Van Reenen's Pass, Drakensberg

Van Reenen's Pass, Drakensberg Van Reenen's Pass, Drakensberg Photo: East Coast Radio

Named after the little town of Van Reenen, which seems to stand guard in the middle of this majestic pass which winds its way through the Drakensberg mountains between Ladysmith and Harrismith, along the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg. Unfortunately the only record that the pass can lay claim to is that of the most dangerous pass in South Africa. Despite this, the fairly long pass provides beautiful scenery as it descends down to the natal Midlands.


 

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Diggging into the detail:

It is a 2-lane, freeway pass which rises from 1105m ASL to 1768m at the summit over a distance of 36,3 km, producing a climb of 663 vertcal meters, it nontheless results in a moderate gradient of 1/54 with the steepest sections around 1:20.  Like the Kaaimans River & Hex River Passes, this pass produces a fair portion of South Africas trucking accidents. Sheer volume is no doubt the primary reason for the high rate of accidents, but the pass also has a major drop in altitude. When bad weather arrives, things can get masty with heavy snowfalls occrring during the winter cycle. The pass will be temporarily closed to traffic at times. 

The often wet, misty weather conditions have given this Anglo-Boer era pass the reputation of being perilously slippery, with decreased visibility. The lookout point, Windy Corner, offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Anglo-Boer War Battlefields Route beyond.

Another must-visit Van Reenen spot is the Llandaff Oratary - a quaint little chapel built by a father in tribute to his son, and reputed, world-wide, to be the smallest Roman Catholic church ever built.

Epicureans will be delighted by cordon bleu chef, Kathy Romer-Lee's Oaklands Country Manor restaurant, with a menu inspired by her adventurous spirit and world travels.

Van Reenen is a spectacular tourist region - one of those unknown gems that you seldom discover and when you, do you say to yourself "that was a highlight of my trip". Van Reenen offers gracious splendour to rural simplicity with many varied and interesting historical places.

Van Reenen and the Pass have always been associated with transport. First it was a migratory route for hordes of animals migrating from the Orange Free State to KwaZulu Natal in winter and back again in summer. Frans Van Reenen, after whom the Pass is named, farmed at the base of Van Reenen Pass and trekked his oxen inland using the paths worn by the migrating animals. In the mid 1800’s he assisted the transport riders with laying out a route for the wagons carrying supplies to the gold mines. The area traversed by Van Reenen Pass was originally known as Underberg and there was a settlement 9 km south of the present village around Wyford where the border post was between the Orange Free State and KwaZulu Natal. This was manned by Customs officials, a Dipping Officer and a Police station. There was also The Good Hope Hotel, a boarding house and two blacksmith shops.

In 1891 the railway line was opened and the present village of Van Reenen came into being as all the services were taken to the top of the Pass. The railway line was a massive engineering feat to negotiate the steep incline and involved a series of tunnels and reversing stations. The latter were later replaced by more tunnels which is the route today.

A green lantern was hung at the top of the pass to signify that travellers had reached the summit as it was often very foggy. At this time near to where the Caltex garage is to day, a guard from 6 a.m. manned the border post until 6 p.m. No movement was allowed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Van Reenen Hotel was built in 1892 which in 1948 was renamed The Green Lantern Inn. At the time of the Siege of Ladysmith in 1899 the Van Reenen Hotel was commandeered by the British as their headquarters for the troops stationed on Gun Hill which gave then a commanding view of both the Orange Free State and KwaZulu Natal. They also built a blockhouse, which has since been demolished. During the 2nd World war Van Reenen was a great tourist destination with some 4 hotels in the area. Guests arrived by train and many activities were organized such as tennis and cricket matches. An interesting feature in the main lounge with its beautiful Oregon Pine dance floor, is the original wooden projection room, from which silent movies were first shown in the early 1930's.

The Moorddraai monument near Van Reenen was erected in memory of 9 Boers murdered in 1865 who were transporting merchandise from Durban to Pretoria.

The Llandaff Oratory - The Little Church is the smallest in the Southern hemisphere, and is opposite the hotel. It is visited by thousands of people every year, no matter what your faith, this Little Church has become a spiritual centre point for many people whilst on their travels. Weddings at the Little Church are also common, from a small intimate wedding or renewal of vows.
History - Previously called the "World's Smallest Church", the Little Church is a memorial to the bravery of 28 Year Old Llandaff Mathew who was killed in a rock fall at a coal mine near Dundee. He died a hero saving eight other trapped miners, the same number of seats available in the oratory. The Oratory is a fully consecrated Catholic Church, seats eight and is the only privately-owned Catholic Church in the World. It was built by his father, Maynard Mathew in honour of the brave young man's life and heroic death. In 1960 Mr Charles West-Thomas bought it and had it declared a National Monument. In 1974, as a wedding present, he gave it to his wife Mrs Mims West-Thomas.

The “Barefoot Lady” monument tells a beautiful story about the role of women during the Great Trek. The "Kaalvoet Vrou" is a full sized metal statue of a barefoot Voortrekker woman looking out over the KwaZulu Natal escarpment in search of a route down. At the top of Voortrekker Pass stands a monument to a woman walking barefoot over the Drakensberg. After the Voortrekkers entered Natal, which was a British Colony in those days, in 1847, there was a number of trekkers who wanted to return to the Free State. Susanna Smit, sister of Gert Maritz, one of the Voortrekker leaders, declared that she would rather trek barefoot back over the Berg than live in Natal under British rule.

Retief's Klip (Retief's Stone) is where the Piet Retief party of Voortrekkers descended the Drakensberg and entered Natal on 14th December 1837. They had decided not to proceed with the rest of the Voortrekkers to what was to become the Transvaal republic. Retief's group consisted of some 66 wagons and these were the first wheeled vehicles to enter Natal. It is also interesting that there was a snowfall on Christmas day of this year - the only white Christmas that has been had in the Drakensberg.

Retief's Klip
and the Kaalvoet Vrou are accessed of the R74 near Sterkfontein Dam in the Free State.
They are approximately 5km apart. Both are monuments so you can visit at your leisure.

The above history is courtesy of the Green Lantern Inn

Van Reenens Pass KZN









Left: Van Reenens Pass in summer. Due to heavy traffic volumes, this is statistically the most dangerous pass in South Africa. Brake failure and excessive speed are the most common issues.

Photo:  RF Experience.com












FACT FILE

GPS START

S28.439188 E29.490525

GPS SUMMIT

S28.314927 E29.218077

GPS END

S28.314927 E29.218077

AVE GRADIENT

1:54

MAX GRADIENT

1:6

ELEVATION START

1105m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

1768m

ELEVATION END

1768m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

663m

DISTANCE

36,3km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

North

TIME REQUIRED

25 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

60 to 100 kph

SURFACE

Tar

DATE FILMED

26.05.2013

TEMPERATURE

14C

NEAREST TOWN

Harrismith (10km)

 



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