Africa trips

Wellington to Port Alfred - March 2006 - Peter Taylor


I left Wellington at 6.00am and filled up in Paarl, zeroed all settings and hit the long road at 6.15. I was on my way to Port Alfred and I was taking the long way.

Just after Calitzdorp I saw the steeple of a church that I had seen many times before but never had the time to stop. This time I took the turn-off to De Hoop and stopped to admire this massive sandstone building and take a few photos. I heard someone shouting in the distance and it took me a second or two to realize that she was talking to me. It was a girl relaying a message from a house across the way asking whether I wanted to see inside the church. I called back saying no thanks and that I only wanted to take a photo. I was still busy taking photos when an old man and a little dog appeared out of nowhere. How he got up the hill to the church so quickly without even being out of breath I don't know. He stuck out his hand and said: "Van der Berg is die van." I stuck out mine and said: "Taylor is myne." I suppose first names are not an issue when you are dealing with something as big as this church.

The corner stone of the church was laid in 1909 by George Murray, son of Andrew Murray who looks down Wellington's Church Street everyday. George Murray was also this churches first Minister and his and every Minister since him has their photos proudly displayed in the rectory.

Mr. van der Berg and Benji the dog showed me through the church and he asked me to fill in the visitor’s book and he told me that there was a donation box as well. I noted the bell rope and he proudly informed me that he had rung the bell for thirty four years, but not anymore as the church has been closed. The nearby Oudtshoorn congregation has promised that they will be holding a prayer meeting once a month at De Hoop in future to keep the wheels turning. The railway station's name has been changed from De Hoop to Hoopvol. I wish them luck.

My next stop was the very quaint town of De Rust, exactly 400km from Paarl. I still had quite a bit of petrol, but I filled up here because I was going somewhat off the beaten track for a while and I didn't want to get caught short. Not far from there I saw the sign I had been looking for, "Baviaanskloof".

I turned right and hit the gravel road. My spirits were high and I was looking forward to seeing the famous Baviaanskloof after having heard so much about it. The road was good with a lot of drifts. Most of them are sign posted but a few are not. I just missed a massive snake which was crossing the road shortly before a T-junction. At the T-junction a sign read "Road not suitable for caravans and trailers". The scenery got more and more beautiful as I got deeper into Baviaanskloof. There were lots more drifts and one particularly bad one just after the police station. The police station is a small town and I remember thinking that the people here must be very naughty to justify such a big station.

I guess it was about 70kms from the tar road when a sign read "Not suitable for sedans vehicles past Geelhoutbos".

Luckily for me I was in BMW 120i which is a hatch, so I pressed on. The drifts which had all been dry up to now were now rivers flowing across the road. Actually they were very pleasant streams. I waded through each one before driving through and luckily none of them were more than half way up my shin. One was particularly wide and had a bend in it so you couldn't see the end because of the dense bush, but I made it through that one as well. There were lots of buck, a few baboons (naturally) and some monkeys down in the kloof.

Then I saw a sign "Dangerous Pass 7 kms" and just after that a turn-off to Geelhoutbos as I started climbing. At this stage I had gone too far to turn back so I carried on up the mountain. The fact that the 120i is BMW's baby with a short wheel base and wheels very close to each corner of the car, together with a fantastic traction control, turned this little motor car into a very good off-road vehicle. My wife very cleverly named it the X1 when I told her how good this little car is. I crawled up the most horrendous road right to the top, had a beer and admired the amazing view, took a few photos, found out that the name of the pass is Grasneck Pass (from a faded old sign) and then crawled all the way down the other side of the mountain. The road surface was very rough with rock and gravel but not loose rock or gravel, the rock was mother earth with a gravel covering and there were never any serious dongas or protrusions, so I was able to slowly feel my way up and down the pass. After the pass there were a few more drifts and then after what felt like a lifetime, normal gravel roads and people and bakkies again.

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Report by Peter Taylor