Back in the 1940s, during World War II, General Patton declared that the USA’s single biggest contribution to the war effort was the introduction of the Willys Overland. Many still regard it as the first-ever off-roader, able to get you wherever you want to go… come hell or high water. That is precisely the mission of the DVR Xtreme 4×4 Rowwe Blixem off-road trip. The goal is simply to find an obscure destination and follow the most challenging route to get there. Anton Willemse Jnr went along for the rather rough ride.
Have you ever travelled over Van Reenen’s Pass in the eastern Free State and wondered if it would be possible for a vehicle to traverse and explore those vast mountains and the deep valleys they surround? Well, from personal experience, I can now say that the Rowwe Blixems have done exactly that.
A Family forged in rock and mud
I didn’t know what to expect from this trip. While growing up, I was a spectator at many off-roading competitions on closed 4×4 courses and have always dreamed of building a rig similar to the beasts on the track to participate in such events. While I still have quite a way to go in realising this dream, the Rowwe Blixem 2022 adventure was certainly a step in the right direction. This adventure entails a group of self-confessed adrenaline junkies pushing themselves and their vehicles to the absolute limit in a place where an error can have catastrophic consequences… Not as part of a competition, but purely for the fun of it!
Arriving at the campsite at the onset of the Rowwe Blixem 2022 event, it soon became clear that this was no event for a standard double cab (or the ‘standard’ adventurer for that matter). Every vehicle there had massive wheels and modified suspensions. Some vehicles are one of a kind, with custom fabrication all around. A perfect example is Dirk van Reenen’s Mufasa, which started life as a humble TJ Jeep, but has been given a second lease on life as the trusty steed of the roughest Rowwe Blixem of them all. After setting up camp, my travel partner, Nico Denner of Land Rover Bush Run fame, and I slotted in around the campfire. It immediately became clear that this was a close-knit group, all with the same passion and drive in life. There was pure camaraderie and it yielded heaps of banter as members of the group bashed each other’s driving abilities and vehicles. There was no malice involved though, and everybody expressed their eagerness to get into the mountains to put themselves and their equipment through the ultimate test.
At around 05:00 the next morning, the sounds of engines starting and tools clattering echoed through the campsite as everyone prepared their vehicles for the day’s challenges. After a quick coffee and breakfast, we were ready to traverse the beautiful mountains, and the challenge began almost immediately… The guys had a spot of bother at the first mud hole, which was mere metres away from the campsite. However, the Blixems made quick work of this minor inconvenience and we started meandering up the mountain. The first part of the route was along some relatively tough farm roads, but held very little in the line of serious challenges.
However, that changed once we arrived at our first obstacle, and it became abundantly clear that this trip was not for the faint of heart. We were greeted by a stream slicing through the mountain towards a valley. The goal was to move down the valley while criss-crossing over the creek. Now, it is important to note that there is a more suitable route, which is the one Nico and I took in his trusty Defender TD5. The Blixems chose to do things the hard way.
As I mentioned before, this isn’t a trip for the faint of heart, nor is it one for a standard vehicle. The vehicle brand of choice seemed to be Jeep; its products renowned for their standard capability. Still, this trip made me realise how much you can get from the platform once you add quality aftermarket parts.
Most of the Jeeps on the trip had massive wheels and crazy amounts of suspension travel, as well as lockers front, middle and rear. The lockers proved invaluable for traction… something Nico and I had very little of as we both slipped and fell on the slippery sandstone.
Taking some shots
The ravine was not much of a challenge for the Rowwe Blixems. However, when we got to the valley at the foot of the mountain, the group ran into its first problem. The goal was to get the vehicles across a stream, then meander back down into it before following it up the mountain. Honestly, I only realised what the plan was once it was in full swing.
The initial crossing proved to be challenging as exceptional approach and departure angles were required in order to cross over. It proved difficult for one vehicle in particular. The all-ladies team, in a Jeep Rubicon christened Lego, snapped a half-shaft while crossing, and I was convinced that it meant the end of their trip. But no, they powered on and completed the entire route.
As the group continued up the mountain, I realised that winching would be a common sight during the weekend. The all-natural trail meant that there was no escape route. Once you’d committed to an obstacle, you’d have to see it through… even if it meant you had to be winched over or through it. Although it’s a very capable vehicle, Nico’s Defender simply didn’t have the off-road capability required, and we were forced to turn back and take a detour around the mountain.
As we patiently waited on the other side for the Blixems to come over the mountain, we had the opportunity to admire the sheer beauty of the area. We were a mere stone’s throw away from Lesotho, which meant we were surrounded by beautiful and majestic mountains. Nico and I couldn’t help but wonder how these mad lads
were planning on getting over the massive obstacle. We spotted a notch between the mountains where they could come over, but even then, they had to come down a steep embankment with many side slopes. Then, one by one, they appeared as they came over the crest of the mountain and headed down towards us.
Two of the three Pajeros in the group had sustained some nasty damage, one losing a CV joint, and the other struggling with cooling. The third one, a virtually standard secondgen short-wheelbased 3.5-litre V6 Pajero dubbed Buksie, had a point to prove. And this it did in admirable fashion, successfully following the Jeeps through every obstacle. For the other two Pajeros it was game over. After a long day of taking the road not normally taken, we arrived back at camp. Everybody took the opportunity to make repairs and improvements to their vehicles before enjoying a night of good company as we relived the experiences of the day up in the mountains.
Getting down and dirty
During the night it cooled down considerably and the next morning we were greeted by a genuinely gothic scene as the mist from the cold mountains rolled through the campsite. Not perturbed, the Rowwe Blixems set off to once again venture where no bakkie or man dares to. The fun started almost immediately when Dirk spotted a hole where the ground had eroded away. It didn’t provide much of a challenge for this group, but served as a good warmup for what was to come. Once again, we were surrounded by truly awe-inspiring rolling hills and massive cliffsides. This is what makes the Rowwe Blixem so unique. It takes you to parts of the country that are inaccessible to the general public. If you have the hardware, skills and, more importantly, the guts, you should definitely add it to your bucket list.
After admiring the scenery, we started up again and quickly ran into a bit of trouble The route recce had been done months before and in the meantime the area had received heavy rainfall. This meant that the original route had vanished completely. Instead of turning back, though, the Blixems quickly carved a new road that proved much more challenging than the original one. It was a tight fit, but all the vehicles managed to get through.
On our way up the mountain to find a suitable lunch spot, the Blixems spotted a few protruding rocks and took the opportunity to show off the capabilities of their steeds. They performed some truly impossible feats with these vehicles, climbing vertically to park them on top of the very big and very steep rocks. It truly was a spectacular sight!
Soon thereafter the clouds began to build and after lunch it started raining. For the Blixems this meant only one thing: fun. The entire track back to the camp was a muddy slog, with no bypass routes, and there were many recoveries along the way. Most people would be demotivated or frustrated when they get stuck, but these guys love it! For them, struggling is part of the fun. It leads to plenty of banter and laughs and further enforces the brotherhood which was established a long time ago. The day ended with some fun in a brutal bog of mud where the guys had one last opportunity to push their vehicles to the limit. After the fun in the marsh, the festivities commenced. A delicious spit braai brought an end to a most enjoyable and challenging weekend with the Rowwe Blixems in the beautiful, but brutal Drakensberg mountains. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the Rowwe Blixems proved that there really is no mountain high enough nor a valley low enough to keep them from their destination.
More about DVR Xtreme 4×4
Dirk van Reenen is the owner of DVR Xtreme 4×4 SA. He offers 4×4 tours in the Drakensberg and surroundings, ranging from flower routes suitable for families, to the Ysbeer and Rowwe Blixem tours for specially adapted 4×4 vehicles. Dirk 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.
CONTACT: +27 82 418 9787 or find them on Facebook: @Xtreme 4×4 SA – DVR Trips