I am surprised as I apparently wrote no formal trip report for this holiday. This one then, will be written from the stirring up the memories with the photos we took. It is now 4 years later so bear with me if I need to fill it up with a bit more wolhaarstories than usual.

Travelling is great, but I do think it is rather important that one should at least know the place you live in and the immediate surroundings. It is like the many people who live at the sea because they want to, but they never get to put their feet on the sand. Apart from occasional weekend visits, I never had the privilege to do a year end holiday in my own province and this is how the Eastern Free State trip was born.

The great advantage of this trip, was that it would be very relaxing in terms of distance travelled and we could spend more time exploring.

I booked most of the camp sites about three months in advance after some extensive reading of what would be worth a visit.

 

Merrimetsi

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We made more than one Merrimtsi visits this year and since this location was already discussed for the June 2006 report, I will keep it short. We booked into the camp site which has no electricity and a donkey for hot water. Apart from one other couple in a old VW bakkie, we were the only ones on the site for most of the days. We booked the usual 4x4 routes with Danie Voster and like Always, it was a great guided tour. From this location, we also travelled to Ladybrand, Clocolan and Rosendal.

The Rosendal trip was to satisfy our curiosity and see what the shop of Chris van Niekerk from 7de Laan, looks like. However, since we don't even own a television set,it is not as if we are passionate followers of the program.

Rosendal is an interesting place and the houses are build on large plots, but there is hardly a cafe worth mentioning and I could not even remember if we saw a fuel pump.

Although the Antiques shop had a number of interesting items in it, it looked more disorganised than my garage and even though we ordered very basic items from the menu, some of it could not be done. The excuse was that they need to buy everything at Clocolan, but it was high season and surely once can expect that they are better stocked up. Overall, I don't think this shop have anything more than the celebrity connection to make it work.

 

Meiringskloof / Didibeng

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Meiringsklooof was our second stop and from a previous visit where me and SWAMBO had a honeymoon weekend, we reckoned it would be a good place to take the kids with. It is on the border of Fouriesburg, a pretty town with many sand stone buildings. Is was already popular holiday investment for the Vaalies and sand stone cottages with considerable work needed, easily sold for R 700 000 each. Most of the places was more expensive.

The Meiringskloof camp site have a lot of stands and it is clear that this place is popular. It was practically fully booked. As neighbours, we had two rainbow families, each with a Smartiebox coloured mix of kids. I think there was at least six kids in each family, many of them adopted as aids orphans. They camped with old cars and old little caravans and it was clear that they did not get their infectious joy from bling.

My children instantly had many friends and together they played the swingball until the ball screamed for mercy.

The next day we did a short hiking trail with the kids and there are a couple of options to choose from, which will keep one busy for a few days. The camp site have some playthings for the kids and a large swimming pool to cool off in the Free State December heat.

Didibeng is the game camp part of Meiringskloof and in here are a lot of interesting things. First of all are the water tunnels which were formed very much the same way as caves. To get there, one parks on a large open are of flat rock and then there is a short drop down a ladder into a crack with a little stream. To entrance to the tunnels are naturally concealed and even though we had directions to turn right for it – and there was no other way to go, we were fooled and initially we could not see the entrance even though we were standing right in front of it. We then went left and that was not the way, so we went right again and SWAMBO saw the hole we had to go through. It was about waist high and we had to crouch to exit into a chamber with an icy pool of water that had to be crossed to reach the other end. I am not one for cold water and my feet curled to claws from the shock and torture. I had my youngest on my back and the camera over the shoulder. Just on the other end, my feet slipped on the moss and I bliksemed down, somehow managing to turn in a way that my youngest did not hit the rock. The Pentax was not that lucky and suffered a side blow on the lens but nothing was really broken and I still use that lens.

The 4x4 trail is one that I did on our honeymoon weekend and it has some challenging stretches. The most challenging part is up a mountain to a viewpoint. The trail makes a left hand hairpin around a deep donga before turning right at the bottom of a long climb. This time, it had water trickling down all the way from the top and the moss made it very treacherous. I could not get Witrenoster in any line to prevent a cross axle. After some tries, considering the slippery face and the little room behind me before stepping off the track and falling deep down, I decided not to risk the family. With some complex reversing up another treacherous peace of rock, I could turn the Safari around to go back. We will try another time in future.

Didibeng also have a bush camp with very basic facilities and had I know that, I would rather made our booking there. There are no green grass and shade is bit scarce, but over December this camp will be a good way get to be alone.

Eventually Meiringskloof came to an end and we had breakfast a the pub in Fouriesburg, before heading for Bergwoning between Clarens and Golden Gate.

Meiringskloof is well worth it,

 

Bergwoning

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We slept 4 nights in the camping site and to be totally honest, it is not highly recommended. It is indicated that a maximum of 25 people is allowed in the camping site at any time, but by the time we booked in, it seems that there were quite a few more and the caravans kept pulling in.

Aggravating the problem above is the ablution block that is build against the koppie - a stiff walk up and not convenient for the older folks. The ablution is build in a rondavel with two separate bathrooms each with a one shower and one toilet. The problem with this configuration is that when the unit is occupied for either shower or toilet, no one else can make use of the "open" facility. This resulted in the campers to queue up each morning from just after 6:00 to way after 9:00 just to get the basics done each morning.

It is fine if you have to wait for the shower, but not so nice if you have a big need and have to wait 20 minutes for a toilet.

There are very little shade for the tents, no water taps available for filling water cans, and most definitely not an electrical power point for every stand as indicated on the website. The washing area for dishes was just as big a frustration with no hot water and a poorly designed drainage system. Only one of the two washing basins could drain and it took time.

The camping spot itself is in a nice position, but on the working days the workers are using "bugs" (a two seater pipe car driven by a scrambler motor) and the noisy things were running up and down the whole day.

I had quite some difficulty booking my place as the telephones are often not answered and the messages I left, was not returned.

As we were in a relaxed mood, it did not spoil the holiday, but I would most definitely not go there again of I have a choice. The 4x4 trail was basically done in the same spirit and the map provided was vague. Before doing the trail, I said to the person on duty that morning that I am happy to do anything but mud. He assured me that there were only a poodle or two and that I would easily make it with the Safari. However, shortly into the trail, I had to go down a steep slope with a mudhole at the bottom. The obstacle was such that I could not apply power before entering the mud.

The departure angle was steep and even with my towbar removed, the rear bumper was hit. The Patrol sinked away so deep in the mud that I could not even get the High-Lift jack in under the rear bumper. After an hour of struggling with stones and branches, I called the office and I was recovered by a red V8 Defender. It was the hero of my youngest for months.

IMHO, this cannot be really classified as a trail, but rather an obstacle course and the natural beauty of the surroundings is not part of the enjoyment.

Berwoning is only recommended if you can find no other place to pitch camp. The facilities are inadequate, the owner overbook his camp site and the trail is an obstacle course.

Memories 2012: The campsite did provide us with a splendid Christmas gift. When we woke up that morning there was literally millions of little frogs (smaller than the nail on my pinky) in the grass and the children had a great time catching the little creatures and looking at it. The birds had a feast! Definitely a highlight of that year!

 

Grootkrans

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Unfortunately I don't have good news about this one.

On the 4x4 Forums, a Dr. Adriaan van den Berg popped up and told us about his camp site. I was quite excited about Grootkrans and worked it into my Eastern Free State holiday. I booked the camping place for four nights from 26 to 29 December and got the booking confirmed on 11 November 2007 by Dr. Van den Berg. I also phoned him twice regarding the booking.

We worked our way through Golden Gate and then on a very scenic little gravel road to Kestell and Grootkrans. We arrived at the farm house at about 11:30 and there were only two friendly dogs to greet me but the house seemed to be deserted. I didn't look too good and I phoned Dr. Van den Berg. He apologised that he did not contact me and told me that the farm was sold. I was welcome to camp in the holkrans for free, but there was no hot water and I had to come down to the house for a bath. Apparently there was a working flush toilet and a group camped there a week before.

We decided to go and have a look and decided if it was worth a try. The last part to the holkrans is a 4x4 track. The holkrans is huge and can swallow at least four vehicles and tents in comfort. However, the ablution block was still under construction and plenty of building rubble and tools was lying around. There was obviously no running water connected to anything and the only toilet seemingly connected to a sewer, was totally blocked with a couple of centimetres of feces - probably the only workable solution the previous campers could find. I salute them, but with two small children, this would not work.

That said, the ablution if finished, will be lovely and the setting must count under the most idyllic I have ever seen. If it is ever finished, I would love to go there.

Dr. Van den Berg apparently could not get hold of me. Not via cell phone and not even via e-mail, both of which he had used before.

Unfortunately I was not quite equipped to comfortably deal with the lack of these basic facilities. I had to give the free offer a miss and we took the way home. Were were however rewarded with a big Rinkhals sailing in the road. What a magnificent snake, but shy as most of them and it was in the long grass long before I could get close enough for a good photo.

We headed home to go and wash some clothes and sleep there for a night or two, while trying to find other accommodation. The places were fully booked and I had little hope for finding anything. We therefore called Danie Voster and booked the last few nights on Merrimetsi again. This time we were lodge bunnies and booked the old house. It was a good holiday but I also made up my mind that we need to go to even more remote places.

Memories 2012: Over the years, I tried in vein to determine if the new owner of Grootkrans, ever finished and opened it for the public. I would love to try it as it might just become my number 1 favourite spot.