We are truly blessed to live in one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world. Spoilt for choice when it comes to getaways.
To me the Eastern Cape has always been one of the best tourist destinations but when you mention Eastern Cape, people immediately think of the Wild Coast and its beautiful beaches. There is however more than meets the eye to the Eastern Cape.
In the 1800’s, pioneering farmers decided to settle in the more remote areas of the Eastern Cape. Prior to this, only the San tribe known for their migratory habits, inhabited this area. They, like most wild animals, were clever enough to leave the area during it’s harsh winter months, and harsh it can be with temperatures plummeting to around -15 degrees Celsius and even colder!
The town itself was founded on the farm Tintern that belonged to a Mr. Jim Vorster. He agreed to the establishment of a village, on the condition that 100 plots were sold and that the town was to be named after the then Prime Minister of the Cape, Cecil John Rhodes. The village lies between some of the highest mountain peaks of the southern Drakensberg Mountain Range in the Eastern Cape. It is also situated near the border of Lesotho and gives one the feeling of stepping back in time when visiting this hidden gem.
Stories of this village abound, from the hippy era in the 70’s to draft dodgers seeking refuge from the military police, fleeing into the mountains to their marijuana fields!
In 1997 Rhodes and the surrounding areas was declared a Conservation Area. Rhodes is probably best known for the Tiffendell Ski Resort situated about 25km from the town. However, there is so much more to see and do in the area.
HERITAGE DAY LOOMING
With Heritage Day looming, we thought it would be a good time to utilize the “long weekend” and visit Rhodes and surrounds. Our clients were from as far as Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Bloemfontein. The meeting point was the Lord Fraser Guesthouse in Wepener for our first night. The history of Lord Fraser is an interesting one. He was a British captain blinded in the Second World War and started the very well-known Frasers Trading Posts in Lesotho. Frasers went on to become a massive multi-national company with its head office and warehouses based in Bloemfontein.
You will still find Frasers Trading Posts all over Lesotho. Lord Fraser used the house in Wepener as his base and in 1988, the building was donated to the municipality so that it could be converted into a museum. This never materialized and the property was sold to Willem and Wilna Swanepoel in 1993 who converted it into the Lord Fraser Guesthouse.
All kinds of historical artifacts can be found in and around the guesthouse, from old typewriters to old business ledgers and ox wagons. The first night turned out to be a very festive affair with clients getting to know each other. I would strongly recommend a stay at this great establishment when visiting the area.
After a delicious breakfast it was time to hand out two radios and to start our adventure.
We headed out to the historical town of Zastron which is known for its outdoor school which many children over the years have attended, and on toward Sterkspruit and the Tele Bridge Lesotho border post. Just before the border post there is a sign which indicates the turn off to Lundeans Nek Pass cresting at 2170m, one of the Ben 10 passes that we would be driving in the next few days. The pass offers spectacular views of the valleys below. From here it was a relaxing approximately 50km drive to Rhodes, crossing the Bell River with its steel bridge.
the rhodes hotel
The Rhodes Hotel has been closed for many years and it was the best news ever to here that it has been re-opened and that we would be some of the first travellers to be able to stay in it again. The hotel has been bought by well- known local farmer, Handri Rheeders and his wife Sandra. They are in the process of a complete revamp of all the rooms and have damn a damn fine job so far! Sandra is responsible for all the catering and she certainly knows how to cook up a storm! The well-stocked bar is a very popular hang-out for all and sundry!
Rhodes also offers self-catering options for the budget traveller. You can rent some of the houses as accommodation. These little houses are the quaintest things ever, inviting and extremely romantic! There are a number of establishments where you can enjoy a delicious meal or even a pizza. YES…pineapple goes on pizza!!
Rhodes was a hive of activity with adventure motorcyclists, mountain bikers and adventure seekers. This paradise offers you a wide range of activities, from just relaxing to off-roading, cycling, hiking, adventure biking, hiking and fly fishing. Be sure to enquire when making your booking.
We have mentioned The Ben 10 challenge. The aim of the challenge is to drive ten specific high-altitude gravel passes in 7 days while taking in the spectacular scenery and to support eco-tourism in this extremely remote part of the Eastern Cape.
the passes in no specific order
- Lundeans Nek (2170m)
- Carlisleshoekspruit (2563m)
- Ben MacDhui Pass (3001m)
- Naudes Nek Pass (2590m)
- TT Pass Tenahead – Tiffendell (2720m)
- Volunteers Pass (2581m)
- Barkly Pass (2018m)
- Otto du Plessis (2115m)
- Jouberts Pass (2234m)
- Bastervoetpad Pass (2240m)
We would be completing 6 of the 10 passes.
Our third morning was going to be our most challenging of the trip. On the agenda today were two of the Ben 10 passes, Naudes Nek and Ben McDhui. Overnight we were woken by a blistering wind which was set to continue for the rest of the day with extremely strong gusts. The drive up Naudes Nek was spectacular but pretty uneventful. Tiffendell Ski Resort was closed due to the Covid 19 Pandemic and we had to obtain permission to get access to Ben McDhui which runs adjacent to the ski slope. It was dry and loose terrain. Driving in the new VW V6 Amarok Canyon, this was certainly going to be a test for both man and machine.
Having been here before I knew of the challenge ahead of us. Testament to German engineering, the Amarok didn’t miss a beat, however the terrain held the winning card when I suffered a cut tyre due to sharp rocks. The value of quality all-terrain tyres was never more apparent than at that moment. With the wind gusting and us a few meters short of cresting at 3001m, it became a challenge to get the spare wheel out. The Amarok has a nifty anti-theft device on the spare wheel and we had to resort to reading the manual!! Unusual for a man, I know! This exercise took almost 45 minutes but felt like an eternity! With the wheel changed we set off to complete the last few meters and the reward was immense! The views from up here are mind blowing – you end up looking down on some the most awe inspiring views…..breathless.
What goes up needs to come down again. Once again the systems on the Amarok really impressed. With the off-road mode selected, the rate of decent was superbly controlled and smooth. Time for the drive down Carlislehoekspruit Pass again and a lunch stop along the way. With the wind gusting we needed somewhere to shelter and where better than in a “waenhuis”, along with some sheep and their lambs and chickens breeding, it really helps when you know people in the area! After a well-deserved break, some “refreshments” and a homemade burger, it was back to the hotel for our third night.
a rather subdued evening
After a rather subdued evening, we all arose fresh and rested after the previous days excitement. Today would see us driving the well-known Naudes Nek pass. Two farmers set out into the mountains in 1896 and dropped the pegs which marked the route the road was to take. The pass was built by hand using pick and spade and a horse drawn cart! Testament to the resolve and toughness of the farmers of the time. At the start of the pass you will find a small memorial with the surname Naude spelt out built with rocks. Some of the descendants of the original Naudes have found their final resting place here.
From here we steadily make our way up to the view point on the crest of the pass with the wind gusts of the day before having turned to icy cold wind gusts! We quickly made our way to Tennahead Lodge for a warm cuppa.
From here we drove the TT pass. It runs all along the Lesotho border on your right offering amazing views over mountains and seemingly endless valleys. This is a harsh environment. The only pity was that some of the mountains and valleys had been scared by recent veld fires. This pass is all of 24km long but is absolutely worth it. You exit close to Tiffendell and make your way down to Rhodes via Carlislehoekspruit pass again. Dinner tonight was a delicious lamb curry with dessert! Sadly tonight was to be our last night in Rhodes.
our final morning
Our final morning Rhodes held the ace up the sleeve, minus 6.5 degrees!!! It is always sad when we reach the last day of any of our adventures. New friendships were formed and the lasting memories stored in the memory bank. How true the expression sounds – collect memories, not things.
Our route back would see us climb the Carlislehoekspruit pass for a final time and head on to the Volunteers Pass. This pass is maintained by the local farmers in the area and there is a little collection box for donations which sadly when we got there someone had decided they need the money more than the volunteers. This is also known as the “War Trail”. Urban legend has it that in the early 1800’s the farmers found themselves fighting off the Xhosa in the area. Some English farmers were looking for land to farm on and some of the farms were given to them so that they could act as a buffer protecting the farmers.
That is why in this vicinity all the farms have English speaking owners and on both sides of them now are Afrikaans speaking families. We started our drive only to discover that the Amarok had again picked up a slow puncture. No problem. We see puddle of water, drive into it and soon detect the hole and set about with a quick fix. It is important to always make sure that you have the correct equipment no matter what vehicle you are driving.
We stop at the collection box for the obligatory photo opportunity and then start to make our way down. At this point I was rather glad that we were going down and not up as it would have been a challenging drive. The pass is in need of some attention at the moment. Nevertheless, an uneventful decent and a pleasurable drive to Barkly- East to refuel and pump tyres before setting off on our return trip back home.
Having done this trip numerous times, this time around it was certainly a very memorable event. The Rhodes area I would strongly recommend to any adventure drive junkie, this is home from home and much needed therapy for the soul.
Until next time, happy trails!
Contributor: Bernie Williams – MegaXlore Club Chairman