Between the Langeberg in the south and Anysberg to the north lies the obscure Waboomsberg. Get in your off-roader and drive through fructiferous vineyards before hitting the arid plains.
The words “Sunshine in a packet” probably springs to mind when the town of Montagu is mentioned. It’s the slogan of the Montagu Dried Fruit & Nuts company. Or perhaps you are reminded of muscadel thanks to a song David Kramer made popular back in the Eighties. But the Langeberg region offers far more than fortified wine and wrinkly prunes. We visited three guest farms, each with their own 4x4 trails that differ quite a bit from each other. Our route began in Montagu and we travelled anti-clockwise around Waboomsberg. Before you set off, buy a bottle of red muscadel at the Montagu wine cellar on the corner of Chinsaut and Main roads (S33.77678 E20.13281) and save it for later. Drive south to where Main Road ends in Long Street and follow the R62 (the bottom of Long Street) for 1 km out of town to the Talana road sign. Turn left and drive 1,6 km to the Ouberg-Touws RiverLadismith road sign. Follow the Ouberg Pass for 2,8 km until you see a lane of trees on your right. Keep your eyes peeled for the Tafelkop 4x4 sign that’s fixed to a telephone pole. >
TAFELKOP 4x4 TRAIL The tyre grater
Welcome to Scheepersdraai. This farm is named after Gideon Scheepers, a 22-yearold Boer commander who rode past here in December 1900 to attack the British Cape Colony with 150 rebels – a brave but ultimately suicidal endeavour.
Cobus Uys, the owner of Scheepersdraai and the Tafelkop 4x4 trail, jumps off his tractor to shake hands. Behind him lie fields of pared fruit drying out in the sun. “Yes,” says Cobus, “there was a Range Rover Evoque on my 4x4 trail the other day. It couldn’t even climb the hill. It’s tyres were in tatters. I had to go fetch it.” The hill that Cobus is referring to – a section of that very Tafelkop – towers out over the farm, and the twin-track that snakes along it is clearly visible. It doesn’t look that steep but it’s a completely different story once you start driving it.
It starts next to Cobus’s orchard (S33.78680 E20.18545). But first you have to drag an electrical fence out of the way. During fruit season it’s switched on because Cobus has problems with baboons stealing his peaches. So be careful with the fence or ask Cobus to open it for you if you’re afraid of getting electrocuted. From here the road winds up the hill at an 18° angle.
The road surface consists of loose gravel and razor-sharp rocks. Maintain momentum and avoid wheelspin otherwise your vehicle’s tyres’ will pay the price. After the first hill the road dips slightly... and then the real climb begins. If you reach the top of Tafelkop (543 m above sea level) after 2,5 km – and without incident – you’re rewarded with a truly spectacular view over the fertile Koo Valley. Opposite the peach, pear and other fruit orchards lies Montagu in the shadow of
Bloupunt, a peak on the western tip of the Langeberg.
The road down is even steeper than the one going up. It dives with a 30° angle over rock steps and broken shale down to the valley floor.
Vehicles equipped with hill descent control will perform well. Otherwise you’ll have to switch over to low range and hope the gear ratios are low enough. If you brake you’re looking for trouble, because as soon as your vehicle starts slipping there’s no stopping it. If you drive in a hardcore offroader you can do the trail in the opposite direction, tackling the 30° slope head on, but you’ll have to bring your A-game. At the bottom of the slope there is a campsite with a braai and ablution facilities. Unfortunately the toilets are vandalised and inoperative. Cobus explains that the neighbouring farm over which the Tafelkop 4x4 trail winds is no longer owned by his family. The ablution facilities are on the new owner’s farm and he apparently is not interested in maintaining it.
From here it’s 500 m downhill to the Kingna River, where the trail ends. Head over to Cobus’s house one last time to tell him you arrived safely otherwise he’s going to have to get into his bakkie and go look for you.
There are three refurbished houses on Scheepersdraai that used to be rented out to visitors, but these days they’re occupied by permanent tenants. Cobus has plans for new accommodation next to his farm dam, though, but for now you can stay at Cobus’s other neighbour: Doringlaagte (see go! Drive & Camp #7 for our review of Doringlaagte). There are 10 neat chalets next to the dam, in which you can fish, swim and canoe. There is also a campsite and even a par-three course where you can practice your puts.
Visit doringlaagte.com for more info. Maximum amount of vehicles allowed No limit.
Do I get a map? Available on the website.
Will I scratch my vehicle? It’s unlikely.
Should I pack a compressor? No.
Can I braai next to the road? Yes.
Can I turn around halfway? Yes.
How long is the trail? 7 km.
How long does it take? About an hour.
Will I see game? Perhaps. Cobus says there are a few klipspringers that graze near the trail.
Best time to go? Year-round.
Can I bring my family? Definitely.
For the day or for the weekend? Day.
Are there ablution facilities? No.
GPS coordinates S33.78435 E20.17843
Price R250 per vehicle.
Contact 082 789 5079 (Cobus) tafelkop.co.za email@example.com >
After you’ve played around on Tafelkop you can buy a bag of mixed dried fruit (R35) from Cobus and move on to your accommodation for the night. From Tafelkop it’s 26 km north over Langkloof Pass, Ouberg Pass and Koppie se Nek Pass to the Leeuwenboschfontein turn-off. The hill on your left is called Klipspringerberg – at 1 427 m above sea level it’s one of the highest in the area. From here it’s another 12 km in a northwesterly direction. Be on the lookout for a big gate and the Desert Wind sign post on the left-hand side of the road. The gate is secured with a chain and padlock. You may want to phone someone to come and open it, but there is no cellphone signal. Don’t worry though: The locks hide a grey carabiner in the chain. Unclip it, open the gate, and drive in.
DESERT WIND The paint stripper
When Renier Swart, sales director of the posh Val de Vie estate outside Paarl, isn’t relaxing here in his private nature reserve, you are more than welcome to.
April Plaaitjies welcomes you at the entrance and shows you where to park. “You can park here at the front door. Can I help you carry your bags?”
The farmstead consists of three houses and a barn. A fourth house – the Kliphuis – is a kilometre further on. The grass is emerald green and forms a stark contrast to the arid earth around the buildings. When you ask April about the condition of the trail, he puts your mind at rest: “No, it’s easy with a 4x4.” What he neglects to mention is that in places the trail is overgrown with burnt protea bushes. And these bushes’ hard branches reach out like witches claws towards your car’s mint bodywork...
There are actually two trails that you can drive, both without a guide. The 6 km long main trail – the only one mentioned on Desert Wind’s website – lies to the south of the farmstead. The other trail lies in the north and follows a dry rivercourse along a ridge. Trail 1 starts at a gate to the left of Renier Swart’s private home – “the director’s house” – and immediately heads upwards in the direction of Waboomsberg. It starts off as a mild twin-track, but the trail increasingly becomes tougher and the protea bushes ever closer.
The toughest obstacles are rock steps which require your vehicle to have good ground clearance. Low-range gears and diff locks aren’t necessary, but you should be on the lookout for loose rocks that could carve huge gashes in your rims. There’s not much you can do about the bushes though. Close your eyes and turn up the music if you don’t want to listen to the horrible sound of branches scratching against bodywork. If you’re willing to leave your air-conditioned car in the heat to snap
off every single offending branch next to the road, it will take you all day to do it. And then you also have to hope that the owner doesn’t mind you violating his flora. On the ledge high above the farm the trees are more sparse. From here you have a view of the valley below and Anysberg on the horizon to the north. With a trained eye you might be able to spot eland, zebra, gemsbok, grey rhebok and springbok in the blanched landscape. Unfortunately the road ends at the neighbouring farm’s fence and you have to turn around and follow the same track back to the farmstead where you started. The sun should be setting by this time. After an evening braai on the open plains of the Klein Karoo it’s time to fetch that bottle of red muscadel from your car’s cubbyhole. Turn out the lights and raise a glass underneath the magical, clear night sky.
You can tackle the second trail the next day. It starts at a different gate to the right of Renier’s house and runs westwards to the farm’s border fence and then back, eastwards, in the dried-up course of an ephemeral stream. The 10 km long trail has no real obstacles to speak of, but it’s nevertheless too rough for an ordinary sedan. Unlike the main trail you don’t have to turn around and an hour after leaving the farmstead you’ll arrive back at Desert Wind’s main gate.
There are four options: The Large Guesthouse sleeps 10, and prices range from R3 675 to R3 885 (December) for the whole house. >
The Small Guesthouse is connected to the Large Guesthouse and sleeps four: Mom and Dad in the double bed and two kiddies in the single beds. Prices range from R893 to R1 257. The two guesthouses are connected to each other via a door inside. If you want to rent both you will receive the key for this otherwise locked door.
The Stable Suits is a semi-detached unit with two rooms with private bathrooms and kitchen facilities and each house two people. Prices range from R1 575 to R1 732 per room. Lastly, there’s the Kliphuis. This building is quite a distance from the farmstead, next to a dry rivercourse and built out of the river rocks. It sleeps four. Prices range from R1 365 to R1 575. Next to the Kliphuis are stands for tents or trailers. An ablution block with separate facilities and basins overlook a boma.
It’s not a cheap place to stay but all the units are clean and neat, and at night when you’re staring at the clear Karoo sky you are not going to feel cheated. (Keep in mind, though, that VAT is not included in the prices quoted on the website and therefore not here either. You’ll first see the damage on your final invoice.)
None of the units have Eskom electricity and there is also no cellphone reception. You cook on gas stoves (provided) or fire. There is a farm shop that’s run by April’s wife, Maudie, where you can buy anything from Val de Vie wines (R150 per bottle) and wood (R100 for 50 pieces) to freshly baked bread (R35), vetkoek (R60 for 18 – bargain) and toilet paper (no price is too high).
CHOOSE WISELY. The temperature in the arid mountains around Montagu is on average 5 °C warmer than the floor of the valley underneath. This isn’t the ideal place to puncture a tyre; rather take it easy on the rocky route. The climate in the valley is...