Wonders on road less travelled

[caption id="attachment_34407" align="alignright" width="405"] COUNTRY FEELING: The Elandsrivier gravel road is a link from the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve to the Addo Elephant National Park. It is well off the traditional tourist beaten track but is not lacking in accommodation, hiking and 4X4 trails[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_34408" align="alignright" width="405"] BIG STEP FORWARD: Elephants at the Addo Elephant National Park. It is hoped that the Eden to Addo Corridor will allow elephants as well as other animals to roam once again[/caption]

MUCH has been written about the Garden Route, the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve and the Addo Elephant National Park, however, far less is known about the myriad of roads between them where travellers can experience beauty in all its wild splendour.

Here, environmentally aware farmers are opening their homes and land to visitors who can enjoy real farm cooking far from the madding crowd.

The concept of corridors between national parks and other state or privately-owned conservation areas is not new. The idea is to restore and preserve biodiversity, while animals and plants get the opportunity to roam thus increasing their chances of survival through improved gene pools. The exact Eden to Addo route is still being decided upon with some landowners keen to become a part of it and others a little more sceptical.

So without an exact route to follow I decided to set out on my own, camera in hand, and map out my own route.

I started at the Garden Route National Park, encompassing the Garden of Eden, Tsitsikamma and the Wilderness.

I drove up the 85km Prince Alfred's Pass which is gravel and narrow but quite manageable even without a 4X4. There are several B&Bs and places to stop for a meal, tea or just a toilet, most of them around the hamlet of De Vlugt but be sure to have ample petrol or diesel. Part of the Eden to Addo project is a labour-intensive effort to clear alien vegetation from the banks of the Keurbooms River.

The pass crosses the Keurbooms seven times as it winds its way through the mountains. At the top of the pass, I turned right onto the R62 to drive through the Langkloof. Just past the town of Kareedouw and opposite the Assegaibos Hotel, I turned left onto a gravel road that would eventually take me over the Kouga River and on to the Baviaanskloof.

Some rather rough 40km later I arrived at my overnight destination, the Baviaans Lodge – really in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, cell signal, no neighbouring farms in sight. The family farm, managed by Rob le Roux is an example of landowners who want to contribute to and benefit from the corridor.

Since the family bought the property some 14 years ago, no commercial farming has taken place.

Some of the accidental benefits of the corridor can already be seen here with a small herd of buffalo taking up residence after presumably roaming off the Baviaanskloof reserve. Here leopards can also be spotted.

With Bushman caves, their paintings and diverse vegetation the area is a hikers delight.

The following day I set out down a track – a 4X4 is definitely a necessity on this route – from the Baviaans Lodge and through the magnificent Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve, coming out at Patensie.

From there I made my way onto the little-used but excellently maintained gravel Elandsrivier road. From the historic town of Uitenhage it's a short tar road to the Addo Elephant National Park.

Addo's elephants are just one example why these corridors are so important.

The reserve was started to save the last 11 elephants of a once teeming population.

The majority of its several hundred elephants come from this initial herd and are prone to inbreeding. The ultimate answer is to let the elephants roam and form new herds.

While driving the roads of my made-up Eden to Addo route and walking the mountains, kloofs and forests I marvelled at the area's diversity. No less than seven of South Africa's eight biomes can be found.

I am not going to give route maps – that would detract from your fun. I am not going to supply information for accommodation as these are for you to find. Do what I did – travel and then stop when you get the urge.

Enjoy the walk, ride or drive. - Mike Procter-Sims