The route continues northwards past South Africa's most remote honey-bush tea plantation. The Kouga Mountains are within a proclaimed wilderness area and are the source of the clean waters that flow eastwards to join the Gamtoos River at the Kouga Dam. The citrus industry of the Gamtoos Valley that stretches from Cambria to Patensie and eastwards to Hankey require high quality water. At present the dam levels are critically low. We drive right up to the dam wall at the start of the final day of the tour.
By mid-afternoon, we begin the descent down a switchback peppered track into the Baviaanskloof, where the track ends at the Doringkloof farm. We overnight at Zandvlakte and Doringkloof farms. At Zandvlakte Piet and Magriet Kruger treat us to farm cuisine as our guests unwind and enjoy the vibe at this lovely farm, where sheep and goat farming has been replaced with more sustainable farming crops like lavender. Piet Kruger is a tall, salt of the earth farmer with vast knowledge of the Baviaanskloof, which he readily shares with guests.
The third day we enter the eastern bio reserve and traverse a range of passes, which include Grasnek, Holgat, Graskop and Combrinks passes. This is a big day in terms of gravel travel and incredible scenery. We also visit Winston le Roux's old cableway over a scary gorge and this is also the day of all the water crossings, which always provide a few adrenaline moments. We exit the reserve near the Cambria Valley and as a final treat traverse Thomas Bain's magnificent Grootrivierpoort. The overnight stop is at a small country hotel in Patensie.
The final day takes us up the Geelhoutboom Pass to the foothills of the Cockscomb mountains, where we leave the gravel road and begin a long, slow, bumpy drive on a two spoor track, heading west. The views from the higher altitude are truly magnificent. After a few hours we arrive at the start of the Antoniesberg Pass. This pass can get rough, depending on recent rainfall and descends very steeply to cross the Grootrivier via a bridgeless crossing, often providing lots of thrills for those doing the crossing for the first time. The track improves on the western ascent and soon becomes a good gravel road, which we follow all the way to Steytlerville - one of the most interesting Karoo towns.
When travellers of the world decide to explore South Africa a discerning few find themselves in the Karoo, where nature dazzles on the endless plains and among the mountains. Here, in blazing summers and icy winters, the silence is so pure you can hear God think, the stars so near you feel you have only to reach out to touch them. The Karoo is one of the world’s most unique, arid zones. In South Africa it stands alone, globally it is an envied rarity.
Situated in the western parts of the Eastern Cape, Steytlerville is the home of peace and tranquillity. Here one can rest, relax, refresh yourself and recharge the inner batteries of your soul, while exploring, enjoying yourself and indulging your need for some unusual entertainment.
Nature has endowed Steytlerville with exceptional beauty and it is known for its astonishing variety of semi-desert vegetation which includes dwarf shrubs, tiny succulents, umbrella-shaped wild plum trees and ancient cycads.
Visitors to the small Karoo town will immediately be struck by the town’s exceptionally wide Main Street which was designed when the town was established in 1876 to allow ox wagons to turn around at both ends. Nowadays the wide streets are divided by flower boxes planted with bougainvilleas and the street lamp poles are adorned with the coats of arms of families associated with town and area. The town’s houses provide beautiful examples of Edwardian and Victorian architecture.
Steytlerville lies in the heartland of the mohair production area. The Angora goats, which produce the mohair, thrive in the natural Karoo scrub and dry climate which is perfect for mohair production. Port Elizabeth, which lies south-east of Steytlerville, is known as the Mohair Capital of the World because most of the mohair that is produced internationally passes through its brokerage and processing systems.
The surrounding area that adjoins Port Elizabeth has developed an agri-tourism product known as the Mohair Meander. Tourists are encouraged to visit working mohair farms and see how products associated with mohair are made, and to share in the Karoo lifestyle of the area that produces this rare natural fibre. Several outlets along this route sell mohair products.
Steytlerville lies at the entrance to the eastern parts of the Baviaanskloof and showcases a host of architectural gems like quaint Edwardian- and Victorian-era houses with tin roofs and large street-facing verandas complete with broekie lace and stained glass windows.
One of the best towns the Karoo has to offer, Steytlerville with its bougainvillea-lined streets and horse-drawn carts is a diamond waiting to be discovered. It comes as no surprise then that the town is home to several South African personalities, as a holiday in this town easily leads to relocation.
Dr A.G. Visser – Poet and Medical Doctor
Dr A.G. Visser lived in Steytlerville during 1909 – 1916. Besides being a medical doctor and poet, Visser was also very musical and conducted the church choir during Sunday morning services. During this time he would quickly slip out to see his patients when the service commenced, and slip back in again just in time to lead the choir in their closing hymn.
His one time home in the main street is now declared a National Monument.
Danie Craven – Rugby Legend
Dr Danie Craven or "Dok" has an interesting connection with Steytlerville. It was here where he wooed Beyera Hayward and eventually married her in the Steytlerville Town Hall. Whilst being the Springbok Captain he played a game for Steytlerville against Willowmore. He mentioned it as one of his hardest games ever, seeing that everybody kept telling the players to "give the ball to Craven" and of course, he was drilled into the hard ground playing field by all 15 opponents.
Nobody has made a contribution to rugby of such variety and intensity as Danie Craven did - and nobody will, not with the changed workings of professional rugby.
Craven played for and captained the Springboks when they were at their best and the masters of the rugby world in the thirties. Dok passed away in 1993
Our final night (Chappies Roast Awards!) is spent at the Royal Hotel, where owner Johan Trollip ensures his guests are comfortable, well watered and fed with some of the finest Karoo lamb and other Karoo delicacies.
After breakfast the next morning, the group splits up, heading home to all parts of South Africa - Relaxed, recharged and ready to face city life once more.
We chat about a range of topics but focus on the Tierkrans Pass near Barkly East with the now famous rail reverses as well as Joseph Newey's Loch bridge, which is a national monument. CLICK TO LISTEN.
Pass of the Week
This beautiful pass is cut into the side of a mountain, and angles down from a high plateau in the New England area to terminate at the historic Loch Bridge over the Kraai River. This part of the world is famous for its wonderful scenery, and in this case the pass also offers up spectacular views of the reverses and the rail bridge belonging to the now-defunct railway that was built through this gorge.
The road is in a mostly good condition and is suitable for all vehicles, except perhaps in very wet weather. The pass itself is fairly substantial, with a length of 3.6 km and a height difference of 172 metres. “Tier” translated from Afrikaans means “Tiger”, but, as everyone knows, there are no tigers in Africa. The word was often used in days gone by as a name for a leopard, so a correct translation of the pass name would be “Leopard Cliff Pass”.
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New passes added
At 7.2 km it's well above the national average and offers an altitude variance of 180m. The pass is quite steep in places with a maximum gradient of 1:6. Although the R61 is in good shape, there are numerous dangers to contend with, which include dense mountain mists, badly behaving minibus taxis, erratic local driver behaviour which can range between ridiculously fast to frustratingly slow, plus the standard Wild Coast hazards of livestock and pedestrians. Commercial vehicles and even large trucks drive here at high speed.
The world is like a safe to which there is a combination - but the combination is locked up in the safe.~ Peter de Vries