Sani Pass - 2009
We left on Friday 10 July 2009 on our snow-bound tour. The main aim of this tour was to traverse Sani Pass one more time before it gets a tarmac surface and to see some snow in the Maluti’s and the Drakensberg. Weather reports predicted some very cold weather in those areas so we were certain we won’t be disappointed. Also I wanted to visit some of the places in the country where I did my 2 years military service, just to see what’s left.
The first 2 days of our tour took us on a sort of personal pilgrimage to see some old friends and other places that brings back good (and some not so good) memories from the past. We started off in Beaufort West where we spent a night at an old friend’s house with a lekker warm braai fire, some nice Karoo skaaptjops and copious amounts of red wine reminiscing about days gone by and the good times we had.
Waking up quite miffed the next morning I felt like the weather, cloudy, cold, miserable and a little overcast. We left B-W for Loxton in search of the grave of my maternal grandfather whom I never knew. To our surprise we found the grave in very good condition, well taken care of and not at all neglected. This despite the fact that none of my family live anywhere near, or have even been to Loxton in the last 2 decades. Well done Loxton municipality, and thanks to the locals for looking after grandpa and the other people in the local cemetery.
We left Loxton and continued on to De Aar, where I spent 18 months of my National Service working on an Equestrian Stud Farm, training horses for use in bush warfare. The unit closed down in the late 80’s and the farm was subjected to a land claim and handed back to the original inhabitants. It is really a shame to see a once bustling town like De Aar reduced to what it is today due to high unemployment rate and poverty. Since the SA Railways pulled out of De Aar there are no real big employers left in town and everybody tries to make a living in any way they can. . The farm is also lying dormant. All the gates are locked, but from the road I could see that all the buildings were stripped of any usable building materials like corrugated iron sheets and gum-poles. All that is left is the stone walls of the buildings.
Driving on the dirt roads though little towns like Phillipstown and Petrusville we ended up in the quaint little town of Vanderkloof on the bank of the Vanderkloof Dam. What a peaceful little village, and the right place to end up after a pretty emotional day. O ja and that afternoon the WP went ahead and beat the Sharks, cherry on the cake stuff man, I tell you!! The Vanderkloof dam (on the Orange/Gariep river) is the dam with the highest dam wall in the southern hemisphere. I took lots of pics as I really like looking at stuff like dams and other engineering masterpieces.
Weather in Vanderkloof:
After a rainy night in Vanderkloof, we left for Aliwal North to go and splash around in a hot pool. We drove past Colesberg, Norval’s Pont, the Gariep Dam, Bethulie and some other small towns to get to a place called Badfontein about 22km outside Aliwal North on the Free State side of the Orange River. Badfontein has their own little hot sulphur spring on the farm, but the water is barely body temperature, and the ambient temp was pretty low at about 12 degrees, so we decided not to try it out, as there was a fresh breeze out as well. We spent 2 nights and 1 day at Badfontein just resting our legs, and exploring the local countryside.
Steel Bridge at Norvals Pont:
The bubbling sulphur pool at Badfontein:
We left Aliwal North after a hearty Wimpy brekkie heading towards Elliot where my sister, her husband and kids live on a farm just below the Barkley Pass. Our house-keeper was very excited to hear that we were going to the E-Cape and told us that she was born in a little town called Sterkspruit, just outside Lady Grey. We were still looking forward to an easy 3 hour drive to Elliot when we passed a sign that said "Sterkspruit", and on a whim we decided to go check out Patience’s home town. How far could it be?
It turns out to be quite a drive, not so much because of the distance but the state of the road/track. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on our trip, because the route took us all along the Lesotho border and right into the Maluti’s and snow and some of the most spectacular mountain scenery this continent has to offer. We drove on narrow dirt tracks all along the border and witnessed countless “illegal” border crossings by locals crossing the river, this was the way it has been forever. We travelled over the very cold and beautiful Lundean’s Neck pass, 2162m above sea level with snow capped peaks in the background. Down the other side and some more mountainous terrain and we ended in Barkley East to inflate the tyres and get ready for the last 60km to the farm.
Maluti’s with a sprinkling of white stuff:
We took some time out to spend with my family on the farm, but on the second day we decided to drive up to Tiffendell ski resort about 2 hours drive from Elliot. We set off in 2 vehicles, my B-I-L and family in his Ford Ranger 2.5 DCab 4x2 and the 2 of us in Kaspaas.
Once we reached Rhodes we were dying for a cup of coffee, but could not find a coffee-serving-establishment in the town with a permanent population of 20. We ended up having coffee at the hotel. Coffee with a twist. Just to warm us up a little. The sign posts said that the road to Tiffendell was not suited for 4x2 vehicles due to ice on the road, so we all piled in to Kaspaas, 4 adults and 2 kids aged 7 and 9. . It was a tight fit, but off we went. Tiffendell is pretty spectacular, but the people running the resort must be high on mountain air, snow-blind, and concussed from falling on their heads once too often, as they were ready to charge us R95 per person to enter the resort. Not to ski or anything, or even use the loo, just to put our feet inside the resort, and all I wanted to do was take some photographs, but I had to pay to do that too. No this is a rip off, sorry to say. After taking some photographs (from the outside looking in) we left. Back in Rhodes we got comfy again in our own vehicles and travelled back to Elliot via Naude’s Neck Pass, Tena Head lodge, Maclear and Ugie.
Feet in the snow:
The very male snowman:
Once we had enough of visiting the family on the plaas, we left for Himeville at the foot of the Sani Pass. On our way there we stopped in at our friend Jack Ramkat Nel. Jack jou ou doring, thanks for a warm welcome in Kokstad and lekker chat, net jammer dit was so kort, I would have easily stayed longer. We will definitely pop in again on our next visit and then we’ll stay over. If you are ever in CT, please pop in so we can return the favour.
Himeville is a lekker little dorp, with a nice hotel and pub, the Himeville Arms. Here is where we watched the rugby that evening, unfortunately WP lost to the Bulls, but the wonderful surroundings, the big fire in the fireplace and excellent food made up for the disappointment.
On Sunday morning we woke up early and got ready for Sani Pass. This was what it was all about. When we did Sani 4 years ago they were busy working on the section of road from the turn-off to the Sani Pass Hotel. They completed that work, and the only extra work that was done was a section of 5 km from the Sani Pass Hotel. The rest of the pass is still the same as it was 4 years ago. Okay, maybe a little worse than before, but technically just the same. Except that we got some serious ice on the tight bends near the top, which made for some tippy-toe driving to avoid slipping and sliding over the edge.
Once again the scenery is just breathtaking. Even though this is the wrongest time of the year to visit KZN as it is dry and the vegetation is grey and dead, the mountain scenery remain indescribably beautiful. Once at the top we drove about 20km in to Lesotho and got to some deep snow on the side of the road to play in. We had heaps of fun. After all was said and done we made our way back down and went back to the Himeville Arms for dinner. A day trip to remember, and definitely recommended to all who loves the outdoors and who have not been up there before. Just take note that you will want to stop every 10 minutes for photographs.
On our way down:
It was a very misty morning when we woke up and left Himeville. Fog so thick we could not exceed 30km/h and I had to drive with hazard lights on, just so that other traffic could see us. Only at about 10am did the fog lift and in Howick a little bit of bad luck hit us. A heater hose that runs against the rear firewall sprung a little leak and sprayed anti-freeze on the exhaust manifold. Stinky stuff, burning anti-freeze is. Anyway armed with a screwdriver and a pocket knife I quickly cut the section of hose with the leak off and reattached it. It took longer to re-fill the radiator than to fix the hose. We took the opportunity to have some road-side coffee and a few rusks before we set off again.
The rest of KZN went past in a smoky haze, as all the farmers are busy burning fire-breaks, as they are required to do by law. The drive through Golden Gate was also spectacular and we stopped in Clarens for a coffee and a pancake before setting out in the direction of Korannaberg Adventures near Clocolan. We arrived at Korannaberg at dusk after a very long day in the saddle. The Conradie’s made us feel right at home, even had a roaring fire going just ready for us to braai a steak and settle in for the night.
Korannaberg Adventures is an adventure farm offering lots of exciting activities and we spent 2 nights there. After our longest day on the road we decided to take a rest day and just chill out and enjoy the nice Free State sun and to rest our weary bones. We went for a long walk on the farm and explored the surroundings. Whoever it was that said “Die Vrystaat is plat” must come have a look at Korannaberg. No platness here.
From Korannaberg it was a short hop to Kimberley, where we spent a couple of days with an old work- and rugby-buddy of mine, reminiscing about days gone by, braaiing a lot of local vleis and wors and drinking copious amounts of red wine etc etc. Kimberley is Kimberley. Big Hole and all that stuff, except that they got 2 new shopping malls and McDonalds.
We headed north out of Kimberley to visit another little town where I spent some time in the Wehrmacht. Jan Kempdorp. Yes there is such a place and it has an ammo-depot which I was privileged enough to protect from the evil forces by doing guard duty around the perimeter fence. Ammo depot is still there, nothing has changed. So we headed west towards Upington via Griekwastad and Groblershoop. We had a birthday to attend.
Kuier in Upington:
After a weekend (and a birthday party) in Upington, we departed on Monday morning for Williston via Putsonderwater, Marydale, Copperton, Van Wyksvlei and Carnavon. In Marydale we visited some more family. Copperton used to be a copper mining town but is now just about a ghost town, excepting for this huge munitions test range on the one side. Van Wyksvlei is pretty empty, but the lady in Carnavon’s Lemon Tree coffee shop says the Square Km Array project is assisting the locals with some work, so things are looking up in Carnavon at least.
Williston Hotel still serves the best grilled karoo lamb chops in the country. Williston now also sports a Mall. Very interesting and definitely worth a visit. The owner of the place, Pieter Naude, has the imagination of a child and everything is possible with him. I spent hours talking to him about all manner of things ranging from flying saucers to making a living in a small town like Williston. Amazing! I am looking at the world through new eyes. We spent the night at Soekeslapie B&B in Williston.
Time to depart for our Mystery Destination. I knew where it was but my co-pilot had no idea so I had to “tweak” the GPS a little with all sorts of false turn offs on the route to disguise the true destination. From Williston we drove in the general direction of Sutherland, but took the Bo-Visrivier road towards the Skurweberg 4x4 route. From there we went down the Ouberg Pass, which got some TLC from a grader and a road crew recently, but is still pretty bumpy. We eventually joined the tar road south of Sutherland which we followed to Matjiesfontein, our mystery destination.
We were booked in Room 18 (the Honeymoon Suite). Seeing as this was our last night on the road I thought it would be great to spend it in (relative) luxury in a remarkable place such as Matjiesfontein, leaving us with only a short hop home the next day. We had superb food, a few drinks in the Laird’s Arms pub and met a lady who was doing research on ghosts in the Lord Milner Hotel, and specifically our room! She asked us to be on the lookout for any haunted stuffs and strange happenings that might occur in our room during the night and that she wanted to interview us the next morning, but we didn’t notice anything strange at all so we had nothing to report. She was missing the next morning so we didn’t get the opportunity to talk to her again. O ja we also went for a tour in the red London bus!
In the Laird’s Arms Pub:
Our drive home was pretty uneventful, but we did stop in at Hentey’s in Worcester for a nice cup of coffee and cookies and a chat. What was supposed to just be a quick “how do you do” turned out to be a lekker kuier. Dankie Hentey!
Statistics: Km’s Traveled : 5707 km
Avg Consumption : 7.2 km/l
Avg Moving Speed : 79.5 km/h
Leaky heater hose.
Shifty Avo and Cheese Twister at KFC in Maclear caused an upset stomach.
The Maluti’s and the Drakensberg makes a man humble!
Snow always occurs 4 days after you left the place where you expected to see it in the first place.
5700km’s in an SFA on bumpy tracks (South African roads) is called an extreme workout.
We can finish a pack of Maynard’s Wine Gums in less than 80 km’s.
Those impulsive decisions often lead to the best adventures.
Sani Pass wont be tarred in the near future. If it takes 4 years to widen 5km of flat road it is going to take 100 years to tar 14 km of steep mountain track.
Snow is cold.
Kaspaas can easily seat 2 adults and 2 kids on the back seat. And they didn’t complain about leg room. I told then not to.
Will I do it again? Without a doubt, and I wont change a single thing.
Lundeans Neck and Naude’s Neck Passes and all the other mountain passes we drove.
Snow on the mountains
Catching up with good mates
Coffee with Jack in Kokstad and the Pople family
Getting home and seeing everything is still in its place.