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We are not strangers to the Baviaanskloof valley, but we haven’t explored it for a long, long time. So we set out to put things right. Just under 200 km in length, the valley is hemmed in by the Baviaanskloof mountains to the north and the Kouga mountains to the south. This offroad excursion, over the course of three days, took us into the Baviaanskloof via the eastern Poortjies Gate, on the Patensie side, then two-thirds along the valley to the amazing Sederkloof Lodge for the night. The following day was a hectic 4×4 trek (78 km) that just about took us all day to do … the Rus en Vrede trail across the (many) tops of the Kouga mountains, then down into Kareedouw in the Langkloof. From there we drove to Prince Albert through Meiringspoort.

The Karoo can’t claim it gets much rain but this year, definitely, It Has Rained. We trundled across the foot of vegetated rock cliffs held together by trees, shrubs and ground cover, everything verdant in every shade of green. Our first sighting was the emerald plumage and scarlet chest of a Narina Trogon. Rare, and thrilling.

Then the fun began. The surface of the road, uh, track more like it, red and irregular as the craters of Mars, required the careful negotiation of a Basotho pony or a mountain goat. There were dongas, washaways, protruding boulders, and the worst of all, deteriorating concrete strips with broken sharp edges that were a menace to tyre walls. (No punctures, I can happily report.) We bounced and rocked and rolled through water crossings and past sprokies forests and over mountain tops for hours and hours.

Then we were in the valley where bushbuck and kudu and baboons and vervet monkeys crossed our paths. To our right, the Baviaanskloof mountains were fat dinosaur thighs, to our left, the Kouga tight rows of fingers. To travel the 76 km from the entrance gate to the luxury Sederkloof took around five hours with a lunch stop. (But we are known to drive carefully and smell the fynbos along the way.)

Finally into Sederkloof Lodge territory, we were instructed to climb a narrow, winding track that hugged the curves of a mountain right to the crest. Here we found six magical stone-and-glass cottages lining the mountain edge, each discreetly placed, all with stupendous views onto the rounded hills. First leg of our trip done and dusted.

Our Baviaans trip Mach 2 begins on the farm Rus en Vrede in the Baviaanskloof Valley, after having obtained a permit for the trail at the farmhouse. We set off on this 78-km track in the morning at around 10 a.m. It winds its way up and over the crests of many, many hills of the Kouga mountain range, then descends to Kareedouw in the Langkloof.

This time the driving involved a lot more careful negotiation over a track that consisted purely of rocks, stones and holes. For long sections, we encountered sharp, embedded, tyre-munching stones; sometimes it was purely piled-up boulders; often there were holes to climb into and then out of. Then there were the stretches where our vehicles turned into bucking broncos. At one heart-stopping section, we had to climb up a vertical slope that was just a jumble of big boulders piled haphazardly on top of each other, with the road curving round the edge of the mountain. I think my heart did stop once or twice. On the website the trail is given a grading of 2. We felt that short sections of the road were definitely grade 3. (But then we’re not the build-your-own-road kind of 4×4 trail lovers.) We did have leopard mountain tortoise roadblocks, though, which required careful removal.

We climbed and climbed, staring down onto rounded, green-baize-covered hills. The sheer dropaways had nothing but contorted witgat trees to break a tumble into the valley. Towards the end we hit a well-graded section of the trail. It felt like we were purring across a velvet carpet. It took us 4½ hours to cross the 78 km over the Kouga mountain range. In that time we passed two other farm vehicles.

Mach 3 of our Baviaans trip was Meiringspoort, Prince Albert and the Swartberg Pass – but that is a story for another time.×4-trail/