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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents - Text and pho­tos Cyril Klop­per

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.

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