Leeuwenboschfontein 4×4 Trail
The last words Philip Sackville Scott wanted to hear when he was staring down a grade 4 descent, were “trust me”. But then, it was the well-known Jannie du Plessis speaking, and this is Leeuwenboschfontein…
Trust me, it’s too steep for your compression to slow the vehicle, even in Low 1. So, just drop the front wheels over the lip, put it in neutral and edge your way down on the brakes, bietjie vir bietjie (little by little).”
And so, breaking all rules of negotiating steep descents, I follow the advice of the trail owner, Jannie du Plessis, and with my heart in my mouth, I follow his hand signals and inch my way down.
I am at Leeuwenboschfontein, a 1200 hectare 4×4 resort, just off the Nougaspoort gravel road in the stunning Karoo.
Leeuwenboschfontein is smackdab in the middle of the triangle linking Worcester, Touws River and Montagu.
A hint of snow reflects off the Kwadousberg in the north, towards Ceres. To the south lie the Waboomberge and the southern end of the Langeberg range.
The air is crisp and everywhere you look the short Karoo scrub is healthy and green. It’s beautiful.
Down to businessFirm foothold. To protect the track from being damaged by spinning wheels, rock-filled wire cages have been placed on some sections.
Even before you arrive at the reception and guesthouse complex, it’s clear Leeuwenboschfontein is a notch above standard trails. You drive through an avenue of trees that passes a dam with rowing boats and willow trees lining its wall.
Jannie aims “to make each guest feel like they could be the very first person to have ever visited”. That’s why everything – from the farm road to the campsite grounds – is swept before guests arrive, clearing any evidence of previous campers.
After setting up camp under willows, we head back to reception where we sign indemnity forms and receive a detailed map as well as two-way radios.
A quick glance at the map shows three 4×4 trails and one for softroaders.
The Lookout Hut Trail, a 5km grade 3 trail, leads up to a glass-panelled hut on top of the Swartberg (not to be confused with its namesake near Oudtshoorn), while a 6km grade 4-5 out-and-back trail from the lookout runs down the north-eastern side of the mountain to a boundary fence. The third trail is a 9km grade 3-4 trail heading west from the lookout and back to reception.
For those who just want to ride around the farm a bit there’s a 10km loop for 4×2’s with diff lock.
If you want a challenge, there’s a donga section near the campsite with some steep ascents and descents, crossaxle obstacles and serious side-slopes.
To protect the trails from wheelspin damage, bakkies with empty load bays are loaded up with sandbags, and tyres have to be deflated to 1.5 bar. For even better grip, we deflate ours to 1.2 bar.
Heading for the glass hutStretch those legs. On some cross-axle sections in dongas even vehicles with good wheel articulation such as Cruisers will “lift a leg”.
Intent on driving as many of the trails as we can, we head for the lookout hut. Heading out from reception along smooth gravel tracks we pass another small dam, stocked with Muscovy ducks and coots aplenty. (Leeuwenboschfontein’s website lists 90 recorded bird species.)
Within the first 100m we encounter our first obstacle – a deep ditch quickly followed by a high mound with strategically placed cross-axle holes.
Thereafter the tracks veer northwest, into the foothills of the Swartberg.
A gradual climb skywards leads to a sharp right turn, followed by a blind rise just before the road suddenly veers left onto a knife-edge ridge. A rope safety barrier on the right at the blind rise stops you from coming a cropper where the road swings left.
Above the precipice we look down onto the campsite far below.
The track continues winding up the Swartberg on hard compacted soil, interspersed with periodic patches of loose rock and shale.
Just beneath the summit a very steep section awaits. Here rocks have been wired together in gabions to secure the roadway and to minimise the effects of water erosion.
And that’s it, within an hour we’re at the lookout hut on top of the mountain, 1210m above sea level. From the glass-panelled hut enclosing a braai place, we have fantastic 360º views over the mountains. There’s parking space for about 25 vehicles and a toilet too.Restaurant at the end of the universe? At the sky hut you can have a braai and enjoy the panorama.
After a quick look around, we are on our way again to the northern boundary fence, following an arrowshaped sign warning we’re venturing onto a grade 5 trail. It takes about 45 minutes each way.
This trail is definitely more challenging than the first. The descent is steep with tight turns and loose rocks. A very tight S-bend requires careful negotiation and the correct line selection. Then it’s down into a valley, up the other side and a long slow descent along the northern boundary fence to a gate, at the turnaround point.
Backtracking to the lookout hut is a challenge fit for a 5 grading. The trail is covered with loose shale and rock that in places offer no traction. You’ll succeed if you have the right tyre pressure, carefully select your line, consider the angles and accelerate just enough to maintain momentum.
Giving it gas simply sees you kicking out rocks and damaging the trail as you wheelspin to a standstill. If this happens, you’ll probably have to reverse 50m up and try again.
Hairpin bends and axle-twistersWhite-knuckle moment. Inching down Lion’s Balls takes bravery, a good guide spotting for you and a touch of madness.
From the lookout hut, we return down the southern slope. Tight hairpin bends, loose rocks, crossovers and crossaxle obstacles are all mercilessly thrown at you, but the views are magnificent.
You soon hit the crossovers – a series of steep-sloped ditches that you have to approach at a slight angle to prevent getting stuck or scraping your towbar, chromed mouse bar or running boards.
Just when you think that the worst is over, Jannie ratchets it up a notch. Lion’s Balls, an extremely steep, but mercifully short descent is up next. If you adhere to the textbook on this 30 m obstacle, you will pick up too much speed and you’ll land in trouble. The only way to do it safely, Jannie advises, is to put the transmission into neutral once you’ve begun the descent and use the brakes all the way down.
To complicate matters, you need to watch out for sidewall cuts to your tyres on bumpy and narrow parts.
After the descent, the track winds leisurely back downhill, and along a dry riverbed where Jannie has placed a series of large mounds to allow for some great cross-axle posing.
A little further, we rejoin the main trail close to the rope barrier. Here a keep-left arrow stops y
ou from driving over the edge of the blind rise mentioned above. We re-cross the knife’s edge and return to camp.
Now you can drop off all the nauseous passengers, and go and play around in the dongas.
Drive Out says: The trails are short but challenging, with great views over the Langeberg, Matroosberg and Anysberg.Away from prying eyes. The shady campsite has screens between stands that give you privacy. The ablutions are first-rate too.
What you should know
WHY SHOULD I GO?
Except for water and mud, the trails test all your driving skills and your vehicle’s capabilities without great risk of damage. The mountains and Karoo scrub that you can explore are beautiful.
How long are the trails? 20 km
How long will I be driving? 4-5 hours
Maximum number of vehicles? 25. Minimum of 2 for safety.
Do I get a map? Yes and it’s on Tracks4Africa.
Will my car get scratched? Probably not
Should I remove my running boards? Yes
Should I take a compressor? No
Can I turn around halfway? Yes
Can we have a braai en route? Only at the lookout hut
Are there ablution facilities for day visitors? Yes, and braai spots too
Can I see game? You’ll probably see springbok, and if you’re lucky, small game such as klipspringer and duiker.
Best time to go? All year round, but winters can be icy.
Can I take my family along? Definitely
Just for the day or the weekend? You could do the trails in a day, but rather spend a weekend there.
The nearest town? Touws River (34 km)
How do I get there? Heading towards Touws River on the N1 from Cape Town, turn right onto the R318. After 27 km, turn left onto the Nougaspoort gravel road and continue for 12 km to the farm gate. From Montagu, take the R318 and turn right after 50 km onto the Nougaspoort gravel road. Continue for 12 km to the farm gate.
GPS: S33.56083 E19.97233
The nearest fuel? A small settlement near Montagu (21 km)
WHERE CAN I STAY?
Options range from camping to guesthouses and cottages.
Should I take anything special? A tyre repair kit
What else can I do there? You can do photography, go birding, fishing, mountan biking, row on the dam or just relax. The barn is free for entertaining large groups.
Trails: R120 per vehicle for the Lookout Hut Trail, or R240 per vehicle for all trails
Accommodation: Camping – R75 per stand per night and R35 per person per night; Bungalow R330 pn, Willows Cottage R130 pppn, Main guesthouse R210 pppn, De Kraal R230 pppn
Jannie or Elsa du Plessis 022 482 2768, 082 891 5911 or Wessel and Bets (managers) 023 358 1722; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.leeuwenboschfontein.co.za
Read more about the trail: Leeuwenboschfontein
Originally published in DO #42 Jan-Feb 2011