readers’ Adventures

Beware the demons!

After four days of having their senses continuously assaulted by the beauty that is Baviaanskloof, Neville and Pat Lance decided to get their wildlife “fix” in Addo, and perhaps take in a “mild” 4×4 trail before returning to Cape Town

Text and photographs: Neville Lance

Enquiring about the Mvubu campsite in the newish northern section of the Addo Elephant Park, and about “perhaps” going over the top of the Suurberge on a trail we had vaguely heard about, it seemed that our minds were made up for us when the somewhat disinterested young lady at reception informed us that they were full. End of story.

But just then a ranger arrived, and I asked him a couple of questions about the Darlington 4×4 trail (now the Bedrogfontein Trail). He turned out to be the right person to speak to – his name was Nollie – and he was in charge of the sector north of Kirkwood.

He suggested that we camp at Mvubu, and when told that this was unfortunately full he insisted on seeing the “diary”. Only two of the three campsites were booked, so there was space for us after all. The booking clerk seemed totally unfazed and simply said that she would phone through to tell them we were coming.

Here perhaps I should mention that I suffer quite badly from acrophobia – fear of heights – and asked him how the passes compared with Baviaanskloof. He assured me that the passes along the 4×4 trail were not nearly as high as those in the Baviaanskloof.

I’ve since decided that if ever I meet Nollie again I will conjure up a couple of his own demons to torment him!

In 60 years of on- and off-road travel into the South African and Namibian bush I have never seen so many warthog in one place at one time as we did in our quick three-hour sortie through Addo, before heading on up to

Kirkwood and Mvubu. And the many kudu we saw seemed to be considerably less shy than they normally are in the bush. We were also fortunate enough to see quite a few elephants, both along the roads and at some of the waterholes, including a super “sparring session” between a young bull and a female that went on for a good 15 minutes or so before they got bored and moved off, leaving only a large herd of lazy buffalo for us to scrutinize.

After a stop for a late lunch alongside our vehicle at one of the “leave your car at your own risk” points, we decided that we had better get on our way to Mvubu. Slowly we wended our way back to the main entrance and, from there, on to Kirkwood, close to the entrance to the northern sector of the Addo at Kabouga.

Entering the park again we were met by an extremely cheerful fellow who took our names and our money, and who assured us that he would inform the rangers on the other side that we were coming through the following day so that they could open the gate for us. Well, either he forgot – or they did – but more about that later.

At Mvubu we found two other couples camping and were invited to join their communal fire. They braaied – we had potjie: all in all a lovely evening on the banks of the Sundays River.

Having been told that the 4×4 trail was 45km long and a minimum of six hours were required, we ensured that we got away at 8am the following morning, figuring on at least an eight hour day.

Straight away we were into lush green riverine forest with some quite rocky trails where we stopped every now and again either to fill in holes in the road or to check the safety of our route. Soon we began climbing -up and up – over a series of ridges and peaks in a region aptly listed on the survey map as Breakneck 24. Here my fear-of-heights demons began lining up on the back of my seat – a few of them even climbing onto my shoulders just to ensure that I was sufficiently tense.

Sometimes in life one has to confront certain obstacles without time for consideration or the opportunity to back down. Approaching steep, slippery, fairly solid rock faces across the apexes of really tight hairpin beds that are only the width of a car and have a drop-off of some two or three hundred metres within an arm’s length of the vehicle, present just such opportunities for confrontation.

I’m not sure how others approach such situations, but there is no way that I even contemplate stopping on a slippery 1:10 slope where I don’t even have room to get out of the door without falling off the mountain – I quite simply just go for it and when I come out the other end in one piece I say a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of Ford and Firestone, while I wipe the cold sweat of fear from my brow and palms alike. I’ll get you, Nollie!

Scary, but beautiful. One simply cannot describe the landscape – the folds of the mountains and valleys have to be seen to be believed. They seem to just go on forever. The trail takes one through Bedrogfonteinspoort at the base of Henderson’s Berg and over the Suurberge at Buffel’s Nek.

There are two species of cycads up on these slopes, while down below the route travels through a variety of vegetation types, from riverine thicket to afromontane forest with here and there soaring yellowwood trees fighting to reach the sky. The peaks consist mainly of fynbos with the odd shepherd’s tree thrown into the mix to complement the already stunning composition of the landscapes… all slowly dwindling to arid nama-karoo as one approaches the Darlington area.

The route is only suitable for 4×4 vehicles with low range, and ideally at least two vehicles should travel together for safety reasons, though nobody gave us this advice prior to setting out.

The grading is officially a three, but there are some tricky parts, which need extra consideration. And if you don’t like heights, then up it to at least a four, acrophobia being, in my humble opinion, worth at least one point in the scale of things.

There is a Grade Five river crossing, which should definitely not be tackled alone, and conditions should be checked with the ranger before attempting it.

As you get higher there is an old working windmill still pumping water into a circular clay-brick reservoir filled with water and a great many goldfish – an extremely refreshing stopover, I am sure, on a really hot summer’s day, and an ideal spot for a picnic lunch.

As we began the descent after bridging the apex of the mountain, Darlington Lake came into view in the distance at about the same moment that I spotted the ruins of an old wagon up against a slope above the road.

Whether it was an old ox wagon or a mule wagon I am not sure, but it is certainly from an era well before my time, and the mind boggles at the thought of driving it up these trails. Consider for a moment the courage and tenacity of the early pioneers who tackled these mountains in wagons just the same as the one we came across – very brave men indeed.