We travel the country from top to bottom and side to side. It often happens that we simply pass by very interesting places because we just don’t know they are there. Francois Rossouw has been re-discovering hidden gems in the Transkei.
For many years we travelled up the Wild Coast from Kei Mouth to Port Edward and thought there was nothing we had missed, until we decided to take a proper guide with us. He was a retired missionary who had worked in the Transkei for more than 33 years. He knew every stone, every track and many of the people.
Willie Stadler took us on roads that were very remote, and when the GPS showed a dead end, he walked ahead and found a crossing through a stream that formed a footpath on the other side, gradually became bigger and eventually linked up with another road. This way, we got to see many interesting places and waterfalls.
Once, when we got to a place known as Colly Wobbles, the road ended, but Willie took us on an excursion with a breathtaking climb. It took us to a remote and forgotten school, where the children did not even have books.
Further up the coast, east of Port St Johns, he took us to the spot where the Grosvenor was wrecked in 1782. Many attempts were made down the years to find the site, because the Grosvenor was said to be a treasure ship.
During the night of August 13, 1782, when he lost course, the captain, John Coxon, saw lights ahead and thought they could be from another ship. But they were actually burning grass and the Grosvenor ran aground on a reef about 400m from shore.
Out of the 150 people on board, 123 reached land safely. The next morning, the survivors found their belongings on the rocks, washed out by the incoming tide.
The survivors were harassed by the local people as they set off to walk down the coast to “civilisation”, with Cape Town the eventual target. They endured great hardship, and many gave up and settled with the Pondos. Others just did not make it, and only 18 of the survivors reached the Cape.
There was said to be a lot of gold and treasure on the ship, including fabled “peacock thrones”. When gold coins were washed ashore, treasure hunters tried to reach the wreck, but the strong currents and inaccessible reefs made this impossible.
Divers found what was thought to be the ship covered in sand. Then a Dutch dyke builder attempted to build two dykes into the sea to get to the ship and its treasures. When they were about 50m into the sea, a storm destroyed the structures, a small section of which remains to tell the tale.
The next try was made by an adventurer who decided to build a tunnel through the rocks and under the seabed to the ship. Things went well until they got 130m from shore, and then the tunnel collapsed. The hole is still there today and you can see the entrance to the tunnel, despite a few big rocks being washed into it over years.
In 2000, divers were able to establish that the wreck of the Grosvenor (and its treasures?) was still there, covered by sand, awaiting the next attempt.
Places like this, and the waterfall nearby that crashes off a cliff straight into the sea, can only be reached if you have a guide who knows the area well.
I keep talking to people and discover more and more secrets around the country every day. Having a 4×4 makes it possible to reach these remote places.