rise very close to the rocky peaks of the Kogelberg which gaze down toward a hazy Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley, the Bot River lagoon, and the ocean toward Kleinmond. With open arms, a small cave near the top invites weary travellers to more wide-angle views of the lagoon and ocean far below.
High temperatures during the early summer months can be enervating, though it was pleasantly overcast on our most recent trip to this Western Cape 4×4 gem. Luckily, a stunning clay dam near the bottom of the reserve offers much needed respite from the summer heat.
This is a popular mountain-biking track, so one must be aware of the occasional flying pack of two-wheelers, and (as it is a working farm) the occasional tractor. We explored some of the olive and pomegranate plantations on the way, and stumbled across a formidable axle twister which led to an enormous sand pit. After some groaning and flexing through the troughs and climbs, we were greeted by what must surely be the ultimate playground for any overgrown child: a massive bowl of deep white beach sand just waiting to be conquered. As with any good playground, the pit is surrounded by many more challenges and obstacles, eventually leading to various tracks of varying difficulty leading up the mountainside.
During our visit, we explored the mountains for a full morning, never needed to drive the same track twice, and could have spent much longer. The unbelievable scenery, a campsite, swimming, the brewery/restaurant and some great 4×4 trails all make for a wonderful day trip or weekend away. Just make sure you visit the brewery after the drive, and not before.