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Trail Review: Wagon Wheel

When it comes to strong vehicles, nothing really compares to a Nissan Patrol; so, when one such brute gargled up into our driveway two years back, twin tanks full, I needed a place to test it properly. The obvious nearby 4×4 trails surrounding Cape Town came to mind, but a seemingly overlooked spot between Touwsrivier and Montagu cropped up on my mud hunt – Wagon Wheel 4×4, or Karoo Adventures, as it’s also known.Words Andrew Middelton

Upon my arrival, the rain had turned to ice, sheeting down like gravel dumped from a plane and easily defeating the Patrol’s feeble wipers.

A nervous warning from Danie Le Roux, who would be hosting us, said it all; unfortunately, Wagon Wheel 4×4 was out of the question for us.

We left with hunched backs, defeated by clay soil and cold, but I vowed to return one day to conquer Danie’s tracks and explore more of the farm.

Never one to rest, Danie has been grafting hard for the last two years, making the place a veritable mecca for all sorts of 4×4 adventurers.

After an extensive exploration of the four-generations-old farm, six trails have been mapped out, including a two-day trek that dates back to 1756, and was originally opened by mule wagons.

The farm’s 4×4 trails cater for a variety of drivers and vehicles of varying capability, and range from the treacherously steep Ratel Route to the rocky Karoo Route; there is even a 30km ‘Winter Trek’ route which is perfect for nature lovers who drive a 4×2 vehicle.

In 1993, Danie began retracing the old mule-wagon tracks that his father and grandfather had used to move goods around the farm and to neighbouring towns. Today, modern 4×4 drivers, hikers, cyclists and quad bikers can follow these roads of yore and get a nostalgic rush.

The main trail is 35km long and consists of two parts – the Karoo section (where most of the images in this article were taken) and a mountain section which is more scenic and less technical, but still requires low range in places.

To shortcut the mountain section which runs up the spine of one of the large hills to an altitude of over 1500 metres above sea level, you can opt for the Ratel Route, which zigzags its way straight up the side of the mountain.

We couldn’t make it up there for fear of vehicle damage, having already dragged the poor Trailblazer through a variety of bushes and rocky outcrops.

Thanks to a clay base, all the trails become very slippery in the winter season, and snow often falls on the farm as a result of its high altitude − the average is around 1100m ASL. So, if you arrive here mid-year, you’ll need mud terrains just to get to the trails… never mind complete them.

The remoteness of the farm also means that it’s great for wildlife-enthusiasts. Keep an eye out for the timid caracal and leopard that threaten Danie’s roaming sheep. The farm is also graced by bees and hundreds of bird species, and the predominant flora is mountain fynbos. Many examples can be spotted from any one of the chalets or campsites around the farm.

Visitors are well catered for, with several accommodation options. These include unserviced bush camps, a hut, campsites with ablutions, and two chalets.

We stayed at the ‘Survivor’ chalet, which, despite its name, offers all the mod cons (including air conditioning and the requisite large braai area) that ensure a comfortable family getaway.

With all of the trails on offer, you are likely to be kept busy for many days, no matter what you drive.

For the adrenaline junkies out there, the farm also offers some of the highest zip lines in the country. Spanning a 90m-high gorge (which also serves as an extreme 4×4 challenge), six zip lines zigzag their way down the valley between wooden platforms built into the side of the mountain. All participants are given highend harnesses and a hand brake, and there is also an emergency brake at the end of each line, which makes these by far the safest and most comfortable zip lines I’ve come across.

As usual, we were strapped for time and couldn’t stay for more than two days, but your best bet would be to stay for an entire weekend and explore the area properly.

Whether you’re a birder, someone interested in plants, or just love 4×4 driving, adventure and a bit of zip lining, Karoo Adventures has it all in a rustic package. It’s far enough away to escape civilisation, but close enough for a night away. I’ll definitely visit again.

ADVENTURE ACTIVITIES

QUAD AND DIRT BIKES – R150 per route per vehicle
4X4 ROUTES – R200 per vehicle

SKOENIESKRAAL 4X4 TRAIL – ±25 km, and follows the 4×4 trail through the Karoo.
WINTER TREK ROUTE – 4×2 friendly. ±30km on the farm Zoutrivier
ZIP LINING – R300 per person – call for booking. Open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Six safe, harnessed zip lines up to 90m high with speeds of up to 80km/h possible. Karoo Adventures Zip lines are some of the safest in the country, thanks to emergency brakes and expert instruction.
MOUNTAIN BIKING – Phone for more info. Tackle the hilly gravel roads or test your climbing skills on the rough mountain trail.

ISUZU OFF-ROAD ACADEMY

To test yourself, the Isuzu KB and the Trailblazer range to its limits, the Isuzu Off-Road Academy offers a variety of courses to suit your needs. The academy aims to teach existing and prospective owners exactly what Isuzu KBs are capable of off-road while educating drivers how to operate all of the Isuzu’s 4×4 systems when venturing out on their own.

Off-road driving techniques in a variety of conditions including sand, mud, cross-axle situations and emergency recovery procedures are covered, aiding safe exploration through our country.

Various courses are available, ranging from a half-day course to familiarise drivers with the KBs 4×4 systems, moving on to a full-day and an advanced two-day course.

Though based at Gerotek near Pretoria, the Isuzu Off-Road Academy can offer training in other major centres, whether or not you own an Isuzu or Trailblazer.

R500 – Half-day course
R1000 – Full-day course
R2000 – Two-day course

Contact the Off-Road Academy directly on 011 431 2000, or visit www.isuzu.co.za

TRAIL INFO

PROVINCE: Western Cape
NEAREST TOWN: Montagu or De Doorns – both around 50km away
NEAREST FUEL STOP Montagu or De Doorns

Trail Details

Terrain: Mountains and river crossings
Guided/Unguided: Unguided
Open/Closed: Call for a booking
Will I get lost? No
Difficulty: 2

Precautions

Because the trail is clay-based, call Wagon Wheel Adventures after heavy rains to ask if it is still drivable.

BRING YOUR

Bedding for the chalet accommodation (blanket and pillow), binoculars, a camera, your kids, bicycles, hiking shoes, birding book and some friends. The chalets have fridges and showers, so you can unpack your camping fridge and toiletries when you arrive.

DIRECTIONS

From Montagu, take the R318 through the Keisie and the Koo valleys in the direction of Touwsrivier. Karoo Adventures is on the right, about 70km from Montagu. From Cape Town, take the N1 north and turn right, about 20km past De Doorns, on the R318. Karoo Adventures is to the left, about 20km from the
intersection. From the north on the N1, turn left about 10km past Touwsrivier on the R318. Karoo Adventures is to the left, about 20km from the intersection.

GPS S33°38’32.59″ | E19°53’54.13″

VEHICLE REQUIREMENTS

Low-range No
Diff-lock No
Minimum ground clearance Any modern softroader will handle the easy sections
Tyres H/Ts will be fine
Recovery points No
Underbody protection No
Soft-roader friendly No

COSTS R200 per vehicle

ACCOMMODATION

There are several accommodation options around the farm, including three separate campsites and two chalets. Prices range from R100 per vehicle per night for camping, to R450 per night for a max of four people in the beautifully situated Cabin 45.

What vehicle were we using?

We drove a Chevrolet Trailblazer on the standard H/T tyres. The large SUV is great for a family as it has comfortable seating for seven; and it provides ample capability for a place like Touwsberg. The lack of a rear diff-lock shouldn’t be of much concern as traction control and a limited-slip diff is standard. The powerful 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine mitigates the need for low range in most places around Touwsberg, but we were thankful for large amounts
of engine braking on some of the steep descents – even with the six-speed auto as fitted.

Contact

Danie & Michelle Le Roux
Tel: +27 (0)23 358 1869

Images Andrew Middleton, Seun Idris & Clay Gordon

To make a booking, fill out the contact form below.

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