About 300 km east of Johannesburg, in the lush green Lowveld, there’s a lovely, lazy trail with mostly moderate challenges – and one serious obstacle.
Nelspruit is a popular retreat for holidaymakers travelling from Gauteng to the Kruger National Park. Also, travellers from Mozambique come to Nelspruit via the Maputo Corridor to do their monthly shopping. A mere 10 minutes outside the city you’ll encounter the Schagen Valley. This valley shares its name with a region in the north of the Netherlands (not known for its mountains and valleys); and in the valley you’ll find the hamlet Alkmaar (also a Dutch name). And this is where, on a citrus and macadamia farm with the same name, you’ll find the Alkmaar 4x4 trail. Keep your eyes peeled for the Kwanyoni Lodge next to the N4 highway. Turn off
here (S25.449700 E30.826550) and dial the phone number on the sign next to the gate. The farm belongs to Johann and Wanda Sippel. If neither of them is available, C.J. Lombard, their right-hand man, will let you in.
The trail itself
The route starts at the top of Alkmaar’s orchards. It’s a bit of a maze through the acres of fruit trees to reach the starting point, but you can follow C.J. on his motorbike if you’re unsure. The first kilometre of the route creeps slowly up a rocky slope. You need to switch to 4WD immediately, and maybe even engage a diff lock. It’s not a hardcore slope, but unnecessary wheelspin ruins the road’s surface. Near the end of the first kilometre, there are a few axle twisters that will test the travel of your vehicle’s suspension (S25.466417 E30.825200). Then follows a short plateau, where yellow thatching grass grows shoulder high. Johann regularly sends a tractor with a slasher to keep the grass on the jeep track cropped. Other than improving the appearance of the route, it also reduces the risk of grass collecting under your vehicle’s exhaust pipe and spontaneously igniting. On your route map, which you receive on arrival, you’ll notice that the 7 km Alkmaar trail forms a figure of eight. Drive the first loop anti-clockwise to a fork in the road. Look for a small flag at the fork, and then do the second loop clockwise. About 600 m further on there is another fork. This is where you must decide whether or not you’re prepared to do Alkmaar’s toughest obstacle: The Rock. If you have a fear of heights, rather don’t go there; because once you’ve turned left to The Rock, there’s no turning back. Drive downhill on a narrow twin track through a bunch of wild syringa, silver cluster-leaf and sicklebush to where the road ends ubruptly at the top of a giant granite dome (S25.467917 E30.833283). You must go down here, as it’s impossible to turn around. Your tyres should have no problem gripping the granite, but do switch to low range and first gear, as you don’t want to rely on brakes alone on this incline. At the bottom of the dome, you’ll discover, it really wasn’t that challenging; you just needed to be brave enough to take that first step. With The Rock behind you, return to the fork using the same track to resume the route. Near the top of the hill where the trail starts levelling out, the vegetation changes from woodland to grassland
Your tyres should have no problem gripping the granite, but do switch to low range and first gear, as you don’t want to rely on your brakes alone
(S25.472267 E30.835683). Look out for kudu, Cape bushbuck and duiker. Just 1 km after The Rock, you’ll encounter another granite boulder to cross. There is an escape route around this boulder, but if you’ve conquered The Rock, this one is small fry by comparison. Shortly after the boulder, turn left and drive to the highest point on the route (S25.475600 E30.829783). Here you have a view of the a Kaapschehoop mountains and the fertile Crocodile River valley. It’s only about 2 km back to Alkmaar’s orchards. Take it easy, because although there are no significant challenges left, there may occasionally be a rock that could dent a soft alloy wheel rim.
Accommodation and stuff to do
There’s plenty of accommodation at Alkmaar. Two cottages each house 4-6 guests, and each has DStv and its own braai area. There are also three tented camps, each with three tents that can house four people each. The tents have private toilets, sinks and showers, but you share the kitchen facilities with your neighbours. There are also two luxury homes: one with three self-catering rooms, and the other with two. Near the accommodation is a beautiful reception hall on the edge of a dam. Here you can catch barbel, bream and bass (and yes, throw them back). Remember to visit the Sudwala Caves (20 km away), Bridal Veil, Lone Creek and Horseshoe Falls (all about 60 km), dozens of nature reserves, and of course the Kruger National Park (70 km).
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW. The lowveld offers a welcome break away from the rush of the big city. After you’ve had your fun, don’t forget to buy a bag of avocados along the way to take home.
YELLOW, YELLOW GRASS OF HOME. Johann maintains the route year-round, and Wanda manages the tented camp (right) and selfcatering houses like a professional. The 4x4 route isn’t particularly challenging, but it’s nice to drive nonetheless.