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

A journey of discovery – Eastern Cape

READER ADVENTURE

A journey of discovery

What started as a planned trip to document the charms of the Eastern Cape for his YouTube channel, morphed into an unforgettable adventure of new experiences and self-discovery for off-roading enthusiast HENK BOGAARDS and his family.

The plan was simple: I wanted to make a three-part series on the Eastern Cape and a handful of places that make it a favourite playground for those who enjoy exploring this beautiful country of ours. On my list of must-visit places were Rhodes, Hogsback, Dwesa Nature Reserve and Coffee Bay.

We set off from our home in Johannesburg early in the afternoon and headed for Zastron. The plan was to cover some distance on the first day to make the later days more manageable. In hindsight, it turned out to be a wise decision. The road was smooth until we left the N1 highway. The initial few kilometres were fine, but the condition of the tar road deteriorated significantly from there.

Obviously, this negatively affected our travel speed and we eventually only arrived in Zastron at about 20:00 that evening. Our accommodation for the night was Vultures Lodge, and we can sincerely recommend it to others. Upon arrival, we were pleased to find that the heaters and electric blankets in our room were already turned on, which felt like a well-deserved pampering, especially considering what lay ahead on the rest of the trip.

Zastron to Balloch Cottages

We woke up early the next morning and prepared our Toyota Fortuner and Bush Lapa off-road trailer for the day’s drive. Once everything was packed up, I decided to fly the drone for a quick aerial view of Zastron and the surrounding area. The views were truly breathtaking, and it became evident that one could easily spend a whole day exploring this beautiful region.

After refuelling, we headed towards Sterkfontein. Along the way, we crossed the Zastron bridge, which spans the Orange River. We followed the path towards the Tellebridge border post, where we made a right turn and followed the Telle River. Soon after, we reached a point where we needed to deflate the tyres of both the vehicle and the trailer. The drive along the river offered mesmerising views and we were completely enthralled.

As we continued, we reached a village from where we could see snow-capped mountains in the distance. We were hopeful to encounter more snow later on. Little did we know what awaited us…

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Leaving the river behind, we proceeded on the Lundeansnek Pass and spotted a small waterfall along the way. The pass was an easy drive, and we soon reached the summit, where we captured the obligatory photo with the sign. Descending through the War Trail Valley, we once again caught sight of snow-capped peaks on the higher mountains.

Finally, we arrived at the entrance to Balloch and decided to stay at a cottage due to uncertain weather conditions. Although the wind picked up initially, it later subsided, allowing me to capture some fantastic drone footage of the area.

Searching for snow

After gathering information about various routes, we settled on our itinerary for the next day. We would head to Rhodes, then take the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass to Tiffendell, hoping to witness some snow there. Next, we planned to traverse the Tiffendell Tennahead Traverse (TTT), stop for a coffee break at Tennahead, and finally descend using the Naudesnek Pass.

We were warned that certain routes might be closed, and in such a case, the alternative was to take the Volunteershoek Pass. At this point, we hadn’t encountered much snow, and we were informed that it was expected to arrive in a day or two.

The scenery en route to Rhodes was absolutely breathtaking. Upon reaching the village, we drove through and made a stop at a local shop to buy some delicious fresh bread.

Continuing our journey from Rhodes, we took the Tiffendell turn-off, passing through local farms until we reached the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. This pass might not be suitable for those who fear heights and tight turns. The most challenging section had a cemented surface, providing good traction. However, there was an alternative route, which – at first glance – did seem washed out. We opted for the cemented part, manoeuvring through a sharp bend with ease by maintaining the right momentum. Note that for the concrete sections, it’s best to engage 2H.

Near Tiffendell, we found a delightful patch of snow, where we had some fun throwing snowballs and enjoying the wintery scene. We were informed that parts of the TTT had snow but seeing that we had two kids in the vehicle and were unsure about the road ahead, we decided to skip the TTT and opted for the Volunteershoek Pass instead.

As we proceeded, we began encountering more snow on the road, most of which was manageable to drive over. Eventually, we came across a large pile of snow blocking the road. Uncertain about the conditions ahead and the risk of getting stuck, we decided not to proceed and turned back down the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. We returned to Balloch and that evening we started noticing small snowflakes falling around us.

A day of surprises and challenges

Our plan was to depart from Balloch and head to Hogsback, where we had booked a camping spot at Away with the Fairies. Just after Barkley East, we paused to take some photos of the snow. It was then that a vehicle approached us from the front and stopped to warn us about the snowy conditions on Barkley Pass. They had experienced sliding and decided to turn around. Feeling uncertain about the best course of action and limited space to turn the Bush Lapa around, we decided to continue carefully until we felt it was too dangerous to proceed.

As we continued, several other vehicles approached us from the front, some having turned back due to the challenging conditions. We even passed a jack-knifed truck. The road began to resemble a narrow path, but fortunately, we maintained traction and managed to navigate through. We wondered if the added weight of the trailer aided in keeping the rear wheels grounded.

Once we reached the bottom of the pass, we felt relieved. Police cars were stationed there, indicating we might have been among the last vehicles to descend the pass safely.

Our journey continued towards Hogsback, where we left the tar road, and I promptly deflated the tires again. Initially, the gravel road was bumpy but manageable. However, as we progressed, we encountered snowy and muddy sections, leading to a fun but muddy clean-up later on. We arrived in Hogsback late that afternoon. Due to the cold, wet conditions, we decided to upgrade to a self-catering unit. Feeling a bit disheartened and faced with wet and muddy conditions, we retired to bed early, unsure of our plans for the following day. We knew we needed to figure out the way forward amid the challenges we encountered.

Trying conditions

We were faced with a critical decision: stay in Hogsback for another day or move on. Despite searching for suitable accommodation options in Hogsback, we couldn’t find anything ideal. Camping was out of the question due to the ongoing mud and disappointing bathrooms. However, we did manage to capture some stunning scenic views from the viewpoint at Away with Fairies using the drone.

I contacted Eastern Cape Parks to inquire about arriving earlier at Dwesa. Thankfully, they confirmed the availability of a campsite for an extra night. Before leaving Hogsback, we made a quick stop at the 39 Steps Waterfall, which we highly recommend.

We considered taking an alternative gravel route past the Madonna and Child Waterfall, but we were warned that the road might be too slippery and muddy to tow the caravan. Thus, we chose the main road out of Hogsback, hoping to avoid more mud-related challenges.

Initially, most of the journey was incident-free, but as we neared KwaNgculu, we encountered deteriorating road conditions due to recent rainfall. The road became increasingly rough and slow, causing our GPS estimated arrival time to continually extend. The stretch from Mtokwane was particularly bad, prompting me to switch to low range to prevent damage to the vehicle and caravan. The final section leading to Dwesa was the worst, and I strongly advise against attempting this route with a towed caravan without a 4×4.

By the time we arrived at the Dwesa main gate, it was already past 17:00 and the sun had set. Unfortunately, loadshedding affected their systems, delaying our check-in and our lack of cell signal further complicated the situation.

Eventually, all the necessary formalities were sorted, and we made our way to the campsite in total darkness. While searching for the campsite near the ablution block, we inadvertently turned onto a two-track road. Realising our mistake, we tried to turn around, but it proved challenging with the caravan in tow. We had to unhook it and carefully manoeuvre the Fortuner to change direction. Fortunately, I had brought recovery ropes, which came in handy to get the Bush Lapa back on track.

Once we located the campsite, we were met with a very muddy area. Despite the challenging conditions, we managed to find a dry spot. Setting up camp in the dark, we were relieved to have a safe spot. However, upon checking the ablution facilities, we discovered there was no electricity and no running water. This posed a problem as we didn’t want to use our drinking water for showering.

We decided to drive back to the main gate to seek help. They apologised for the inconvenience and informed us that a water truck was on its way to provide water for the bathrooms. They also promised to supply us with water. After a long day’s drive and dealing with unforeseen challenges, we settled for a simple snack before retiring early.

Dwesa Nature Reserve

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The scenery at Dwesa is undeniably extraordinary. It became apparent that we were the sole occupants of the area. Throughout the day, there was a water delivery for washing and toilet use, but this water was not suitable for consumption.

Thankfully, our water tank held ample drinking water. In the daylight, the aftermath of recent heavy rains became evident. The campsite was quite messy due to the mud. Fortunately, we managed to find a dry patch and navigate around some of the mud.

Much of our day was spent at the beach, where we marvelled at the size of the seashells, which were quite large. However, it’s worth mentioning that collecting shells is prohibited by law. As evening descended, we finally got to enjoy a delightful campfire and a proper braai.

Onward to Coffee Bay

It was time for us to pack up and depart from Dwesa. The water we were using for washing and other purposes was becoming increasingly dirty, as though it might have been sourced directly from the river.

We had two options: return to the N2 via the same challenging road we had taken to get there or opt for the back roads through the villages. We chose the latter. The journey began smoothly with the road in good condition, giving us hope for a quick and easy drive. However, the road’s quality deteriorated as we progressed.

Approaching the bridge over the Mbashe River, we encountered a sign cautioning that the road was dangerous. On this section I mostly had to engage low range for safe navigation. Our progress was slow, and we managed to reach speeds of no more than 40km/h at best. At last, we hit the tarred road leading to Coffee Bay, expecting a smooth and swift drive. However, the last portion of the tar road was actually worse than the gravel roads we had traversed. The potholes were large and deep, and in some instances, it was more practical to drive alongside the road.

We discovered that a section of the final route was closed but fortunately, a local resident provided us with alternative directions. Despite the closure of the alternative route being indicated on Tracks4Africa, it had become the main route. I have since sent them our route to update their map.

Finally arriving at White Clay Resort, we were greeted by lush grassy areas to set up camp and take in the breathtaking views. Over the next few days, we planned to take things easy after a day of extensive driving.

Hole in the Wall

Our destination for the next day was the renowned Hole in the Wall at Coffee Bay. Although we had previously visited the lookout point, we had yet to explore the beach itself. Our goal was to embrace the beach view, and I held out hope for discovering the elusive Baby Hole in the Wall.

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Our initial stop took us to the primary viewpoint, the very spot where most tourists capture their photographs. We followed suit, even launching the drone to gain a unique aerial perspective. En route to the viewpoint, a gentleman offered his guiding services, a proposition we politely declined. Surprisingly, he reappeared at the viewpoint, making another attempt. His dedication became apparent when he raced back from the viewpoint to join us near the hotel, showcasing his commitment.

This time, swayed by his persistence, we decided to give him a chance. He had certainly earned it. He led us from the Hole in the Wall hotel, where we parked our Fortuner, to the beach view. He guided us to a captivating ocean vista where waves crashed against majestic rocks, a sight we likely would have overlooked without his guidance.

His generosity extended further, and he offered to lead us to the Baby Hole in the Wall, a short drive from the hotel. The excursion proved its worth, as the secluded beauty of the Baby Hole is often missed by the masses. The drone once again proved invaluable, allowing us to capture breathtaking views up close.

Upon our return to the Hole in the Wall Hotel, we spent quality time on the beach with the kids. Our afternoon concluded with a late lunch at the hotel and with the day’s adventures behind us, we retreated to the comfort of White Clay Resort to unwind.

Exploring in the area

Due to us leaving Dwesa a day early we had an extra day at White Clay, allowing us the opportunity to explore both the Impuza River Mouth and the Umtata River Mouth.

I ventured to the Impuza River Mouth on my own early in the morning, as the rest of the family had had their fill of driving around. This turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip!

The journey involved a bit of a 4×4 adventure, and the scenery proved to be absolutely breathtaking. Driving up a mountain with the ocean beside me provided a truly spectacular view. The descent to the river mouth was equally enjoyable. I highly recommend this drive to anyone visiting the area, though it could be a bit challenging if the road is wet. The views at the river mouth itself were just as awe-inspiring.

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Umtata River Mouth. Compared to the morning’s adventure, this was less extraordinary. Given the choice, I would definitely opt for the Impuza River mouth. Notably, it’s also closer to White Clay and requires less time.

The remainder of the day was dedicated to packing up, preparing for our early departure the following morning. As this marked the end of our journey, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at the Restaurant at White Clay. Sadly, it was time to head back home, and we couldn’t help but feel a little sad that our incredible – if somewhat unexpected – adventure had come to an end.

I must mention that filming the trip did require extra time and effort, and despite having numerous ideas inspired by other videos, it was impossible to capture everything. There’s just so much to see and document!

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