(Part of) Route 62 October 2020

Part one: Montagu to Barrydale

A beautiful drive out of Genadendal and through the bright floral streets of Greyton got us to a night stop with beautiful views onto the Mountains of the Riviersonderend Nature Reserve. Meandering around in the beautiful valleys in the next day or two eventually got us past Bonniedale where we stopped for the night next to a railway. Twice that night we were visited by police to ensure we were safe.

The following morning, while we were having our morning coffee, we were surprised when the train rolled by on the tracks, right next to us.

We got on the road and drove via the Cogmanskloof Pass to Montagu, our starting point of the iconic Route 62 with Swartberg Pass as our end goal.

First stop would be Barrydale and en route we took a detour to the Poortjieskloofdam. As we turned left onto the gravel road, we saw a sign requesting touching base with the office, which we duly did. Although we were free to go, the owner prepared us for a very dry dam and dead fish and expressed the concerns of the local farming industry about the serious shortage of rain. It seems that the fish were dying because the oxygen levels dropped as the water levels dropped.

On our way we went. We usually follow paths and roads on Google maps. It’s not real gps, but it tells you where you are and indicates roads, dams and rivers. At the point where Google maps indicated a big blue splat (the dam) we saw nothing. The further we passed around the blue splat, the more we could see from the vegetation where the water levels had been in the past. Pretty close to the dam wall we eventually saw the huge parched and cracked expanse of valley floor where the water was supposed to have been.

We parked Trokkie on the parking area above the dam wall and walked down. From above the dam wall we could see heaps of dead fish piled up on the shores… and got the accompanying smell of rotten fish permeating the air. We walked down towards the water’s edge and the cracked riverbed and got even closer to the decaying fish being swept up on the edge of the retreating water.

On the dried valley/river floor one ring of green indicated where-we presume- the previous level of water had been. Walking on the cracked landscape, we were quite amazed how deep the cracked mud is, and how soft the mud is under the hardened clay on top. We saw several marks of vehicles who must have had fun making donuts on the dry valley floor, and were surprised it seemed none had broken the hard surface and slumped into the mud below.

We left the dam and hoped they would get good rain soon.

Back on route 62, we continued to Barrydale and the Tradouw Pass. We had anticipated to pull off at the Kristal Kloof for a walk to the little stream but the path was so overgrown with lots of rubbish lying around, that we didn’t think it a nice place to chill out. 

Seeing we wanted to stay on route 62, we did Tradouw Pass both ways and made a beer stop at Barrydale’s ‘Diesel and Creme”, a cool and funky pub stuffed with salvage décor.

By then it was late afternoon and with two beers and a full tummy, we were not really in the mood to drive another hour, just for the sake of driving to find a spot for the night. So we just sauntered up and down the street looking at the arty shops, retreated to the truck and slept where we had parked her in the street!

Part two: Barrydale to Gysmanshoek Pass

One of the iconic places on route 62 is Ronnies Sex shop: an odd bar with a weird and wonderful story. One can’t pass and not stop. So that’s where we went after leaving Barrydale.

Although the name sounds a bit peculiar and one could be wary, it’s not as dodgy as it sounds. The most prevalent story that goes around: a guy opens a shop (Ronnies Shop) but his friends play a prank on him and add “sex” to the lettering on his shop. That was the point of no return. The shop changed to a pub and has never looked back. The décor comprises walls and ceiling full of bra’s, t-shirts and other apparel, millions of stickers and even more comments written of the walls. Seeing that everyone who visits here leaves their mark, we couldn’t resist: truck-with-a-view was here!

After we had a beer on the stoep (terrace), we retraced our route for a short distance to a dirt road on our left that would take us through a valley passing north of the Boosmansbos wilderness area.

We’re always keen to get away from the normal traffic and wander around on roads less travelled. Although most of these dirt/gravel roads are still provincial or regional roads they mostly go through private farms. We have experienced however that most farms either have cattle-grids and an open farm gate or- if they close their gate- they usually have a sign requesting to close it again when you’ve passed through. But, unfortunately, there are some who just don’t play ball and close up their gate, lock, stock and barrel. And then you’re stuck. It was our un-lucky day that day and after just have driven more than an hour in the valley, we had to turn back. Bummer.

Travelling through the valley we saw bright green fields alternating with the dry semi desert landscape of the Klein Karoo, with wide expanses of farm land stretching out into the valley to the foot of the mountain ranges.  And every time again we are surprised that amidst dried and withering bush, brightly coloured patches of flowers seem to flourish on the sun baked valley floor.   

Although by now we’ve seen lots of vineyards, orchards and wheat fields, this time we saw for the first time onion fields (yes we only know onions from the shop and have never even thought about how they grow in the field). In comparison with the bright green of vineyards or meadows, onion fields have this pale greyish-green colour topped with bright white pompoms.

We saw lots of beehives (as you would presume would be everywhere where plants need to be polinated) and were just wondering if “onion honey” would sell well on the market? 🙂 LOL

Back on the original dirt road, we wanted to take another dirt road leading of to the right towards the Gysmanshoek Pass, but we missed it and eventually got to the R323 that takes you to Riversdale via the Garcia Pass.

We saw that we could get onto the Gysmanshoek pass we had missed earlier, via the Riversdale side of the mountain (turn right at Hoer Landbouskool Oakdale) and down the valley we went. 

Once on this road, it’s not difficult to see where the “Sleeping Beauty” mountain got its name from. (top image)

The valley that day was a rhapsody of greens and blues. 

We passed the Korintepoort dam with its bright blue expanse mirroring the sky and set against the backdrop of the Garcia Mountains. Unfortunately they didn’t cater for camping (only chalets).

While we now recognised the onion farms, we saw another crop we hadn’t seen before. We guess it was coriander. Much like the onion fields, these fields also had this unusual greyish white colour. Although from close up, the flowers are proper little white flowers fading to purple, from afar the field definitely looks white (in comparison of course with the pale yellow of the adjoining wheat field)

And up, up we went, deeper into the valley and eventually up the mountain.

The fertile fields made way for steeper mountain slopes covered with protea. The steeper we went the narrower the path became. And once again, it was my privilege (?) to sit on the deep side of the valley. And yes, there were again a few times I preferred to get out of the truck and walk because it felt safer.

Eventually we reached high ground on top of the mountain. The path was still narrow and, as the afternoon was marching on and the sun started to set, we hadn’t yet passed a lay-by where we could possibly pull off the path and stay put for the night. On Google maps we saw a little dead end dirt road a bit further on our left and decided to pull in there. We had beautiful views over the valley below and enjoyed a glass of wine surrounded by mountains covered with protea flowers.

We had been there maybe for half an hour, when we heard a knock on our door. Long story short: the local farmer requested us to leave.

So we got out of our beautiful spot and continued down the mountain. A little bit further down we were flagged down by another farmer. After a few words though (and a visit inside Trokkie), he could see we were neither hooligans, criminals nor cattle thieves and he suggested a spot to park for the night, in the little quarry lay-by just up the road.

That’s where we eventually had our second glass of wine… with a full moon rising in a beautiful pinkish-purplish-blueish sky!

Part three: Gysmanshoek Pass to Seweweeks Poort

We woke up on Gysmanskloof pass with beautiful views over the valley. After our morning coffee we continued out of the valley, noting the number of abondoned houses and ruins. It would be interesting to know the stories behind them.

We (again) hit the R323 and turned left towards Ladismith and Zoar driving along the utterly dry Groot Rivier valley. One can see the expanse of where the river could be with healthy rainfall (top image: area between the fences) and although there was no water to be seen, we assumed there would be ground water as we could see the fresh green tufts of bush and trees in the river bed. 

As we passed through this sparsely populated area we saw a farmer with a sense of humour who decorated his whole farm yard with salvage yard items and rusted car carcasses.

We took diesel in Ladismith and continued to Zoar where we would turn left to Seweweeks Poort.

We had planned to do this with the grand daughters last January, but diesel intake and not knowing the extent or difficulty of the Poort, we had taken the route to Laingsburg through the valley between Swartberg and Anysberg.

Now we were back here and this time around we could and would do the Poort. The last stretch between Ladismith and  Zoar was lined again with fresh green farms, but closing in on the Poort we could see where mother nature had reclaimed its wilderness and clay houses were left to crumble. 

We stopped at the low water bridge to fill up our tanks from the ice cold mountains stream and while waiting I got the camera out to snap a few pretty dragonflies.

The Seweweeks Poort is beautiful road through the Towerkop Nature Reserve.

It was Sunday and obviously a popular place for the locals. While we had been filling up we had heard music further down in the poort. When we drove through, we passed several families braaing and playing music or taking their kids for a swim in any of the water holes.

In comparison with a pass which takes you high over the mountain with its usual share of hairpin turns and steep ravines, a poort winds its way through the gorge below, mostly where a river has carved its way through. As a result: you drive a reasonable flat road but are surrounded by the raw and rugged rock formations rising from the gorge floor: awesome!

There were roadworks, but at least no hairy hairpins or steep ravines. A very enjoyable ride for me!

At the other end we had anticipated to cut right towards the Gamkapoort Dam, hoping to be able to get to Die Hel from there (we had made plans to meet our friends there). Unfortunately there are signs indicating no thoroughfare .

So we returned through Seweweeks Poort, which was definitely not a punishment, and got us a spot for the night. Initially we were a bit worried because when we got out of the truck, we could hear bees buzzing like crazy in a patch of flowers right next to the truck. We were careful not to annoy them, but it seemed they were just to busy working and couldn’t be bothered with us. We took our cue from the locals we had passed earlier and had a nice braai in the sunset.

Part four: Seweweeks Poort to Swartberg Pass

In the morning we continued to Calitzdorp, which would be our last real Route 62 destination. Just over the bridge in Calitzdorp we turned left onto a dirt road taking us past Calitzdorp Dam and driving through the green and lush valley fed by Nels river. Just like the Korintekloof Dam on the Langeberg East catchment area the dam was full. It was a stark contrast to the Poortjiekloof Dam we had seen just two days before with the dead fish piled up on the shores.

As we proceeded on the gravel road we could follow the course of the river by the vibrant green ribbon of vegetation that wound its way through the valley with riverbeds filled with reeds and flowers and luscious willow trees hanging low over the little bridges we had to cross.

The path was narrow and we tried to negotiate rocky mountainsides and overhanging vegetation as good as we could to minimise scratches on Trokkie… with limited success.

Working our way through the valley we passed through arty hamlets with galleries and even an outdoor movie theater. We saw  restoration projects to preserve the iconic local settlements and buildings, while unfortunately other dwellings, still pretty in their abandoned state, were in serious need of some TLC.  And then there were the, by now, familiar sights of those that had lost the battle and remained as crumbled relics of the past.

It seems the valley is quite tourist orientated with cottages and guest farms, but unfortunately many of the quant arty places were closed. In the latter part of the valley, we drove along the fences of the vast Swartberg Game Reserve. We saw a few buck behind the fence, but supposed that most of the game is deeper into the reserve.

Eventually we exited the valley at the foot of the Swartberg Pass, which we would tackle the following day.

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