Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Twist and shout!

Have you ever heard of the Monkey Puzzle, Ghoena Twister, Eliminator, the Impossible Crossing or Balarometer Hill? If these names sound familiar, you are probably one of the select 4×4 drivers who have been with Dirk van Reenen on one of his Rowwe Blixem 4×4 challenges. If not, and you are adventurous enough, Nico Denner thinks you should make a DVR Xtreme 4×4 route part of your bucket list.

Late after work, on a Friday night in August, we set off for Harrismith. After taking part in 11 Land Rover Bush Runs in the last three years (without missing one), we decided to break our 4×4 routine and tackle the DVR Rocks & Valleys 4×4 Adventure weekend with Dirk van Reenen and his team from Xtreme 4×4 SA. Apparently, the route is also known as the ‘Blommetjies Kyk 4×4 tour of the Eastern Free State Drakensberg’, so we were looking forward to a nice relaxing family weekend with friends. With an expected cold weekend in the mountains, we treated ourselves to a last night’s rest in a guest house before hitting the road early on Saturday morning to meet the rest of the team at Kerkenberg for the start of this epic adventure.

Since we were the only Land Rover in the group, we quickly became the car to tease amongst the 11 other 4×4 vehicles in the group… The Nissans, Jeeps and Land Cruisers completing our trip convoy all boasted the necessary modifications to be able to take on rough routes. At the information session we were told that you must have a two-way radio with you at all times… We would only find out exactly why later!

From Kerkenberg we drove past Driekloof Dam (part of the Drakensberg hydro water scheme) and around Sterkfontein Dam before taking a dirt road towards the mountains. It is on this very dirt road where the Van Reenens’ farmhouse, Boschkloof, is located. Dirk grew up here, and his great grandfather (who was also named Dirk) was one of the sons of Frans van Reenen, after whom the famous Van Reenens Pass on the N3 towards is named.

The dirt road took us past the graves of the two Moolman brothers, both killed by different lightning bolts on the same day. At Ouman Khele’s (who at the age of 96 is still actively farming) house, our 4×4 route began in all earnest. Tyres were deflated and before long we had to show what we and our 4×4 vehicles were made of when we hit Pierre se Klip. We followed the contours and gradually climbed up to the ridge of the infamous Monkey Puzzle – a challenging zigzag descent that has caused many vehicles to land on their sides. Fortunately, we were on the ‘softer’ flower-viewing route and could drive quietly while admiring the sandstone mountains and cliffs.

Our next destination was the Mini Grand Canyon. To get there, we had to drive down a nerve-racking, treacherous sandstone rock formation which naturally got the group’s adrenaline pumping. Once there, we took a break for lunch, quietly admiring the Maluti Mountains beckoning from Lesotho’s side. We drove past Metsi Matso (Swartwater Dam), which supplies QwaQwa with water, past the bypass and completed a light water obstacle, with Angle Falls and Daryl’s Rock in passing.

With Dirk having grown up here, there is a unique name for each place on the route, and one that you won’t find on any official route map. At Daryl’s Rock, our driving skills were tested to the limit as we established whose wheels could tread the highest and lowest. Fortunately, Dirk and his experienced team guided us through effortlessly and with the late winter sun setting fast, we took a few winding paths straight to the campsite. At around 2 000m above sea level we set up camp and got the fire started for dinner (and warmth) and started discussing the next day’s route…

Earlier I referred to two-way radios. Of course, the main reason for it is for safety and communication but since there was no mobile phone signal or normal radio reception, we were entertained by the tour’s very own Niekie van Berg and Nataniël – sharing everything from from hadeda recipes to life advice and other quips. This ‘radio station’ offered a laugh a minute with scientific analyses of the grasses, trees, stones and birds in between. You’ll have to tag along on a tour to listen to the unique radio station!

The next morning, Dirk informed us that the day’s 4×4 route was going to be more exciting and even more beautiful. How on earth could it get any more beautiful, we wondered… As we departed, the braver members of the group tackled Richard se Boom, resulting in some getting stuck, a few bumps and jolts, a lot of clawing out and the first of many recoveries for the day. We were rearing to go, excited for what lay ahead. We wound through the trees, turned sharp left, and drove up to Hartjie Waterfall. We took some romantic photos, and the members of the group enjoyed the precious moments together. Of course, these rocks are also home to the Ghoena Twister and members of the DVR Xtreme team took the opportunity to show off their 4×4 abilities.

Straight up Bok Pass we were blissfully unaware of what was waiting… DVR Falls. This steep descent is no joke – if you catch speed here or slide just a tad, you will roll down. We had the privilege of going first as we intended to take photos and video of the convoy. This is the scenic flower route on steroids! In low-range second gear and a constant braking with the leg (and buttocks) to keep traction, the 100m descent feels like an eternity. A few distressed screams later everyone was safe in the valley, and we stopped to get the worst jitters under control.

From there we took the twee-spoor paadjie to the Lava Flow terraces and the river. We opted to drive around it, but the daredevils in the group tackled the river’s stone banks… much to our amusement! They don’t call this section the Eliminator for nothing – no one could get up the mud wall! One by one, Dirk had to drag the other vehicles out…

We climbed diagonally up Mofokeng’s Scare, with a panoramic view of the Swartwaterdam (and luxurious Metsi Matso Lodge). Then it was down, past Mofokeng’s Cave, to DVR Falls, where we stopped for lunch. The waterfalls are hidden in the valley and were discovered by Dirk. Behind the falls are typical Eastern Free State sandstone caves and one cannot help but wonder how many of our native San may have called these home.

After a wonderful reprieve at the waterfall, we drove to what they call the Top of the World. It is exactly as the name says, located at the end of the Drakensberg escarpment where the Free State Drakensberg meets the Maluti’s of Lesotho. All that lay between us and Lesotho was the valley, with the plains of Natal stretched out into the distance below us. The Amphitheatre is right in front of you – simply stunning! While we were taking in the view, Dirk’s daughter, Pop, got behind the wheel and showed the men how to drive over the rocks. Just as rough as her father!

We followed the escarpment from one spectacular view to the next. Every now and then we saw ibex and marvelled at the agility of the baboons down the cliffs. Clearly they are not afraid of heights! They are not used to people and vehicles, though – so we kept our distance so as not to disturb them. We wound our way up to Frans se Klippe, further up to DVR Zigzag and straight down to the Dooie Perd Kamp (I am yet to hear the story behind this name!). We stopped at the mud hole and after a bit of playing in the mud, getting stuck and being dragged out we lined up for the legendary Rocks & Valleys drag race under Calliper Hill – in 4×4 low range! After two elimination rounds and quite a few bruised egos, we had to study video footage to be able to determine the winner. Of course, it was Dirk, with Pop and his son-in-law Jonathan close on his heels.

Grinding teeth and gears

On Monday morning we were greeted by light snow that had fallen on the Maluti’s overnight. We packed up our tents and drove up to the Look lookout point to take group photos with the Sterkfontein Dam’s blue water in the background. From there we passed Spitskop, the highest point in the Free State, to Tonnelbos, where we headed towards Impossible Crossing. I’m not gonna lie – at this point, the nerves kicked in… This is where the men taking on the infamous Rowwe Blixem tour come to play and there is only one way in and out. If you go down there, you have to get out the same way! But I am no chicken, so we were first in line! A lot of getting stuck was on the cards, but Dirk has never left a man behind. Recovery equipment on hand, the convoy bravely tackled Balarometer Hill (if you want to hear the story you’ll have to ride along!). All I can say is that it is not for the faint of heart! Apparently, my Land Rover stopped smoking after this hill, as it burned clean!

We continued to climb the heights, up to Dirk’s grandfather’s favourite lookout point on the escarpment. Years ago, a hailstorm pushed his cattle over the escarpment here and they fell 400m to their death – tragic. We took a break to take in the view of the Malutis and the Drakensberg Mountains below us and then we had to retrace our tracks… this time down Balarometer Hill and up Impossible Crossing. Teeth (and gears) grinded against the stone ramparts to the top of the mountain and then we returned to Kerkenberg, where we were to spend the night.

On this, our last night, we kuier-ed around the bonfire and numerous strafdoppe for all the mishaps over the weekend being handed out. We went home with much more than a 4×4 experience, and bigger “balarometers” than I arrived with. My head says more! Until next time – thank you, Dirk. This was legendary!

More about Xtreme 4×4 SA’s DVR trips

Dirk van Reenen Reenen is the owner of Xtreme 4×4 SA. He offers 4×4 tours in the Drakensberg and surrounding areas, ranging from the flower routes suitable for families, to the Ysbeer and Rowwe Blixem tours for specially adapted 4×4 vehicles. If you’re keen, Dirk is the man to contact. He is highly experienced and knows the mountains like the back of his hand. His team is extremely capable and as long as you follow his instructions, you will safely make it to other side. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The legendary Rowwe Blixem tour takes place from 24 – 27 November this year and the 2023 calendar includes:

• Rocks & Valleys: March 2023

• Ysbeer: June 2023

• DVR Falls: September 2023

• All Balls: October 2023

• Rowwe Blixem: November 2023

CONTACT: +27 82 418 9787

* Connect with Dirk on Facebook: Xtreme 4×4 SA – DVR Trips

In the footsteps of the Voortrekkers

Kerkenberg is a privately owned historic site. The Vootrekkers camped here in October and November 1837 while they explored the area to find a way over the mountains to Natal. They left from here on their way to Mgungundlovu, where Piet Retief and his entourage were murdered by King Dingaan in January 1938. The famous Piet Retief stone, on which his daughter Debora painted his name on his 57th birthday, can be viewed here. The Retief Pass, which descends the escarpment to the Kaalvoet Vrou Monument, is also located here. In later years, a church was built among the sandstone rock formations at Kerkenberg, and a church service is held annually on 16 December.

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