The last real camping holiday we had, was in 2009. It was one of the best holidays I ever had and we did that with an old Nissan Safari. Although it was my most favorite vehicle I owned, it was to put it mildly, under powered. We realised that for a family of 4, we really needed some more space. A trailer was the only answer and one which I shied away from, but eventually I made peace with reality.
The Safari was sold in 2010 and I bought a Land Rover Discovery 1 Tdi. Then I designed a trailer. However, I knew the time to build it, was not there. And then I started looking for a good used one which was as close to that as possible. I found the trailer in November 2011 for almost nothing and bought it on the spot but it was too late to organise a nice long holiday and so it happened that we managed it for 2012.
The trailer works just about perfect for our family and the fact that we could start packing a week before Day 0, made a huge difference in effort. This year, I also bought a new tent and I had to wait patiently for a few years for one to come on the market with everything we need in a tent: big, not to heavy and durable. The Howling Moon Safari was the one.
As a family, we like to go to places where we can be as far as possible from other human beings and to find those type of camping spots, usually takes at least a full weekend or two for the lot of us, to find. But that effort is worth every second spend. There are still a few acres of heaven left unscarred in South Africa. Secondly, we found that there exist enough of those place not far from home.
A while ago, my Garmin 1410 was broken out of the Passat. I had trouble with this unit from day 1 and when I found that later models cannot take topographical maps any more, I decided to look for a Garmin 760. What a delight it was to find that unlike the 1410, it actually follows the exact routes as downloaded from Mapsouce. I could not wait to test that in practise.
Bloemfontein to Berghut - 290km
Traveling time: 5 hours moving
My hopes was to get away at 7:00 and usually we are on time, but things just went too mad the week before and the last finishing delayed us by more than 3 hours. There was however no need to get in a hurry and we hit the gravel roads at a leisurely pace where I set the cruise control on 80 km/h where possible. At Trompsburg I lost the planned way en route gravel to Smithfield and we did some Tar to Reddersburg which was in terms of ride quality much worse. Soon after that, I worked out another detour and we made most of the rest on gravel again. This is standard going for us: Plan the route and the meals up to the letter, and disregard it all within the first hour of departure. All that matters its to reach the destination and eat when we are hungry.
Entering Smithfield, we went straight to "Pig Out" for lunch and found to our disappointment that they closed doors. What a pity, as their food was excellent. The only explanation is that the never ending road works made too many change direction.
Surprisingly though, a new place opened called "Buckleys" and the owners made quite an investment. I do wonder how long it will last, but lets hope for the best as the food was good. We ordered a lunch special which was lamp ribs with veggies as well as a baked desert. At R 75 per person, it was good value. We had to deal with some narrow mindedness though. We had enough to eat and asked for only two of the 4 desserts. When it came, SWAMBO saw that there was a scoop of ice cream too, which she could eat and simply asked for another desert with only the single scoop of ice cream and the rest removed. They somehow could not be that flexible, so she asked for the full desert and when it came she simply moved what she could not eat to a small plate and sent it back with the bemused waiter. Nothing serious, but points lost.
From there we got on another gravel road and to our delight there was a long old suspension bridge crossing the Caledon river. They always make you feel you have been places! Shortly after, we went through a little place called Van Stadensrus. Most of it was dilapidated and the HOP houses looked proud in this environment.
SWAMBO was driving and lost quite some time on the gravel, so I did a reroute to get us to Zastron on Tar. From there it was gravel again to berghut. The directions were somewhat confusing and with poor cell phone signal, it took some effort to find out that we have to go to the farm house first.
The farmer took us out and the hut is so well concealed that it cannot be identified from anywhere as a sleeping spot. The spoor to get there is also challenging at places and I immediately wondered if it would be a good idea to take the trailer over the Bastervoetpad later. The Landy had to pull surprisingly hard up the steep inclines and most was done in 1st low. I could feel the wheels were on the limits of digging for traction. I do however think the road will be passable for a 2WD bakkie in the dry.
The hut is well equipped, and most importantly there is no electricity and no cell phone signal. There is a gas stove, gas fridge and gas geyser for the shower. The longdrop in particular have an awesome view and there is no need to take the magazine with you for entertainment.
I made the trailer stand, took out what was needed and we tuned up a salmon pasta for dinner. SWAMBO was reborn to red wine recently and we opened a Merlot for the wonderful medicinal properties it has.
With the week behind us, neither of us managed to sleep dead, but the tranquility of the place soaked into or souls.
In spite of the poor nights sleep, the sun beat me to it which is already a good thing. I made coffee and started typing on my trip report.
With rain forcasted for later the week, I noted that the sky was crisp clear and thought it wise not to waste it so I conferred with the family and we decided to do the hiking trail for the day. Apparently it is a 3.5 hours of leisure walk and there is a mountain pool on top, which had us all excited. We packed some bites, the cameras and water and was on or way at 9:00. From point 1, we battled to find the trail markers and missed them all until marker number 13. The written descriptions too, are difficult to follow and as we went along, the leader finding the way changed all the time to see who have the best luck. The children did a Sterling job of finding the road markers.
Eventually we found the rock pool and in spite of the good rains, it was near empty this time. Of course it was a bit of an anti climax but the rock formations made up to some extend. It was time to do the next half of the route, but by this time we were already almost 3 hours on the go. Once again, it was difficult to find the markers and after the fires of the winter there was no sign of a spoor. We had to do a lot of bundu bashing and all of us had plenty of scratches on the legs as evidence. However, the hardest part was still to come when we had to negotiate the very steep decline down to the hut. It was downright treacherous area and I realised we were running into trouble as our water was finished. SWAMBO and my daughter had to be particularly cautious so the going was at a snails pace and I could not put much pressure on them to hurry up. I took the lead and worked out the way down which required quite a few tries at some places. It was so steep that I had to work most of the last 200m down in short zigzag fashion. That said, hats off to the ladies as there was almost no complaints. We reached the hut 6 hours later.
In terms of a hiking tail this one should get full marks for scenery, but it is not a very relaxing walk for those who are not as agile. And I almost wrote off the Pentax where I lost traction once.
The children voluntarily went for an afternoon nap. We made dinner and when the blanket of darkness enfolded us, me and son played a bit with the camera with long exposures, painting the rock with the torch and the green laser. I would not say that anything of art gallery quality came out of that, but he did find it very cool.
I had a good nights sleep, although my aching back mussels cut it short and I got up before the sun. I took some time to take a pic or two before the light was too harsh.
After the exercise of yesterday, this day will be for playing board games.
More importantly though, breakfast first. SWAMBO pulled a big container full of ripe strawberries out of her hat and with some papino and oranges, we made a deliciously sweet salad. Added some low fat yogurt and muesli for a topping, we almost had a knife duel to fight for seconds. Thank heavens we all were too lazy to get out of the chairs so the only option possible was the straining effort to pass the bowl in civilised manner and share.
As this is our last day, we decided to go for a mall crawl in Zastron, fill up the Landy with diesel and replenish the red wine stock for just in case we need to go wild on the 21st of December. The shopping experience was full of surprises. After roving through the town at just above walking pace to explore all the options in this shopping Mekka, we figured that the place to be was Shoprite. It was clear by the choice on their shelves that this place was enlightened and we could buy very fresh Green Peppers at R 10 for a bag of four and even better, perfect Nectarines for R 10 a bag. Chocolate bars were all less than R 6 each and fresh from the farm.
Our next stop was a liquer store and they had only a few, but good red wines and I walked out with two respectable bottles for R 90. Here I learned that the outdoor school still exist, but that it was now privatized. And of course we had to try or luck on sheep shanks. This is something we have not seen for ages and when we found it, it was at R 100 per kilo. The first butchery was out of stock and he referred me to another. Both was like walking back in time with the display units still having the brands Electrolux and Fuchsware proudly chromed in the fake wooden waistline. I got fresh shanks, cut right there and paid R 68 per kilo.
Meanwhile, SWAMBO supported the shop next door, with a choice of genuine authentic home baked treats and while paying, picked up some news about the next bridge we need to cross. It was nicely repaired a few years ago. This kind of personal service is special.
To raise the capitalistic bar of ambition a few notches, we decided to feel completely exhausted, made a quick noodle salad and hit the bed for a nap. I cannot say that it did much to restore the energy levels. Getting out of bed depleted my last resources and I was ravenous from the effort. So I dug into some rusks and nectarines just to get through until dinner. Sometimes though, strange thoughts cross your mind and mine wondered why I pick up weight this time of the year. But I could find no reason to dwell on such trivial matters, focused to enter the state of Nirvana again and translated that idea as another bottle of red and hot dogs with a custom built tomato, onion, garlic and pepper sauce. That took some time however and the shortfall was made up with chip and fresh avo dip.
Berghut was a splendid stay and we would not mind a few days longer. Definitely on or list for a weekend getaway. 8/10
Berghut to Wild Mountain
Traveling time: 7 hours moving
Ever wondered if there is anyone on earth who went to heaven and back and can tell others about it? It even gets better... You can go too!
The problem is, I am at a total loss of words to try and describe the splendour of the world we had the privilege to take a glimpse of. But I will give it a try.
From Berghut, we took a gravel road that eventually made a T-junction with tar to cross another suspension bridge near Sterkspruit. The gravel was one lane wide most of the time and one have to pull over for vehicles from the front. The entire road is a divine display of mint green hills and valleys with smooth flowing curves. Very soft on the eye. Even though this is my home province of 34 years I never knew it could be this green. On this road, we found a battered old baby blue Hilux with three men under three bonnet. I stopped to see if I could help but when I had my first peek and realised that this van ran on neglect and hope, I was not so sure of myself.
The Hilux does not have a complex wiring harness, but what was there was degraded to a tangled mess of tooth stripped connections, some insulated with rips of plastic bag and all the main fuses was blown. But it was cranking and the battery tested fine. After minute or so, I figured the easiest way to get them going, is to simply hotwire three ignition circuit and another few seconds later, the Hilux was going. I would not be surprised if my work around would be considered permanent even after I explained to them that the wires needs an immediate fix if they do not want their wheels on fire.
After the bridge, we turned left and passed through a neat little village and took a gravel road that ran through the mountains, all along the river. We found a few a Toyota Quantums along the way as well a village or two. The scenery was breathtaking and just as we thought it could not get any better, it did.
The gravel spit us out close to Telebridge, and we turned right to Lundeons Nek and traveled all along the Lesotho border. For almost that entire section of road, there was neat little houses from natural materials and the people and animals all looked happy and in good shape. Traditional living that works. All the way, the road was surprisingly busy. Definitely one of the busiest gravel roads we can recall.
Soon after we passed Upper Tele, we turned out right to Lundeons Nek and the road was significantly more deserted. Once again, a never ending stretch of paradise as we winded through the passes. On the final leg to Wild Mountain, the tyre pressure monitor went into alarm, indicating the right rear tyre. I stopped, got out and it was hissing a thick jet of air from the tread. The deflation was so quick, that by the time I got out the Jack which was within easy reach, the rim almost touched the earth. I changed it with the spare and about 10 minutes later, we were going again. By this time, the rain which promised for most of the day, came down in torrents and we devised a method statement to pitch it in this weather.
The last 10km to Wild Mountain is quite passable in the dry even for a sedan in places, but in the wet it turns to deep mud and evidence of it from recent days, was clear. This will require 4WD.
As luck would have it, the rain stopped just as we entered the camp site and for minutes longer than what we needed to setup camp. It helped a lot that we made a test run with the new tent the week before and erecting it took no more than 15 minutes. Another 20 minutes later the stretchers, chairs and table was ready for use.
The camp site is on a small piece of land, 16 hectares in size, but in a narrow strip of about 1km along the river. It is an interesting setup. The couple who owns it brought it as virgin land and three camp sit was cleared from alien trees. All the wood from the trees was cut in timbers on site and naturally dried. From that, they have built their own house, as well as the ablutions. Hard physical labour. It seems that the camping and outdoor activities will be the core business.
Today was just a lazy day at the camp and we did little more than sleep and eat. The lamb shanks went into the pot with some veggies and rice for lunch. Everything went perfect, including the cooking accident I had. I was cooking on the cast iron two plate gas burner. It was outside in the sun and the gas cylinder heated up nicely. With that, the gas stove is directly coupled with no regulator before. The connection at the plastic pipe got very hot because of the wind coming from behind. At the moment when I went to have a closer look to see if the little blue flames are still dancing, the pipe popped. With the high pressure gas behind it, the space was flooded in tiny time and ignited with a deafening explosion. That faction of a second felt like minutes and I could see every detail of the ball of fire jumping at my face. My eyes closed, I flinched and then I was deaf. No time for panic though. Vitality check first. I was blind too! But before I could utter that hysterical "MY EYES !!!" phrase from the war movies, the cloud of frizzled hair half choked me to death and I realised my eyebrows are only fused together. Rubbing that between my fingers, the misty view cleared up soon and with a few swallows my hearing came back. Check completed. So I got my toolbox open, repaired the pipe and rang the bell for lunch.
When we were children, we thought or parents were three worlds worst party poopers for insisting to take a nap every singly day of the holiday. But I have to admit they were geniuses and as parents we are compelled to indoctornate, threat with death and spread propaganda if needed, to protect this holy ritual.
Sigh. I will make up for the lost sleep tonight. But usually, I cannot complain. My kids give me a reasonable chance most of the time.
Another lazy day with some adventure. Today we took three tubes to make the ride down the river. I thought it was not such a good idea since none of us are great swimmers but with 3 against 1, I had to go. And I don't like chilled water unless it is for HVAC.
Ok. Getting to river was nice. Getting in, was something different. It was my first swim of the season and I knew my crown jewels would try to hang around my neck to escape the sub zero water temperature. And they did, but if a 7 year old fairy can have blue lips I certainly would look better with two safires for decoration.
We made a train with SWAMBO in the middle at first and through the first rapids, our bums took a beating on the round rock. Perhaps it was then not such a bad idea the safires were relocated.
We made that rapid in one peace. Then it was the calmness before the storm. For some reason the current took us straight to a tree, broadsided the boat and put SWAMBO in the striking position. Long story short. We were tipped over and it was a frantic few moments to get all the tubes together and the fairy out of the washing machine. In the process SWAMBO lost a pretty shirt and both her slippers. The fancy Second Skin swimsuit, fits her very well though so I had no complaints. The next rapid was much less forgiving and I was getting worried. At least the two children were on the tubes now. I realised only much later that I had felt no cold and no fear at all.
As we approached the next turn I watched the rock cliffs and knew that if we do not get out NOW we would drift off to Barkley East. That did not sound very appetizing. With a good effort of kicking, we managed to get to the side, but the current was strong and we could not walk back in the water. Luckily, we could walk on a very thin strip just above the water line and got to the original intended position.
We had a good afternoon nap...
After that, we went to river again, my eldest bouncing stones on the water and me taking photos.
Another lazy day spend at the river. Me reading, the rest swimming. Rain after lunch.
However, late the afternoon two families traveling together entered the camp. One vehicle was a Toyota Land Cruiser 80 series 4.2 diesel with a turbo conversion. Very neatly done early in life, but somehow it lost two of the three bolts holding the exhaust to the turbo. Luckily I could help him with some genuine Land Rover bolts which I always have in my toolbox. I trust the LC will be more reliable now!
Wild Mountain to Maclear
Distance: 160 km
Travelling Time: 7 hours moving
With some rain during the night, it took a lot of time to break up camp. Ra was good to us and at about 9:00 we could start bathing the we camping equipment in the soft heat and managed to get away at 10:30.
The first 10km out took us almost an hour and with the wet soil and steep slopes in places, I found that the Disco was digging a bit to pull away with the trailer and my reservations for taking the trailer over Bastervoedpad, was strengthened. It became clear to me that the trailer can handle all the roads as long as the pulling vehicle have traction.
Our first stop was Rhodes and the way to get there was once again overwhelmingly beautiful. The road is steep though and at some point I had to work the Disco for the best part of 10 minutes in second gear and the pedal to the metal. The cylinder head temperature hit 105 Deg C at times and was watching it constantly to make a break if needed. The TC temp picked up steadily too and stopped just below 90 Deg C. The oil cooler mod I did last year, works wonders.
In Rhodes, we first took some time to work through the streets. The place is clean and the owners restored the buildings well. But of course we needed some lunch and stopped at the Hotel for sandwiches and drinks. The food was good, but the thing that grabbed my attention, was the old manual cash register on the bar top. I have no idea how old it must be, but I suspect at least 100 years plus and it is still in use! Just look at the details!
From Rhodes to Maclear is 46 km straight line, but 106 km along the road and I knew we would need the best part of 4 hours to complete that. We got away at 13:45 to complete the first part of Naudesnek, which we missed in 2006. Also, on that day it was cold and misty and we had no view from the pass. And this is what I like about traveling. One can do the same stretch of road over and over and have a completely different experience each time.
The pass was actually quite busy and we found a lot of bikers coming from the front. Deep inside, I am a little green with envy. Indeed it must be great to have the wind in the hair but I decided for the sake of health, I will stick to 4 wheels.
The flowers blossomed all along the way and I was surprised that there were roses too. Since I am not much educated on plants, I did wonder if this was an indigenous plant. But it seems likely.
Finally, we reached the 2500m top. Naudesnek is the highest numbered road in South Africa and this time, we had a long view. Apparently one can see Port St. Johns from here on a very clear day.
The road winded down and eventually became a little more open. Closer to Maclear we passed through large areas of pine plantations. Logical, but I did not know that this was prime area for it.
We entered Maclear just before 16:00 and found the Maclear Manor with little trouble. It is the only 3-star guest house in the area and although guest houses are not our thing on a holiday, SWAMBO was thankful that we had no need to setup camp. It does not have self catering facilities and the restaurants are not open this time of the year which does make meals other than breakfast, a bit difficult.
This is then where I plugged in my mobile fridge on 220V and 30 minutes later it made a bang and smoked – that after I took it out and noticed that it could not reach temperature after the long drive. So I got the third battery from the trailer and hooked it up with a charger.
As I woke up, I noticed that the fridge was still running and when I got up, I noticed that the temperature did not reach setpoint – which probably means that we are buggered. At least we have the 7-day Coleman box and I did put it in as backup. It chows a lot of space though but now I was glad we had it.
We went to town early in the morning and while we did expect it to be busy, we were stunned by how busy it could get. People were literally queuing from when the doors opened until it closed. At least I could find a tyre repair kit, some brake fluid and filled up with diesel.
Now please do not take the next comment in any negative way as it is not intended to be. If you want to feel what it feels like in Africa, Maclear is a good example. Most of the buildings are neglected because there is not much money and the insides of stores are not in the least pretending to make eye candy of it. You want something, you take and you pay. It is that simple. Many of the streets especially those in the commercial areas, are nothing less than rubbish heaps. The traffic is chaos and it seems that pedestrians have permanent right of way irrespective of where they are but everyone is blaring on the hooters for them. It is quite a bit of fun and good to experience.
Back at the guest house, I tried my best to understand the controls of the Fridge and found that I could not even make the Danfoss compressor run with direct power since it is a brushless DC motor. Sigh. Knowing what these little compressors costs, I almost wondered if it is worth the trouble to transport it back to Bloemfontein.
Old Christmas night, and we did not make a fuss of it. We took out the Monopoly fir a good game.
The guest house offered us a very spunky breakfast and we sommer started with Christmas Cake although none of use are used to the thick icing and left most of that.
We went downtown again to buy a bread and found one at the second convenience store. I then phone Tsistafalls to here if we can make a day visit, but the cell number went to voice mail. It is a pity since I think it should be an awesome place. I tried to book a camping spot there but they were either full, or decided to take a break over the festive season too.
However, we tried our luck and drove in the direction of Tsistafalls but the rain came down so strong that the gravel road became a river and SWAMBO did not feel comfortable crossing a long section of water. I decided not to work on her nerves and turned around.
Due to lack of facilities, we did not have anything special on the menu. It was no problem though. SWAMBO did however at one hour mention that she enjoy the tent far more than the guest house. How can a man complain.
Maclear to Intaba Lodge (Elliot)
Distance: 75 km
Travelling time: 1.5 hours
We woke up and the rain came down steadily so I had no other option but to skip Bastervoedpad and go via the tar to Ugie and Elliot. It is a nice stretch of road with shoulders, but already the cancer of potholes is taking it's toll. I set the cruise control on 80 km/h and the diesel was working a bit with the heavy trailer behind which means that on a couple of steep hills I had to go down to 3rd and the speed dropped to 60 km/h. One reason was that I swung the tent poles perpendicular to the roof rack and the ears sticking out, was definitely major wind resistance. I noticed however, that for the past 450km, our moving average speed was 28 km/h!
At one spot we hit a rut as wide as the Landy and in spite of the low speed, the axles hit the bump stops.
Ugie is a small place and there was not much that seemed interesting at first glance. We drove through some of the streets and the verdict is that we were better off sleeping in Maclear. The Claredon Guest House (where we wanted to book first) was in the main road and it could be busier than what we wanted.
Elliot again, is a little bigger and in general a neat little town. Once again, we worked through the streets and the tower from the sand stone church pulled us closer. What a surprise it was to see that there is an exact sand stone replica of the big church which serves as their memorial wall! I took some pictures from all the corners.
Intaba Lodge is only about 10km from Elliot but already has no cell phone signal. They have a small camp site than can can accommodate 4 families at the most, as well as a few guest rooms and a restaurant. I went to reception to finish the paper work and the manager walked me to our camping spot. The ablutions are small but very neat and the place is right next to the farm dam which was over flowing and the rush of water provided pleasant background noise. There is no shade however, but for us that is no problem as the silver tent cover is as good or even better.
Another family with a Discovery 4 and a road going Jurgens caravan was already in and standing for a couple of days in order to drive all the passes. They were from Tzaneen – another area of the country that I want to take my children to.
There are also things on short poles at every stand which I found foreign. It is called electricity and I had no clue what to do with it.
Ra was once again good to us and poked out as we arrived. We could pitch camp in the dry. With the town so close, we went back to Shoprite and bought fresh fruit and things for salad.
Somewhat later, I managed to get the Waeco going and giving effective cooling, but the temperature control was way out giving the impression that the probe was not in place any more – although I tried to push it in before and it did not move. There was not other option but to do it manually by plugging it in and out during the day. And that is when I started planning a modification with PID controller making full use of the variable speed of the compressor.
As I started with dinner, I took out the camera, played a bit and managed to take a very nice pic of my eldest cupping the moon. I had to take it from a very low angle though and the shot was taken out of hand at very low shutter speeds. I think it came out well.
Bastervoetpad: 75km round trip
Travelling Time: 5 hours
The rain was gone and when I woke up there was not a cloud in the air. Crisp blue air and a perfect day to drive Bastervoetpad. We made quick work of the morning chores and just after 8:00 was on our way to approach Bastervoetpad from the Barkleys pass side. The turnoff to the gravel is about 18 km from Elliot and indicated as “Rhodes”.
The first 10km or so was a normal gravel road and eventually we turned out right where the road gradually became true 4x4 work. The scenery was once again breathtaking, especially from the top of the Bastervoetpad Pass where one looks down into a trough of a thousand valleys. Driving Bastervoetpad from Elliot to Ugie is easy as it is all the way downwards and I would not describe it anything more than a grade 4 at the worst places even if one would drive it upwards from Ugie to Elliot. Definitely low range work and in some places good ground clearance is asked for as even on the Disco and carefully chosen lines, I had the chassis brushing at one place – something that I never experienced in the short Disco before and I also used the plough in a couple of places.
I got another puncture along the way when the tyre stepped into a tooth from one or other animal and it was saved by the tyre pressure monitor. I hopped out, grabbed the snotplugs in the cubby hole and fixed it quickly but it was a warning to me that I should never leave without a wheel pump. The onboard air installation needs to get high up on my list. That said, the Bridgestone Deulers seems like soft tyres although I appreciate the slightly better grip on wet tar. I got my first blow-out ever on a tyre last December on one of these (luckily just as I parked the Landy) and another puncture along the way. This year again, it is two punctures already. I traveled significantly worse roads on my two sets of Herculus tyres with no punctures. Maybe I should try the Pirelli Scorpions next.
In terms of road building craftmanship, the Bastervoetpad is in my opinion not work to be proud of and I wished a gifted bloke like Sir Thomas Bain had the chance. Soil erosion created havoc in many places as a result of the road and there are big boulders freshly dislocated lying deep into the road after the rain of the week and that alone promise a dire risk. This is not a road to travel in any direction in heavy rains – especially not going up. I would however say it is possible to safely take an off road trailer from the Elliot side in the dry. Going up could be possible but not without some damaging digging.
That said, I am glad we had the chance to drive through this place. It is highly recommended if you are in the area and have a decent 4x4.
We made a quick stop in Elliot from some fresh fruit and red wine. For our family, it really was a delight to find that excellent quality fresh produce was available on these small places everywhere along the way. For us it torture to try and survive on junk foods and with too many restaurants still offering chips as the main side meal, that is not an option that we enjoy either.
Later the day I had a chat with the Disco 4 owner and they went to do a pass near Rhodes. I was however a bit puzzled as they went out just before us and came back about 30 minutes after us so I could hardly see how they could fit in a long drive like that unless they were rushing it. Similarly, there is an article in the Weg this month on how to do 11 passes in this surroundings, in 3 days. Sorry, but there is far too much to see around here to rush it off like that.
Like usual, I pinched off some time to check up on the Landy and I added about 250 ml of oil to the transfer case as well as a little break fluid.
Close to sunset, a couple in a Ford Ranger and a little later, a couple in an Autovilla with a Suzuki Vitara behind moved in. The Autovilla couple had two mouse dogs and the children was entertained by throwing them balls.
For dinner, my 10 year old was the cook and dished up a Boere style Teppanyaki. He is good enough with it that I have a seriously hard time to beat him with this. The children are with us in the kitchen from as early as they could hold a sharp knife and help with chopping. This did help a lot to stir the interest in this daily activity that can be such a joy.
Grrrrrrr!!! I had a rude awakening this morning by the very two mouse dogs running from this side to that and barking in that typical high pitched staccato screetch. We are devoted dog lovers but it is not fair if they become a nuisance and the owner just let it be. We had to deal with one of our own dogs before who woke me up at night.
Now I am waking up early all my life, but after a hard year where I started for so many days at 3:00 in the morning, I do cherish the laziness that sets in at holidays and that allows me to wake up slowly in that fashion where I can fall back in dreamland a couple of times before my morning coffee. So when I unzipped the tent flap a minute or two after 6:00 still bemoerd and cloudy from sleep and this brown little $h!& was looking up barking at me, I had to mentally chain my foot in a fraction of a second otherwise I would have kicked it over the horison. OK, I breathed in an out, made eye contact with the brown mouse and in a silent command told it to go back to it's owner – which it did and from there on the brown one was still. It was now only the other wooly one that misbehaved and I thought it better to raise my blood pressure with coffee rather than confronting the owner – which is probably not the right thing to do.
However, the Autovilla owner was punished for his sins. They were still on the way and broke up camp. It seemed like we would not have another morning of this. As I entered my tent, I noticed that unmistakable click and failed half turn when he tried to fire up the motor. I pulled out a chair and coffee and sat down to see how he was going to solve the problem. Perhaps he got the message that his dogs irritated the rest and the easy option to bum a jump from the nearest vehicle obviously was now on the very end of the list. So I watched him removing the battery from the Zuk and getting out a set of jumpers – which was of the cheap kind and when lady hit the starter it was labouring hard to turn over the motor. I don't think they realised that the glow plugs could not heat up either because of the thin jumpers and I listened in glee how the Zuk battery lost oomph from the continuous cranking. With that, the Autovilla owner clearly had no idea of how modern ECU's works these days and told the lady to pump the “petrol” while cranking. Luckily for them the VW diesel fired when the battle was almost lost and the poor thing bellowed enough of a cloud of white smoke for a few millimeters of rain.
Although we intended to do a short walk to a cave today, the morning turned out otherwise when we decided to make some toasted sandwiches on the fire. (For exercise I played some ball with my kids – but I am no expert.) Topped with some whole grain mustard, salami, tomato onions, cheese and some red wine, the meal was good enough to hang sinkers on the eye lids and we had to comply.
We then made an attempt to pack up some things to make the load of the next day a bit easier and went to the restaurant for dinner. The lodge manager and his lady are guest people to the core and while there was no others around, we had a nice chat about the area and what it can offer. I also raised the topic of the dogs shortly and the manager confirmed that in all the correspondence and on request of the owner, they said pets are absolutely not allowed. So the owner simply sneaked them in and made sure he arrived at the camp site late enough that it would be a bad idea to show him away and when the manager came over to offer him a refund for going, he simply stay put. I am sorry I did not take his number plate for naming and shaming, but I do wonder how people become so selfish.
Right, back to the important things. We all ordered food. The menu is small and limited, but they had absolutely no trouble to cater for special requests like swopping the chips for salad, or making SWAMBO a Dom Pedro. The food was all of high quality and the background music was just that – soft and pleasing.
Intaba Lodge in general, was a good experience and is recommended to anyone who wants to camp or lodge.
Intaba Lodge – Karnmelkspruit
Distance: 150 km
Travelling Time: 6 hours moving
Elliot and the surroundings are humid places with plenty of rain and dew in the mornings. We broke up camp but the tent and all the grass was wet with dew and it took time to dry out everything in the sun to a level that I was prepared to put it in the bags and we got away just after 10:00.
Our first point of interest was the Otto Du Plessis pass and right in the beginning, the GPS worked out a route that was not possible. We ended up at a farm house and asked for directions, but the road we were on apparently was a dead end in the mountains. We turned about and went further down to Elliot and picked up another gravel road that was fairly fast traveling for a while. At each turn I first consulted the GPS and had to make some revisions to the route. Eventually the road became narrow and it was once again clear that these roads turns into deep mud after rains. At some point a Ford Ranger with Jurgens Explorer came from the front and had to pull of for me to pass. I stopped next to him and we quickly shared road conditions. The just went over the pass.
As we traveled along, the feeling of desolation got even more intense. In this part of the world, one gets deep into the mountains and the farm houses are long distances apart – many of them seems not to be used any more.
Finally we reached the pass and from the Elliot direction, it is the difficult way. The Discovery hard to work hard in first gear and I had to keep the momentum all the way up in order to make it. It is probably the steepest climb that we ever did with a trailer behind. Although the temperature gauge stayed comfortably at normal, the cylinder head temperature on the Madman eventually hit 110 Deg C and I decided to rather play it safe and give the old lady a break at a level section. While she was idling, the temperature went up to 115 Deg C and I switched off the airconditioning just to make sure that the electrical fans kicked in for the second stage. It did and a while later it swiched off. It was probably about 10 or 15 minutes until the temperature dropped to 100 Deg C and there was still a stiff climb ahead for which I switched to 2nd low range.
The Otto du Plessis Pass must rank under the top 5 of anything I ever did – gravel or tar. It is challenging, isolated, beautiful and have a super view from the top. This pass must be on the list of any serious overlander if he pass this way.
At about 15:45, we reached the sign which showed “Karnmelkspruit Reception” and turned off, but the first farmhouse did not had any further indication and we continued to the next farm. On the way, we reached a sign showing “Vulture Sanctuary” and was just in time to see the birds in that typical down spiraling motion from high up. This farmer than made an active contribution to saving these magnificent creatures.
The road to the next farm was a steep drop along the side of the slope and when we finally reached the house, the farmer told us that we need to be at the very first house that we saw. I asked him about the vultures and he said it was his neighbor who does it. Once again, we turned around back to the first house. We found it deserted apart from an old big dog and two other small dogs. The big dog was not very keen to escourt me to the front door and was begging a bit for attention so I spend a minute scratching it's side and pushed my way through to ring the bell. No answer.
With no other option, we therefore continued to the camp site. The little road winds down a valley and in terms of settings it is a nice spot. I had to ask around where to report and found that the Vulture famer and his family who runs the camping spot, were also there in their own caravan. We selected a camping spot of our choice.
However, due to a combination of circumstances mostly caused by a few campers on the one end of the park, the atmosphere was spoiled enough that SWAMBO wanted to leave the very next day. Luckily when it became dark, everyone was silent and we had a good rest.
We wanted to go and see the vultures and left camp just before 8:00. Unfortunately we were a little late and we decided to go to Lady Grey to fill up with diesel and perhaps get some fresh things in the supermarket. Up to now, the Disco was consistently heavy on fuel and returned about 16 l/100km at all three stops. However, I know from experience that in this type of conditions my old Safari went up to 25 l/100km easily and that was without a trailer.
This time, the fresh things were close to worm food and we had to be satisfied with a magazine and cold drink cans. While there, we cruised a bit through the streets and went to see what the caravan park looks like. It is part of the Country Club but was entirely deserted although it looked neat. The fencing and barb wire on top did make us wonder though how safe it was.
I have no clue if the camp manager had a word with the mentioned campers, but they broke up camp and left just before 10:00. Instantly there was a different atmosphere in the place and we went down to the river for a swim. SWAMBO is my alter ego in the water and where I was yet again reluctant to get in (it really was not that cold) she plunged in and had a good 20 minutes of head start when I finally got myself wet up to the neck. The water was very nice and refreshing and we felt clean enough that there was no need for a shower.
The day before, the 12V supply wire of Madman broke off in the plug and I honestly did not want to risk driving without it so I had to make a repair. After some struggling, I made a soldering iron by heating up a flat screw driver in my Mapgas torch and soldered a new wire directly to the PC board and brought it out. This was also done to see if a repair like this is possible with bush tools. It worked, but I do think that I was a little negligent by not putting in the soldering iron while I have an inverter. Even more serious, I forgot hose clamps and that is plain stupid.
After lunch, we went for the usual afternoon nap and the tent was pretty hot, but bearable. When we woke up I wanted that swim badly and we went down to the river again. This time I went in quick and we all spent at least an hour in the water with SWAMBO managing to loose her spare set of spectacles in the water. The water was clean enough that we could see the bottom but in spite of the searching effort, we could not see the spectacles.
Eventually we had to get out to see if we could spot the vultures again. This time we were a little luckier and came in fairly close with the birds spiraling in the air. We could not spot any nests though as one needs to get quite close to the edge of a nauseatingly deep gorge. Two species, the Cape Vulture and the Bearded Vulture (Lammergier) breeds here although there was only two breeding pairs of the Bearded Vulture. With that, there are many white cross eagles on the farm.
Later the night the Vulture farmer came around and I asked him what his experience was with the birds and them catching lambs. His answer was simply that although he found White Cross Eagles eating newborn lambs, it was not something that happens often and he never saw a bird pick up a lamb – although he reckons it is possible and some farmers claims they have seen it. With that, he reckons that the White Cross Eagles takes more Dassies and keep them under control – otherwise they eat the grass of a couple of sheep. With the Jakkals and Rooikat however, he have no mercy and will shoot them whenever he sees one.
I am in no position to criticize the wrong of killing the Jakkals and the Rooikat. It would however be great if someone could find and effective non lethal deterrent for these animals.
Another night of good rest and I am so glad that we finally chucked the inflatable mattresses in the bin. The kids did not had a single complaint about their new Oztrail stretchers and ones that me and SWAMBO borrowed from my dad with the 30mm foam mattresses on top is – dare I say it – more comfortable than my expensive memory foam mattress in my bedroom. I easily made it to after 6:00 each morning feeling great.
After the morning swim, I went through the Landy to see if there was anything that needed attention and decided to focus on the one radiator hose going to the cabin heater. It got my attention a little earlier on with the daily checks and I noticed that it rubbed on the tappet cover. Although the wall was not down to the rope yet, it felt a little soft for my taste. I siphoned about 2 liters of coolant from the expansion tank so that it would not pollute the soil and so that I could re-use it. When the hose was pulled off, I strengthened it with this new Alcolin Silicone Tape (it is probably on the market for the past 2 year) to see how it works. This is a brand new item in my toolbox. It seems like a great product for this kind of repairs as it is tough, can stretch a lot and can handle temperatures up to 260 Deg C. The hose was firm enough after I applied about 3 layers of this tape. I went for a drive to allow the thermostat to open fully, so that I could check the water level again after it cooled down and make sure there is no air in the system. I need to find a better way of securing that pipe or I need to get some of that woven glass fibre covering that one can pull over the hose.
To me, this sort of checks are vital and in the past I have picked up many little gremlins that if attended to on the spot, saved me from much bigger trouble later on. The fact is that off road work takes its toll on any vehicle even with considerate driving.
I find this type of holidays saturating and satisfying and lost track of time completely. By now it feels like we are on the go for a month and there are still a few days to go. I don't know what the new year will hold for us, but with a breather like this one can take it head on.
Karnmelkspruit is a good venue to spend a few days and can be recommended. New year was an exception to the general silence of the place and the youngsters had one big party until 3:00 in the morning and although we had almost no sleep from the music, it was not overpowering.
This then brings and end to the Eastern Cape part of our holiday as we will be spending the next few days in the Southern Free State.
I am Proudly South African and this part of the Eastern Cape just strengthened the desire to see other parts of this lovely country. Honestly, where else in the world can one have such diversity in the same compact area? As with our Nothern Cape trip of 2009, we experienced days of complete desolation and the fact that about 150 km of distance consistently meant a whole day of traveling, makes this part of the country a must for any overlander. On the GPS, our average speed was about 30 km/h over more than 850 km – and that includes the short stretches of fast tar and gravel. This was challenging, slow going all the way and what is more, we could have spent even more time here.
I can just think about what we have not done yet. There is the whole West Coast, Namakwaland, Swartberge, Wild Coast, The Low Veld, Richtersveld, Kgalagadi, Waterberge, Northern KZN, The former Venda, the Kalahari... There are still years of unique year end holidays within the perimeters of our borders. Viva South Africa. I hate the politics the violence and the corruption, but do know that I will pick up my coffin and walk back if ever I am burried in other soil. This place is magic.
Karnmelkspruit to Tussen-die-Riviere
Distance: 150 km
Travelling time: 2.5 hours moving
We got up after a night of almost no sleep and I knew the holiday was a worthy rest when I realised that I am actually not that tired at all. SWAMBO was a little slow though and breaking up camp took some time, but there is little sense in chasing the family beyond the natural pass of the day.
Due to the weather, the tent and things dried out quickly and at least that did not take much of our time. From now on, it was tar all the way to Tussen-die-Riviere. We could make another detour through the Joubert's Pass, but I sensed that everyone had seen enough and that more time in the car could spoil the mood.
When I started the Landy though, I noticed that that the starter laboured and I took out tester to check the main battery. Big was my disappointment when I saw that the almost 6 month old sealed Calcium Chloride battery, forced acid through the one screw cap and browned the sticker. Hopefully the 1-year warranty from Battery Centre is good.
In Aliwal North, we stocked up on some basics and made a scout visit to the Spa which looked like it is in reasonable condition, but there was obviously a lot of people in there for New Year.
We therefore pushed on to our venue for the next four days and it was an unbooked visit but from years of experience, we reckoned there was a 99% chance that we would not only get space, but have the reserve for our selves. And that is exactly what happened. All the campers moved out earlier in the morning and when we arrived at the camp site, it was completely deserted – 36 000 hectares for our joy and plenty of game. The camp site is protected by a robust fence from thick droppers and thumb size steel cable to keep out a particularly moody Black Rhino. This animal was teased a couple of years ago by one of the workers on his horse. One night after another tease, the Rhino walked about 15 km to the stable, rammed open the gate and in the confined space it went mad and literally separated the poor horse in spares.
Pitching the tent though, was a bit of a challenge. There was a brisk wind from the West and it picked up momentum steadily as the sun went down. Never the less, I decided that the Texan steak was on the menu and had to apply some more patience to get the fire going. Why I started with Blitz in stead of the LP-gas fire starter I have no clue but changed tactics quickly when I checked 5 minutes later and there was no smoke.