At one section there was a large herd of kudu and a calf eagerly taking milk from its mother close to our convoy. Of course there were baboons around every third corner, but a distinct absence of vervet monkeys. We only saw a few closer to the eastern end of the reserve.
Someone pointed out rhino tracks. We all stopped to have a look and sure enough, the evidence was clear to see. They scatter their middens with their feet and several of these were seen throughout the day, but unfortunately we never actually saw any of the rhinos. Like the Cape Buffalo they tend to be shy and are rarely spotted. Many people are unaware that there are rhinos in the reserve. Remember that next time you go walkies there.
Before long and after several smallish water crossings, a weather beaten sign announces: DANGEROUS MOUNTAIN PASS. This was the start of the Grasnek Pass and in my opinion, the best of all the Baviaanskloof passes. It’s a big one in terms of distance, altitude gained, superb view sites and incredible scenery.
We all switched down to low range (having learned our lesson with the automatic gearboxes on day 2) and ambled slowly up the pass, under a thick canopy of vegetation, which causes the long aerials to bang incessantly – a noise one quickly learns to put up with and of course, being mounted with magnetic bases, they sometimes tip over, resulting in a radio call: “Stopping to put my aerial back”
About one third up the western ascent, the road breaks out of the tree line revealing a deeply wooded valley with hills tumbling down from all sides. Trying to figure out where the road goes is something of a mystery, but it swings abruptly up a side ravine, steadily gaining altitude.
The views get better and better as our convoy nears the summit and just when you think it can’t get any better, the road turns abruptly to the right over a sharp blind rise and levels off, revealing a new view of such grandeur that it leaves one speechless. Laid out before you is a wild jumble of green clad hills and mountains, bisected by streams hidden by forests. The road can be seen meandering all along the contour of the mountain on the right. On the left the drop offs are seriously steep and unguarded. We take photos – lots of them. Near the end of this level section a road sign warns of a dangerous bend to the right. It has become a travellers 'pee-pole' as it is smothered in stickers, signatures, graffiti and sundry humour.
A little further the road turns to the left and drops steeply down to a small knoll with a clearing just big enough for about 5 vehicles (if you park carefully). We left a couple of our group at the bottom to enable easy access back to the main road. This view site is in a perfect place. From here you can see 360 degrees with all the main peaks marking the scene like symbols on a clock face and your gaze can follow the pale ribbon of the road for a long distance until it disappears back into the forest far below in the valley. This is perfection - a view which is always captivating no matter how many times one sees it. The clouds are low and grey, suggesting that rain is imminent. That is our cue to do a group photo.
The descent of the Grasnek Pass is majestic. The gradients on this section are not really that steep and the road condition forces a slow speed, which in turn allows the odd glance at the amazing views where strange plants grow amongst the fynbos and have the botanists in our group eagerly discussing things and doing their homework in reference books. These are often the gems that I take out of our tours - the never ending stream of knowledge that everyone shares.
At the bottom of the pass we cross the Baviaans River once more at the point where it is the biggest - just before it flows into the Kouga River. This is Smitskraal. There is a good camping area here with ample shade and ablution facilities. I call the convoy on the radio and ask if they want to stop for lunch here or further on at Doodsklip. Universally they all want to proceed through the water crossing which is now directly in front of us.
The water level at Smitskraal was fine and all the vehicles drove through without any problems (including the little Jimny). Next up was the Langkop Pass. It's the shortest of the four passes in the bioreserve but it's definitely not the easiest. The steepest gradients are found on this little pass and to counter traction issues and water damage, the authorities have brick paved sections of the western ascent, where gradients get up to 1:5.
The problem with the paving is that it has been built on top of the existing road and not into the surface as one would normally expect. This means that each section has to be mounted over a short steep concrete kerb to get you up onto the paved section. These mounts are also channeled to get rid of rainwater. To make it even worse, they are not at right angles across the road, but at an angle. The nett result is that you have to deal with each one as an axle twister and at a very slow speed. The final issue is that you can't be in low range due to the paved surfaces. Black tyre marks on these concrete mounds and the acrid smell of clutch plates being overworked make the driving of this pass a little too technical, leaving no opportunities to enjoy the wonderful views."Dear Eastern Cape Parks Board - Either pave the whole ascent or leave it gravel".
Once down the eastern descent of Langkop Pass, the road levels off once more and crosses the river at Doodsklip. We stopped here and enjoyed a light lunch on beautifully laid out picnic spots close to the river. The ghoulish name of the place translates into Death Stone and refers to an event about 80 years ago, where three bodies were discovered close to the triangular rock in the river. It is rumoured that all had died under mysterious circumstances with no evidence of violence.
Trevor Hall, however decided to become inadvertantly violent with one of the timber demarcation poles at the picnic site and drove over it with his 200 series Land Cruiser, which came off worse than the pole. Trevor was to be awarded a Chappies that night for his 'oops'
(Next week we take you from Doodsklip to Bruintjieskraal)
PODCAST: "Bakenskop Pass near Sabie in Mpumalanga is where some exciting historical events played themselves out. This is the story of two men - Paul Perry and Harry Wolhuter, the lion slayer" CLICK TO LISTEN.
PASS OF THE WEEK
In November last year we toured through the Zuurberg Mountains and the Addo area. We were able to refilm the Doringnek Pass in much better conditions and have released a new double video set on this pass. Sit back, relax and enjoy the cyber drive from the Zuurberg Mountain Inn to the Addo Elephant National Park.
* * * * * D O R I N G N E K P A S S * * * * *
New passes added
Coney Island Road - a short, winding suburban pass at The Heads in Knysna with lovely views and access to a secluded beach. (Suggested by Andrew Dunn)
Words of Wisdom: "Great things never come from comfort zones"