I took me 12 married years to accept that SWAMBO gets very nervous if we need to depart on a day that we still need to pack some things. This time, I decided not to start my trip on a Saturday like usual, but on the Sunday so that we could spend the entire Saturday sorting it al out.
This alone made a huge difference to keep the spirits positive and relaxed.
It is two years since we did the last camping holiday and to be honest, one do forget a lot about how it was done.
This trip was planned from the start as a “heelpad grondpad” trip. I had a desperate need to escape from as many as possible other humans and I had a huge pile of nothing to do that had to be fit in somewhere. The great thing of this holiday, is that is was all within the boundaries of South Africa.
I got my maps in good order before leaving with a full Garmin 2009 Topographical mapset and T4A on a separate SD-drive. It was needed to switch between the two every now and then, but because it is on separate cards it is very easy. I have a plain Garmin Nuvi 250W and although intended as street GPS, it works just as well to show me the way in the wilderness, although I do not have the features of a track log and track back. Just to make sure, the route for each day was printed on paper if the electronics fails and that was filed with all my reservation info and deposit slips. It came in handy on more than one occasion.
Bloemfontein – Mokala National Park
Total distance travelled: 280 km
Time travelled: 7 hours
The plan was to get away at 8:00. We did not make it and closed the gate at 8:04 :). I worked out our route with the help of Mapsource and the gravel added considerable distance to what it could be if I took the N8 instead. I printed a map and directions for SWAMBO. We lost the planned road within the first 10 kilometers because of a error on the Garmin maps that showed a road to go through while it was a dead end. Within the first hour of corrugated road, we were suddenly choked with a solid bank of smoke from somewhere in the electrics and my son quickly figured out the source. It was on my aircon mod and luckily only a very thin live wire that made contact with metal somewhere. It was a spare live wire for future use too and it was solved by simply cutting it short. No further such problems.
That is the fun of the trip. We had to find another way around that dead end and that was quite nice to drive. On the S268 we suddenly got to a high farm gate and it was clear the road was closed. We phoned the owner on his cell and it seems that he often let people through if he have someone to open the gate quickly, but we were at the wrong end and had to turn back.
We revised the route to have a meal at Petrusburg, but there was not a single place open and we had to revert to Friendly Grocer for some basics to stop the hunger. Lunch was prepared on the side of the next S-numbered road to Jacobsdal and on this one we had plenty of farm gates to open and close. I wonder for how long my 7-year old will have the enthusiasm he had - for future occurrences.
Jacobsdal was as dead as Petrusburg and we could not even find an ice cream for our gate opener.
By this time the outside temperature often reached 38 deg C and with the sun blazing through the windscreen, and because if the lunch stop where the interior got real hot, even my potent airconditioning could not get the inside temperature down enough for the kids to complain.
We reached Mokala at about 15:00, got in easily and was helped by a friendly and efficient coloured lady that even prepared a tray of fruit juice and ice for the four guests. We then moved on to our Camp Site about 10 km road long from the reception. Pitching camp was quick and my 7 year old can now do any of the work as good as us. He is strong enough to help with the tent and when that was standing he could take the chairs and sleeping bags out of the condoms and inflate the air beds unassisted while we unpacked the heavier crates.
After this we went for a swim at the reception. Our next surprise was a bit more nasty because when we opened our carefully packed fridge, all the fruit and greenies were frozen. The thermostat was set on 3 Deg C which was obviously way too cold and I could not remember what setting I used two years ago. Exactly where the box measures the temperature I Don't know, but I loaded a sixpack of Spring waters and it went up to 14 deg C which gave me the idea that it will freeze the greenies further with the compressor running constantly. For safety, I adjusted the setpoint to 10 deg C to see what must be done the next day.
Incidentally, I met with a fellow LCCSA member and immediately recognised his name when we shook hands. Both of us are mechanical engineers and the chat quickly went in the direction of all sorts of ideas for vehicle accessories and how to make them. Our children are almost the same age and spend some hours colouring books.
When preparing dinner, we found that our LED tent lantern have a loose connection that needs attention, as well as the inverter. No light for the night accept for small torches and head lamps. The children were very chuffed.
We finally went to bed, by this time the clocks were forgotten.
As usual, I got awake at 3:00. This was totally expected and I armed my netbook with the latest version of Stellarium before the holiday. This is truly an excellent program and I could easily find many constellations with the naked eye. Stars is a wonderful world!
I have no idea when I got up, but is was too late for taking the good pics and I started on sorting the tent lantern. I battled with this thing from day 1 and discovered that the battery holder had some lips in it that prevented one of the batteries making contact with a few microns. A file solved the problem forever.
Next was to sort out the inverter. This 300W device was modified a long time ago by Dad to have a multiplug. I brought with me another multiplug that I wanted to fit anyway since this one have 3-point and 2-point sockets which the other one did not had. The new plug also needed a repair as the stupid little standard clickson for overcurrent failed and had to be removed. Not the first time I had to do this. But it is a bitch to open the plug with all the springloaded spares on the inside and the real fun is to try and close it again. But that was done. The wiring to the old plug made a little short inside the inverter and the fancy electronics simply limited the current to an unusable 4W – one of the chargers for a cell phone. Any more than that had it cut out silently. That was corrected when fitting the new multiplug and I tested it for a few hours with all the chargers I could find. There was a stack of AA cells to be charged in any case, the laptop and the battery drill. Worked sommer great.
(Update: I later found the actual problem is that the Inverter mulfunctioned the moment I connected the charger for the laptop! Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Funny, because the charger is well within the limits of the inverter.)
I opened the fridge again and luckily we could save a useable part of the over cooled fresh things to get us through for the three days.
The camp site itself is actually very nice. Although the 5 only stands are real close together, they are located to look out over a small dam and the Rooihartebeest and Blue wild Beast came and spend a good deal of the morning around the dam drinking, playing and chasing each other. No grass, but the soil already have some of the course red Kalahari sand structure and it was not too messy inside the tent. A broom did the trick well.
At noon, we took a game drive and while we did not see very much, we had Kudu, Hartebeest, Blue Wild beast and Zebras on our list. The two special sights was made by my son who spotted a Porcupine and SWAMBO who spotted a Tsetsebe. She somehow have the knack to find the animals in the shades of the trees.
Mokala is certainly recommended. It is well equipped for lodge hoppers with more and less luxurious units, a small communal pool and a restaurant. For our type of holidays, I would easily stay up to 5 days here. I would give it 7/10.
The wind was however strong for all the days and nights, only settling down for three or four hours from just before sunrise.
Just another lazy day at Mokala. Up to now the days temperature was around 34-35 deg C and since it is not humid, it is not a straining type of heat. The nights were also nice and cool for most of the night, but it was not unusual to see 30 Deg C at 20:00.
Mokala National Park – Witsand Nature Resserve
Total distance travelled: 260 km
Time travelled: 5 hours
SWAMBO woke me just after first light so that we could break up camp while it is still cool. Very nice. Breaking up camp takes us two hours. From day 1, but it is a much more relaxed exercise these days and I keep my pace slow enough so that it does not feel like work.
We drove one more loop before going for the gate and once out we again took the gravel to Douglas. This was one of the nicest pieces of gravel I ever travelled on with a surface far better than many tar stretches I had to drive this year. Douglas is a very nice and neat little town. I filled up with diesel and we stocked up our fresh things at a nice SPAR. This is indeed one of the better small towns I have seen lately.
From there we were supposed to go through Griquastad. The gravel to the next town was not always good and when we got to the town I was not sure if it was Griquastad or not. A sad little place that must have seen better days long ago.
From there to Witsand was still something over a 100 km and this time too, the gravel was good for long stretches. The vegetation quickly changed and the larger trees that we saw in Mokala was replaced by shorter bushes. All was green and it is clear they had good rains.
We reached Witsand at 13:30 and of the 10 camping spots – of which only 2 were occupied due to others leaving in the morning, we could choose a very nice spot. We took campsite number 9 that was split in two sections neither big enough for a caravan, but great for a tent and next to the bathroom. All stands have electrical power and braais although I am not equipped to make use of the first luxury for a lack of a caravan socket. Our stand, like many of the others, had a nice and thick layer of clean white sand as a topping. A nice surface to camp on and windstill. There is a very nice domestic size swimming pool walking distance from the camp sites and we hopped in with some other campers for a couple of minutes.
Somewhere after our stop, I discovered that my spare Alternator mounted on the bullbar lost both it's mounting bolts on the corrugations and it almost fell off. It was trapped between the grille and the bullbar. This was quickly fixed, but this time with Nylocks from my toolbox. I went through the rest of the vehicle and found that the bracket for the second battery also lost a fastener that needed replacement. These roads are hard on a vehicle and I do think one needs to check the vitals at the end of every driving day off the tar – a few minutes that can actually save a holiday.
Somewhere during the evening, SWAMBO and me almost tripped over each others words realising that since Mokala all the campers were very silent. Not a single note of music of any kind for example. The kuiers around the fires from all was silent enough that one could listen to the chatter of the night creatures. Perhaps that is what they did too. And in all cases the light were off almost as if there was a clock rule. Same with the mornings. At first light the early wakers came out with the rest in their own time.
All of them decided on these camping places on purpose for missing the rush at the coast.
There are few things so nice to wake up over a span of half an hour and not having to give a damn about what time it is. This is then my time for the write up of Day 4 with a couple of coffees on the side. The night was wonderfully cool and we could snuggle up in the sleeping bags from the start.
After the lapse of the morning, it is now 18:30.
We visited the “Roaring Sands” today and hired a dune board for the children to slide down. If I ever wondered if there is any relationship between driving fitness and walking fitness, that doubt was cleared crystal today. This was probably the year that I got the least exercise ever and while I would easily make it to the top of the dune in the past, I could not dream of making it more than half way up the slipface – to my own shame. My seven year old managed a few long slides on the dunes board and I left him to get to the top a couple of times to burn up the energy.
The sound the sand makes when one walks down the dune is certainly something special and I wondered how many other places one can get the same effect. Funny enough, it is also only certain slopes where I could manage to easily let the sand roar. The sand is very loose and it is hard work to get up high enough for a few seconds roar. But is is certainly worth it.
I discovered that they also have a little kiosk next to the offices with some very basics like coffee, sugar, milk, maize, Blitz, a few tinned foods and cold drinks. Not a huge variety, but one won't die of hunger in an emergency and the prices are very acceptable. R 7-00 for a tin of Coke is better than what I pay at the highway filling stations.
The day was again about 35 Deg C which is not uncomfortable at all and the night promise to be cool again. Again, the silver flysheet for the tent is 100% recommended. This is probably the best R 1 000-00 spend for our camping comfort ever.
Like three previous holidays, we used the Coleman 7-day coolbox for our frozen meat. What I did again, was to pack it with plenty of frozen 500ml water bottles and the few pieces of meat that we need for 7 days. This works great. Apart form the fact that my Waeco only needs to function as a fridge and thus putting a lot less strain on the battery, it is something that cannot fail. We have ice cold waters every day as we can take out two bottles and fill it up a couple of times for a lekker long water break. This cooler box indeed performs as they say. By today, the waters still have about 50% ice and the chicken livers was ice cold, although defrosted. From previous experience, one can get 10 days out of this box if it is not opened for the first few. It is certainly not great use of space but for our needs of plenty of cold waters and some meat, it works well. Fruit juices and long life milk does not work as ice bricks. The juice don't freeze well because of all the sugar and defrost quickly. Long life milk for some reason separates and goes vrot within a day after defrosting while it can be fresh two days out of a fridge. Powdered milk stays the way to go.
Today was the day to do the Kalahari Mountain View 4x4 Route. Me and the kids only while SWAMBO stayed home. We arrived at the gate with a sign on it requesting us to phone the owner on two numbers to get a code for the electric gate. The keypad was removed and the gate could be opened mannualy, but I tried to phone the owner in any case to let him know that we are entering his premises. Neither of the numbers work. In this area, there is only MTN signal and I used SWAMBO's phone.
The route is technically divided in three sections – a dunes section where one can do an easier part and an optional more challenging part. The third section is a Mountain trail.
I was pretty enthusiastic to see if my Lame Donkey 28 can do the dunes and my doubts were shortly confirmed. Up to now, I did just about any trail with comfort compared to any other vehicle in the group, but thick sand does need power which I do not have much of. I deflated to 0.9 kPa. My pneumatic rock slider works lekker and it was a quick exercise to get the pressure of all 4 wheel the same at one time.
The long dunes immediately showed me who is boss and I had to try a couple of times to get to the top. The children enjoyed it so much that my ego did not take too much of a knock. In short. My Namib dunes trip that was already a long way down on my list, will have to move down further if I do not start the Tdi project. Fir the rest, the diesel was OK and showed absolutely no signs of overheating even after hard work in the 35 Deg C ambient.
I therefore skipped the optional dunes section especially as we were alone and very far away from any help.
We moved on to the mountain trail. This is a 4 rated dead end trail and recommended for high clearance vehicles only. Time to brake the virginity of the rock sliders. The entire trail is a Karoo stone track. Generally not sharp stones but I did get a small side wall cut on one of the tires. The stones gets pretty big at places and for some reason also where the most difficult inclines are. On the very first one I hit both rock sliders and because of the construction, I did move both main beams back by about 15mm and dented the 5mm cradles like it was much thinner. That is a weaker point than what I had expected but the damage is not of any kind to affect the performance of the sliders. The right one have a long scratch and I am pretty sure it would be a body hit if it was not there.
There are a few nice and difficult sections that demands full concentration to pick a good line and like always, the Safari conquered it effortless with all four on the ground. At two places I had to reverse a short piece and do it over as I don't believe in going over with power and smoke. That is a sure fire way to break something.
Up on the mountain, it was time to teach my 7-year old the basics of reading a compass and I picked out a few beacons for him to read the direction in degrees. He managed very very well for a first time and took patience to tap the compass and make sure the wheel was steady before taking a reading. Three out of four readings on the dot and I made sure they were not on a numbered marking. Some peaches and water from the fridge and it was time to go down and back home.
I let Cobus keep the wheel for a few kilometers on my lap. He lost a bit of touch to take the driver seat himself and could not get his clutch control right, but to be fair, he had no practice for months. Therefore second best option.
Back in the camp it was time for pumping wheels. I had to borrow the Thomas compressor from dad which always works, but it is slow. Unfortunately I could not finish my starter / Sanden setup due to the engineering work that dropped me badly on number 99 after they had the parts for a full week in their shop. But we had time and I inflated back to 1.8 Bar that works well on the gravel.
This was again a very very lazy day. Reading Monsoon from Wilbur Smith. Damn! I could swear that man was a Pirate in that era. Cristal clear blood thirsty entertainment.
Witsand was a great place to stay. We definitely had the gem of all the stands and this makes my rating a 9/10, but a worse stand in full sun will bring that down. Probably a 8/10 more generally speaking.
Witsand Nature Resserve - Verneukpan
Total distance travelled: 280 km
Time travelled: 6 hours
The aim was to get tot Verneukpan rather in the later part of the afternoon and we packed up without hurry. But that was in any case the par so far. As soon as things are bordering on feeling like work, I take it more relaxed.
The gravel road to Groblershoop was good for most of the way and I filled up with Diesel there. My DIY long range tank have a leak at the very top of the tank that only comes out with long serious inclines. I forgot a bit that was as bad and must have lost about 5 litres of fuel this way. Not nice at all and it will be rectified. Fuel consumption this did not look nice.
From there we took the road the Kenhard and the gravel was heavily corrugated for a very long stretch of the 80 kilometers but it eventually improved. The dorpie was very quite on the Sunday and the first thing that draw my attention, was a haggard old church. I could not find out anything about the history of it, but it seems to be Methodist.
We got a little nervous that we will not get lunch somewhere, but we found “Ouma Miemie se Kombuis” that is a very characterful curious shop and she does meals for very reasonable prices. In fact, most things in her shop was surprisingly well priced considering the location. Me and Cobus took tripe and it was fairly good but I prefer my own versions.
After at least an hour and half it was time to make the final stretch to Verneukpan. We passed the Quiver tree Forest and we could not enter, but a short distance later on the gravel we found a nice tree next to the road and stopped to have a look at this wonderful plant.
The landscape got all flatter and we took the last turn to Verneukpan. From there it was still another 30 km to the Reception of “ Verneukpan Boerdery” to get the key for the camp site. I took some pics at the race track, but could not wait for the last hour of light to get some texture in the photies.
Of course I had to try my luck on a land speed record with my fully laden 60 kW diesel and made ready to unleash all the power. Was I surprised! It seems that the pan is indeed the reason for the things going so fast. It is not "Verneukpan" for no reason - as the "evidence" on my GPS shows.
We finally got the key and took a snap of the wrecked jet-powered dragster in which Johan Jacobs died during a test run for an attempt on the South African land speed record. I could not imagine that a dragster is actually so flimsily constructed and it has a lot shorter nose than I had expected.
We had to go back 10 km to the turn off for the camp site and from the gate is is another 5km to a basic camp with toilets, a shower and a simple lapa. Nothing fancy, but good enough although the water was too salty for us to enjoy for drinking. I tastes just like the water of a salt water swimming pool.
We pitched the tent and unpacked only the very needed. As the sun went down and started to make long shadows, I could start taking better photies and took some nice ones of the kids with the coloured sky as backdrop. It worked very well. The surface of the pan is also lovely to walk on with bare feet. No pioneer plants!
However, our fun was quickly shortened because a few minutes after sunset an army of huge mosquitoes came from nowhere. I understand that these creatures needs blood for a living but there was none as far as the horizon. Puzzled. That forced us into the tent and I was very disappointed that I could not have a few hours to watch the stars. That was one of the major attractions for me and the kids. The silence on this pan is absolutely amazing. In fact, I had almost no sleep because of it because I simply could not stop listening to this total piece as I have never heard it before. Much much later in the night, when Orion was right above us and the Southern cross high, I went out and the mozzies was not too bad so I could spend a little while watching the awesome celestial display. The moon, although only a sickle, was surprisingly bright.
I pitty Sol Kerzner who probably have no clue what a Superbowl actually looks like. Or perhaps not even that is a fitting description for this pas as the night sky was cristal clear - no clouds at all and the truly uninterrupted 360 degrees view was too much to take in. Thinking back now, I reckon I forgot to breath for minutes at a time. What a powerful display of the Big Creator!
Facilities – 3/10.
Experience - 12/10.
This is a must visit overnight stop. Don't ever just drive through.
Verneukpan - Williston
Total distance travelled: 170 km
Time travelled: 3 hours
Sunrise... The Full Monty...
Again breaking camp at no straining rate and we left the pieceful pan – an admirer forever. I will most definitely come back here on the first opportunity to watch the stars, but this time in end April / begin May to miss the mozzies and I will bring a telescope and a sturdy tripod with to make full use of the manual open shutter of my Pentax DSLR. I will make it at least two nights on the pan. There is enough to explore for a full day or more.
We dropped the keys and met Louis, the owner of the farm who was not there the previous day. A very nice guy and with the heavy accent of the area. We had a short chat and we then proceeded to Williston. The last section of gravel became some of the best of the trip so far and I carried on for long stretches at a comfortable 100 km/h. The field is very dry and the bossies are pitch black for many kilometres without any improvement in between. I cannot see that the farmers have any other option but the feed the animals. There is no food at all.
We slipped into Williston at 12:00 and booked in at out guest house. I took a shower and got out of my very dirty clothes. We then went for luck at “Die Ark”. This is also one very characterful place and the owners used plain rubbish in the most artistic way. There is a huge chunk of the premises set aside solely for the entertainment of the kids with pophuise, sand pits, old cars and plenty of things for toys. We had a good meal. I ordered a burger from the fairly small menu, but it was well made with good meat. Not the plastic winkel patties.
Williston is a nice little town and it seems that things are running well here. All the municipal buildings are in good order, the swimming pool is bright blue and full of local children and the sports field have green grass that was under sprayers – although in the middle of the hot day. One of the better examples of a very small town I have seen in a long time.
My vehicle setup works, but it is uncomfortably tightly packed for a family of four even though we pack very light. Credit to SWAMBO there. It is a bit of a big headache for me. On a difficult route a trailer can be a serious drawback especially if is of the type where one gets to those “try again” spots where reverse is needed – even though it is something I can do very well. I honestly don't know how to solve the problem. In my opinion my vehicle is as heavily loaded as is sensible for safety and for the suspension. It sickens me to think that I am considering a trailer now, but it will be very custom made then and designed to take the heavy and bulky items off the vehicles like water, extra fuel, spare wheels, tools, tent and furniture. I will do Baboons without SWAMBO and the kids.
Williston – Tankwa Karoo
Total distance travelled: 170 km
Time travelled: 4 hours
Today we started on the tar for about 60 km and turned away towards Middelpos. There was not a living soul moving in the little dorpie and nothing we we could see worth stopping for.
We continued to the Ganagga Pass and I was waiting in eager to enter this jewel. This is not a very long pass, but narrow and for most of it two vehicles cannot pass each other. The descent down to Tankwa is pretty steep too. It is a beautiful pass in spite of the drought and one I would love to see after some rain.
This is a big national park and from Ganagga it is still many kilometres to the reception. In fact, from the reception to the most remote chalets is 42 km! I booked and paid for the a Chalet this time and we took Pretoriuskop. The service at the reception was friendly and efficient.
The Chalet is very basic, but well equipped with a gas fridge (that did not work very well) and a gas stove, all the needed furniture and a donkie for hot water. The floors are plain cement and this is perfect as it leaves no staining worries if the kids drop something.
We had a a lovely couple of days where we did not see a single human being and generally we got so lazy that I did not even went for a drive through the park accept for a quick dad only trippie to Elandsberg. The 4x4 trail can't be rated more than a 1 and one would even do it with the flat 4x4's like the Volvo XC series or a Subaru Forester.
It is more than understandable why this park is so popular. A unique experience in many ways and without doubt tranquility is only limited yourself.
I finished two particularly violent books from Wilbur Smith, Monsoon and Blue Horizon. I am pretty sure he must have been a pirate in a previous life. Thoroughly enjoyable.
The days temperature was lovely with none of the days above 25 Deg C. This is of course the cool part of the Karoo. In fact, Sutherland that is very close, is the place in South Africa with the lowest average temperature of a year but ironically the Tankwa-Karoo is also the part with the lowest official rainfall in the country. A cool dessert environment. I wonder on how many places on earth can get that.
Tankwa Karoo – Cederbeg via Oild Post Road
Total distance travelled: 170 km
Time travelled: 6.5 hours
Leaving the park was all part that we saw of it accept for the entrance from Ganagga and it seems that a few drops of rain transforms the roads to something that can get one stuck properly – judged by deep dried tracks some places. There was definitely some people caught out earlier the year.
Following the GPS to Elandsfontein we went through the harshest terrain I have seen in my life. For long distances the hills and plains were paved with pitch black rocks so close together that there was not a single sprout of grass.
At Elandsfontein we followed the GPS to what was indicated as the start of the Old Post Road. It was immediately clear that the map was not finished as one main road is neither on T4A nor on Garmap. We worked with some guessing to the river crossing, but once their found that the bridge was washed away. Although not deep the river bottom was made up of round stones and all of them extremely slippery from algae – so that that I could not dare going over on foot. I reckoned that it was not even worth trying to cross with the vehicle as there is zero traction and obviously some crawling to be done.
We turned around and went over to some coloured men sitting in front of their neat little houses and asked directions – which they could give quite accurately. So we had to follow the road that was not on the GPS and arrived at the farm of Ferdi Kotze with whom I paid upfront for the trail. They were on their way out for the day and I would have missed them if a bit later. Thanks for little mercies. “Cobusegat” was a short detour on this road and we went to have a look. Seems like a very place for a sleep over.
The Old Post Road cannot really be called a 4x4 trail and I did all of it in 2H. Once again the land was totally paved with rocks for long stretches but the deep gorges were awesome and the river deep down with the bright green vegetation following it in a thin strip, totally magic. Where there are some plants, it is interesting varieties. Incredible how much life there is even here.
The vegetation suddenly changed as if one went from one room to another as we approached the Cedarberg and we soon found our selves between fynbos and a middelmannetjie with high grass – enough that I had to take out the seed net and strap it in front of the radiator. Somewhere we suddenly got at a gate protecting a farm yard and house with an electric fence and I was cautious to simply trample over the drimple and stopped for a while to see if there was a detour. Soon the owner came walking to the gate to meet me and it was a friendly old man explaining that I can pass through with pleasure, but the fence was needed as they have some serious trouble with baboons for years. He also asked me if his neighbour did not stop me to charge me for going over his farm. We did not see anyone and perhaps passed on another road, but he was pretty irritated with the arrogance of his neighbour as this was the road everyone have to drive and did so for a 100 years to get to town. They still have to talk.
The road got ever more scenic with a steep pass somewhere before our destination and we finally hit a brand new tarred section of road leading to the Pakhuis Pass. Traffic to the Cedarberg will certainly increase from now.
Our camp booking was made at “De Pakhuys”. I did the little things at reception and as we desperately had to replenish our food we decided to go to Clanwilliam before the shops close. We booked this camp site with my Sister in Law and as luck would have it, we met them in Clanwilliam. Skoonsus asked me if we were to the camp site yet. They dropped their trailer there but the stands were very very small and hubby confirmed that she was right. Finished shopping and after filling up with diesel we went back to pitch camp.
It was a shock to say at the least. I blinked my eyes a couple of times trying to see if I was not dreaming, giggling nervously like a school girl and it took me many minutes to get my composure together enough trying to figure out where the hell we would find the space to pitch a 5x4m tent. I have absolutely no clue where the vehicles of 10 campers will stand but most definitely not close to your own stand if all are occupied. This camp site fell sea miles short of the rosy picture created by the website. The first six stands are close enough together to have tent ropes overlapping and offers zero privacy. The ablution block was nice but not adequate for the 10 stands if all were full and at least they have Wi-Fi which we found convenient to look for other space. In summary, it held all the promise to spoil our Cederberg experience and we decided not to try an make the best of it, but rather take the effort and lost time that should have been spend exploring the place. In the pictures next, there is a stand left of the Landy, and the other shows five stands!
Late as it was, we had no option but to sleep over and decided to pitch only my large tent for a quick break up the next morning. After some moving forwards, backwards and to the sides, the tent stood on the very limits of the small stand – far from level. The ground was rock hard and I had to use my large rubber mallet with violence, but after bending two pegs written off for future use, I had to call it a day and left my tent half pegged and unstable in the wind.
The braais were not cleaned and we soon realised the place was actually pretty filthy with old garbage from previous campers driven into the bushes by the winds. For dinner we had Snoek on the fire and went to sleep only to be rudely woken in the middle of the night by one of the campers starting to play loud music. He escaped what would have been a furious attack from his large framed neighbour camper, who was stopped by his SWAMBO on number 99. Instant silence, but not instant inner peace.
“De Pakhuys” camp sites needs a serious rethink to make it work for a family stop and I would say it is worth an effort to miss for the time being until someone else can report on an improvement.
We woke up, I took a hot shower and we broke the half made camp while everyone had breakfast in between. The ablutions are served with a single 250 litres geyser – not even closely adequate for a full camp. In the mean time I pulled out my detailed Cedarberg map to help look for possible alternative accommodation.
We went by the reception, found that both families only paid deposits and told the owner that we unfortunately have to look for other space and asked if we owed him any more money. We also brought the noisy camper under his attention which he too found unacceptable as his rules are no music at all in the camp. The owner was not unreasonable and left it at the deposit, but I do think he knows well that his place falls short of what is offered around him. His point of view is that he caters for climbers, but even then I think he needs more space and privacy. My suggestion to him was to half his camp sites and double his price if he wants to build any name for himself.
De Pakhuys gets a 1/10. The basic facilities are there if one really have nowhere else to go, but the stands are way too small for a family setup, most have zero privacy, the place is not well kept clean and the website is misleadingly optimistic. Not the place for holiday.
The Safari, being the slowest, lead the way and Mertenhof was our first stop, but the rates were pretty high for what was offered and we moved on to the “Biedouw Youth Camp” a little closer to Wuppertal to try and find space there. The place was totally empty and the owner offered us what he had. This was very much to our liking with enough space and even a fridge and a deep freezer in one of the buildings to our benefit. He does not have marked off sites and one can in effect do what you like. Shade during the day is a bit scarce in spite of the large trees on the yard but other than that it is a very nice place. There is a huge mountain pool for swimming and we tried it out. Like all moutain streams, fairly cold but somehow in a way that even I could get my whole body wet. This place is not advertised as it is primarily a youth camp and it will never be crowded by other campers. I would say this is a well recommended place and very central to explore the many 4x4 and hiking trails the area has to offer. There are certainly other camp sites that offers better stands but this one is very pleasant in many ways.
Dad have some Strasberger shoes, bought on Wuppertal, and it is in need of new soles. Time to deliver it to the factory for a major OEM service.
Wuppertal is about 15 km from the camp site and we were in no haste. However, on the winding and going through a short right hander, SWAMBO shouted “Snake !!”. The road is narrow enough that one vehicle have to move over and stop if another comes from the front. I sawthe reptile and tried to miss it. It was not a very long snake and coiled up, so I stradled it but when I could see the snake again, I immediately saw that the poor thing was trampled and dying quickly. My second snake killed with a Safari. Not a good feeling.
I got out and walked to the snake but while coming closer I could see the body was bleeding and the head almost crumpled but could not identify the snake.
Wuppertal is a charming little town and an hour later squirming with other tourists. We did all there was to do. Went to the Church and graveyard, send the SWAMBO's to the Rooibostea shop for some spoils and went to the tea garden for some coffee, scons and toasted samies.
We started out next leg to “The Oasis” via Eselbank. This road is signposted as recommended for 4x4 vehicles and I do agree, but it is not impossible to do it with a normal bakkie if you have no choice. That is after all what the Eselbankers have. Eselbank is another dorpie far away from anything – even more isolated than Wuppertal.
“The Oasis” is a cosy little pub with lots of grass around and a place where the kids can release some of their energy. They offers only toasted sandwiches and chips with the ham tomato and cheese in any combination you like, but a generous helping of both. They are also licensed and you can at least have a beer or two. This place is made by the owner who spend a lot of time between his customers and is willing to share all he know about the area. A great source of information if you have some time and the place is not busy. He also offers some camp sites. Roomy, on grass and neat, but I would opt for something more remote.
With our bellies stuffed, all of us felt like an afternoon nap and with that risk on the horizon we decided it would be better to get on the road A.S.A.P. This time we took the road on the western side of the mountain to do some spotting of the other camp sites and stop in Clanwilliam again for a thing or two. Sanddrift is a very nice spot and offers a lot to see. Jamaca is a large camping site with over 70 stands, but well thought out and one of the few where one generally have privacy on a stand. Algeria is a camping site run by Cape Nature. We camped there about 18 years ago and I remembered little of what it offered. It is a nice camp site, but it has 40 open stands. A busy camp site and while the people there clearly enjoyed them selves, I would take something else if I can.
Entering Clanwilliam, I picked up a squeak in the Safari and immediately suspected what it was. Just before our trip, I had one of the clamps of the right front leaf spring replaced. The new clamp was totally gone and seems like it had split on the hole where the rivet goes through. The rubbers on the exhaust also broke and I had to pick up new ones. No-one on the town could help me with the spring and we had to go home to make a plan there.
The night was again wonderfully silent.
After coffee, I replaced the exhaust rubber and my swaer helped me with plans for the clamping of the spring. After many options, he got a D-shackle that incidentally was exactly the width of the spring pack. Although it was slightly too short for the pin to go through, we managed to get a M10 bolt through. The spring was a clamped a little too hard to my liking, but it had to do and on the trail we did later the day, it proofed to work without any ill effects.
I also had an oil leak on the motor coming from the oil pressure senders and with lots of patience and a strong torch we finally managed to identify the leak and we could make a huge improvement with some tinkering. During testing of the oil leak, I suddenly noticed a drop of coolant dripping down the front axle and could trace the leak immediately. It was only a clamp that needed some tightening.
During our repairs, the SWAMBO's and the kids spend the morning at the mountain pool, but for the afternoon my swaer offered to take us to some really awesome rock pools. The road to their also have some tricky sections to get up and needs a good eye for line to conquer elegantly.
The pools are magic and one of those “I wish I was there” type if one would see it in the magazines. There is a dam at the very top that delivers water for some of the farms in the valley. That is a very nice place for a swim and the water is some of the most refreshing that I can ever remember. The only other time I can recall water this refreshing, was in mountain pool on the first leg of the Otter hiking trial in Tsitsikamma.
A little downstream from the dam are deep holes in the rocks and we had some more fun here. There are two places that is good for sliding down on your bum, with the best one that ends with a drop down a short waterfall into a deep pool. My 7 year old was deeply impressed and could not get enough.
All good things have to end, but we could not let that happen so soon and once home we started working on some killer hamburgers with expertly tuned patties, a nice mushroom sauce and roosterkoek for buns. This was a team effort from many cooks and none of the different components was started and finished by the same person. What came of the fires was very pleasing.
This was our last day in this splendid area and we took the children again up to the rock pools for a last swim. SWAMBO and I realised that none of us had a clue of what day of the week it was and had to look it up.
Biedouw Youth Camp gets a 8/10 for the simple reason that the chances are good that you will be alone even over a December holiday. The facilities are more than adequate as it caters for up to 120 people. Lots of level space, all of it under grass.
Cederbeg to Leeuwenboshfontein
Total distance travelled: 280 km
Time travelled: 6 hours
Our plans had to be revised as our leg to Wolseley had to be cancelled. I booked at Leeuwenboschfontein for two nights which was to our advantage as it shortened the trip to our next camp.
The shortest route to Leeuwenboschfontein would be over Eselbank and then still a long slow and winding road before we would hit the R46. SWAMBO and me weighed the options and decided to rather go the 40 km detour to drive the fast gravel through the Tankwa Karoo. Whether it saved us time, I cannot tell. This allowed us to see the dry eastern side of the Ceder Mountains.
The most interesting part of the road, was the crossing of the Doorn river. The water was not deep and the river bed is sand. Not too difficult even for a fully laden vehicle, but with some more water, it can get really interesting. Not something I would like to risk with a single vehicle.
I never pulled off in Touwrivier accept for fuel, in spite of passing through a hundred times before. Why I don't know, but what one can see from the N1 is deceptive. It looks like there is only the petrol stations and that's it. Surprisingly it is a pretty need town with schools and a blue municipal swimming pool that was full of local kids. There is even a SPAR, a pharmacy and like usual, a couple of liquor stores that was of course strongly supported in preparation for new years eve.
After lunch we took of to Leeuwenboschfontein. There are 10 camp sites, all of them separated from the neighbours with a wooden fence. For 8 of the 10 stands, good shade is available but not all of them are nice and level. The one we got, sloped in both directions and that is most noticed when one hit the bed. It is a neat place, but after the spoil of being alone, or almost alone for close to three weeks, I found the chatter of the other campers around the fires, busy. But it was new years eve and it was good to feel the exitement of those in anticipation.
Up to now, I only had praise for the old Safari that ran like a sewing machine. SWAMBO don't feel the need to upgrade to something more luxurious now that the airconditioning is properly sorted. The old lady is reliable and capable.
As far as I remembered, the 4x4 trail of Leeuwenboschfontein was under the top 10 of one or two magazines. I had to find out what it was like.
I bought the permit at reception and the manager in charge of the farm makes sure that every vehicle leaves with tires deflated to at least 1.4 bar. I deflated to 1.2 Bar like usual.
The first part of the trail goes to a Lapa on the top of the mountain and the view from there is very nice. The Lapa have a big braai area in the middle and can swallow a big group of people. The route to the Lapa is easy for most of the way with a steep climb or two, but noting that IFS vehicles cannot do in comfort.
From the Lapa, there is another leg rated as a 5 and the manager advised me to do it with another vehicle. But I was alone and decided to give it a go. This part of the trail is for large parts made up of a fairly loose surface or a deep layer of fist size rocks. Mixed in are plenty of spots that can result in cross axles and there are some high steps to negotiate. It is also a dead end and they out is also the way back. Going out, one basically goes down the mountain and most of the work is crawling slowly down in 1st low. It was quickly clear that coming up again is going to be pretty challenging with no difflock and given that I like to do it with as much elegance as possible.
To be honest, I was nervous for the return run and decided that I would take it down slow with full concentration to make mental notes of what to avoid around the numerous blind corners and to identify good lines. That helped a lot.
Time for the return run... The Safari seriously impressed me to say at the least, but it was one of the most challenging pieces of trail that I ever did. For the three kilometres up, there is simply no room for slacking the concentration. It took all my mental resources to figure out the lines in the little time that was allowed and I had to swing the steering wheel so quickly to get on the high spots that I soon my myself almost panting for breath and by the time I made it to the top, I had a hot flush on the cheeks. But I made it up in one go without a single obstackle that stopped me to do it over. I found this trail very satisfying but apparently it is not a favorite of many who did it before. Personally, I think IFS vehicles will have a very hard time here and difflock for them is required. Vehicle damage is a definite risk and the tires were rubbed black on the sidewalls to below the fat lettering. I would however rate it myself as a 4. With a SFA vehicle, difflock is not required, but would make it a lot easier.
The 4-rated trail is very nice too and although not nearly as tough as the 5-rated one, it is great fun with some places where approach and departure angles are tested.
This camp gets a 6/10. Functional and enough space, but it is not that special spot that one will remember for years.
Leeuwenboshfontein to Bonniedale Holiday Farm
Total distance travelled: 250 km
Time travelled: 5 hours
I left the camp with a bit of an uneasiness as the Safari broke one of the bolts of the left engine mounting clean off in the block. The mounting have two bolts, and upper and lower one. The lower one got loose from all the hammering on the corrugations and I tightened it just before the 4x4 trail. The top one was tight, but must have been fatigued and broke on the 4x4 trail. I was pretty worried that the bottom one also suffered the same consequences, but the top bolt is in a bad place and not easy to remove. I also did not had a small jack with me to support the engine to remove the mounting in total.
I decided to go via Montagu and see if I could get help there. Luckily, the gravel was good and we soon hit tar – the first time on the trip that I was thankful for it. The nut kept well, but the spares shop was closed and did not even had an emergency number to phone. Agrimark was out of jacks too, but I could at least fill the gas cylinder there.
SWAMBO did some food shopping in the mean time and when I picked her up we decided to go for lunch at a restaurant. In spite of the fact that the town was full of tourists, few places were open, but we found one and had a good meal.
It was still 180 km to Bonniedale farm, of which 110km was gravel, but once again, most of it was very good. As we approached the farm from the “Van Wyksdorp” side, the road got all the more winding with steep ups and downs. This is incredibly scenic area and a lust for the eye in flowering season.
We turned off at the Bonniedale sign with still another 20 km to go and the winding roads got even more winding with steeper ups and downs so that I had to select low range in the end to get the donkey to the top. More powerful vehicles will go out in first high. The farm is very deep in the mountains. We booked “Kranskamp”, which is a huge single and private stand with a nice stone walled bathroom that features an open air shower. The entire stand have grass and there is enough perfectly levels space to sleep on one side of the bed for the entire night.
This stand gets a 9/10. I can hardly think of anything that can make it better, accept for the ants that is a bit pesty on the paved section around the fire – or perhaps a private rock pool, but the stream is often dry in summer! Electricity at a camp site is a bonus that hardly counts any points in my evaluations. In fact, it might be a point lost!
The kids and I did the 4x4 trail and on Bonniedale, those who wants a challenge will get it. There are some nice and difficult stretches and if you are still not satisfied, Attakwaskloof eco-trail is just another farm away, also with tricky sections.
It was the frist time in a long time where a trail stopped me so that I had to turn around. That was on the way to Sunbird Bushcamp and not only did the extreme route stopped me, but also the escape route! The trail was crudely dug out by other 4x4 drivers who was without doubt hard on the power to conquer the stretch and the result was cross axles and loose soil that was too much for the Safari with it's excellent articulation. It is so bad, that I think this will probably required two axle lockers to get out.
This is at the bottom of a very tricky downhill. Ons this farm, the owner is not exagerating too much.
The owner himself does the trails in a raised 1995 DC Hilux – still the SFA version and the vehicle have two lockers.
Bonniedale Holiday Farm to Karoo National Park
Total distance travelled: 250 km
Time travelled: 5 hours
We decided skip our leg through the Swartberg Parss since we did this with the Jetta six months ago, and I still had the problem with the engine mounting. To make it up, we took a change and called Mother in Law to see if they could meet us on Oudtshoorn for lunch.
The Robertson Pass was a steep one for the Donkey and I had to pull off more than once to let the queue behind me pass. Once in Town, I dropped SWAMBO for shopping and went to full up and try to source a jack and easy-outs. The jack I got, but not the easy outs.
Then was lunch with Mother in Law. It was great to see her and her husband again and we took off to De-Rust and Meringskloof where we stopped to show the kids “Herrie's Stone”.
En route, the temperature climbed steadily and we soon hit 42⁰C ambient. The Safari did ran hotter than normal and the Little Black box started screeming as I tuned it for lower than the recommended 105 ⁰C alarm, but the guage was just over half and there was nothing to be concerned off.
The airconditioning still kept the inside well within comfortable levels.
Karoo National Park is always nice and neat, but the camping spot are not all perfect and we got a fairly small one, but could still fit in well.
The 4x4 trails in this park are really far from 4x4 – to the extend that I would drive all of them with my platkar – accept for the 4x4 short route that is a paid for section. This is up “Pienaars Pass” and the pamphlet indicates a difflock is required, but I have not done this section, although I honestly doubt that it will require any lockers.
Karoo NP was a good place to stay over. It is most definitely not the most special park to camp in, but they have many other things to compensate for it – especially the exhibitions focused on information.
So it was time to attend to the engine mounting. I was a bit out of ideas of how to it without easy-outs and first tried to gleu a 6mm bolt to the 8mm bolt with Epoxy steel. It worked a bit, but it is a tedious process to get it stuck properly and I could get about a half turn before the epoxy broke off. I tried three time without luck.
My only other option was to try and use a punch and my smallest hammer.
Now with these things, it is exactly like with African Borderpost Officials. If you give them the slightest idea that you have no time, they will waste it as far as possible. So with the bolt, I took all my patience and started drilling a little hole for grip and tried to get the right angle in the limited space to move the bolt. Wow! Sooner than expected, I got the bolt to turn through the notch holding it and after that I made good progress so that I could turn it with my nails and fingers. Great! Both bolts were replaced and I now have piece of mind for the next few years.
Karoo National Park to Bloemfontein
Total distance travelled: 550 km
Time travelled: 6 hours
We decided to go straight through to home and not sleep over another night so we had to hit the N1. The road was busy from the start and made me appreciate the gravel I did for all the first part, so much more. Many GP vehicles drove like maniacs often making the most incredibly dangerous overtaking maneuvers and like always in these circumstances, I felt the tension building up instantly fearing that I may be at the wrong time on the other side of the blind rise.
We had a breakfast at Three Sisters and continued to Colesberg, where I turned off to take the parallel road to the N1 via Philippolis. This is road we often take to miss some of the traffic and it always worked great. We saw one or two other vehicles.
We tried to get lunch on Philippolis, but with no luck and we continued to Edenburg and then Trompsburg. From here, we normally had to go the last 70 km via the N1, but I always suspected that there was a parallel gravel road to the N1. It showed on the maps but I could never get on it. Viva T4A! T4A incidentally worked on just this route and I decided to follow it. What a lovely surprise! After a short and incredibly horrible section of tar passed the squatter camp, we got on a very smooth stretch of gravel that ran all along the railway and the telephone line. We could see the traffic on the N1 often but could continue once again in complete relaxed fashion with all the surprises of the gravel road – the biggest of them was when we got two baby tortoises on the road. I stopped, picked one up to show the kids and put the two in the grass afterwards.
This road was the nicest surprise of the day and it spit us out very close to our home. It is so good, I can comfortably do it with the platkar in future. I will now investigate, as it seems very logical to me that a service road like this must run a long way along the railroad.
This was a very needed holiday and I am glad to say that it served well in the purpose to get us to relax as best as we could. The recipe we have now, works for us. Drive a relatively short distance – preferably not more than 250 km per day, keep it on the gravel, look out for the small camp sites and stay for 4 or 5 nights. SWAMBO can in any case not keep up with daily driving because of back problems and I won't spoil her holiday this way. We find this pace relaxed and it gives us at least a bit of time to spend at the site and many days with no driving at all.