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Eco Understood

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Words by Bryan Milne. Pictures by Bryan Milne and Andrew Cousins

Eco Understood

I’d never quite understood the concept of ‘eco trail’, as most trails involve off-roading in environmentally-sensitive areas. So ‘eco trail’ seemed like a bit of an oxymoron. That was the case until recently when we decided to drive the Leeuwdril Eco Trail.

On the second morning of a three-night, whistle-stop trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP) we had a relaxed start, packed the vehicle with the ingredients for a good brunch, booked the trail at reception, and were on our way. As the trail turn-off is just past the Leeuwdril water hole, about 16 kilometres up the Nossob River road from Twee Rivieren, you have a good chance of some game viewing before you reach the trail. On that morning, apart from the usual suspects of gemsbok, springbok and wildebeest, we also enjoyed a superb sighting of a juvenile Marshall Eagle, and saw a Secretary Bird out on its morning hunt. The turn-off to the trail (S26.36820 E20.69702) is well marked and so not easily missed.
The trail winds its way through the dune belt between the Nossob and Auob rivers, ending on the escarpment above the Houmoed waterhole.

Approximately halfway along the trail, you’ll find the Gemsbok waterhole. Although we stopped a distance from it and waited a while, we didn’t see any activity; but judging from the amount of animal tracks we spotted, it must be a popular spot. The same can be said of most of the trail. It seems to be a veritable animal highway – for many stretches the previous vehicle’s tracks had all but been erased by more recent animal activity. It was on one of these stretches, while wondering whether all the spoor activity was nocturnal, that I had my eco epiphany.
This trail isn’t about challenging your 4×4, nor is it about game viewing – although both are a factor. Rather, it’s about experiencing the diverse ecology of the area.As you pass through a valley of golden-grey grass and then cross over a dune into a different valley where the grass is interspersed with dusky green scrub-like bushes, you begin to appreciate the diverse landscapes that make up this unique and wonderful part of our country.

Terrain-wise, most of the trail is sandy tweespoor with the occasional dune crossing. The trail runs in a direction that sees you climb the gradual slope of the dune and descend on the steep side. In summer, climbing the gradual slope might be a bit more challenging with the sand being hot, loose and possibly more churned up by other traffic, but in winter the sand was dense from the cold nights, so we simply idled up the dunes in first high-range. The corrugations going up the dunes did have the suspension working, though. Before we left camp we had deflated the tyres from 1.5 to 1.2 bar so we had no issues on the trail; and the ride on the corrugated park roads was so comfortable that we kept the pressures at 1.2 for the rest of our time in the park.

At the end of the trail, we turned right towards Mata-Mata on the Auob River road and headed to the Auchterlonie Museum and picnic site. Equipped with covered picnic benches and braais, it was a good place to enjoy the view and have brunch. This is also the closest toilet / leg-stretch spot, which is good to know, as you may not exit the vehicle on the trail. Idling along the track with the red sand hissing under our tyres was a highlight of the trip for me. Plan a trip to KTP, even if it’s a short one; and include the Leeuwdril Eco Trail. However, if you are looking for a trail to test your V-plenty powered monster bakkie, you might want to look elsewhere.

LOCATION:
Province Northern Cape Nearest town Upington (265 km to Twee Rivieren) Directions & distances Upington to Twee Rivieren: 265 km via R360 Kimberley to Twee Rivieren: 621 km via N10, N14 & R360 Cape Town to Twee Rivieren: 1 076 km via N7, R27, N14 & R360 Johannesburg to Twee Rivieren: 1 090 km via N14 & R360 GPS (WGS 84) S26.47538 E20.61396 (Entrance Gate and Border Post at Twee Rivieren) Nearest fuel stop There’s fuel at Twee Rivieren and Nossob Camps. We also put in fuel at Askham about 70 km south of Twee Rivieren.

TRAIL DETAILS:
Terrain Mostly sandy tweespoor interspersed with small dune crossings. Distance / Duration 13 km / 2 – 3 hours (Twee Rivieren to Houmoed) Guided / unguided Unguided Will I get lost? No Can I turn back or drive the trail in the reverse direction? No, it’s strictly one way only, and there’s a R300 fine for driving in the wrong direction. This is firstly to prevent damage to the trail, and secondly to prevent vehicles meeting head-on when cresting a dune. Recovery facilities Check in on the day at Twee Rivieren reception, so they know where you are and can come looking if you don’t check out. On site compressor facilities Yes, at Twee Rivieren; but bring your own tyre pressure gauge as theirs is inaccurate. On site high-pressure wash facilities No Min / Max number of vehicles 1 – 5 (no trailers or caravans) Time of year Any. During summer temperatures reach 45°C; during winter it gets as low as – 11°C at night. It’s dry in winter, the thunderstorms happen during the summer months. Difficulty Grade 2 Rating guide 1 Suitable for complete novices. Softroader friendly, no low-range required. 2 Low-range required, but suitable for novices. 3 Low-range and some off-road experience required. 4 Technical trail for the experienced. 5 Extremely technical, for experienced drivers only. Vehicle damage a distinct possibility.

VEHICLE REQUIREMENTS:
Low-range 4×4 with low-range is a prerequisite Diff-lock Not necessary. Minimum ground clearance 30 – 45 cm. Tyres Must be able to run at low pressure. Low profile HT tyres not recommended. We had Goodyear Wrangler AT/SAs and they performed well. Recovery points You shouldn’t need them but always a good idea to have them anyway. Underbody protection If your vehicle is very low, you might foul the middelmannetjie, and collecting grass could be a fire risk for most vehicles. On that point, after good rains, radiator seed nets are advised. Softroader friendly? No What vehicle were we driving? A 90 Series Prado KZ-TE with Old Man Emu suspension. It handled the trail with ease.

PRECAUTIONS:
Malaria No Heights No BRING YOUR: Wife and kids Definitely! Although they must be at an age where they can handle being inside a vehicle for long stretches of time. Food and supplies We took breakfast along and went 18 km up towards Mata Mata to the Auchterlonie Museum and Picnic Site. It has picnic benches, braais and flush toilets. Firewood Take some with you if you’re going to braai at Auchterlonie. Braai grid No, the braais at Auchterlonie have grids Swimming costume Yes, but for use at Nossob or Twee Rivieren Quads / Motorbikes Not permitted Mountain bikes Not permitted Pets Not permitted ALSO IN THE AREA: The rest of KTP, or tour into Namibia or Botswana. (Bookings to be made at Botswana Parks and Reserve Reservations, PO Box 131, Gabarone, Botswana. Tel: +267 318 0774; Fax: +267 318 077522).

COSTS:
Trail Driving the trail costs R180 per vehicle plus the daily conservation levy if you enter just to do the trail. Bookings are only accepted on the day and must be made at Twee Rivieren reception prior to driving the trail. Accommodation There are both camping and self-catering options in the park

CONTACT:
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
054 561 2000
054 561 2005 (fax)
For any further information visit
www.sanparks.org.za