The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
By Nick Hodgson
Peaking at 1370m above sea level and spanning approximately 10km of what can only be described as very rough and unready tracks, the Orrie Baragwanath pass is a hidden gem for overlanding enthusiasts that needs to be on your South African to do list.
Flying into Hoedspruit Airport that somehow manages to simultaneously be a quaint African bush airport and a doomsday prepper’s wet dream as the hidden concrete bunkers juxtapose the thatch terminal building on an extreme level, this was to mark the start of a three-day adventure powered by the Ford Ranger I’m unlikely to forget for a long time to come. Having flown out of Johannesburg and spending a mere 45 minutes in the air, you can imagine that driving back could be a quick and straight forward exercise. Not if you want adventure though and that’s exactly what we were hungry to find.
Many of you may have heard of the Blyde River Canyon. Many of you may even have been to God’s Window, gazed out at the Three Rondavels and marvelled at the landscape below. I myself am lucky enough to be one of those people, however it never occurred to me to do the reverse.
Taking a trip out onto Blyderivierpoort Dam is not only a good time to reflect on life and drink in nature as you meander along the second largest canyon in the Africa, but also treats you to some of the most stunning views you never imagined existed on our doorstep. Hippo, crocodile and a plethora of birdlife keep you entertained. It’s not often I’ve seen a fish eagle, let alone three in one sitting, but as a result of the recent rains nature was making hay and the life burst forth made for an incredibly captivating experience. That evening, lodging at the incredibly picturesque Maholoholo Ya Mati overlooking the Blyderivier, drink in hand watching the sunset through scattered clouds and blissfully unaware of the paces we’d be putting our Rangers through the next day, anything other than relaxation was simply not possible.
Dawn broke on day 2 and while it was incredibly tempting to have a lazy start to the day, there was much rough ground to cover and our intrepid convoy needed to get wheels rolling if we were to make our overnight stop in time for what would be well earned sundowners. The Ford Rangers we found ourselves piloting were the new XL Sport range, or in plain terms, the cheapest 4×4 double cab model currently offered by Ford.
A good vehicle for the job then as this by Ford’s own projections is going to be the most popular of the 4×4 Rangers and should a trip like this go well for us, then there’s no reason for it not to do so for you too. Onward then to Lekgalameetse Reserve, which despite its relatively large size and rich history of the area was once again a complete gap in my knowledge.’
Any adventure worth its salt is unpredictable. It makes the highs all the sweeter, knowing you’ve stumbled across a hidden gem, stars aligned to give you an experience that cannot be replicated at the drop of a hat. Lady luck wasn’t on our side that day though.
We were all lined up to be greeted by spectacular panoramic views, however the weather had other ideas and instead we found ourselves stuck in the clouds, mizzle our constant companion throughout the climb. The weather was incredibly moody and this gave us our silver lining. Stopping at a forested picnic spot, the mist created a beautifully calm ambiance among the trees, water droplets covering the undergrowth which gave the whole scene and incredibly lush welcoming feel to the place.
Not often you get such an experience in Africa, with the last time I remember experiencing something similar being in Kings Canyon National Park, California. With this being South African summer I hadn’t exactly anticipated such weather and was certainly not dressed for the occasion, however I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by and slipped away from the group for a short time, drinking in the forest scenery around me and snapping away on my camera.
Sometimes on the greatest of road trips a moment or two alone can offer an experience that would be ruined when shared with even the best of friends and this was certainly one such moment. A moment that wouldn’t have happened without the somewhat miserable weather too.
It was however time to go up and over the famed section of Orrie Baragwanath pass, which while roams from one side of the Lekgalameetse Reserve to the other, had lulled us into a false sense of security for the initial ascent and instead saved its most testing trials for later.
Making full use of low range, our Ranger convoy crawled along over rough terrain, the necessitated slow pace giving us plenty time to absorb the incredible landscapes once farmed thanks to the fertile soils. However, the crawl gave us plenty time to ponder on the struggle that farming effort must have been and why it ultimately failed as transporting produce from this place of wonder was a cost bearing exercise in futility.
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Having made ourselves extremely well acquainted with first and second gear in low range and quite literally traversed over a mountain on a road that probably sees single figure traffic numbers in a year, it was rather gratifying to pause on the other side and look back on the road less travelled with a quiet sense of accomplishment. The relatively normal dirt road that followed felt like jumping to light speed in comparison and before we knew it we’d arrived at our final overnight watering hole, Aloe Bush Game Lodge, Marblehall.
Having taken half a day over the Orrie Baragwanath pass to do what was at best 30km gives you a renewed respect for the speeds with which we can motor great distances, but also proves just how much we miss because of it. So often we feel the need to travel far and wide for new experiences when in fact there are so many practically on our doorsteps. And what of the Ford Ranger XL Sport? As recreation bakkies go it was incredibly hard to fault, even coming with a tow bar as standard. However, if there is a chink in its armour, it’s the lack of cruise control, a feature I sorely miss on a long cross country journey and one that on a base spec model would be an absolute game changer.
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