Our group of Intrepid Travellers met at Saaymen’s Garage in Willowmore at 12h00. I am pleased to say that all were on time, and after filling up with fuel and last-minute supplies we were ready to go!
Our first excursion was to drive to the lookout point on Assegai Hill at the summit of the highest mountain in the area where there is a broadcast tower. The key to the gate and the route information is available at Finchley Farm and the cost per person is R50. Finchley Farm offers camping at R100 per person and has 1 toilet and shower.
The route up the mountain is easy with all the steep sections reinforced with concrete tracks. The view from the top is stunning!
Gharriepoort Pass to our chosen campsite, Vaalwater, situated near the entrance to the Baviaanskloof. Vaalwater has quite a large flat area for camping, complete with electricity and water. The ablution block is outstanding; abundant male and female facilities, hot water and spotlessly clean. A real pleasure! From there we eased back down the mountain, returned the key and then made our way via the Cost was R100 per person per night. We got to know our fellow travellers around the campfire. The group consisted of 6 vehicles and 11 people. I quickly found out that I need not have worried about any of the group’s level of proficiency, they were all more experienced than myself and all able to take care of themselves.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, packed up and headed out to enjoy the short Vaalwater 4×4 track (grade 2). This gave us the opportunity to make last minute adjustments to vehicles and allowed me to see how all the vehicles performed on the one steep section. Again, I need not have worried.
Back on the road, we meandered through the breath-taking Nuwekloof Pass with the awe inspiring rock faces, cliffs and valleys, reaching Makedaat by early afternoon. The campsite is situated in a grove of poplar trees with a grassed area for camping and a high screen wall giving some protection against the wind for the braai area. The facilities are very basic, 1 shower supplied by a donkey boiler and 1 toilet.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the area where there a series of caves in the mountainsides where camping, cooking and sleeping facilities have been built in. Very quaint! There is a 4×4 route over the mountain behind the farm. The owners grade this as 3 to 4 and say 2 to 3 hours. While there are some steep sections and some tight turns there is nothing difficult about the trail. Nowhere do you have to get out of your vehicle to check the route so I would grade it at 2 to 3. Cost R100 per vehicle.
We followed the main road eastwards through the fertile Baviaans Valley hemmed in on either side by rugged mountains, the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the North and the Kouga Mountains to the South. At the Rust en Vrede farm we paid for the Rust en Vrede Trail, the 4×4 route that crosses the Kouga mountains. This trail was first built by the Forestry department but over the years since, the maintenance of the route has been left up to the local farmers. The route costs R150 per vehicle plus R10 per person, this cost per crossing.
We had the good fortune to have been there while they were shearing the Angora goats. Very interesting! Onto the Rust en Vrede trail. This is a magnificent journey over the mountains; valleys and peaks a photographer’s paradise, not to mention the proteas and wild flowers all in bloom. I would rate the trail as category 2 to 3. Again, while the trail is rough and rocky and there are a few quite steep sections, there is nothing technical about it that a 4 wheel drive vehicle with low range cannot easily handle. We took our time en route stopping regularly for photos, tea, and to open and close 11 gates. May I say that I believe no overland trip to the Baviaanskloof would be complete without experiencing this wonderful trail. It is only 40kms long and takes between 3 to 4 hours for a leisurely crossing. We arrived at Baviaans Lodge at 15h00 and the owner, Rob le Roux showed us to our campsite next to a small river where we set up camp in the shade of a grove of trees. The facilities are very rudimentary, 2 flushing toilets and 1 cold shower. But the setting made up for any shortfall in that department!
Cost R150 per person per night. A hot shower is available at the lodge but one must drive there to enjoy it.
Our intended route for Day 4 was back over the mountain trail, back into the Baviaanskloof. One of our group, Wendy Olivier, suggested that we leave camp early and stop along the trail and have breakfast out in the wild. Great idea! 10Kms up the trail we found a site near a small dam and stopped for breakfast. When we left camp the mountains were shrouded in mist giving the whole area a different perspective from the in trip. Magnificent with peaks floating above the cloud, the valleys mysterious filled with thick white cotton wool.
After breakfast we wended our way slowly over the trail. Back on the main road we continued East towards the Baviaans Nature reserve. At the gate we signed in; we had paid for the campsite, Rooihoek, beforehand and the formalities of entering were quick and painless. Costs R394 per campsite per 6 people and R46 per person per day nature conservation fee. The road from here deteriorated to little more than a rough farm track as it wound through the valley, crossing the river back and forth. We stopped for lunch amongst a stand of trees getting some relief from the sweltering sun. The Rooihoek Camp is a place nestled in a ring of red cliffs with the river flowing through. The campsite was deserted so we had our choice of camp sites; we chose the sites along the river among the thorn trees. There are no facilities to speak of here so it is real wild camping. We enjoyed swimming in the river below the red cliffs.
The place is notorious for monkeys and baboons so visitors must be aware of leaving doors or windows open, and of leaving anything out that can be carried off. Also, visitors to Rooihoek need to be aware that there are buffalo in the area and take suitable precautions.
The group voted for a late departure; full breakfast and leisurely pack up. The road from Rooihoek goes along the valley crossing the river and side streams many times before climbing up over the Grootrivier Pass with some exciting twists and turns. The pass wind up from the valley, over the mountain and back down again. We saw a few buffalo and some other wildlife as we drove.
The roads have not been maintained and are a bit rough. No challenge for us, but a challenge for anyone towing a trailer or driving a normal sedan; not recommended. Once we had signed out of the park it was a short distance to our next camp, Komdomo, a facility run by the Eastern Cape Parks Board. There is a new section and an old; we chose the old section because of the trees and the shade. There are more than adequate shower and toilet facilities although they are now getting a little long in the tooth. The staff at reception warned us about monkeys in the area but we were not harassed by them. Costs R427 per campsite per 6 people and R46 per person per day nature conservation fee.
We were ready and packed to leave at 08h30 but when we reached the gate it was locked even though the advertised hours of operation started at 08h00. But with a group of old rogues as our travelling companions, no small thing like a locked gate is a problem! I am sure the staff are still wondering where we disappeared to.
Our planned destination was a camp site 40km outside Steytlerville by way of the Kouga Dam, a small 15km detour. The first part is tar road towards Patensie before turning off to Elandsrivier. At the top of the mountain we turn off again towards Grootrievierpoort. This road as not maintained or much used and the going is slow. Antoniesberg Pass is especially steep and rocky, spectacular as you descend to the Groorivier. I would again grade it as a category 2 to 3 for all the previous reasons. Fun driving!
Once out of the valley, the roads improve and are relatively smooth all the way to Steytlerville. Here you can refuel and stock up again if you need to. We left the sleepy town to the West, getting to Marlu Guest Farm at about 15h00 where our hostess showed us to the campsite near what was once a flowing river but now, due to a seven-year drought, is a series of small pools in the riverbed. There are no designated sites and no big shade trees to park under so one is a bit exposed to the heat. The ablution block, however, it a treat. There is one shower room complete with toilet, basin and shower, and a separate kitchen room. Both are nicely decorated and functional, gas geyser, running water, no electricity. Cost R100 per person per night.
In the late afternoon we gathered round the campfire and, being Valentine’s day, we cracked a couple of bottles of good sparkley before getting down to the serious business of braaiing. Next morning we parted ways in ones and twos, sad to leave, happy to be moving on!
We really enjoyed the trip with the group of likeminded people. All of us are enjoying our second (third?) childhood, the youngest aged 60, the oldest 80. The whole expedition was designed to be leisurely; no rush to get to our designated stops so there was plenty of time for Kodak moments, stops for the views, or for a cup of tea. In the evenings we shared a common fire, six couples easily cooking over the spread coals, and then enjoying a campfire after to tell stories and share experiences. All took spare firewood so we could enjoy the campfires, but wood is available at most places along the route.
We covered about 520kms over 7 days and had 2 incidents on the trip; one puncture and one broken shock absorber. We were lucky! I would recommend 2 spare tyres with each vehicle due to the rocky terrain that one is forced to drive over. None of the routes are very challenging; just rocky, rough with a few steep places. As I said before, any vehicle with low range and reasonable ground clearance will have no problem whatsoever. Also, the routes are relatively clear of trees and shrubs so you do not have to worry about the vehicles getting badly scratched.
Thank you all from John and Noelene!