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South Africa

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Text: PG Jonker Photography: PG Jonker

Source: This article is taken from the July 2011 issue of Leisure Wheels

Regular Leisure Wheels contributor PG Jonker is a 4×4 fanatic (though he isn’t too fond of the tough stuff). He is also a bit of a wordsmith, with an ability to relate even the most mundane story in a highly entertaining way.

And he showcases this talent on his blog, where he has collected his most amusing and interesting stories. Here he recounts a recent trip to the Namaqua National Park. It all started at Kamieskroon…

Rocky outcrop in the Namaqualand National ParkIt was the night before the super full moon of 19 March 2011 and it was shiny bright. We were the last two vehicles in the group to arrive at the Gousblom B&B at Kamieskroon – at 21:30.

It was a happy crowd. We were introduced to each other, had a braai, and eventually settled down to sleep in air-conditioned rooms. The 19 people easily fitted into the guest house, with even some rooms unoccupied.

We awoke on Saturday morning and started preparing breakfast and packing at a very sedate pace. No one was in a hurry. This is actually nice. Those without trailers and tray systems and the like are usually under pressure to keep up with a fast-moving crowd.

After a last stop at the Kamieskroon petrol station, we left at 09:00 on the gravel road that leads past the Kamieskroon Hotel into the Namaqua National Park.

Namaqua National Park

The Namaqualand Landscape

After booking in at the Skilpad office, Namaqua National Park (S30°09.489′; E017°46.29′), we tackled the park’s Caracal Eco Route. Each vehicle received a booklet in which the routes were marked. Without that I can imagine you could easily get lost. Turning points are marked with caracal signs, some of which are numbered to enable you to plot yourself on the map.

After visiting the first viewpoint we descended down the Kamiesberg mountains on a cement road. The road then became a typical tweespoor farm track on hard ground. Old ruins are to be found where there used to be permanent settlements.

At the Witboois River we turned off, rather than head for Soebatsfontein. We chose the detour that would eventually take us over the Wildeperdehoek Pass.

The road remained pretty much what you would expect of a farm road. Before the Wildeperdehoek Pass there is one very steep incline where low range is convenient to get up there slowly. It is not essential, though, as one of the group member’s 4×2 Colt went up the incline with no apparent strain.

Wildeperdehoek Pass

We turned left for the Wildeperdehoek Pass (S29°56.319′; E017°38.085′). From the park’s office to the pass took some three-and-a-quarter hours. The tweespoor becomes a proper road that takes you over the pass, which was built in similar fashion to the Bain’s passes. It was constructed in the late 1800s for the transporting of copper ore from Springbok to Hondeklipbaai.

From the pass you look down on a grassy plain to the west. This is apparently one of the few grassy areas in Namaqualand. In the distance below you can also see the two gravel roads that run to Koingnaas and Soebatsfontein.

Reaching the bottom of the pass, we took the road to Koingnaas. This is a gravel highway, as opposed to the tweespoor tracks we had been travelling on up to that point. At the next split in the road (S30°06.691′; E017°24.781′) we aimed south. Somehow, however, we took a wrong road (I kid you not), but we noticed our error pretty quickly and turned around.

Coastal part of the park

We eventually crossed the main gravel road between Hondeklipbaai and Garies, with gates on both sides of the road to be closed (S30°1.195′;E017°25.569′). We were now heading for the coastal part of the preservation area.

This area is one of the few unspoilt sections of Namaqua Coastal Duneveld left.

Shortly before 16:00, we took the turn- off (S30°29.031′; E017°23.731′) to the Spoegrivier caves. The road became very sandy. Although we let our tyres down a bit for the gravel road when we entered the Namaqua Park, they were over-inflated for sandy conditions.

Although I was in 4×4, I could feel the bakkie battling to remain on top of the sand. Shortly thereafter, our group’s Colt 4×2 became stuck. It was actually doing rather well up to that point, but as the going speed was too slow, he got stuck.

Fortunately the 49 degree heat of earlier in the day had dropped considerably, with a cool wind blowing in from the sea.

Stuck! Well, we were warned, weren't we.The Colt was pulled out easily enough with the use of a fixed rope (not a kinetic strap), but became stuck again only a few metres farther on. We now all let down our tyres to 1.2kPa – the Colt down to 1kPa. The Colt was then pulled out to the next hard section where our group had to wait to make way for another convoy returning from the caves.

Here things nearly unravelled due to some miscommunication. We were advised by the returning convoy that it was downhill to the caves, and that they had battled to make it back up the hill in the thick sand. Given the Colt’s problems, we considered it wise not to proceed down to the caves. However, it turned out that only a driver towing a heavy off-road caravan had experienced some difficulties getting up the slope. So, once the other convoy had departed, we travelled the last half-a-kilometre to the caves, leaving the Colt (but not its passengers) behind.

Spoegrivier Caves

The caves are something rather special (S30°28.310′; E017°22.194′). The site has archaeological importance in that there are signs of sheep farming dating back some 2000 years. It is believed that the cave was used by the Khoi people as they migrated south with their flocks.

For the only time on the tour, there was a sense of urgency in the group about the need to get moving. It was almost 17:30, and we still had quite a distance to go before we would get to a place where we could make camp.

One felt the need to spend some time at the caves, but then again, perhaps it would be better on your own, so that you could enjoy the absolute quiet and the special atmosphere.

Duneveld

We were now south-bound, heading for the Groenrivier mouth. It was clear, however, that we would not get there that evening.

Just before 18:00 we reached a notice that said “Soft sand – 4×4 only”. Shortly afterwards the lead vehicle got stuck in the sand. Things were slightly more complicated for one particular group member, who was towing a trailer with his Land Rover. With a little push from the rest of us, he reversed the Land Rover out of the thick sand, and tried again, with a bit more momentum. No problem this time.

Oh no, soft sand!The trick now, of course, was to get the Colt 4×2 through. Two words applied: speed and momentum. OK, three words – speed, momentum and balls.

Thomas engaged his diff lock and flew off in the Colt after making sure the coast was clear. Rather amazingly, he got through without getting stuck.

However, the worst was yet to come. The next difficult section required negotiating an uphill sandy track. This proved too much for the Colt, and it got bogged down. Three vehicles had passed the spot, and three were left.

Making a plan

With the Colt stuck going uphill, it meant pulling it out downhill. How difficult could that be? I reversed my bakkie up to the Colt, hitched on the tow rope and pulled the Colt out.

Uhm…. well, actually, not exactly. I got stuck myself!

I assume that (a) I left the diff lock too late, and that in fact it did not engage, and (b) I probably tried too quickly, bogging my bakkie down, instead of pulling us both clear.

With some assistance, I managed to extract myself.

What should be done about the Colt, though, wasn’t clear? Do we camp right there and make a plan tomorrow?

Do we turn around, or do we proceed? Eventually it was decided to proceed.

The Colt would be hitched to another vehicle, and they would drive in tandem through the next stretch of road.

Those who had already completed the stretch felt that if the Colt got through – albeit Colt-on-a-rope – there could not possibly be even more daunting obstacles that would prevent the Colt from making it through the rest of the trip.

The Colt-on-a-rope reached the other end of this difficult stretch without further ado. By now, however, we hadrun out of time. The sun was setting, and a thick fog was rolling in. We had no option but to spend the night where we were.

Spoegrivier caveGroenrivier

By 09:45 the next morning we were on our way. The temperature remained at some 2°C. Thanks to the fog of the previous evening, the thick sand was now much easier to negotiate. But it was still an impressive sight to see the Colt flying off, after giving the vehicle in front of it some space, never to get stuck again in spite of long stretches of thick sand.

Just before noon we reached the Groenrivier mouth (S30°49.751′; E017°34.950′). It’s actually an estuary that is only occasionally opened by wave action, when seawater floods in. As the water evaporates, it leaves the salt behind, making it one of the saltiest estuaries on the South African coast. It was nevertheless a good time to do lunch.

We left, taking the road past the Groenrivier lighthouse. There were still a few sandy stretches, but none appeared daunting anymore. By about 15:00 we hit a tar road, heading for Lutzville.

Strandfontein

After filling up at Lutzville and inflating our tyres, we headed for nearby Strandfontein. And what an amazing place it turned out to be.

We were allocated campsites in the “horse shoe” part of the municipal camping site. Before our arrival there was only one vehicle there. The lower campsite, overlooking the sea, appeared to be fully occupied.

The weather was absolutely perfect – slightly overcast, windless, quiet (for us, that is).

We ended the weekend with a potjiekos competition. The options to choose from were sheep, chicken, bread (two varieties) and chocolate cake (true). After much deliberation, we decided it was a draw. A perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

In the groove, babe

Now, there is a malicious rumour going around that I don’t have the balls to do heavy 4×4 stuff. So let me be clear on this: this rumour is absolutely true. But this tour, I would say, falls squarely within what I find extremely palatable. So maybe one could say I’ve found my groove…

*This is only an extract of PG’s story. If you’d like to read the whole article, visit the website. PG’s blog also contains other entertaining stories in both Afrikaans and English.

More info on the quaint town of Richtersveld More info on the Namaqualand area

Leisure Wheels Safaris - a great way to offroad

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