‘‘No, it’s quite impossible to drive up the old gun track to the summit of Swartkop Mountain,” said Mike, owner of the Rolling M ranch near Winterton.
The Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa was on a tour of the KwaZulu-Natal battlefields and Mike’s farm is close to the site of the Anglo-Boer War battle of Vaalkrans. Tour participants were in Mike’s pub, looking at a photograph of a huge gun being manhandled up an impossibly steep hill called Swartkop.
The words ‘impossible to drive up the old track’ lingered like a whiff of gunpowder in the air; but people had driven that day from as far afield as Cape Town and Hoedspruit, and so it was early to bed.
The next day, the ’Cruisers drove gingerly through the Tugela River at nearby Skietdrift. The grey-green water was lit periodically by flashes of a much brighter green as a colony of Bee-eaters swooped over the ripples. Although the river was shallow, there were some huge holes between the flat rocks that caught a few drivers unawares.
In 1838, this same drift saw the passage of the victorious Voortrekkker Wenkommando on its way to fight the Zulus at the iconic Battle of Blood River. There are three stone plaques beside the track on the north side the river that commemorate the famous crossing.
Our convoy followed in their old wagon ruts northward for a while, and then turned left into virgin veld to park on the edge of a natural amphitheatre. Ahead and below lay the silver curves of the Tugela River, while the purple heights of Spioenkop rose to the west. Away to the east, the N3 highway cut a swathe towards Johannesburg.