By Steve Honneysett
I have often driven up Oliviershoek Pass and admired the splendid views of the mountains and the Sterkfontein Dam on the left, but I have always been curious about what is out there on the other side of the road on your way towards Harrismith.
I always thought that this was just farmland until I started doing some research and found a treasure trove of adventure out there, from monuments to mountain passes and some comfortable accommodation on the border of KZN. It started with a drive down Bezuidenhout’s Pass last year where I discovered that between Oliviershoek and Van Reenen, there are at least half a dozen other passes to explore, so we have been ticking them off one by one. We booked our latest trip over the Easter weekend at Waterfall River Lodge on a pleasant farm on the Wilge River 12km east of Van Reenen. But it was essentially the drive up that made the trip most memorable.
We plotted a route that follows the train track up the pass, and cuts through the mountains with service tunnels. This it is a route not often travelled, but it offers spectacular views looking back down on KZN. The road was gravel all the way, and, after the recent floods, it was only accessible by 4x4 with some rather muddy sections that caused our vehicle to slide off the road a few times, forcing us to test our off-road recovery skills a bit.
The pass is used for maintenance on the line, as well as by a few residents from the area. There is a large depot at the top of the pass and several streams flow across the track in places where you have to test the depth with a stick before you attempt to cross them.
Over the top, the pass follows a section of the N2 highway, finally coming out behind the Green Lantern Hotel at Van Reenen which is a must stop to calm one’s nerves with a refreshing beverage. Waterfall River Lodge is situated on the banks of the Wilge River with a super view of a waterfall that looks much like a smaller version of the Kariba Falls complete with plumes of mist rising off the water as it plunges down the escarpment.
The lodge has a rich history, and it was even used to plot a coup that never happened in the 1980’s Farm owner, Rick Dillon, entertained us with lots of history of the area and took us to Nelsons Head Mountain to view the 130 resident Cape Vultures that nest there on the border of a large game farm that stretches down to the outskirts of Ladysmith.
There is also a large hydro-electric operation in the area that supplies power to the towns around Ladysmith. The other mountain passes in the area are also worth checking out, but that will be for trips in the future. It’s a part of the Drakensberg that we generally overlook but it is rich in tales from the days of ox wagon trekking through the mountains and of the struggles that shaped our history.
The Green Lantern Hotel is a must for a meal or refreshment in their homely little bar full of memorabilia from days gone by. The Anglo Boer wars left their scars on this area and one can visit many sites where monuments recall the battles fought there. There are so many stories to be told around the fire here, and this place is a must-go-see.
** Seaweed Steve presents the Daily Surf & Weather Report on 88FM Ballito