A more factual and detailed report on the day by Nigel Hemming
This year’s Mystery Tour took us to Harrismith in the Free State where, amongst other things, we were to visit the Platberg Nature Reserve (PNR) and take a drive up to the top of the mountain before descending partway for a picnic lunch at Akkerbos picnic site.
The cast of 24: Mike & Yvonne Lello; Gavin & Judy Bolton; Gary & Meryl Wylie; Pete & Gill Hockey; George & Jeannette Smith; Jon & Elize Taylor; Graeme & Audrey Fuller; Tim & Gail De Wet; Nigel & Barbara Hemming; Garth & Di Gower-Jackson; Bruce & Heather Soutar; Piet Swanepoel (long-standing member and Harrismith native); Leon Strachan (historian, guide and story-teller)
The day started well enough and after an early breakfast we all set off in convoy to PNR where we left some of the vehicles and climbed into the five that were to tackle Donkey Pass to the top.
The reduced convoy was as follows: Gower-Jacksons, Hockeys and Leon (Toyota Hilux); Hemmings and De Wets (Subaru Forester); Fullers, Smiths and Meryl (Ford Everest); Soutars, Taylors and Gary (Toyota Prado); Lellos, Boltons and Piet (Toyota Fortuner).
The forest ‘road’ up to Donkey Pass was pretty rough and eroded and had two very hairy rocky sections, which we all managed without incident. The road up the pass itself was very steep but had a good concrete surface, so was not difficult. Once on top at the south-eastern end of the mountain, we followed a rough and at times rocky track to the north-western end where we stopped near One Man Pass to take in the spectacular views across the town and to Sterkfontein Dam and the Malutis in the distance.
The first split
This very narrow and steep pass is part of the route of the annual Platberg Challenge run (Harrismith Mountain Race) and so a few people conceived the idea of walking down it if possible.
Piet, who had run the Challenge in the past, assured them it was possible, so it was soon decided that Barbara, Di, Tim (who had suffered a bit of whiplash over the rocky sections, compounding the injury he had suffered the week before when he tried to do a swan-dive off his bike) and Gail would walk down with Piet as their guide. They would meet up with the rest of us at Akkerbos – which Piet believed was quite near the bottom of the pass!
The rest of us then drove all the way back along the track to the top of Donkey Pass where, instead of heading straight down, we took a detour along an even rougher and rockier track, to have a look at the dam which the British had built when they occupied Harrismith during the Anglo-Boer War.
The second split
At this point the Soutars decided that they were not going to join us for the picnic as they were anxious to get back to Durban and set off down the pass (taking the Taylors with them). The Fullers, Smiths and Meryl followed them down, followed a little while later, by Nigel, Lellos and Boltons and Garth, Hockeys and Leon.
When this 3-car convoy got to the bottom of the concrete road and reached the turnoff to the picnic site we made several discoveries.
- The sign had fallen and was not visible
- There were no tyre-tracks leading to the picnic-site, therefore the Fuller party had missed the turnoff.
- Despite Leon’s assurance that they should have already arrived as it was ‘only a short distance’ there was also no sign of the walkers.
The third split
Mike phoned Graeme to alert him to the fact that he needed to turn back, only to be told that the Everest had suffered a puncture over one of the bad rocky sections and was very low on fuel and that he had decided not to return but to head for Harrismith to refuel and buy a new tyre.
Mike left his passengers behind and drove down to the Fuller party to fetch Meryl (but not the Smiths as we would not have enough space for them) and brought her back to the turnoff. He then collected Judy who had remained at the turnoff with Nigel and took them both to the picnic site to join Gary who had walked there with Gavin. Having managed to contact Piet, we learned that the descent of One Man Pass had been very difficult and that far from beating us to the picnic site (which he now realised wasn’t where he thought it was!) they had only just reached the contour road and started walking in our direction. In the meantime Garth had delivered the Hockeys and Yvonne to the picnic site and then returned with Leon to the turnoff.
The fourth split
Garth & Leon and Nigel then set off north-west along the virtually disused and very bad contour road to go to the ‘rescue’ of the walkers. We drove through an apocalyptic, fire-ravaged landscape and after stopping several times to remove branches and even a few small trees we eventually came to an immovable obstruction in the form of a fallen mature gum-tree. We then continued on foot and eventually met up with the walkers about a kilometre further along. They were in good spirits but had no idea of how far they were from Akkerbos. Di and Tim got into Garth’s car and Barbara, Gail and Piet came back with Nigel. Half-an-hour later we were back at Akkerbos, a distance that we agreed would have taken them at least another 2 hours to walk.
Lunch – a movable feast!
And so the planned picnic lunch had become a movable feast in time and place and was eventually eaten as follows:
- Soutars – on their way home
- Taylors – by the dam near the PNR car park
- Fullers and Smiths – at the Harrismith Mugg and Bean!
- Lellos, Hockeys, Wylies and Boltons – Akkerbos (1st sitting)
- De Wets, Gower-Jacksons, Hemmings, Leon and Piet – Akkerbos (2nd sitting)