Meirings Poort and Baviaans Kloof December 2020

After our wonderful soul cleansing days in the solitude and vastness of the Karoo we left Sutherland en route to Port Elizabeth, where we would meet daughter Erika and her family for Christmas.

We traversed the last part of the Karoo from Sutherland to the N1, with  the ever changing play of clouds over the never ending desert landscapes, the odd graveyard, and funky farm décor of a farmer with a sense of humor. Loosely translated, the sign at the farm gate spells it out: “Treat this gate like your fly… keep it closed!”

We saw some blesbuck and a solitary grysbok and as dusk descended on the Karoo, the landscape turned dramatic and mysterious.

We eventually stopped for the night in Prince albert, had some authentic Karoo food at the super hospitable Rude Chef and went home… right there in front of the bistro! No need for uber!

After our morning cup of coffee we traveled towards Meiringspoort via the R407. Seeing that both Swartberg Pass and Seweweeks Poort are untarred roads, it seems that Meiringspoort is THE preferred connection road between Outdshoorn and Prince Albert for heavy vehicles.

We stopped at the waterfall and were seriously impressed with the visitor centre: informative, clean and very well maintained.

We continued through the Poort and at De Rust we turned off on the R341 towards Willowmore but we intended to take an off road track that, according to the map, would be following the river on the northside and we hoped to be able to fill our water tanks. As per usual, the gravel road had fairly good portions alternating with corrugated sections that would have made us loose dentures if we would have them!

Under a dark and thunderous sky, we travelled through a pastoral landscape with heaps of sheep checking us out, disused railway lines covered with sand and the ever present sisal plants. When we realised a bit later that we were not really travelling right next to the river and pumping water was not evident, we decided to cross the river at any of the two crossings we could see on the map and pump water on the bridge. That sounds pretty straight forward but it wasn’t.

We turned off on the first road that descended towards the river, but when we arrived, I wasn’t so sure about Trokkie crossing. The water was very wide, which made me conclude that the river might possibly be pretty deep. We’ve seen video’s about it so, … I sent Stefaan on a “walk and test discovery mission” to check how deep the river was. And according to me… too deep! The water came to halfway up his thighs so that would mean ¾ of our tyre and the bottom part of our front door would be under water. Seeing our truck is not really sealed like a submarine, I voted ‘no’. Stefaan agreed with me on this one… we would first drive to the next crossing to check it out before risking this deep crossing.

We turned back onto the steep embankment and continued to the next crossing. We saw a bakkie with farm labourers and asked the driver if he knew if the next crossing was do-able. He wasn’t sure, but said he would come with us: we were bigger than him and could make the first traverse. If he saw how we managed, he would also give it a try!

When we arrived at the crossing I felt quite relived that there was a lot less water. With a check-walk Stefaan still got ankle-deep in the mud, but that implied that Trokkie would be more than capable to cross. The farm labourers removed a wire fence that was lying in the river and off we went… easy peasy!

Then it was the bakkie’s turn and with a bit of extra revving it- and its extra load of people on the back- slipped and slithered its way across the river. The driver obviously preferred this crossing instead of having to make a long detour via the R341. Happy ending for all of us!

We drove a little further on the dirt road before we linked up again with the R341 and it was smooth tar road all the way to Willowmore. We had hoped to get to the tourist information centre for Baviaanskloof but realised too late that it was Sunday. We decided to take a chance that paperwork and entry details could be sorted out at the gate, left Willowmore and got onto the R332 towards Baviaanskloof: a wilderness area alternating with lush farm lands and rugged mountains.

When the sun started to go down we parked Trokkie in a rocky lay-by surrounded by the towering rock face. We thought our camping spot might be part of a (dry) riverbed but, seeing no rain of any kind was predicted, we were not too worried about being swept away by a flash flood!

Next morning we continued towards the entry gate of the actual wilderness area that is managed by National Parks.  The landscape alternated between the raw and rugged mountains with captivating rock formations like “Seven Dwarfs” (l) and “Vensterklip (Window Rock)” (r – the little green square in the middle of the rock is the “window”) to farmlands and game farms with quirky and peculiar recycled decor and fields full of sheep.  

We stopped at the cool and funky Baviaans Craft Shop and had a roosterkoek at Vero’s for breakfast!

When we arrived at the gate, Stefaan sorted out the Covid related paperwork and then drove through the gate while a vervet monkey (blou (blue) apie in Afrikaans – can you guess why?) was nervously checking us out: Trokkie made it with only centimeters to spare.

We heard from the gate person that the day before vehicles had come from the other side, so we were confident enough that all roads were open and passable. Stefaan was confused to realise that I had never been in Baviaans before. He had been there often enough with our scout group, but couldn’t believe that I had never come along on those particular trips. Maybe it was a good thing because, if I had known what was in store for me, I would have suggested we skip Baviaanskloof and take the long route around via the N2!

Man, was this (yet another) trip with terrifying moments!

It all started innocent and nice enough with photographing tortoises and butterflies on dung and our ever beloved aloes!

There was a lot of water on the lower parts of the valley and we had many water crossings, but I’m happy to say: all very shallow. Unfortunately water means growth and at certain parts of the track the vegetation was so lush and overgrown that we had to bundu bash our truck through narrow tunnels of bush and low hanging trees. At one particular moment, when Stefaan was focusing on his side of the truck and I was checking my camera, we hit a thick branch on my side of the truck that eventually left the blind spot mirror smashed to pieces and a forever-dent in the door of our house!

And then we hit the part that reminded me of Swartberg and Die Hel: steep and curvy up hills with yours truly- as per usual- sitting on the ravine side and freaking out (sometimes!). One of the scariest moments was a part on the very narrow track (barely wide enough for one vehicle – I can’t even imagine what would have happened if another car would have come from the other side) where Stefaan had to negotiate a fairly sharp (90degree) bend and from my side of the truck I could see a dodgy spot where part of the road had washed away and had formed a little gully sloping down towards the valley. At the angle we were turning I had visions of the back wheel slipping into that gully and Trokkie sliding down the mountain, so I freaked  out (once again) and got out of the truck. After an initial try to negotiate the bend and me frantically waving like a lunatic not to continue, Stefaan got out to check the situation himself. He realised that he wouldn’t be able to make that bend in the position that we were and had to do some serious maneuvering up and down to get the angle right so that we could pass that little gully on the side of the road. It took him eventually a 9 or 900 point turn, with a whole new collection of scratches where he had to back up so hard into bush and mountain side to make the angle work! I was so relieved… we were still alive! Even though that was the scariest turn, we could see further on that rainfall had seriously washed away the track in many places and left a very bumpy road with deep gullies to negotiate. 

When I thought we were almost done with the incessant ups and downs, we hit another… and another… and another. Until we hit a section that seems to be too dangerous in its natural state so slabs of concrete have been poured for extra grip. This was by far the crappiest road ever that we’ve driven on. The concrete track is so dilapidated that it is almost non existing in certain spots and where the natural path has systematically washed away, the concrete slabs now stick out above ground level and create serious bumps to conquer. A very tricky up hill and I was extremely grateful that Stefaan crawled his way up: nice and very slow! Add this to my list of scary moments!

I was very relieved when we eventually reached the plateau because that meant we had weathered the worst. For a short time I could revel in a nice flat ride amongst the flowers, before we got to the last, long descend towards the gate.

Eventually we arrived at the gate on the other side and the guard didn’t believe us when we said we just had driven the whole Baviaanskloof from Willowmore. We had hoped we could have camped at the caravan site right there at the gate, but unfortunately they were closed due to Covid19.

We continued to drive, looking for a place to park and sleep but amidst the Gamtoos farm lands it’s not so evident. Eventually we decided to drive to Jeffries Bay, where we parked in the street in front of a petrol station and called it a night.

Enjoy the video! More video’s here!

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2 thoughts on “Meirings Poort and Baviaans Kloof December 2020”

  1. Super video and amazing your truck got through Baviaans, hope there was no damage to your solar panels. Out of interest what cameras are you using for your photography and videoing.
    Kindest Regards
    Stephen

    1. Thanks. Yes, it was quite a daring trip (for me at least) through the Baviaanskloof – certain sections definitely more than other. It seems that our solar panels are quite sturdy because they didn’t have a scratch. Unfortunately our door wasn’t so lucky and has forever proof we did some serious bundu-bashing. Where Stefaan takes video with Go Pro, I take photographs with a Canon Powershot SX60HS. I’m still a novice-photographer so sometimes the photos don’t come out as we would want, but if they’re part of the story… I use them. Thanks for your continued interest in our travels!

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