Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow

Leisure Wheels joined Ford and Goodyear stitching together a route of some of the best passes in the Western Cape. Epic stuff, says Brent van der Schyff.

Our steeds for the trip were a pair of Ford Everest Sports planted on, you guessed it, Goodyear rubber. The journey began at the Wijnland Auto Museum on the Joostenburg Vlaktes. Les Boshoff, the owner, energetic as ever, now in his 80s, symbolises youth at an old age and possesses a range of project cars to complete that is longer than the journey we were about to embark on. Where’s that fountain of youth he’s been hiding? You can’t help thinking that many of those rust buckets were once reliable commuters making use of the same mountain passes we would be climbing. If only they could speak.

That encounter set the tone. Quirky was going to be the order of the day. Next stop…Matjiesfontein, and another motor museum. Many of the exhibits – I fixated on the old Citroen DS – were outside to attract interest. Tough on the old buggers, but hey, times are tough; the locals were more than pleased to welcome tourism back.

Onwards, back onto the N1 before a right turn onto the R323. The road morphs from a grand touring road into a well-graded gravel road, snaking through the base of the Swartberg Mountains. Strangely flat but with towering views of the Cape Fold Mountains. In no time we’d ticked Rooinek, Witnekke and Koueveld passes before the glory that is the Seweweekspoort Pass, spitting you out into Calitzdorp. Just passing through. No pun intended as we headed out through the Rooiberg Pass, traversing up the range into the Gamkaberg and Rooiberg Nature Reserves. I’m strangely in awe at the lush landscape, so green at this time of year compared to the rest of the northern Karoo.

A night’s rest at the Rooiberg Lodge before a sunrise exit out onto Garcia’s Pass. Suddenly our journey is brought to an abrupt halt. The reason? A Cape Cobra fighting off the attacks of a pair of crows. Nature, I’m reminded, is brutal. Our arrival offers our slippery serpent friend the opportunity to seek safety in the field, the crows…eyeing us out next. Not long down the road before it is us that has a problem. A puncture right before we stop for pictures with the Korintepoort Dam as a backdrop, after hitting a sharp rock along the jeep track. An interlude that reminds us how easy our lives are in the cities.

Puncture repaired, we’re off again, down to the N2 through Heidelberg, then the R324 through Tradouw Pass. Gawking at the views of the overhead rock formations and the deep valley hanging underneath, it’s hard to imagine Thomas Bain attempting to build a route through the Zuurberg Mountains way back in 1873.

Our next scheduled stop is a diabetic’s nightmare. Milkshakes from Diesel and Cream in Barrydale have become something of a national pastime. I do believe the words “I’ll start my diet next week” were muttered before taking the last sip of chocolate brownie flavoured shake.

Montagu is our next layover for a colourful bike ride through the town working off those milkshakes and a history lesson involving the aforementioned Thomas Bain and his road-building endeavours. Without people like Bain we wouldn’t have the pioneering roads connecting our stories and life would be, well, a lot less fun. I’m told that good sleep is needed as the next day magic awaits. Lights out.

The crisp morning air of Montagu, a far cry from the city smog welcomes the day. We’re on the roll once more. This time the long way around the Langeberg mountains. A series of switchbacks, dips and blind rises, the Everest Sport laps it all up with ease. We enter Touws River through the back door before heading out to Sutherland. No star gazing for us, we’re not stopping. Ouberg Pass into the Tankwa is our next target. Not too many times have I been lost for words but my virgin experience at the Ouberg Pass staring into the Tankwa did just that. A moment of reflection. I am in awe at the expansive and almost Martian-like landscape down below. South Africa may be marred by its oppressive past and shaky political environment but the bewildering effects of its natural landscape is truly a thing of beauty. How conflictive.

Worming through the Tankwa, we cross shale-laden gravel surfaces. A place where tyres are disrespected by razor-sharp shale. Predictably another puncture, but it’s the last. I’m surprised that we haven’t had more, a hat tip to the strength and integrity of the Goodyears.

Our journey topped a route of more than 1 500km, ticking off some of the best mountains passes the country has to offer and we hadn’t even left the confines of the Western Cape. It proved the integrity of road, car and tyre, obviously what the organisers were hoping for. Passes built by the likes of Bain and co still have so much to offer. Turn off the main routes, enjoy and see this beautiful country. But have the right equipment and do the necessary planning. Onwards we adventure.

More passes information

For more details on all the passes of the trip, check in with Trygve Robby Roberts’ epically wonderful website Mountain Passes of South Africa website. It’ll change your routings, if not your life.

About the tyres

Goodyear’s latest EfficientGrip tyre – 265/50/20 on the Everest – is touted as being a good compromise between a hardcore offroad tyre and a dedicated road tyre. Goodyear underline its water dissemination properties as well as its robust nature. On tour the level of ride comfort was impressive, as was its performance in low grip situations, such a gravel. In addition, the big car handled well and road noise – at speed or on dirt – was low. A competent general application hybrid tyre.

The car: Ford Everest Sport 4WD XLT

This model had all the benefits of 4×4, with an electronic differential fitted as standard and the Terrain Management System for different off-road modes such as snow, mud and rocks. There is hill ascent and descent, traction control, Trailer Sway and a hill launch stability function. But of course what sets the Everest Sport apart from the standard Everest XLT are the 20 inch wheels (in place of the 18s) and gloss black exterior details.

Power: 132kW 420 Nm

Engine: 2.0 Single Turbo Diesel

Price: R728,400

Transmission: 10-Speed AT

Towing Capacity: 3,100 kg