Tackling the legendary Karoo passes in Ford’s latest 4x4s
I was thinking about this recently, not so much about its political content, although that’s never far off in our current climate, but about our land being beautiful.
I’ve been fortunate to see many gorgeous parts of South Africa, which was recently the case again when I had the opportunity to traverse some legendary Karoo passes behind the wheel of Ford’s 2.0-litre twin turbo Ranger Wildtrak and 2.0-litre single turbo XLT, both 4x4s of course.
Leaving Cape Town International, we headed in to the hinterland via Route 62 heading for Bosluiskloof Pass, one of the lesser known, but every bit as spectacular as any other you’ll find in the area.
Barrydale was our first stop for something to eat because a fleet of 4x4s and their drivers can’t operate on an empty stomach. Diesel & Crème boasts it serves the best milkshakes in the country and, judging from the impressive list of options including chocolate and chilli and the popularity of the venue early in the week, I reckon they are probably right. Their sliders aren’t half bad either.
The Bosluiskloof Pass is a dead end into the Bosluiskloof Nature Reserve, but is in good condition with 60 bends over its almost 7km length and serves up some spectacular views. There’s also a Thomas Bain connection in that the pass was completed by his brother-in-law, Adam de Smidt.
Before we headed to the bottom of the kloof the obligatory sundowner was enjoyed on the back of the EZ lift tailgate before the evening’s stop at Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge.
Owners Gerhard and Ans Rademeyer bought the land in 1996 and developed the lodge from 2006 to 2009. Surrounded by the nature reserve, the lodge is an oasis of comfort and style with well-equipped chalets, a stoep with a view over the landscape and best of all, no cellphone reception.
Day two and the beautiful Seweweekspoort followed by the impressive Swartberg Pass via dirt roads in the Rangers awaited. Seweweeks-poort has been described as one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country and once you enter it’s not difficult to see why.
De Smit and his team were also responsible for this pass, which undulates for almost 20km past magnificent twisted rock formations, high cliffs that block out the sun, interesting flora and the occasional buck.
The road is well maintained with low-level cement bridges and seems to be graded regularly by the people from Cape Nature Conservation.
From there lay more dirt roads. We stopped at a little village called Kruisrivier where I can recommend the home-made chicken pie and lemonade. In the background beckoned the famous Swartberg Pass, which has been described as Bain’s magnum opus. I have a personal relationship with his 24km piece of engineering - I marched over it as a young conscript in the 1980s during what Infantry School in Oudtshoorn calls “vasbyt”.
With full kit, rifle, rations and a couple of awkward-to-carry heavy items we crossed the pass on our second day of four, so that at the end of it the names Swartbergpas and Meneer Bain didn’t exactly endear it to us.
Not to worry though, no such suffering behind the wheel of the Ranger XLT with the air-conditioning keeping us cool, our kit on the back seat and in 4WD high ratio we climbed the twists, turns, hairpins and blind corners without the 10-speed automatic gearbox raising a sweat.
Stopping along the way to admire the magnificent views, you have to give Bain credit for being way ahead of his time as an engineer and road builder. The way the rocks have been packed and the road follows the contours is truly something special.
It’s a national monument and I really hope some overzealous government official doesn’t decide it needs to be tarred.
On our way to Meiringspoort Pass, a stopover in Klaarstroom to meet legendary South African film-maker Koos Roets was mandatory. He’s been in the business for more than 50 years and had some hilarious stories and legendary exploits to relate, but best of all he is also the co-owner of a classic car restoration business.
They are restoring a 1930s Jaguar, a nuts-and-bolts job done lovingly and with immense skill.
Heading for the overnight stop in De Rust, one of many small towns in the area experiencing a revival in their fortunes as city folk move away to the country, the sweeping road of Meiringspoort had us pondering what it would be like to tackle it in a sports car with exhaust sound reverberating off the high cliffs.
The Rangers had no problem with curves, mind you, but there’s something to be said about sitting low to the ground with a powerful engine catapulting you about on the edge.
Day three ended in Buffeljagsrivier and the Rotterdam Boutique Hotel, but not before we had completed about 260km on dirt roads.
The Ranger, Raptor and Everest are built locally in the Ford plant in Pretoria, while their engines are put together in Port Elizabeth. They are exported all over the world and, between Ford and the other vehicle manufacturers in the country, they contribute a significant amount to the country’s GDP as well as employment to thousands of people directly and indirectly via associated businesses.
So, please can we stop childish politics and one-upmanship to focus on turning the economy around so that more new cars are sold more frequently and more people are employed?
The build quality of the Rangers is superb and, except for the usual dust you’d find inside after a 1000km trip mostly on dirt roads, the door seals kept the cabin clean while the air-conditioning kept us comfortable.
The Rotterdam Boutique Hotel has been operating as a farm since 1794, but now has included luxury accommodation in stylish rooms and fine food prepared by chef Josh. It doesn’t stop there though - owner Quentin Fraser-Jones is the son of Ian Fraser-Jones.
Who is he, you ask - a legendary South African racing driver who raced locally and overseas including Grand Prix mostly as a Porsche works driver. There’s a room filled with memorabilia which is worth a ton of money, including autographs of Formula 1 drivers long dead.
Unfortunately the rumours of the Porsches he raced in popping up for sale are exactly that. In those days no one thought about the value that a car may have 50 years later and drivers just carried on with trying to win in the newer version.
It’s no surprise, but also sadly missing from the SABC archives is any footage of him racing around southern Africa and overseas.
Bredasdorp and the Western Cape Nampo exhibition where Fraser-Jones would also be showing five prize cattle, was our destination along dirt roads, including an interesting river crossing on the Malgas Pont.
Nampo in Bredasdorp is substantially smaller than the original one in Bothaville, but equally impressive in terms of the agricultural equipment on display.
Implements that towered into the sky and were as wide as a town house were everywhere, but as a city boy I had little idea of their purpose.
What I do know though is that, ah, but our land is truly beautiful.