Cows, crocs and nasty potholes
My original plan was to try to follow the Crocodile River through the kloof to Kwena Dam and then to its beginning in the highlands near Dullstroom. I soon found that trying to follow the meandering flow was somewhat frustrating.
The day’s excursion starts with a sun-up ride around Witklip Dam. The sky is clear and the air rather nippy. Thankfully, taking a quick breather to enjoy hot coffee from my flask makes watching the sun rise over the dam possible.
From Hendriksdal I sneak across the R37 onto the Rhenosterhoek Road. The dirt road is in good condition, although it is mostly used by logging trucks. The sand and stone has been ground to fesh fesh by the loaded trucks. The dusty conditions keep me on my toes and are a reminder not to get too swept up in sightseeing. Along the road I find the first of several trout dams to be seen on my route.
My shortcut to meet up with the Crocodile River weaves past the Sudwala Caves onto the Weltevrede/St Paul Road. I have read somewhere that the Schoemanskloof has some of the most fertile land in South Africa. It is also renowned for having some of the largest orange-producing farms in the country.
According to my plan, I make the turn towards Sterkspruit and everything seems to be going bakgat. Even the farm name seems to match my plan.
The indigenous bush is coated in dust from the road and the sun is rather faint. So much so that the local village kids hang out in the sunny areas of their plots.
A short distance later I meet up with a by now familiar sight. I did happen to notice a sign indicating that the road is rarely used, but ignored the remainder of the rather small print. I’m rewarded with a chained gate and a board that prohibits me from heading onward. These types of roadblocks have become the bane of my riding pleasure and result in me eventually abandoning my plan to follow the Crocodile River.
The clear water of the Crocodile cascades over rocks and along narrow riverbeds. The few glimpses I get of it are tinted by autumn leaves of orange and yellow, and sun-bleached rocks. The river’s course from Kwena Dam follows the kloof to Mbombela and to the impressive Crocodile Gorge on the N4 towards Mozambique. Kwena means “crocodile” in Sesotho. The dam is not only filled by the Crocodile River, but other tributaries such as the Badfonteinloop, Elandspruit and also the Alexander Spruit.
At the dam wall the usual no-entry signs redirect me onto another road to the abandoned campsite. Here the warning is somewhat different: Beware of the hippos!
On my quest to follow the meandering Crocodile through the Schoemanskloof, my constant redirecting leads me onto what I consider the worst road in Mpumalanga. Swerving to avoid potholes on the R36 has me taking a wrong turn.
I soon find my way to the farm homestead which has become a country-style living and hospitality venue. The Cowshed is anything but a shed. The farm is halfway between Lydenburg and Dullstroom. With the dramatic backdrop of the edge of the escarpment and swaying grassland, the farm is the ideal place for adventures of the leisurely kind.
Hiking routes with wide open views and great mountain-biking trails with little traffic, make it a great family escape. If you are not the active type you can always hang out on the veranda with a book and a glass of wine then watch the resident herd of Nguni cattle graze peacefully. Take your fly-fishing rod and try your hand at trout or bass catch and release.
I head out to retrace my route to find the Crocodile River, again. I have to get off the R36 because dodging potholes, long-haul trucks and entrepreneurial road-fixing crews is not part of my plan.
According to my memorised map, I should find the river coursing along the kloof floor. As I start to enjoy the easy riding condition of the dirt road, I make a quick stop at a green trading post. Here I am not allowed any fire or to use my cellphone and there is clearly no fuel either. A local shopper informs me that the river road is closed off by a gate and very sturdy locks.
Most of all I cannot remember which way to go and I follow the advice of doing a round-about route. The best thing about getting lost is that you are usually going in the right general direction and that you get to visit interesting places and meet interesting folk along the way.
My trail leads me past the Velorenkloof farm and lodge. It is one of the few dairy farms in the vicinity and making a quick stop there is well worth your time. The milk stud is managed with the animals in mind, taking into consideration that even the cows get stressed out when they are pregnant, in calving and in their dry period. They are closely monitored and every effort is made to keep them in the fold. Verlorenkloof also produces natural yogurt and raw milk can be purchased at the dairy.
Wondering between the dairy and the old klip kraal brings you closer to nature while you interact with horses, sheep and calves. It is the kraal’s rock walls that remind one of a far-off place with the gnarled tree roots growing on the stonework. It looks like a mini Angkor Wat, in the tones of African stone and the smell of fresh earth after a sudden rainfall.
It is getting late and I haven’t reached the far extension of my route at the origin of the Crocodile River. The roads are in fair-to-good condition and I make use of the opportunity to look at the vast scenery as I approach the highlands near Dullstroom. It is not everyday that I get the chance to open the throttle and kick up a bit of dust. As a reward for all the U-turns, no access and hasty truck passings in clouds of dust, I visit Waffle & Co in the quaint tourist town before heading home the easy way, on tar. I take my favourite route in Mpumalanga – the renowned Long Tom Pass.