Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 2 - North! (is the other way...)

We woke the next morning feeling surprisingly energetic.

Where to? Well, Sakkie and Bakkie were adamant. We ride North. Due North. Through Toorwaterpoort.

Uhm... There is no road through there...

(Photo from this website)


When the railway line was constructed early in the 20'th century, the engineers did not follow the gentle gradient of the nearby road to Willowmore. Instead, the track was routed along one side of the steep and winding Toorwaterpoort gorge. Over millions of years the Traka River has gouged this spectacular ravine through the 1000-metre high Swartberg mountain range. Unfortunately, while it provides some breathtaking scenery for the train passenger, the river is prone to occasional flash-floods ; over the years these have wreaked havoc with the railway line, which is no more than five metres above the floor of the gorge. In 1996 severe flooding in the gorge wrecked the tracks and the line was closed for two years while costly repairs were undertaken. You can clearly see where sections of track have been raised and protected with concrete bulwarks and stone enclosed in wire mesh. A more recent flash-flood in 2004 luckily did not cause any damage to the railway, so these repairs appear to have been effective.It is about 10 km from one end of Toorwaterpoort to the other, the tiny halt of Vondeling marking the eastern entrance to the gorge.


It's cool being "Gung Ho" and all, but what if a train catches us in there? And so it started, looking for solutions, not problems. Firstly we found out from the locals that only one train runs through there on a Saturday morning around 9. Sounds great.

Just before nine we were on Toorwater station, cameras ready, waiting for the train to come through.

And we waited and waited. Let's put a "Penny op die Spoor!"

Bakkie didn't have any loose change though

And then we waited some more...

(Photo by Bakkie)

This little station has 'n story. The film Paljas was made here.

Paljas follows the deterioration of an Afrikaner family isolated and shunned in the small community of Toorwater during the 1960s. Nothing seems to happen. Then a circus train loses its way and comes to rest in Toorwater, and a mysterious clown brings fresh magic to the stagnating family, but he also poses a threat to the rest of the community. Paljas won the Medal of Honour from the South African Academy for Science and Arts, after being accepted as the first official entry from South Africa for an Oscar in the category Best Foreign Film.

Very fitting because we had our very own "Paljas" (Clown) in Bakkie, who by now was playing on the tracks.

(Turn up the volume)

I wonder which way the train goes?

(Photo by Rovrat)

Sakkie was the first to suggest "Let's just go". Lets ask the locals first. A worker from a nearby farm assured us that the train would come through any minute now.

So we waited some more...

(Photo by Rovrat)

Still nothing. Bugger this. Lets ride. We'll ride into the Poort as far as we can go without going on or near the track. Nice little road this.

But soon we were at a point where we'd have to go on the track for a section. Where is that bloody train? We phoned Transnet to inquire about the time the train would come through Toorwater. We said that we plan to travel through the Poort next to the line, but might need to cross the line and obviously the bridge so need to be sure we'll be safe. We got the Oudshoorn number but no-one answered. Back to the people in Cape Town. They assured us the train went through Toorwater at 9:27. Uhm... No it didn't.

So we waited some more.

(Photo by Bakkie)

Maybe if we walk along the track to see how far we'd have to be on it before we can get off?

(Photo by Rovrat)

Wat loer jy?

Then we phoned up Mrs. TR. Please phone around and find out what is going on. After a while she phoned back. The train is supposed to come through Toorwater just after 9, but sometimes when there is not enough passengers the train does not run at all. Well, now they tell us.

It was 11am now and our educated guess was that the train for today was canceled.

Operation Toorwaterpoort was under way. The line is quite high so at the section where we'd have to be on it the bikes has to be carried onto and off the line. For safety sake we stuck together, got all the bikes on, did the section and helped each other to get off.

My heart was in my throat let me tell you. What if the train comes? We all agreed that this was an adrenalin rush of note!

Riding on the track is not a pleasure at all. The shaking is extreme. Bakkie was in front and he knew I was nervous as hell. Just around the corner he stopped his bike (so we all had to stop), got off en took a photo. Sheez man! Ride! Lets get off the track!!!

Rovrat drew the short straw and he rode at the back. Apparently the GS800's front shock has a tendency to stiffen up on corrugated road. Imagine how that problem is amplified on a railroad track. The shocks hardened up so much that he had to stop at times to give the pressure in the shocks some time to equalize. Eventually he was bouncing around so much he was loosing traction on the back wheel and the extreme shaking caused all the lights on his dash to flash. This soon earned him the nickname "Disco Dash" He was NOT happy. This while all the other bikes took the extreme conditions in their stride.

Of course stopping on the railway line every couple of hundred metres was not helping for the nerves either. Riding over the bridge was a helluva experience.

All this stopping and waiting, getting on and off the tracks etc took a lot of time. The scenery is amazing though.

After about 1 and a half hours we had Vondeling in our sites. It was a grueling 10km but we made it!

(Photo by amaSakkie)

Where to now? Lunch in Willowmore! amaSakkie had to ride there anyway. He only joined us for the night and he still had to ride through Baviaans to Patensie before the rugby started at 5.

The cold refreshments in Willowmore were very welcome indeed. We barely sat down when the train came rushing through town. In the end it was no more than 10 minutes behind us!

Close call. My 2nd one in 2 days

We planned to ride with amaSakkie at least some of the way to Baviaans but we were way to "rustig" and he still had a long way to go so he set off. Eventually after lunch we had to "stock up" for the night but found all the Food stores in Willowmore were closed. We rode to my parents-in-law and literally bought some meat out of their freezer. Some Springbok ribs, chicken and some "Vrek Lekker" sosaties

No space for the ribs, so they went on top of the topbox!

(Photo by Bakkie)

Next stop - Uitspan in Baviaans. Hopefully in time for the rugby!

Nuwekloof Pass:

So we didn't do a lot of km's today, but man what a ride. I also certainly didn't expect to end up in Baviaans. Roam Free indeed.

(Photo by Bakkie)

Our route today:

(Clickable map)

And when the rugby started (Tri Nations Test), so did the party

(Photo by Bakkie)

And we sure did whip some Aussie ass!

Suddenly amaSakkie arived with the Baviaanskloof police. Turns out his chain broke about 40km into Baviaans.

(Photo by Bakkie)

Two more bikers arrived and as it turns out one of them was a Wild Dog too. jxharding aka "Mohair" We invited them to our campsite and braai. We had "Vrek lekker" sosaties after all!

(Photo by Bakkie)

Then the shooters started...

(Photo by Bakkie)

I have absolutely no idea what time we got into bed, but I reckon the sun wasn't far from rising when Bakkie finally decided to turn in. He couldn't find his tent, so this is where he slept:

(Photo by Bakkie)

We reminded him the next morning that he never pitched his tent


Artvark said...

pleeeeeeeeze tell me you have a contact for the old Nietgenaamd place at Toorwaterspoort. i used to stay there many years ago before Paljas and before they broke it down and have been trying to find out how to get back - just saw your pics and my heart jumped into my mouth
i will be eternally grateful to you - i already am for you posting that first pic of the tents in front of the plaashuis - it was broken last time I saw it

TR said...

Hi Artvarak

I have a number that might help. Mail me at and I'll send it to you.