OFF-ROAD TEST: Three Provinces 4×4 Trail

Take just about any 4×4 trail. Add a few days of continuous rain and you get a whole lot of tough in with the deal. Even the most basic off-road obstacles can transform into an unpredictable and impassable slush of clay, mascarading as mud. This is exactly what happened when we went to visit the Three Provinces 4×4 trail.

The ‘road’ was more like a wet and slippery Scandinavian rally track, snaking through forests. Just driving briefly in a straight line was an achievement. Yes, the Three Provinces 4×4 trail, where Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State meet, was drenched in rain, each of the tracks a muddy, slippery quagmire. We had one objective: reach the junction where the three provinces meet. It was easier said than done though, especially considering the conditions.

We’d arrived earlier in the day and were briefed by Three Provinces 4×4 Trail co-operator Ronel Geldenhuys. He was probably not entirely convinced of our sanity, heading out onto the 4×4 trail on a day like that. But we had come all the way from Pretoria and, full of bravado, we were ready to go for it. We set off in the direction of the Rooibektiptol camping area, and only five minutes into the 42km trail, we were already faced with our first challenge: A twee-spoor track, usually asking nothing more than decent ground clearance, required just about all the skills the Toyota Hilux 4×4 had to offer. The Hilux’s 35-inch tyres were dragged deeper and deeper into the muddy sludge, so we had to keep up a good rate of momentum, otherwise the Toyota would have just sunk into the mud. Due to the slippery nature of the clay, driving the Hilux over the ridge on the edge of the tracks proved impossible. We had virtually no steering and very little in the way of braking, and we were essentially like a four-wheeled train, in tracks (and not on them). We just went along for the ride.

There were, of course, the normal obstacles along the way, too: steep inclines and declines, and several stream crossings (that were more like river crossings with all the water about). The Hilux’s rear differential lock was called into action numerous times. One such water crossing was located near the hiking trail, situated at the foot of a mountain. We had to forge through. Closer inspection revealed it was deceptively deep, the water-flow was strong and it was strewn with rocks, some of which even washed away. After some careful planning, a few ‘oh-dear-we’re-not-going-to-make-it!’ driving moments and several words unsuited for publication, we crossed without having to take a swim. The trail consists of several similar water crossings and there are plenty of obstacles that have a difficulty rating of anything from three to four. The trail even has a so-called ‘terror’ obstacle, appropriately named Helshoogte – a steep 1:3 mountain climb up and over rocks and dongas.

Obviously, on this wet and slippery day it would have been foolhardy to even attempt that. This test is rated a 5/5 and requires a proper 4×4 with a transfer case, preferably lockers for both front and rear axles, plenty of clearance and reasonble overhangs. For those who want to see and experience everything on offer, there are several additional routes available beside the main Three Province route. While these also offer a series of challenging obstacles, there are several stops along the way that will keep most outdoor enthusiasts enthralled. These include lightning circles, interesting rock formations and plenty of historical sights of the area.

Three Provinces 4×4 offers hiking routes, while off-road motorcycles are also welcome. After a long day of adventure, a meal can be enjoyed at one of the braai facilities. Self-catering accommodation is available in the form of camping, caravanning and lodging. Then of course, there’s the main attraction: The point where three of SA’s provinces meet. Even with very capable off-road machinery atour disposal, we were unsuccessful in our quest to reach this juncture. Mother Nature was just not playing ball with us on that. And, Helshoogte still needs to be conquered… we’ll be back. We’ve got some scores to settle at Three Provinces 4×4 trail.

I want to go, too!
Name Three Provinces 4×4 Adventures
Location Just outside Volksrust, Mpumalanga
GPS co-ordinates S27°25’36.7” / E29°45’50.3”
Accommodation Camping and cabins are available
Food Braai facilities are available
Difficulty level 3-4/Helshoogte: 5
Vehicle required 4×4 with low range. Front and rear locking differentials. Good ground clearance is recommended.
Price R220 per vehicle for Three Province route, all additional routes are billed separately (contact Three Provinces for more details).
Self-drive Yes, but a guide is available at additional fee.
Contact Herman or Ronel at
Tel 082 785 8002 or
Tel 017 735 5286

Text and photos: Deon van der Walt