But the main attraction here is on the opposite side of the road, where an overgrown track leads westwards down an easy slope to reach the Le Roux cableway. The rain has settled in and umbrellas and rain-jackets save the day as we all do the walk down to the cableway.
The cloud-base is low obscuring the length of the cableway somewhat, but the great dizzying depth of the Waterpoort is unmistakable. We estimate the distance to the other side of the deep gorge to be about 400m. Cast your mind back to 1961 when Winston le Roux (who is now 84) and his father constructed this amazing bit of home-made engineering.
The big issue would have been getting the messenger line across. There were no carrier rockets available in those days, which meant someone had to clamber down the gorge (a highly dangerous exercise), cross the river, then climb up the far side all the while lugging a rope of considerable mass and length.
Once the main cable had been hauled over the chasm, (presumably using a tractor) the farmers were in business. A basic metal cage of about 2 cubic metres was used to transport goods, produce, livestock and sometimes even people. The cage was hauled across the cable employing a tractor which powered a basic winch. The cableway sliced a full two days travel off the journey from Enkeldoorn to Patensie. If ever the phrase ‘n Boer maak n plan’ rang true, this is a perfect example.
Back in our vehicles we crossed the Bergplaas plateau in steady rain, then began the descent of Combrink’s Pass. This beautiful drive so often has drizzle, cloud and rain about, but it was light enough to still make the drive highly enjoyable. This pass is very similar to the eastern section of the Grasnek Pass.
Strange euphorbia type plants had our guests eagerly looking up their reference books to try and identify the various species. All too soon we reached the bottom of the Combrink’s Pass and entered the fairy tale world of ‘Poortjies’. This is a section of about 6 km through a thick indigenous forest interspersed with regular river crossings. Here we spotted some vervet monkeys.
The exit of the bioreserve requires a signing out procedure and once again the staff at Eastern Cape Parks were friendly, efficient and helpful. Immediately after leaving the exit control point, the route enters the Cambria Valley, so named for its similarity to Cambria in Wales. Hundreds of thousands of citrus trees fill the valley with that distinctive aroma of oranges. Citrus farming is the main commercial and agricultural activity in this area and supports a large number of people. High quality water is a prerequisite for citrus farming and the Gamtoos River is the source of the water here, but more importantly the Kouga Dam is where the water is stored. We were scheduled to start our final day with a visit to the dam.
After about 8 km we reached the confluence of the Ys and Grootriver. From there it’s an easy drive along the southern side of the Grootrivierpoort before we reached our next overnight destination at Bruintjieskraal. The farm accommodation consists of four ample sized chalets spread out over discreet distances on the hillside, as well as excellent camping sites adjacent to the river.
As we drove into the Bruintjieskraal property, the rain came down in torrents. We had made good time throughout the day, leaving us with a few hours to relax and have a shower, before congregating at the lapa for our evening’s festivities.
It rained non-stop, but not enough to spoil our evening. One of our guests was unable to complete the final day and were due to leave the group the next morning and after the farm owner arrived to check if we were all comfortable, he also gave us the bad news about the Corona virus story. Another couple in our group, who are in the international travel business, also had to make the agonising decision to depart the group. That reduced our convoy size down to 6. On that basis, we decided to bring our Chappies night forward and an evening of royal festivity was enjoyed by all, with a new game called ‘Pennie Knyp’ being introduced by one of our guests, who shall remain anonymous. What happens on tour stays on tour!
On a previous tour last year we had enjoyed an incredibly good potjie meal at this venue, so we decided that a repeat would be in order and this time round it was even better. They laid on a marvellous spread for us - two different potjies with salads and home made bread that just been baked. A real feast.
The rain got heavier as the night wore on and at 05h00 the next morning the storm peaked with very heavy rain coupled with strong wind. I was already getting a little worried about the effects of the rain on the next day’s routing.
(Next week: Bruintjieskraal to Steytlerville)
Pass of the Week
We head east from Grahamstown to drive a big pass between the settler town and Peddie. This very long pass of 21 km offers wide scenery over the Great Fish River valley and due its excellent engineering allows plenty of time to safely enjoy the views. Most people that drive this pass have no idea its a major pass, nor do they know about the rich history.
* * * * * G R E A T F I S H R I V E R P A S S * * * * *
New Passes added this week:
Howison's Poort - A magical poort/pass with a 300m altitude variance and of great acheological value
Words of wisdom: "The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity"