Friday, August 5, 2011

Through the Swartland


After picking up the Nissan Navara in Cape Town, we spend the night in Malmesbury with our dear friends Umdani and Natuurkind. They are in the hospitality business (check out there place Khaya Umdani in the Kruger Park - second to NONE!) and we end up laughing, eating and drinking to much and sleeping too little. We had a whale of a time!

The next morning we were treated to a massive breakfast before we left all the luxuries behind and headed for the hills - literally.

This area of South Africa is called "Die Swartland" (The "black" land - literally translated). The origin of the name is uncertain, but consensus seems to be that the name was given by Jan van Riebeeck and referred to the darker Renosterbos that flourished in the area.

Today it is everything but dark. We were blown away by the beauty of this area.

As it happens we were here at exactly the right and most beautiful time of the year. We're told that this same area is very dull and brown once the harvest is in.

About 10km South of Piketberg the old road crosses the Bergriver with a steel bridge. The bridge is a perfect fit, but it was not meant to be here – it was built for a river somewhere in Australia! (Yeah, I search for these old things on every trip - keeps us on the back roads and keeps things interesting!)

In 1850 a ship carrying the 100m bridge docked in Cape Town harbour for emergency repairs. The repairs necessitated that the bridge be offloaded, but after the ship had been repaired they could not load the bridge again. Engineers were brought in to help, but even after days of trying the bridge still could not be loaded back onto the ship. In the end the crew had no alternative but to leave the bridge behind. But what to do with the bridge?

Luckily someone remembered that a bridge over the Bergriver was needed and so the search began for a place on the Bergriver exactly wide enough for the bridge to fit. That is why the old road runs along here and how this bridge ended up here. It still stands proudly 161 years later.

Google Earth placemark here.

Some more Swartland scenery with snow on the mountains to the east. Tonight we sleep in those mountains...

The town Piketberg got it's name from the Dutch word picquet (“dutch” word borrowed from the french ) which means military outpost. It lies at the foot of the Piketberg mountain with the same name. There used to be a post here to protect the farmers from Kogikwa Khoi attacks and stock theft.

We however were not interested in the town or even the mountain, but rather in what lies between them – Versveld pass!

Versveld pass was built in 1899 by J. Versveld who had been tobacco farming on the mountain since 1868. He built three wide turns in the pass to enable ox wagon to travel up and down the mountain. Incredible to think that just over 100 years ago passes were still built to accommodate ox wagons. How much the human race have progressed in a single lifetime.

Piketberg in the distance:

Versveld pass was replaced by this modern pass in 1954. Another box ticked in my quest.

From Piketberg we travel North to the little hamlet Eedekuil. Until the end of the Boer War the railway line from Cape Town stopped here. We stopped here for a different reason: The Eendekuil Hotel is a famous stopping point for Wild Dog Adventure Bikers.

Some dogs have already marked this territory...

Suitably refreshed we headed for the mountains once more. Next up - Piekenierskloof Pass.

They were busy with roadworks here so stopping for photographs were limited, but we managed.

The history of this pass seems to go by the centuries. There was only a bridle path here in 1660. A group of pikemen (piquiniers) crossed the mountains here in pursuit of a band of Khoi. Later the famous Thomas Bain build a pass here and named it Grey's pass after Sir George Grey, the Governor of the Cape Colony at the time. Grey's Pass was opened in 1858. The modern Piekenierskloof Pass was opened in 1958 and the older name updated.

Yet another box ticked in my quest.

Looking back over the Swartland to Piketberg mountain:

While stopped here we also used the opportunity to find a geocache, with Kermit doing the honours:

Travelling over this pass we leave the Swartland behind and enter the Olifantsriviervallei, or literally translated the Elephant River valley. This area got it's name from Nobleman Jan Danckaert, the first white man to travel this far North of Cape Town in 1660. He claimed he saw a heard of 300 elephant in this valley. This was the main route North for explorers in those days and even Simon van der Stel travelled this route on his way to the Namakwaland in 1685.

This area is well known for it's citrus production and once again we were here at the perfect time of the year. The area was lush and green and while we bought a bag of naartjies Kermit found another geocache!

We had to push on, but there is so much to see! We certainly live in an amazing country. Passing Clanwilliam the Clanwilliam Dam was overflowing.

Coming from a farming background this is always good to see.


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