You’d expect a 42-year wedding anniversary to include a candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant, but Johan and Elmare van Staden from Parow do things a bit differently. They’d rather tackle a 4x4 trail together.
It’s 27 September and the anniversary of the Van Staden’s wedding day. After 42 years and many ups and downs together, they think about things differently by this time. That’s why they decided against dining out and to celebrate the milestone in their off-roader. Armed with the old Drive Out #77 from their collection, they pointed their Isuzu’s nose in the direction of the open road.
Seed of doubt planted
We read about the Old Postal Route in Drive Out and decided it was something we wanted to experience. In celebration of our special day we decided to camp at the Enjo Guest Farm in the Biedouw Valley and to then take the Old Postal Route to the Tankwa Karoo.
Our first stop is at the Florida farmstall just outside Wellington and we eat a delicious breakfast. The wide variety of freshly baked bread and pies look very tempting but we packed padkos for the next two days. We drive to the towel factory in town where Elmare first does some shopping and then we take it slow on our favourite road, the beautiful Bain’s Kloof Pass. We stop in Ceres to fill the Isuzu’s tank.
We make good time through Prins Alfred Hamlet and over the Gydo Pass, and as we drive to Op-die-Berg we turn left in the direction of the Katbakkies Pass. Despite the severe drought the area is surprisingly green and the fruit trees’ blossoms are striking. At the turn-off to Katbakkies, however, we don’t turn right again and instead follow the decent dirt road past Mount Cede rand over Grootrivi er hoogte. At Cederberg Oasis we chat to Gerrit, the friendly owner, and he strongly advises against tackling the Old Postal Route on our own.
We drive on and at Matjies River we turn right to Wupperthal. We drive through sandstone formations, but large parts of the beautiful vegetation were destroyed by fires. The last stretch from Eselbank the road is badly neglected and the Isuzu drives slowly down the steep descents to Wupperthal.
In town we buy some rooibos products and then climb the slopes of and over the last mountainside before the Biedouw Valley. Immediately after we turned right in the valley on the road to Enjo we see the gate and turn-off to the Old Postal Route as well as the steep road down that the route starts with. According to the article in Drive Out this would be the Kraaiberg Pass.
After about 11 kilometres we reach our destination. The friendly people at Enjo welcome us and take us to our campsite. They’re not familiar with the Old Postal Route but vow to make some enquiries. We pitch our tent underneath beautiful >
thorn trees, with a power socket, tap and laundry facilities close by. The ablution facilities are very basic but clean and completely sufficient for our needs. Despite the drought a stream still flows in the Biedouw River near the campsite. Frogs sing cheerily. We don’t need candles or a night light because the stars shine brightly enough.
No pain, no gain
The next morning we’re still unsure about whether we’re going to drive the Old Postal Route. We decide to head back in the direction of the Wupperthal Road and to then ask advice from the farm owners. The friendly Van der Merwe farmers near the T-junction assure us that the road is entirely driveable. They say they use it often to get to their tea plantations on the plateau. They also refer us to their neighbours on the plateau, the Bakkers, and say we should ask them about the accessibility of the route.
We decide to drive as far as the road will allow us and to then turn around if necessary. We quickly climb the steep road up to the plateau while marvelling at the views.
The road runs past well-kept tea plantations and through several gates to the Bakkers’ neat farmstead. Despite the terrible drought they are still cultivating the new plantations and making plans to extend the irrigation system.
The Bakkers also assure us that the road is accessible and invite us in, but we decide to rather continue on this obscure road toward our adventure.
It’s disheartening to see how many of the big wagon trees and other plants are withering away because of the drought but nevertheless we again stop at a survey marker and enjoy the panoramic view over the beautiful landscape.
The ravines and scenery are indescribably beautiful and even the best photograph will struggle to do justice to this piece of natural splendour.
We drive on and it’s not long before we see the deep ravines of the Doring River approaching. The Karretjies Pass is something to behold and is not as rough as we expected. We stop on the pass to take a photo at the same spot as the one featured in Drive Out.
The ravines and scenery is beyond description. Even the best photo can’t do justice to this piece of natural splendour. At times the road is rocky and it almost sounds like porcelain plates cracking underneath the wheels, but I have complete faith in the old Wrangler RT/ SA tyres. They have, after all, done more than one tour through the Richtersveld, the Baviaans, Lesotho, Namibia and, above all, have survived several trips in the Tankwa. Our bakkie doesn’t have a load though and the tyres are slightly deflated so at a few places where we have to climb very steep slopes we activate the diff lock to avoid wheel spin.
Hold your breath, we’re going in
Despite our concerns about strong rivers, we cross the Tra-Tra and Doring without hassle. Because of the drought there are only small streams over the rocks, but it’s still a good place to stop to enjoy lunch at a stream in the Karoo.
We wonder at the many lucerne crops and beautiful old buildings at Elandsvlei and then we drive on to the long R355 dirt road. For about 40 km we drive in the direction of Calvinia and enjoy the ease with which our old Samurai conquers the dirt road. We turn left, back to the Biedouw Valley and shortly after this road crosses the border between the Northern and Western Cape, we drop sharply down towards the Doring River.
This road is a completely different ball game. The river isn’t strong but it’s wide. There isn’t a concrete slab and where the road goes through the water it’s deeper than expected. I walk through first to establish how deep it is and at times I have to roll up my shorts to keep it dry. I also stack a cairn to avoid driving over a dangerous rock underneath the surface. Back at the bakkie I see that the wheels will be completely submerged for a large portion of the crossing. The bottom of the doors will be about 300 mm under the water surface. But the water flows slowly and we mange to pass through with a slow, stable pace.
There probably isn’t any real danger but I don’t like to submerge the car and I am fairly worried when I hear the fan’s blades go underwater. The motor is soaked but luckily no water seeps into the vehicle or the load bin.
Back at our campsite we light a fire, braai some meat, and end a blessed day in peace.
Time to head home
Friday morning we pack up. The road back is over the steep Hoek-se-Berg and through the Pakhuis Pass via Clanwilliam. The new N7 road is great, but after we stop to buy oranges and naartjies at a farmstall we again turn off onto the Algeria dirt road.
We cross the Olifants River where only a small stream flows and we choose the old dirt road back to Citrusdal. At Piketberg we round off our trip with a meal at the Spur and then we head back home. We used 74 ℓ diesel for our trip of 793 km. Even with an adjustment of 10% for the inaccurate odometer we achieved an acceptable 10,3 ℓ/100 km consumption figure. Not bad given the comfortable drive over rough terrain and numerous mountains in a comfortable double cab bakkie with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission. As per usual there were also no unexpected repairs. At R140 per night the camping fees were also very reasonable.
We are once again thankful for another enjoyable excursion in our beautiful South Africa.
LET’S GO TOO! Johan and Elmare read the original article in edition #77 of Drive Out and developed the urge to tackle the Old Postal Route in their own Isuzu KB. On their 42nd wedding anniversary, they packed up, climbed in and hit the road. The plan was to camp at the Enjo Guest Farm in the Biedouw Valley and drive the Old Postal Route into the Tankwa Karoo.
ADVENTURERS. You’ll have a hard time explaining to someone the beauty of this part of the world, even with photos. It’s one of those places you should experience in person, says Johan and Elmari. After they were initially told to not attempt the Old Postal Route on their own, they bravely soldiered on. After a nerve-racking river crossing their trip was concluded without any further hiccups.
Johan and Elmarie van Staden win a Camp Cover Bundu-bag worth R500. The multifunction bag has been designed so that you can use it as a first-aid kit or simply as a suitcase. Have a look at Camp Cover’s range of excellent protective covers on their website. campcover.co.za