Cape Passes & Poorts

Normal people may find this post boring.

As Jess and I whizzed southwestward in search of clear skies to dry out the tent on my lorry after the floods in the Kruger Park at the beginning of the year and the soaking rains in Mpumalanga, Free State and KZN which kept my canvas damp. It got so bad I started thinking there wasn’t a sky in the cloud. On the tar roads we passed numerous signs saying some or other pass. You notice the lovely scenery, but the passes pass with no effort, so we seldom stopped for photos. Thanks to the amazing website run by the geeks, nerds and – worse – engineers of mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za anyone can go on a virtual drive over these passes. I used them gratis for a bit, then subscribed. Well worth R465 a year in my view, even if you’re only doing one trip with one pass – you’ll get so much more out of the trip once you’ve read the amount of info these guys post about each pass. A narrated video of the route, angles, altitudes, distances, directions, gain, gradient, history, can you take a Fiat Uno or do you need a Unimog, ens. Fascinating.

I had some well-known and challenging passes on my to-do list for this trip, and on those I did take pics which I’ll post.

Wapadberg Pass – On the tarred R61 between Cradock and Graaff Reinet; 17km long; On YouTube here.

Carlton Heights Pass – On the tarred N9 between Noupoort and Middelburg; 7km long; On YouTube here. It was here I remarked to Jess, ‘Look, not a cloud in the sky!’ We had found our dry blue skies to dry out my tent! We stopped for a pic and saw there was one wee cloud to the south, no bigger than a man’s hand, just like in the Bible.

Now four passes on the tarred N9 north of Graaff Reinet. Heading South, as we did, they are: Naudesberg Pass; Paardekloof Pass; Goliathskraal se Hoogte Pass; Perrieshoogte Pass; All tar, all beautiful, but none caused us to stop and take pics. Also near – almost in – Graaff Reinet are van Ryneveld’s Pass and Munniks Poort. Some of these passes were Andrew Geddes Bain passes, the famous road- and passbuilder whose reputation I accuse my ancestors of appropriating when they got to Natal!

In Camdeboo National Park we found the first pass, mountain and valley I had long wanted to see: Camdeboo Pass leading to the Valley of Desolation! Back in 1972, fresh from a wonderful Veld & Vlei adventure, I’d been invited on a Boy Scouts patrol leader camp to the “Valley of Desolation near Graaff Reinet.” The camp was cancelled, but my imagination had been fired up and I always dreamed of seeing this mythical place one day. Now, a mere fifty one years later, I was driving up the pass. – – (virtual drive it on YouTube here and here)

— Jess halfway up the pass; and the tent on my lorry nice and dry —

Next we headed to the Karoo national park outside Beaufort West, my old mate Louis’ stamping ground. Inside the park there’s the Klipspringer Pass built with great effort and care. Being in a declared nature reserve, rocks were sourced from outside the park, ruins of old houses and kraals eg. and local labourers dry-packed them by hand to minimise the damage to the area. Jess chose to loaf back at camp while I drove it. She missed out.

After Beaufort we headed for Oudtshoorn to visit Louis and Gail – and what a welcome we received! Good friends indeed. Louis told of us of Meiringspoort, saying It’s Beautiful! and he was right. We crossed Droekloof Pass on the way, then took our time in the poort, stopping at every picnic spot and walking up to the waterfall. — (the feature pic at the top shows the mighty Ford Ranger on the Meiringspoort road).

Reluctantly leaving Louis n Gail’s hospitality we headed north towards a must-do pass – the famed Swartberg Pass, After passing through Schoemanspoort near the Cango Caves we started up the pass, stopping at Kobus se Gat to get Jess her 100th hot chocolate (!). Ahead lay 24km of Thomas Bain’s finest road engineering. The boffins at mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za rate it so special they have made eight videos to cover it! See a shorter video here, showing north to south, opposite of our direction.

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Thanks to mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za; tripadvisor.com; and princealbert.org.za for pictures

Abba Game Farm

Jess and I had a wonderful chill at Abba Game Lodge in the greater Waterberg, near Modimolle. No traveling to do, nowhere to go, we just chilled for four days. Jess enjoyed the attention and kindness shown her by the ladies who run the show, especially Chantel, who encouraged her to get out and about on the grounds, but couldn’t persuade her to swim in their heated pool. She did get some exercise wandering around searching for the wifi signal!

Took me a while to get used to the pitch black impala and pale, not quite pure white, blesbok roaming the grounds. Weird!

The road we took to get there from Bela Bela was rough; the road to Modimolle much easier, so we left that way, stopping for breakfast en route to Dinokeng, north of Pretoria.

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St Francis

There are at least ten Saint Francisii. I’m sure most were skelms, so why a lovely place on South Africa’s shores is named St Francis I do not know. I bet Saartjie Baartman wouldn’t know either.

Lekker place to visit though. Cheap, too. We found a luxury fully-catered mansion where we were treated like royalty for FREE! We had our own bedrooms, me and Jess, three cordon bleu meals a day, guided tours of the harbour, walks along the beaches and a boat trip in the canals and on the Krom river, all included. And it was Easter, high season!

OK, confession: We were guests of generous good friends Mike & Yvonne who rescued us from the Easter crush. My usual procrastination meaning I hadn’t looked ahead and seen the long weekend looming. Hey! It’s not easy when every day is like a Sunday. Perpetual loafing can make your brain mushy. OK, mushier.

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Brown Silks

Thank goodness he has Elizanne for a spot of normality. See, young David Scratchmo suffers from some strange delusions. Like thinking he’s a goeie kykende ou, thinking his lop-eared puppy is beautiful, and thinking it matters which brown horse wins a horse race. I’ve tried to tell him it makes no difference and it’s pointless taking all the horses to one end of a field and putting small people on them to slap them to the other end, cos we know one of the brown horses always comes first. He came back with this strange statement: There Are No Brown Racehorses, Koos. Can you believe it? As a race-goer of some experience I have seen dozens of brown race horses at the track that time that I went to the Rothmans July!

I spose its cos of my kindly pointing this fact out to him that he didn’t have a brown racehorse in his lounge when Jess and I visited him and Elizanne in their lovely home in that unpronounceable city formerly know as Pee Ee. He had instead, an old semi-retired black race horse in his lounge.

Personally I think he knows a lot more about people races.

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Baviaanskloof

Anton used to tell me about the Baviaans with great excitement and enthusiasm. You gotta go there, Pete! Well I finally got there about thirty years later. After, when I got to Gqeberha I phoned my old colleague, now in Jo’burg, to tell him the valley was even better and more spectacular than he’d said!

The full Baviaanskloof route was a lot longer than I had thought; it was also far more rugged than I’d imagined; and it certainly was beautiful and spectacular, as Anton had shouted while also telling me how indestructible his old Toyota bakkie was. You know what Toyota groupies are like.

On the way we met Ian, farmboy from Ireland, put-putting through the kloof alone on his motorbike while slowly going round the world. Africa is his last continent and he’s doing it slowly and thoroughly with a puptent for a home. Made me feel overdressed, did Ian, what with my Ford Ranger and canopy tent!

We stayed at Zandvlakte farm in a lovely big cottage. Only after leaving there did I realise the friendly owner Magriet Kruger was the co-author of this magnificent newly published book! Aitch would have kicked me (and bought three copies!).

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Riebeeck Kasteel

On our way to Riebeeck Kasteel I phoned ahead to ask Lang Dawid how we’d find him when we got there. ‘Just drive in, I’ll see you,’ he said. As I parked under a tree next to the Groot Kerk I got a call: ‘Look right,’ he said.

And there was a lang skraal athletic figure waving at us from outside his new cottage. Above is his view of the kerk from his stoep. From the steeple the dominee can see right into his bachelor bedroom. Complaints may follow.

Dave very kindly hosted me and daughter Jess on our travels in his new cottage he has built on the grounds of his boet William and wife Mary’s lovely home which doubles as their photographic studio and professional printing business. Check out their portfolios on that website – stunning.

Some lekker eating joints in the dorpie. From this table we could see Dave’s cottage next to his boet’s home.

Dave is an accomplished birder and bird photographer. Not only has he exceeded my forty year count in far fewer years (not that I count, of course), but he has a photo of every one of his 650-odd birds recorded. With my 620-odd tally (not that I count, of course), you only have my word. We met other weird okes talking shutter speeds, ISO, length of your equipment, whimbrels and curlews. Or was it curlew sandpipers?

– spotted a spotted moth in Dave’s garden –

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And wow! Here’s a picture Mary took of that same view of the kerk:

Ancient Okes

Met old school chum Fluff in Bloemfontein for coffee. We were in pre-school together at Kathy Putterill’s home, went on to the Kleinspan school, then the Volkskool down the road, all the way to matric up in the high school on the hill below Platberg.

Great chat over coffee, followed by an ussie taken by Fluff (see above) – he remembers to actually take pictures. I too often remember afterwards!

Driving south-west out of Bloem towards the Groot Gariep river a beep on the phone and there was the image, sent by Fluffy.

I showed it to Jess and asked, “Can you believe we’re the same age?”

NO WAY! says my darling daughter, wide-eyed.

So how much younger do you think he is than me, Jess?

“Dad, I thought he was like, in his early fifties.”

No supper for you tonight! I laughed.

~~oo0oo~~

Pointedly explained to her that he is actually 68 and 13 days, whereas I am a mere 67. He is actually a full SIX WEEKS older than me, Jess!

NO WAY Dad! she dug her hole deeper.

Three National Parks

Luckily Jess also enjoys driving around in natural areas. Our Karoo journey started off with these three:

Mountain Zebra National Park

Camdeboo National Park

I said to Jess Take A Selfie with the Valley of Desolation in the background. “OK” said the daughter.

Uh, here Jess, let me show you what I meant:

Karoo National Park

Karoo NP

Groot Marico

As I left Botswana’s Khama Rhino Sanctuary I spoke to a German couple who said they were going to exit Botswana at Gaberone “cos they want to drive longer in Bots – they like it here.” So I changed plan and did the same. Instead of heading east to Martin’s Drift / Groblersbrug border post, I meandered south to the Tlokweng / Kopfontein crossing.

As afternoon approached the old familiar Where To Stay dilemma started – not my favourite part of my meandering life. For a change I decided to ask someone, as Groot Marico turned out to be a surprisingly not-groot dorpie. The Wag n Biekie Pub looked enticing, set in a shady garden.

Three manne looked comfortable at the pub. One my age was nursing a brandy n coke; one who said he was the youngest oke left in the Groot Marico at 36, nursing a brandy n coke; and Brian, nut farmer. ‘No not macadamias, the climate is wrong. Pecans,’ nursing a brandy n coke.  Once Brian and his gabbas had sussed me out – What you doin’? Where you goin’? How old are you? Where do you hail from? – he hopped onto the phone to sort out a place for me to spend the night: Hello Liddy my darling. Listen, Wild Bill Hickok has come to town and is needing a bed, can you help him sweetheart?

Liddy could, so Brian drew what he assured me was a very accurate map to get to Evergreen farm  I couldn’t miss it. Luckily I listened carefully as he scribbled.

I bought a round then, as when they heard it was my first visit they winked at the barmaid and she brought me a glass of amarula liquer. ‘Watch out, don’t choke hey! There’s something in it,’ I was warned. I thought maybe a chilli but turned out to be a cherry, which I  slukked.

While the kind ladies in the pub kitchen made me a supper to take home we all had another dop, then I departed with thanks for the lekker hospitality.

Evergreen farm’s chalet was great and the monster burger I had for supper was delish.

The next day I discovered the Groot Marico river runs gin-clear as it’s source is an ‘oog’ – a large dolomitic hole in the ground, a spectacular scuba diving spot.

It flows northwards; for a stretch it is named Madikwene River, then reverts to the name Marico, bends northeastwards and forms the border between South Africa and Botswana. Further downstream the Crocodile River joins the Marico from the right and the name of the stream after the confluence becomes the famous Limpopo River.

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dorpie – hamlet; village

not-groot – tiny; no metropolis

Wag n Biekie – linger a while

gabbas – mates; chinas

chinas – mates

slukked – swallowed; like swallowing a slug

Stuck in the Namib with Aitch

So we did *sometimes* go where the signs *sometimes* said Maybe You Shouldn’t.

We were rescued by friendly Damara ous in the Namib desert, by feisty ous in tight khaki shorts on Mocambican beaches, and by faithful Bahá’ís at their picnic on the Báb’s birthday on a Malawian beach. Bless em all.

You just gotta have faith ye shall be rescued.

*pic of kombi stuck on Moz beach*

Whenever I got stuck Aitch was out with the camera like a shot! – Zavora Bay

~~oo0oo~~

Jejane At Last!

I first heard about this lovely lodge on Jejane Private Nature Reserve “up towards the Olifants River area” way back last century. Now at last I got to visit thanks to Carl and Mandy, co-owners with four other families – all farmers around Harrismith and Bergville.

It was everything I’d imagined and more; we had a lovely stay with game drives, lots of laughter, great meals, lots of beer, sunshine, lots of rain. Carl and I were on our best behaviour as we were outnumbered, Mandy having brought in three young lasses from her distant past to stand by her. They cheekily nominated me Airfryer Fundi, pretending they didn’t know what to do with the machine; so I pushed, pulled and stroked various knobs so they could cook dinner.

– impressive clouds came and went, rain and sunshine, rainbows every day –

The rain was lovely – not as hectic as in the Kruger Park next door. Dams and pans that were mud puddles filled rapidly and overflowed. Streams rushed all over, threatening road crossings, but the level would soon drop and the roads remained good as the water soaked into the sand.

Paradise.

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Hey, Rasta! . .

. . What did you catch?

The manne were curious at least, won’t say envious. Tom had caught five fish before the other ten or so anglers on the beach caught their first. Hey, Rasta! What bait are you using? Then they started catching too. And then the fish went off the bite. Tom only caught anther two. All small stone bream, he called them.

Maybe Tom had an advantage though? He had, after all, fished here before, in 2005:

This time he was his own gillie. No smelly fish bait for me.

~~oo0oo~~

Mfolosi Martial Arts

Three days in Mfolosi’s Mpila camp with two demure young ladies.

We saw a few confrontations: Two male impala, two male lions, four rhino, with one male threatening the others. Nothing much came of these feints and threats, despite the loud shouts which came from the back seat, where the two demure young ladies were seated: FIGHT! Fuck him up!

Shocked, I was.

Stuck in the Middle with You

‘Middle’ being a middelmannetjie; ‘You’ being four Big Beef Bulls. It was Louis’ fault, of course.

I usually go nowhere slowly, but right now I was in a slight hurry, and I had an actual destination for a change. This hurry relative to my normal pace would slow down my progress, as we’ll see. I had just left the beautiful Cubango river in the pic above, which forms the Angolan border with Namibia. I wanted to meet Louis on his farm Kakombo outside Omaruru in two days time.

Go via Tsumeb, said Louis. No, that’s tar! I protested. Ah, said Louis, I also like the back roads; There is another way. I thought it was a cutline but when I went down it it was fine. The D3600? I asked, looking at my maps.me app. Yes, I think so, said my Local Knowledge Personal Route Advisor, not looking at a map. The one that goes dead straight south for about 130km? Yes, I think so, he said. He didn’t say when he had been down that road; nor what he’d been driving – I now know he drives a macho Namibian 4X4 called toyota (which is a Herero word for ‘rugged’) with wheels like a large John Deere. You know what those ous in khaki are like.

As I turned off the tar I thought ‘piece o’ cake.’ A good sand road. Third gear, 40kmh, smooth and a low middelmannetjie. In the dips it was softer and I’d have to change down to second. There were three surfaces: Reddish sand was firmer; light cream was deeper and the lightest grey sand was the deepest and softest. Keep up the momentum through those hollows, I told my driver. Surprisingly, some stretches were jarringly corrugated under the sand! 4X4 ous blame these corrugations on 2-wheel drive vehicles but 2X4 me tells them the 2X4 forums say 4-wheel drive vehicles are to blame. Luckily, so far none have asked me about those non-existent forums. They’ve just laughed at me. But I’m used to that.

After a few km’s I was thinking Uh Oh! and then soon it was 2nd gear and 30kmh with only occasional 3rd gear and 40kmh; After 50km of Uh Oh! it just got too deep, I lost momentum, slammed into 1st gear, but no go; I came to an abrupt halt. Stuck in the middle.

So I switched off and let rip with a long string of all my swearwords, repeating many of them and searching for the best ones.

Then I stopped to think. And what I thought of was that I was near the Angolan border and they speak Portuguese there, which reminded me of the Portuguese swearwords Abel Luis Aparicio Caixinha had taught me in primary school. So I let rip with those a few times. I thought that might help.

Cleverly, I had got stuck next to a lovely shade tree, so I left the Ford Ranger in the blazing sun and went to stand under the tree to think. I was not alone. Those four Big Beef Bulls I mentioned lay chewing the cud and staring at me thoughtfully through half-closed lids. I could see what they were thinking. They were thinking What A Doos.

What I was thinking is, I’m glad Aitch isn’t here. She’d be asking me innocently – knowing full well that I hadn’t: Did you bring a spade this time? Just because I had got her stuck in deep sand in the Namib desert thirty years ago, she’d assume I hadn’t brought a spade again. Correctly. If I patiently explained – again – But Think of the Weight I Saved, she’d roll her eyes so hard she’d see her occipital cortex. Again.

I thought Better Start Digging, but the shade was cool so I lingered. Me and the bulls were not alone. Each of them had a thousand flies buzzing around their bums and on the bovine crap which covered every inch of shady ground. A few dozen made a beeline straight from those bums to my lips and my Ffff! Phhh! Ffff! and slapping my cap at them startled the bulls, so they jumped up and stared at me through wide-open eyes, thinking What a Doos. Standing, I could see they were fully-qualified bulls, not cows or oxen. I needed visual proof, not being a good farmer.

I’d run out of thoughts and excuses now, so there was nothing else for it: I’d have to dig. I stepped out into the hot African sun and knelt next to the right rear wheel and started digging. Five seconds later I was back under the tree. Damn! that sand was fiercely hot on my bare knees, shins and foot arches!

Once I got a towel to kneel on I did the wheels one by one followed by a break under the tree to cool down. Then I let down each of the tyres to 1.1 bar, again with a shade break. This undid my initial dig so I needed to repeat, but only after digging out the fifth wheel: the spare slung underneath, buried in the middelmannetjie. One more round of digging in the same sequence and I was ready.

Time to fire outa here. I was determined to get out at first attempt. A failed attempt would dig me down towards Australia and I’d be stuck here until someone happened to drift down this lonely road as no-one had all day. Taking a deep breath I started off with a 3L turbodiesel roar in first gear and difflock for two metres, slammed into reverse and rocked back six metres, back into first and forward! Into second gear, and keep it up for the 300m to the harder red sand. I was out! Much better with 1.1 pressure, should have done that earlier. Plus removed my spare from under the vehicle!

On the hard stuff I stopped to think. 40 to 50km of known track down, about 80 to 90km of unknown challenge to go. Retreat! A four-point u-turn had me heading back north, exhaust pipe tucked under my bumper, discretion beating valour. Back on the tar I pumped all tyres back up to 2.4, swallowed an ice-cold tonic from my fridge and headed west, past Eenhana, then south to Ondangwa.

– Central Northern Namibia – Tracks4Africa calls my shortcut “Bravo cutline 4X4 trail” –

My day was far from over, but that story will need another post.

~~oo0oo~~

middelmannetjie – raised hump in the middle of a twin track

ous – men

ous in khaki – real men; hard to see when they stand in front of a khaki background; the background in Namibia is often khaki coloured

Didn’t think to take photos of the stuck Ford Ranger, or the bulls, or the shade tree! Damn! Aitch would have got pictures of my bum as I dug sand with my hands, as she did in the Namib.

Khwai & Moremi

Bev said Hop In! so Janet and I hopped into her Prado automatic and glided off smoothly NE to Khwai village, on the border of Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. A much smoother ride than my old bakkie, was Bev’s Prado. We were working – we were going to check out a bridge on the river Kwai – I mean a lodge on the river Khwai called The Termite Mound Guest House. “We” meaning Bev – Janet and I were just backup crew. Happy nogschleppers.

We loved the cleverly designed lodge. Two big metal ship containers form the lower outer walls. One is the kitchen and pantry, one is an en-suite bedroom. Impressive Zanzibari doors lead into the lovely open space between them; ideal for dining and lounging al fresco. All the other walls are canvas; the roof is tin with skylights, raised up high on impressive gumpoles. Above the containers, two en-suite bedrooms with their own verandas and wonderful views. Solar power heats the water and powers the batteries that run lights and fridge. Comfortably ‘off the grid.’

Bev is an experienced and accomplished guide who knows the area well, so we drove all along the Khwai and into the fringes of Chobe Game Reserve with her telling us about the various places to stay and camp. The waters of the Okavango spilling into the Kalahari bring life abundant and I remarked in awe as we sat at one lagoon, ‘It’s like an aviary!’ Here’s a partial list I recorded: Great white Egret; Rufous-bellied Heron; Little Egret; Reed Cormorant; Darter; Black Crake; Striated Heron; Black-crowned Night Heron; White-faced Duck; Egyptian Goose; Lilac-breasted Roller; African Fish eagle; African Jacana; and some Lechwe antelope were hanging about.

When we left for home we headed into Moremi Game Reserve, crossing a bridge on the river Khwai:

Good rain had fallen, making some roads tricky, but Bev waded through with panache. We had lunch overlooking a pan. On the way out I said. ‘I’d love to see an Arnot’s Chat again,’ and Bev said ‘There’s one!’ I got a pic – will add it when I find it. Meantime, talking of lunch, here’s a leopard eating an impala, crocs eating a hippo and lions chilling, probly after dinner:

~~oo0oo~~